Monday, May 07, 2007

Sopranos episode guide #31: Another Toothpick

US Transmission Date: 25 March 2001

Writer: Terence Winter • Director: Jack Bender
Cast: Burt Young (Bobby ‘Bacala’ Baccalieri Sr), Richard Portnow (Attorney Hal Melvoin), Brian Tarantina (Mustang Sally), Paul Schulze), Vanessa Ferlito (Tina), Sheila Gibbs (Receptionist), Charles S. Dutton (Officer Wilmore), Vincent Orofino (Bryan Spatafore), Michael Variano (Petey), Michael Martochio (Carlos), Eric Weiner (Manager).

Storyline: Tony and Carmela have their first joint therapy session with Dr Melfi but it does not go well. They both become very angry. Tony drives home too fast while Carmela cries. She says the therapist took his side. Tony is pulled over for speeding. He tries to gently bribe the black cop without success. Two workers from Spatafore Brothers Construction drive to a sandwich shop to get lunch for the team. Bryan Spatafore stays with the car so it doesn’t get a ticket. A couple sat in a parked car behind start arguing. The woman gets out and asks Bryan for a lift. He declines – he doesn’t want to get involved in a domestic argument. The man emerges from the car and attacks Bryan, viciously beating him with a golf putter.

Tony and Paulie visit the comatose Bryan in hospital. The brain damaged builder is the nephew of Vito Spatafore, one of the Aprile crew. Vito and the rest of the crew – captain Gigi, Eugene and Ralphie – are all at the bedside, along with Jackie Jr. Ralphie tries to make jokes but nobody finds them funny. Vito has told the police nothing but he knows the culprit was a gangster called Mustang Sally. Vito wants bloody vengeance and Jackie Jr volunteers to help. Tony sends Jackie Jr out of the room. Ralphie is giving Gigi agita – he’s obviously still bitter that Tony passed him over to give the captaincy to Gigi. Gigi says Mustang Sally will be brought under control with extreme fucking prejudice.

Father Phil leads a funeral for Carmela’s uncle, who has died of cancer. Uncle Junior arrives partway through the service, accompanied by Bobby ‘Bacala’ Jr and his father, ‘Bacala’ Sr. The old man coughs almost constantly into a handkerchief. He has come back after nearly a decade of retirement in Miami to visit his grandchildren. Junior looks unhappy and out of sorts, as he has done for weeks. After the funeral Carmela and Father Phil share an awkward moment outside the church. Tony tells Bacala Sr about the planned hit on Sally – Bacala Sr was Sally’s godfather. The old man has lung cancer.

The Vesuvio restaurant has a great night’s business. Artie wants to celebrate with Adriana but she resigns as hostess. Christopher doesn’t want her working now he’s a made man. Uncle Junior and Bacala Jr try to play checkers but neither has their mind on the game. Bacala Jr is upset because Tony has approved having Bacala Sr whack Mustang Sally. He asks Junior to intervene.

Junior and Tony meet in the office of Junior’s lawyer. Tony refuses to change his decision about the hit. Using Bacala Sr was Gigi’s idea – if Tony changes that, it will seem he’s undermining the new captain. Tony also believes using the old man is a smart move. Sally has been hiding but approached Bacala Sr for help. He can get close to Sally without suspicion.

Tony and Christopher are the last dinner customers at Vesuvio when Artie emerges drunkenly from the kitchen. He calls Christopher a cocksucker for insisting Adriana quit work and jokes about poisoning the mobster. Christopher throws Artie against a wall and threatens to poke his eye out with a fork. Tony rescues Artie by pulling Christopher away and sending him outside. Artie confesses that he’s in love with Adriana and says his wife Charmaine is a cunt. Tony tells him to sober up – he has a business opportunity for Artie.

Tony talks to State Assemblyman Zellman, demanding to know when his speeding ticket will be sorted out. Junior tells Bacala Jr he decided not to intervene with Tony. Bacala Sr arrives, coughing up blood. Junior urges him to consult with Dr John Kennedy, the head of oncology at a local hospital. Junior is angry about Bacala Sr being used for the hit, but the old man says he wanted the job. It makes him feel useful. He doesn’t care if it goes wrong – he’s dead already.

