Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sopranos episode guide #27: Mr Ruggerio's Neighborhood

US Transmission Date: 4 March 2001

Writer: David Chase • Director: Allen Coulter
Cast: Louis Lombardi (Skip Lipari), Saundra Santiago (Jean Cusamano), Michelle De Cesare (Hunter Scangarelo), Erica Leerhsen (Birgit Olafsdottir), Albert Makhtsier (Stasiu Wosilius), Robert Bogue (Ed Restuccia), Anthony Dimaria (Ruggerio’s Son), Jesse Doran (Judge Lapper), Gary Perez (Agent Marquez), Brian Smyj (Agent Smyj), Colleen Werthmann (Agent Malatesta), Jay Christanson (Agent Jongsma), Dennis Gagomiros (Agent Theopilus), Neal Jones (Agent Tancredi), John Deblasio (S.E.T. Lineman), Anthony Indelicato (S.E.T. #1), Murphy Guyer (S.E.T. #2), Frank Deal (R&D #1), Katie C. Sparer (R&D #2), Etan Maiti (Jason).

Storyline: Fade-up on a new day at the Soprano household. Tony collects his morning paper from the end of the driveway. The front page lead is about mob competition for garbage contracts heating up – violence is feared. A team of FBI agents review their ongoing investigation into Tony’s illegal activities. Missing informant Pussy Bonpensiero is written off as dead, which torpedoes efforts to prosecute Tony for stock fraud over the Webistics scam. Agent Cubitoso says the stolen airline tickets could lead to charges, but only if Livia Soprano is willing to testify against her son.

The other agents consider this unlikely. They decide to concentrate on Tony’s garbage business. The FBI believes Richie Aprile was whacked by his fellow mobsters. To get evidence, the feds need to get a bug into Tony’s house. Skip Lipari suggests placing one in the basement, because that’s the only place Tony will talk business. He believes the noisy air conditioning ducts make the room safe from effective bugging. The FBI gets a warrant to enter the Soprano household and place a surveillance device in the basement.

Two agents sit outside Tony’s house in a County of Essex Mosquito Abatement utility vehicle. Tony leaves for work but pauses to tell them where he’s going today, to save them the trouble of tailing him. He is obviously aware of the constant surveillance of his activities. The FBI decides to enter the house on a Tuesday afternoon, when everyone is usually out of the house. Tony is at work, AJ is at school, Carmela is having tennis lessons and their maid Lilliana is having English lessons with her husband. Meadow now lives in a dorm at Columbia University in New York City. Agents will have to follow everyone who has a key to the Soprano house, to make sure nobody catches the federal invaders.

Next Tuesday the FBI prepares to move in. By 12.12pm nearly everyone has left the house. The FBI has given the Soprano family nicknames – Tony is Bada Bing, Carmela is Mrs Bing, AJ is Baby Bing and Meadow is Princess Bing. The house is codenamed the Sausage Factory. Tony arrives at the Bada Bing strip club where all his crew (Paulie, Silvio, Christopher, Hesh, Furio, Gigi and Patsy) are having lunch in the back office. Paulie is washing his hands and gives an extended rant about how urine gets on to your shoelaces in men’s public toilets. He is paranoid about getting a disease from touching his own shoes.

Patsy Parisi has joined Tony’s crew, having been one of Junior’s men. Patsy is unhappy because today is his 51st birthday. It would also have been his twin brother Philly’s birthday, but Philly was whacked a year ago. Patsy misses his brother, who was known as Spoons. Tony tells Patsy to leave the morbid shit back with Junior’s crew. Patsy stares at Gigi, who executed Philly on orders from Tony. The feds carefully enter the Sausage Factory after disabling the phone lines, alarms and picking the locked doors. They switch on the air conditioning and take sound readings in the basement. They also use a video camera to film the interior of the basement.

Carmela is joined at her tennis lesson by Adriana, who has never played before. Carmela’s tennis coach is leaving but introduces his replacement, Birgit. AJ and his friends turn truant, cutting assembly to leave the school grounds. AJ admires a shirt worn by his friend Egon Kosma, who is trying out for the school’s American football team. At the Columbia University dorms, Meadow is woken by the return of her roommate Caitlin. Caitlin has been out all night drinking to celebrate the end of Frosh Week, the US equivalent of Freshers Week at a British university. The wall above Caitlin’s bed is covered with ads for Absolut Vodka.

