Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sopranos episode guide #30: Employee of the Month

US Transmission Date: 18 March 2001

Writers: Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess • Director: John Patterson
Cast: Richard Romanus (Richard La Penna), Shaun Toub (Arouk Abboubi), Will McCormack (Jason La Penna), Traci Godfrey (Edwina Fowley), Zabryna Guevara (Clerk), Stephen Kunken (ER Doctor), Jill Marie Lawrence (Detective Piersol), Mario Polit (Jesus Rossi), Bobby Rivers (News Reporter).

Storyline: Irina calls Tony at home. She wants to see him again and uses Svetlana’s missing leg as an excuse for phoning. He tells her never to call him at home again. Dr Melfi has taken her estranged husband Richard back into her life. At home they argue about Melfi having a mobster as a patient. She says Tony made a real breakthrough recently. Richard works for the National Italian American Foundation, fighting against negative depictions of Italian Americans in the media. His latest campaign is against a TV film called Gangster. Richard urges Melfi to drop Tony as a patient.

At her next session with Tony Melfi is disappointed to discover he has not been thinking about the recent breakthrough at all. The therapist suggests involving Carmela in their sessions but Tony doesn’t like the idea. Melfi accuses him of not trying but Tony changes the subject. Melfi tells her own therapist, Dr Kupferberg, that Richard was right – she has been charmed by a sociopath. She agonises about her relationship with Richard and accidentally discloses Tony’s name to her therapist. Dr Kupferberg suggests it’s time to hand Tony over to a behavioural therapist.

Janice is searching the basement of Livia’s house with a metal detector, looking for loot. Tony arrives and tells his sister to give Svetlana’s leg back, instead of holding it for ransom against Livia’s record collection. He warns her not to fuck with the Russians. Ralphie and Jackie Jr have dinner at Vesuvio. Rosalie is seeing Ralphie and wants him and Jackie to get along. Ralphie notes Jackie’s interest in Meadow Soprano and tries to build a bond with the surly 23-year-old. After dinner Ralphie takes Jackie when he goes to confront a late paying garbage collector, Arouk Abboubi. Jackie gives Arouk a beating at Ralphie’s behest. Ralphie gives Jackie a cut of the proceeds.

Tony visits Johnny Sack, who has bought a palatial house in New Jersey. Tony is upset that the New York Family man has moved into Soprano Family territory, but Johnny insists there is no hidden agenda. Tony meets with Ralphie and says he is installing Gigi Cestone as captain of the Aprile crew. This is partly as punishment for involving Jackie Jr in the beating of Arouk. Tony admits Gigi is there to spy on the Aprile crew, but says that shouldn’t be necessary – Ralphie makes it necessary. Ralphie protests that he is busting his ass for Tony, but to no avail.

Dr Melfi tells Tony he’s ready to move on to behavioural therapy with another psychiatrist. Tony apologises for his attitude at the last session and accuses her of giving up on him. Afterwards Dr Melfi walks down a stairwell to her car in the building’s basement, talking to Richard on her cellphone. A man in a red cap passes her going up the stairs. Melfi rings off as she enters the basement and goes to her car. The man in the red cap grabs her from behind and threatens to stab her. Melfi tries to escape but her assailant is too fast and too strong. He drags the therapist into the stairwell and rapes her.

Melfi is being treated at hospital when Richard arrives. Melfi’s face is bruised and her left leg is badly sprained. A man matching her attacker has been caught with Melfi’s palm pilot in his possession. He denies the rape and says he found the palm pilot on the street. The man in custody is Jesus Rossi, a 28-year-old with no previous convictions. Richard is startled to hear Rossi has an Italian name, he had been told the attacker was Puerto Rican. He wrings his hands in anguish. Their son Jason arrives. He is furious that his mother was attacked and vows to kill the rapist.

Melfi phones the Soprano household to cancel Tony’s next appointment. The therapist tells Carmela she hurt her leg in a car accident. When Carmela tells Tony, he worries that Melfi will have a scar on her leg. Carmela seems unimpressed by his concern. Tony quickly changes the subject by asking if Carmela would get involved in his therapy sessions. She agrees.

Melfi is waiting at home for the police to call so she can pick her assailant from an identity parade. Richard arrives home and phones the police. The detective on the case has been transferred to another department and Jesus Rossi has been released. The police had to let him go on a technicality after mishandling the chain of custody and misplacing Melfi’s rape kit for a while. Richard threatens to sue the police. Melfi and Richard argue about who is to blame and accuse each other of being culpable. Melfi is especially upset about Richard’s reaction to Rossi having an Italian surname, as if any misdeed by an Italian damages his self esteem.

