Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sopranos episode guide #12: Isabella

US Transmission Date: 28 March 1999
UK Transmission Date: 30 September 1999

Writer: Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess • Director: Allen Coulter
Cast: Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Isabella), John Eddins (John Clayborn), Touche (Rasheen Ray), Kareen Germain (Nurse), Johnathan Mondel (Boy), Jack O’Connell (Vendor), Katalin Pota (Lillian), Denise Richardson (Newscaster), Bittu Walia (Doctor), David Wike (Donnie Paduana)

Storyline: Christopher is worried about Tony, who sleeps during the day and seems depressed. Silvio dismisses this, saying all leaders have dark moods. Carmela tries to get Tony out of bed but he refuses to move. He’s taking both Lithium and Prozac. Carmela throws open the curtains when she leaves. Tony goes to close them and sees a beautiful woman in the backyard of the Cusamano house next door. Junior has a meeting with Mikey Palmice and Chucky Signore at a funeral home. Mikey says the hit on Tony will be made tomorrow by two black guys hired through an intermediary.

Next day Christopher visits Tony at home but his concerns are only made worse. Tony wanders out into the yard and discovers a silky camisole on the grass. He goes next door to the Cusamano’s and gives it to the beautiful woman there. She is a dental exchange student called Isabella who is looking after the house while the Cusamanos are in Bermuda playing golf. Christopher follows Tony to Montclair and inadvertently prevents the hit by parking in front of the two black guys, John Clayborn and Rasheen Ray. Afterwards Mikey and Chucky met with the intermediary, Donnie Paduana, to find out what went wrong. Donnie assures them the hit will happen the next day. He jokes about hearing Tony Soprano’s own mother wants him murdered. Mikey kills Paduana on orders from Junior, who has been watching the meeting from the back of a car nearby.

At a session Dr Melfi tells Tony that the combined prescription of Lithium and Prozac is to give his system a jolt, but he feels nothing. She suggests he check into a residential treatment centre but Tony refuses. Dr Melfi increases the dosage of Prozac. Outside the chemist Tony meets Isabella and takes her to lunch. While they talk about Italy Tony has a fantasy about Isabella nursing a baby. That night Livia comes to dinner at the Soprano’s, but Junior declines because he feels ill. Livia berates Tony for coming to the dinner table in his bathrobe and complains about her house being sold. Tony goes back upstairs.

Carmela catches Tony looking out the bedroom window at Isabella, and threatens to cut his penis off. Junior takes Livia to a film while the hit is going down. Tony goes to a news-stand to get orange juice and a racing form guide. He sees a black man approaching him with a handgun. The first bullet smashes Tony’s bottle of juice, the second takes out his window as Tony gets into his four-wheel drive. Tony grabs the gun arm of the shooter and keeps the barrel pointed away from himself. The second black man runs over and shoots through the passenger side window, accidentally killing his partner. Tony grabs the second shooter’s gun arm and starts driving away. The shooter falls to the road. Before Tony can enjoy his escape, he crashes into a parked vehicle.

At the hospital Tony gets stitches in his left ear but otherwise only has cuts and bruises. Carmela, Meadow and AJ rush to see him but Tony says he is fine and it was only an attempted car-jack. Carmela takes the children outside as FBI Agent Harris comes in. He offers Tony and the family immunity and relocation in return for any testimony. Agent Harris says nowhere will be safe for Tony now, the assassination problem will not go away. When Agent Harris has gone, Tony and Carmela argue about whether you accept the offer. Junior and Livia watch a TV news report of the failed hit. Junior panics but Livia decides they should go and visit Tony.

The family and Tony’s crew gather at the Soprano house. Christopher realises he prevented the hit the day before and believes Junior is responsible for ordering the attack. Junior and Livia arrive to see how Tony is. Carmela drives Tony to a roadside meeting at night with Dr Melfi. He relates the fantasy about Isabella and the baby. Dr Melfi believes Tony is fantasising about being nursed by Isabella. Tony sees Dr Cusamano is home and asks him about Isabella, but his neighbour doesn’t know what Tony is talking about. Carmela also has no memory of seeing Isabella or threatening to cut off his penis. Tony phones Dr Melfi to say that Isabella was just a fantasy, never real. His therapist tells him to discontinue the Lithium. She says the fantasy has meaning, he obviously craves a loving, caring mother figure – but why now?

