Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sopranos episode guide #39: Army of One

US Transmission Date: 20 May 2001

Written by: David Chase & Lawrence Konner • Director: John Patterson
Cast: Fairuza Balk (Agent Deborah Ciccerone), Normal Maxwell (FBI Agent), Marc Damon Johnson (Detective Filemon Francis), Danielle Cautella (Mackenzie Trucillo), Melissa Marsala (Kelli Aprile), Patricia Mauceri (Marie), Francis Esemplare (Nucci), Ryan Homchick (Cadet Delaunay), Candy Trabucco (Miss Giaculo), Dick Latessa (Father L’Oiseau), Michael Kenneth Williams (Ray Ray), Monique Lola Berkley (Saleswoman), Lekel Russell (Leena), Geoff Wigdor (Little Bruce), Phil Larocco (Wiseguy), Dino Palermo (Junior’s Friend), Tobin Bell (Major Zwingli).

Storyline: AJ and his friend Egon Kosma hide in the school basement, waiting for the janitor to leave. Egon has to piss, prompting AJ into having a slash too. Afterwards they sneak into an office in search of something. Jackie Jr hides out with a black father and daughter on a housing project. He is introduced to them by a friend in exchange for a pistol. Paulie takes his mother on a tour of Green Grove retirement community. She loves it. Paulie needs to raise $40,000 as a deposit.

Later he meets with Silvio and Ralphie at a dinner. Paulie wants half the proceeds from the robbery of a safe for which he provided the details and codes to Ralphie. Ralphie netted nearly $100,000 from the job. He pretends to get a phone call on his mobile from Tony and uses it as an excuse to leave the meeting without giving Paulie anything. The message was actually a pre-arranged call from Vito Spatafore, who is part of Ralphie’s crew. Tony gets a phone call at home from a desperate Jackie Jr. He wants help. Tony refers him to Ralphie and hangs up.

Ralphie meets with Tony and says there’s another $300,000 coming soon from the esplanade project. Tony says Jackie Jr called, and wants to know what Ralphie is doing about the problem. He defers all decisions and actions to Ralphie but indicates it should be resolved very soon. The principal at AJ’s school invites AJ and Egon to his office. He complements them on both getting 96% for geometry, a subject they both usually fail. The principal claims to have gotten a DNA match to them from the urine the janitor found in the basement. Egon cracks and starts crying. AJ blames Egon for peeing first.

FBI agents meet to discuss the status of their investigation into the Soprano Family. Junior seems to have beaten cancer. The feds decide to try another tactic, using a female agent to get close to Adriana in the hope she’ll divulge Family secrets. A young agent who has only done background checks before is given the job. Jackie Jr goes out for a walk. He is slain by Vito. Tony goes to the office at the Bada Bing. Christopher walks out, still in a huff with Tony. Paulie whines about the money dispute. He demands a sit-down with Ralphie and Tony. Tony gets a tearful phonecall from Carmela.

AJ has been permanently expelled from Verbum Dei. Tony decides his son should go to a military academy. He has brochures for such schools, given to him by Janice. Carmela gets news that Jackie Jr is dead, murdered in a drugs deal gone awry. She goes to comfort Rosalie Aprile. AJ calls Meadow, who tells him the DNA test was a bluff – such results take six weeks. He tells him about the murder of Jackie Jr. Meadow is distraught. Tony discusses Jackie’s death with Dr Melfi. She says he foresaw this day would come. Tony says AJ would never survive if he tried to join the mob.

Tony and Carmela take AJ for an interview at Hudson Military Institute. AJ is appalled to learn the school day runs from 5.30am to 10pm with no television. Major Zwingli tells Tony and Carmela about the school philosophy, which encourages students to become an army on one. That night Tony and Carmela have a screaming match over whether AJ should go to Hudson. Attendance at the funeral home for Jackie Jr is poor. Rosalie bitterly attributes this to it being just two days to Superbowl – the climax of the sports betting season. Janice gives the funeral director Cozzarelli a demo CD of her Christian contemporary music to play. She says the boss of Sony Records is interested. Cozzarelli buries the CD under a pile of paperwork.

Christopher takes Tony to one side and apologises for doubting him about how to handle the Jackie Jr situation. Tony just walks away from him. After seeing Jackie Jr’s body, Carmela relents and decides to try Tony’s suggestion of sending AJ to military school. The sit-down goes badly for Paulie. Tony rules that Ralphie has to pay Paulie only $12,000 of the profits. Paulie is left bitter and stunned – he needed more money to pay for his mother to go to Green Grove.