Artie and Charmaine argue about Artie’s plan to launch a line of Italian sauces in a business called Satriale’s with Tony Soprano. She insists it will become a front for the mob and be a guaranteed disaster. Tony, Paulie, Gigi, Ralphie and Johnny Sack meet over a meal at Vesuvio. Johnny says Junior asked him to get Tony to reconsider using Bacala Sr. Ralphie needles Gigi about the decision. Tony says the matter is closed.

Tony goes to a garden centre to buy piping. He encounters the cop who stopped him. The cop says he has been transferred to the property room and is no longer eligible for overtime – hence the weekend job. Afterwards Tony feels sorry for the cop and tries to get the cop reinstated. Bacala Sr whacks Mustang Sally and an associate of the mobster called Carlos. Driving home the old man has a coughing fit. He passes out and crashes his car into a pole, dying as a result of the collision. Bacala Jr tells Junior about his dad’s death. Junior wants to know whether the crash or the cancer killed Bacala Sr. The dead man’s son says he doesn’t know. Junior smashes up a room in his own house.

Charmaine is working reception at Vesuvio but is no match for the charming and beautiful Adriana in Artie’s eye. The couple argue and Artie insists he is going into business with Tony. He pushes Charmaine into seeking a divorce. She pledges to keep their children and walks out. Tony meets with Junior at Dr Schreck’s office. Junior says he has cancer of the stomach. He had his first test the day before Livia’s funeral. Tony realises that’s why Junior has been acting so weird lately. Junior won’t know how back the cancer is until surgeons operate in a fortnight.

Junior believes cancer comes in threes – first Jackie Aprile Sr, then Carmela’s uncle, then Bacala Sr. But the last of the trio was killed by a car crash, so Junior believes the cancer will get him instead to complete the threesome. Junior makes Tony promise not to tell anyone about the cancer. Tony immediately phones Janice to tell her. They have a drink and talk about death. Janice asks whatever happened to Pussy. Tony says he went into the witness protection programme. Since that’s the same place he says Richie went, Janice knows Pussy is really dead.

Meadow comes home to do her laundry. Her bike was stolen from outside the college library by a black guy, which gives Tony reason to smirk. Meadow attacks his racist attitudes and storms out, taking a lamp from the basement. She says the lighting in her dorm room gives her headaches. Artie and Adriana have a secret dinner. Artie says he will miss her and invites her to join his business with Tony as a vice president. He asks if she’s sure about marriage and keeps trying to hold Adriana’s hand. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom.

Zellman, Tony and Johnny Sack have a meal at Vesuvio to split up who gets to control which workers on the multi-million dollar Newark project. Tony gets plumbing and electrical unions, while Johnny Sack gets the steel workers and bricklayers. Zellman offers to have the black cop reinstated but Tony, still smarting from Meadow’s remarks, decides the cop got what he deserved.

FBI Agent Harris tells his boss that the wire in the Soprano basement has been neutralised, because Meadow took the lamp away to college. Junior doesn’t want to go to Bacala Sr’s funeral. He tells Bacala Jr that he has cancer. Tony returns to the garden centre to buy an ornament. Tony tries to give the cop some extra cash but he refuses to accept it and walks away…

Deep and Meaningful: Junior is distraught when he hears that Bacala Sr has died in the car crash. He demands to know the cause of death. Bacala Jr is mystified and asks why Junior cares about the details. Junior agrees that everyone should show respect for the dead man. Then he loses control, smashing up his room before rushing away. Junior almost never loses control, always bottling up his feelings. The reason behind this scene is revealed later in the episode. Junior has cancer but hoped he would survive it if Bacala Sr was killed by the disease, ending a cycle of three cancer-related deaths.

Mobspeak: Tony tells Zellman to straighten (resolve) his speeding ticket. Ralphie calls Gigi ‘my man Googoots’ (stupid person). Junior says he is playing the big casino (cancer). He makes Tony promise to dummy up (keep quiet) about his medical condition.