Mamma Mia: At dinner Livia criticises Tony for his breath and his sensitivity to criticism. She says the whole world’s gone crazy and cites the case of a woman in Pennsylvania who shot her three children and set her house on fire. Livia dismisses Tony’s depression, complaining that she has been thrown into the glue factory and had her sold out from under her. She succeeds in driving Tony upstairs then bursts into tears, pledging never to come back to the house again. Waiting in line for the cinema with Junior, Livia compares Tony to her cousin Cakey after his lobotomy. She tries to justify the hit on Tony because he is empty, a shell. Better he be dead than go on living like that. Junior panics when he hears that Tony survived the hit but Livia reveals her true colours. ‘My son got shot. And he got away.’ She decides they must visit Tony and switches on the waterworks, because Tony is her only son. At Tony’s house Livia gets confused about Meadow’s identity, as if the first stages of senility were suddenly setting in. Later Junior confronts her about this and the terrific timing of her forgetfulness. She pleads ignorance.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Outside the chemist Isabella has a long filled roll. She asks Tony why it’s called a hero sandwich. He takes her to lunch but there is not food on their plates, only bread in a basket and white wine in their glasses. At the Soprano family dinner the food includes chicken with the usual pasta, salad and bread. AJ munches on a hero sandwich while he and Meadow wait for their father to be treated at the hospital. When Tony gets home Carmela has a finger food buffet for everyone, including slices of capiccola sausage, peppers and bagels.

Mobbed Up: Paulie alludes to the film ‘Cool Runnings’ when discussing the attempted hit with AJ and Meadow. ‘It would take more than a Jamaican bobsled team with cap guns to stop your old man.’

How Do You Feel?:
Before the hit Tony tells Dr Melfi he feels nothing, dead, empty. He is King Midas in reverse, turning everything he touches to shit. He doesn’t want to live, but refuses being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. After the hit he feels pretty good. Tony says getting shot at gives you a nice kick start. When the attack came, he didn’t want to die. Every particle of him was fighting to live. When Tony tells Dr Melfi that Isabella was just a fantasy, she says it still has meaning. Melfi draws a link between Tony’s need for a loving , caring mother and Livia’s constant talk about infanticide. Tony says he feels pretty good but he’ll feel even better when he finds out who ordered the hit.

Sleeping With The Fishes: The corpses start piling up thick and fast in this episode. Donnie Paduana gets it first, executed by Mikey Palmice on Junior’s orders after joking that Livia Soprano wanted her own son murdered. John Clayborn is second, accidentally gunned down by his fellow assassin when they try to slay Tony Soprano.

I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano: The entire Isabella plotline is an elaborate fantasy, apparently fuelled by Tony’s Lithium and Prozac prescriptions. This does not become clear until the final minutes of the episode, when Tony talks to Dr Cusamano. Tony even has a fantasy within a fantasy during his lunch with Isabella, daydreaming of her nursing him as a baby. This episode certainly has the highest level of fantasy and/or dream sequences up until #26 – ‘Funhouse’.

Quote/Unquote: Silvio cites Winston Churchill as an example of temperamental leaders: ‘Napoleon, he was a moody fuck too.’ Junior wonders why nobody collects prayer cards the way they collect baseball cards: ‘Thousands of bucks for Honus Wagner and jack shit for Jesus.’ Tony tells Carmela that he cannot testify because he took an oath of silence. ‘What are you, a kid in a treehouse?’ she replies. Tony ridicules joining the witness relocation programme: ‘You want to move to Utah, be Mr and Mrs Mike Smith? We can sell some Indian relics by the road. Maybe start a rattlesnake ranch. Have some Mormons over to dinner. East some tomatoes that have no taste.’ Meadow is appalled that her brother is more worried about trying to get out of going to dance than the recent attempt on their father’s life: ‘God, self involved much?’

‘Tiny Tears’ by Tindersticks. ‘Cry’ by Thornetta Davis. ‘Temptation Waits’ by Garbage. ‘I Feel Free’ by Cream. 'Milonga del Angel' by Al DiMeola. 'Ugly Stadium' by Tipsy.

Surveillance Report:
Isabella is played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta, better known for her starring role in the film ‘Il Postino’.

The Verdict: ‘This fantasy of yours has meaning.’ Tony reaches his lowest ebb of depression but gets snapped out of it by an attempted assassination. This episode is a gripping instalment, building up to the hit and then showing its aftermath. Acting as a counterpoint to these mobster machinations is the Isabella fantasy, which is carried off brilliantly. The audience never suspecting that she is the product of Tony’s drug-addled senses. By the end of the episode, Tony and his crew have their suspicions about who ordered the hit – but no proof yet. Dr Melfi has her own suspicions. The proof of both theories is coming in the grand finale…

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