The Soprano’s maid, Lilliana Wosilius, has a picnic lunch with her husband Stasiu after their language class. He is bitter about driving a cab, having been an engineer with twenty employees and a state grant for autonomous research when they lived in Poland. Lilliana steals cutlery and glasses from the Sopranos. The FBI agents review the videotapes taken in the basement. They note that the Soprano’s 120-galloon water tank is probably going to rupture in the next six months. The FBI decides to put the bug into a battered lamp on a table beneath the air conditioning ducts. At FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, technicians put a listening device into a lamp like that in the Soprano’s basement. The new lamp is distressed to resemble the one it will replace.

Next Tuesday the Sopranos go about their usual routine. At the Bada Bing Gigi tells Tony that Patsy has been drinking heavily and claiming he knows who ordered the hit on his twin brother. Tony brought Patsy over from Junior’s crew to keep an eye on him. He considers having Patsy whacked, but decides to bide his time. Everyone has left the Sausage Factory except Lilliana. The feds move closer to find out why and hear her call out in anguish. Carmela gets a phone call at her tennis lesson and rushes away. Tony leaves the Bada Bing in a hurry and heads for home. The FBI realises something is wrong and hurriedly pulls it team away from the property. The agents debate what could have happened.

In the basement Tony and Carmela are knee-deep in water – the predicted water tank blow-out happened early. The local plumber, Mr Ruggerio, arrives to sort out the mess. Next day the FBI sends agents to stake out the house, hoping to learn what went wrong. They see a drunken Patsy standing in Tony’s backyard, pointing a gun at the house. Patsy can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. Instead he urinates in Tony’s swimming pool and stumbles away. Eventually the FBI learns about the water tank. The insurgent team has to wait a week to try again.

The following Tuesday the FBI tries again and finally succeeds in planting the bugged lamp in the basement. At Columbia Meadow is visited by her old school friend, Hunter Scangarello. Caitlin is acting strangely, seemingly freaked out by life in New York. She’s been prescribed anti-anxiety drugs. Tony talks to Patsy in the office at Satriale’s Pork Store. He makes Patsy attest to having put his grief about Philly behind him. Tony invites Patsy to visit the house and bring his son to hang out with AJ – they could swim in the pool! At school AJ is trying out for the football team.

Next day two FBI technicians sit in a van, listening to transmissions from the Sausage Factory. They get excited when they hear Tony saying he has a job for someone which might get a little messy. It turns out he wants Stasiu to rig a draining system should the water tank ever burst again. It may be some time before the bug in the basement bears fruit for the FBI…

Deep and Meaningful: Before this episode Patsy Parisi had only appeared in a single episode, delivering a sable coat to Tony. Now he gets his own showcase moment as he draws a gun and points it at Tony. FBI agents look on bewildered as the meek made man sobs and shakes with impotent fury. Patsy had to get roaring drunk to summon the courage to come this far, but he cannot pull the trigger. Instead he pisses into Tony’s swimming pool, the greatest act of rebellion he can muster. He stumbles, cursing himself and his boss…

Mobspeak: Judge Lapper describes the FBI application to enter and bug the Soprano household as a ‘sneak and peak warrant’. Tony talks to Patsy about his dead twin brother Philly and says ‘buon’ anima’ (rest his soul). On the FBI pinboard showing the structure of the Soprano Family, Tony is labelled as underboss (second in command to the boss). The FBI technicians talk about minimisation – they are only allowed to listen to conversations for forty seconds. If there is no mention of organised crime, they must switch off. They are allowed to check back in two minutes later.

Mamma Mia: The FBI does not believe Livia would testify against Tony is exchange for immunity over the stolen airline tickets. They obviously weren’t paying attention to the wiretaps which proved she was happy to coerce Junior into ordering a hit on Tony in Season One! Tony tells Carmela that he has got a Russian girl moving in with Livia to look after his mother. He claims to have found the carer through an agency. In fact, the FBI has a recording of Tony telling Pussy that the woman is a cousin of his former mistress, Irina.