Mamma Mia: Janice says Livia always used to call people who died from cancer ‘another toothpick’. Janice recalls that her mother hated giving or taking compliments, in case they invoked the wrath of God.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Bryan Spatafore sends Petey into the sandwich store to get the construction workers’ lunches. Bryan says Freddy wants peppers and eggs on one of the sandwiches. Paulie brings a box of chocolates to the hospital. Vito promises he can keep his mouth shut but Ralphie says that is unless there’s a salami sandwich around. When Tony and Paulie have left, Vito opens the chocolates and everybody has one. Junior puts the remains of his lunch down the garbage disposal but it jams on a fruit stone. Bacala Sr arrives with a shortcake from a bakery. Artie and Charmaine carry fresh produce into the kitchen at Vesuvio as they argue about Artie launching a food business with Tony. Artie says she knows how people love his sauce. The first Vesuvio restaurant was opened by Artie’s grandfather in the 1930s. Tony, Paulie, Gigi, Ralphie and Johnny Sack have a dinner of pasta, bread and wine at Vesuvio. Tony brings Junior the last of his sweetcorn from the garden when they meet at Dr Schreck’s office. Artie takes Adriana out to a very expensive restaurant as thanks for her work at Vesuvio. She goes to the bathroom just as their main courses arrive – elaborately constructed cuisine. Junior is trying to have a sandwich when Bacala Jr arrives to take him to Bacala Sr’s funeral.

Mobbed Up: Ralphie praises the quality of DVD as ‘fucking incredible’. He quotes Gladiator: ‘In this world or the next, I shall have my revenge.’ Ralphie says that with a flat screen TV and surround sound, it’s like the chariots are going through the fucking house. Tony mocks the black cop at the garden centre. ‘Oh, it’s Shaft!’ Junior tries to watch a film starring Frank Sinatra, but struggles to see around the bulky body of Bacala Jr.

How Do You Feel?:
Tony, Carmela and Dr Melfi sit in a resounding silence which lasts for twenty-five seconds at the first joint therapy session. The only sound is Tony’s stomach rumbling. Tony wonders if something Carmela does could be a trigger for his attacks. Carmela takes offence at his question.

How Do You Feel, Carmela?: Carmela says she feels concerned and helpless when Tony passes out. She is also frustrated at Dr Melfi’s inability to help him.

Sleeping With The Fishes: After four episodes with only one death from natural causes, this episode suddenly opts for a pile ‘em high approach. Carmela’s uncle dies from cancer off-screen. Bacala Sr murders Mustang Sally and his friend Carlos with a handgun, before dying himself in a car crash. Four for the price the one, now that’s value for money!

Quote/Unquote: Carmela reveals her hypocritical side when Tony gets a ticket for speeding: ‘Makes me sick. You think they’d be out arresting dope dealers.’ Junior is dismissive when Bacala Jr asks him to intervene so Bacala Sr will not have to come out of retirement: ‘Fuck that – we’re in the navy?’ Artie parrots market research findings: ‘Product brandings of things beginning with the letter V make people think of vagina – it’s a turn off.’ Johnny Sack comments on a scale model for the new waterfront development: ‘Fucking Newark. They got little hookers giving little blowjobs?’

Soundtrack: ‘Jim Dandy’ by Laverne Baker & The Gliders. ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ by Rodriego. ‘Sister Golden Hair’ by America. Meadow sings along to ‘Breathless’ by The Corrs as she’s doing her laundry. ‘Shuck Dub’ by R. L. Burnside. ‘The Genius After Hours’ by Ray Charles.

Surveillance Report:
Tony uses the name Mr Spears when he is contacting State Assemblyman Zellman. There are pumpkins for sale on the counter at the garden centre, indicating that Halloween is fast approaching. That dates this episode at taking place around October. When Bacala Sr crashes his car, a sign falls from a lamp-post which reads YOUR AD HERE. Some viewers took this as a swipe by the show’s creators against product placement on television.

The Verdict: ‘All this goddamn morbidity!’ Junior reveals he has stomach cancer, Tony has a close encounter with a black cop and Bacala Jr’s dad comes out of retirement for one last job. Meanwhile Artie and Charmaine Bucco’s marriage is coming apart at the seams. This episode is relentlessly downbeat. Any humour that crawls from the human carnage is bleak at best. Four people die, Uncle Junior faces a medical death sentence and divorce seems certain for the Buccos. Artie is playing a very dangerous game by declaring his love for Adriana and goading Christopher. In the midst of all this, Tony’s attitude to the black cop flip flops back and forth between anger and sympathy. The subplot seems out of place in what is otherwise a grim but gripping episode.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Never really watched The Sopranos myself; not because it wasn't good nor because I object to media imperialism (which I sort of do, out of Brit habit, except for CSI and ER), but because it was always on past my bedtime... Same goes for 24, The Wire, etc etc. I know, I know, prime of my youth etc but I really do go to bed before 10. I have young children! That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.