Tony and his crew are hanging out at the Bada Bing’s back office. They are swapping jokes about how fat Johnny Sack’s wife Ginny is when Johnny Sack walks in. He tells them to watch the news for once. On TV State Assemblyman Ronald Zellman announces that the first $25 million of state and federal matching funds have been approved for the New Jersey project. The Museum of Science and Trucking alone will cost $100 million. The mobsters all raise a toast – they stand to make a fortune, as Zellman is in Tony’s pocket.

Melfi and Richard apologise to each other – they realise their argument was born of frustration. Richard says he could kill Rossi with his own hands, but then he’d end up in jail. Christopher visits Tony at home and they talk business in the basement. Christopher apologises for involving Jackie in the box office heist. Tony repeats that he doesn’t want Jackie involved in the mob.

Melfi goes back to work with the aid of a cane. She has to use the stairwell and go past the spot where she was raped. Tony is shocked when he sees her appearance at their session. She lies about how she got her injuries. Melfi gives him some notes of behavioural therapy to read. Her cane falls over and she almost jumps out of her chair, clearly terrified. Tony is worried and asks her if everything is all right. She appreciates his concern. Jackie is at the Soprano house borrowing a samovar for his mother when Tony comes home. Meadow arrives and asks Tony for money. She and Jackie flirt in front of Tony.

Melfi is buying her lunch from a sandwich bar when she sees the face of the rapist on the wall, enshrined as employee of the month. The therapist drops her drink on the floor and walks out. Two burly Russian man break into Livia’s house and start beating Janice. She takes them to a bowling alley where she has Svetlana’s leg hidden a locker. Janice surrenders the leg meekly. Melfi dreams about a Rottweiler dog attacks her rapist, Jesus Rossi.

Melfi discusses the dream with her therapist. Melfi realises the dog represents Tony, a violent creature whom she could unleash on Rossi. By comparison, Richard is employing a $300 an hour attorney to seek some legal recourse. Melfi reassures her therapist that she will not break the social compact by using Tony as a weapon of vengeance. But she says the idea of doing so gives her a certain satisfaction. Tony goes to see Janice, who is being treated at an emergency room in hospital. She has three broken ribs. Janice says she has hit bottom and now feels born again in the Lord. ‘I give myself up totally to God.’ Tony says Janice has done this before with a variety of Gods and it only spells trouble.

Johnny and Ginny Sack have a house-warming party. Tony’s crew wonder how much the huge house cost. Gigi ponders the level of property taxes and says you actually have to pay them. Tony notices Ralphie deep in conversation with Johnny Sack. Tony tells Dr Melfi he is ready to move on to behavioural therapy with another doctor. She is shocked and begins sobbing. Tony hugs and comforts her. He asks if there is something she wants to say to him. Dr Melfi says no.

Deep and Meaningful: The crucial moment in this episode is not the rape, but stems from its aftermath. Dr Melfi knows she can tell Tony what really happened to her and he would deliver a swift and terrible vengeance upon Jesus Rossi. As the episode is ending, he gives her a chance to do just that. There is a long, long pause as the therapist decides whether to tell Tony. The silence lasts for nine seconds, but it feels like forever. Finally, she rejects the chance to get revenge by using one of her patients. Melfi stays true to herself and her beliefs.

Mobspeak: Richard call the TV film Gangster a stereotypical goombah (a guy who hangs around and does things for you, like Bacala does for Junior) fest. Dr Kupferberg talks about button men (made men, lower members of the Mafia). Silvio says Tony cut off Ralphie’s gotsies (short for stugots, the testicles).

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Richard and Dr Melfi prepare dinner together. Richard chops herbs and prepares chicken for cooking, while Melfi crushes garlic and sets the table. Ralphie and Jackie Jr are seen just as they finish dinner at Vesuvio. Tony is looking for food in the fridge when Carmela takes the phone call from Dr Melfi. He wants to know who ate the last piece of cake. Tony munches on a stick of celery instead, a healthier alternative. When Tony’s crew are cracking jokes about Ginny Sack, Silvio offers this gem: ‘She’s so fat, her blood type is ragu.’ Meadow invites Jackie Jr to visit her in New York so they can have sushi. Dr Melfi orders a chicken avocado wrap at Wrap Nation sandwich bar. She is shocked when she sees her rapist’s photo on the wall as employee of the month and walks out, leaving her lunch behind.

Mobbed Up: Richard whines about US television network ABC producing the film Gangster. He says it is full of stereotypes and it tries to give Mafia sociopaths the tragic grandeur of Al Pacino. Ralphie quotes dialogue from the film Gladiator: ‘What we do in life echoes in eternity.’ Silvio says Ralphie is fucking obsessed with the movie.