Tony Soprano, Paper Boy: The opening episode of each season has included a scene of Tony in his bathrobe walking to the end of his driveway in the morning to collect his morning newspaper, The Star-Ledger. This episode has him slob out to the front gate four times over several weeks to collect the paper.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: The FBI agents pick at their lunches while meeting to discuss how best to get a bug into Tony’s home. The following Tuesday Agent Harris eats a filled roll while he monitors movements at the Soprano household. Tony joins his crew for lunch at the Bada Bing. There is plenty of pasta, salad, bread and wine. Tony tries to persuade Patsy to have some brasciole, but he has no appetite. Paulie says the average woman’s public bathroom is so clean you could eat maple walnut ice cream from the toilets. AJ and his friends how useful skateboards would be in the school cafeteria. One of the truants says the food there ‘tastes like ass’. Lilliana has a picnic lunch to share with her husband. He finds a jar of Italian capers among the food. She says the Soprano children don’t like capers. The Sopranos store preserved and tinned food in their basement. The FBI agents joke that the large quantity of food is just for AJ. Silvio eats nuts while watching golf at the Bada Bing office. Tony eats cereal for breakfast at home. He is visited by Gigi, who has brought some fresh Italian pastries which Tony enjoys. Carmela tells Tony that Lilliana is preparing a leg of lamb for Meadow to take back to Columbia. Tony complains that a new brand of coffee acted like a laxative on him. Carmela says he needs more roughage in his diet.

Mobbed Up: Agent Harris talk about the Soprano’s plumber, saying the area is Mr Ruggerio’s Neighbourhood. This is a reference to an American children’s TV show about kindly Mr Rogers and his neighbourhood.

I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano:
Gigi has a brief flashback to murdering Philly Parisi in #14 when Patsy is talking about his brother’s execution.

Quote/Unquote: FBI Agent Skip Lipari comes to terms with the disappearance of Pussy: ‘I think at this point it’s time to consider Bonpensiero compost.’ Judge Lapper tells the FBI to limit entrances to only the basement of the Soprano household: ‘It’s not a Better Homes and Gardens tour.’ Tony cracks wise to Patsy after Paulie’s rant about urine and footwear: ‘You want to commit suicide? Tie your shoes and have a bite of brasciole.’ Tony tells Gigi to log off the internet in case the FBI uses the connection for surveillance: ‘That cookie shit makes me nervous.’

Soundtrack: ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlife’ by A3. Tony sings along to Steely Dan’s ‘Dirty Work’ in his car. The ‘Peter Gunn Theme’ by Henry Mancini is mixed with ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police during many of the FBI sequences. Caitlin sings some of ‘New York, New York’. ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles. ‘High Fidelity’ by Elvis Costello. ‘Scud Missile’ by Fat Jack feat. Ganjah KMC. ‘Van Gogh’ by Ras Kass.

Surveillance Report: In America HBO launched Season Three by screening #27 and #28 back to back. This episode faded out before the closing credits. A caption labelled ‘Episode 2’ appeared before #28 was shown in its entirety. That was followed by another screen caption, introducing the closing credits for #27. The double-header debut also introduced widescreen broadcasts as HBO gave viewers a choice between watching the episodes in conventional ratio on HBO Plus or in widescreen on its main channel. Lilliana’s husband Stasiu is played by Albert Makhtsier. When the character appeared previously in the Season Two episode ‘Full Leather Jacket’, he was played by a different actor, Marek Przystup.

The Verdict: ‘We’ve had every one of Tony’s phones bugged for four years. But the guy says less than Harpo Marx.’ The FBI goes to great lengths to place a listening device into the Soprano’s basement. Tony is having problems with new crew member Patsy Parisi, unaware of the efforts to ensnare him. Season Three hits the ground running with this opening episode, unless the first instalment of the previous season. ‘Mr Ruggerio’s Neighborhood’ cleverly uses the FBI’s point of view to quickly update viewers on what’s been happening since the end of Season Two. In terms of plot not much actually happens but the viewer hardly notices. This is one of The Sopranos’ funniest ever episodes. It’s packed with wisecracks and visual humour, while the seamless mix of the Peter Gunn theme with the Police’s ode to stalking is a hilarious sound gag. The Sopranos is back and it’s still one of the best things on television…

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