How Do You Feel?: Tony is unable to answer when Dr Melfi asks if he is happy. She accuses him of not trying in therapy but he changes the subject. Without a hint of irony, he says AJ shies away from anything that requires real effort. Tony believes his son picks that up from him. Tony is genuinely concerned for Melfi when he sees her after the rape, even though he doesn’t know what has really happened. The therapist is touched by this.

How Do You Feel, Doctor?: Dr Melfi is frustrated by Tony’s lack of commitment to therapy. She feels she has been charmed by a sociopath. After her dream, Melfi tells Dr Kupferberg that she felt a sense of relief. She felt safe for the first time since being raped. She realises the Rottweiler dog represents Tony. Like him it has a big head and massive shoulders. Rottweilers were used by Roman armies to guard their camps. Melfi says no feeling has ever been so sweet as to see her rapist beg, plead and scream for his life. She admits to feeling a certain satisfaction in knowing she cold have Rossi squashed like a bug if she wanted.

I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano:
Dr Melfi dreams she is working in her office late at night. She hears footsteps outside her door and the sound of a car being unlocked by remote. The back of her office door has a sign which says: DANGER! HIGH VOLTAGE! NJG&E (New Jersey Gas and Electric). Melfi opens the doors to her office. Next she is standing by an Acme Cola vending machine in her office. She puts two pieces of dried pasta into the coin slot but no can of drink is dispensed. Melfi crouches down and puts her arm deep into the machine but can’t get her drink. A single piece of pasta appears in the coin return slot. Melfi is now stretched out on the floor, her arm completely caught inside the vending machine. A black Rottweiler dog appears and barks at her menacingly. Jesus Rossi appears in the doorway. He stands over Melfi and then takes hold of her legs. The dog attacks Rossi, who screams in pain and anguish. Melfi wakes up with a start.

Janice sums up Irina, Tony’s ex-mistress: ‘Miss Petrograd Carburettor Works from 1987?’ Johnny Sack welcomes Tony to his new home: ‘Look who’s here – the guinea welcome wagon!’ Tony delivers the best of the jokes about the obese Ginny Sack: ‘When Ginny hauls ass, she has to make two trips.’ Christopher busts Tony’s balls about trying to keep Jackie away from the Family: ‘The life’s good enough for me but not for Little Lord Fuckpants?’ After her beating Janice has an epiphany: ‘I think there’s only one trajectory for me – God.’ Tony is less than convinced by her revelation: ‘All this soul-searching, Janice, it’s always on my fucking dime.’

Soundtrack: ‘Speedo’ by The Cadillacs. ‘Americano’ by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. ‘Oops, I Did It Again’ by Britney Spears. Janice tries to play the Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ on electric guitar. ‘Love Rollercoaster’ by the Ohio Players. ‘I Don’t Make Promises (I Can Break)’ by Shannon Curfman. ‘Fisherman’s Daughter’ by Daniel Lanois. ‘Chanchullo’ by Ruben Gonzalez.

Surveillance Report: Film director Peter Bogdanovich returns as Dr Melfi’s therapist, Dr Elliot Kupferberg. Also reprising their respective roles are Richard Romanus and Will McCormack as Dr Melfi’s husband Richard and son Jason. The rape of Dr Melfi was kept a complete surprise until this episode was first broadcast in America. Trailers for the episode hinted that something shocking and dramatic would happen but gave no other clue. Few other TV series would have been able to keep the storyline under wraps and some might even have been tempted to use it as a way of gaining publicity and higher ratings. The Sopranos cast and crew pride themselves on maintaining a code of silence about future plot developments and it paid off in this episode. The episode sets up a comparison between the law-abiding liberal Richard and the brute strength of the lawless Tony. There’s a scene of Richard talking about how he could kill the rapist with his own hands but can’t because he would be sent to jail. The action cuts to Tony towering over the camera, hefting an axe and cutting wood with practised ease. This just reinforces the impression of Richard as a weak, hand-wringing liberal.

The Verdict: ‘Who could I sick on that son of a bitch to tear him to shreds?’ Dr Melfi is raped but her assailant gets off after the police bungle procedures. Despite this, the therapist resists the urge to have Tony intervene for her Watching this episode is like being suddenly punched in the stomach – unexpected, shocking and painful. The rape scene is unflinching without being gratuitous, while the aftermath is adroitly handled. When Melfi is denied justice, viewers watching the final scene are likely to find themselves shouting at her to involve Tony. Instead she stays true to herself and her ideals. The rape and its fallout dominate this episode but several significant developments take place. Ralphie is fast emerging as a dangerous individual, while Jackie Jr twice shows interest in Meadow Soprano. Watch this space…


Cristin said...

Holy shite. I have just finished watching this episode and I think there is more detail here than in the show! BRILLIANTE!

Anonymous said...

Who's the stripper on-stage, right before the jokes about Johnny Sacks wife start-up.