Adriana makes a new friend while shopping for funeral clothes. FBI Agent Ciccerone succeeds in her assignment, adopting the name Danielle. AJ puts on the military school’s dress uniform at home for his parents. He starts crying because he doesn’t want to go. Finally, it all becomes too much – he has a panic attack and passes out. Like father, like son. Tony tells Dr Melfi that AJ can’t go to military school because of the panic attacks. His son has the same problem as him. Verbum Dei has belatedly admitted AJ had a panic attack during football practice, which was diagnosed as dehydration at the time by the school nurse. Tony is on the verge of tears – how are they going to save AJ?

Cut to Jackie Jr’s coffin being unloaded from a hearse for burial. The police swoop and arrest Christopher and Silvio on gambling-related charges at the graveyard. Paulie runs off so he escapes arrest. Junior and Bacala turn up. When Junior sees the cops, he departs so fast he almost leaves Bacala behind. Afterwards at the Aprile Meadow argues with Jackie Jr’s sister Kelli. Kelli believes Jackie was killed by one of the local mobsters. Meadow hits the vodka and defends her father, saying Tony is not boss of North Jersey. She is stunned Kelli shows no loyalty to the Family and talks about it in front of an outsider.

Nearly everyone gathers at Vesuvio for Jackie Jr’s wake. Paulie leaves when Tony, saying he has to go look after his mother. Tony chats with Junior, who has finally been released from house arrest. Junior’s trial on RICO charges is starting soon. Having survived cancer, Junior decides to enjoy life more. Johnny Sack approaches Paulie outside. Paulie complains about Tony’s ruling and Ralphie’s attitude. Johnny Sack says New York boss Carmine asks after Paulie. Paulie offers his services to Carmine, anytime, for anything.

Junior says an Italian song, ‘Core ‘ngrato’ – ungrateful heart. It brings tears to the eyes of many in the restaurant. Artie stands by his wife Charmaine, but he looks lovingly at Adriana who is with Christopher. Janice is all over Ralphie like a cheap suit. Meadow throws bits of bread at Junior before running out, pursued by Tony. She runs away from him, just managing to cross the road safely in heavy traffic. Tony returns to Vesuvio, where he hugs AJ and Carmela. Junior continues singing…

Deep and Meaningful: Tony has a moment of intense self-loathing and fear when discussing AJ’s fate with Dr Melfi. He says his son has got the same putrid, rotten fucking Soprano gene as himself. Tony is on the verge of tears. He has already said AJ could not survive in the Family business, especially after what happens to Jackie Jr. Tony knows Meadow will be alright – but what future is there for his son?

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Paulie’s mother worries when she hears Green Grove has a Parisian night – she doesn’t want to eat snails. The staff assure her that the food will be dishes like coq au vin and blanket of veal. Tony kicks the door off the mini-fridge at the Bada Bing when he finds someone has eaten the Lo Mein (Chinese noodles served in a clinging sauce) he left there for later consumption. Tony, Carmela and AJ have pasta for dinner while Tony looks at brochures on military schools for AJ. Vesuvio serves dinner for Jackie’s wake. Junior complements the gravy. Meadow lops lumps of bread at Junior when he starts singing.

Mobbed Up: Tony compares AJ in dress uniform to Sgt Bilko, the classic US sitcom starring Phil Silvers as a scheming soldier in the army.

How Do You Feel?: Tony feels that he failed Jackie Jr. He tells Dr Melfi that he is not going to make the same mistake with AJ, hence the military school plan. Tony says the most important thing for Meadow is she gets as far away as possible from the Family business.

Sleeping With The Fishes: Jackie Aprile Jr, executed by Vito Spatafore with a single bullet to the back of the head. The funeral home does a great job of reconstructing his face so Jackie can have an open coffin.

Quote/Unquote: Tony offers no sympathy when Jackie Jr asks for help, yet again using his dead father as a reason for special treatment: ‘He’s been dead for two years. As a matter of fact, the expiration date was last week on all your bullshit with that.’ FBI Agent Cubitoso asks Agent Ciccerone how would she like to make a new best friend for the next nine months: ‘Let me put it this way – how big can you make your hair?’ Kelli Aprile correctly guesses the true circumstances of her brother’s murder: ‘He was killed by some fat fuck in see-through socks.’ Junior remembers Jackie Jr as a dumb fuck who nearly drowned in three inches of water. ‘The penguin exhibition,’ Tony says, nodding sadly. Junior celebrates his freedom after getting released from house arrest: ‘I’ve been farting into the same sofa cushion for 18 months.’

Soundtrack: The residents at Green Grove sing Sammy Cahn’s ‘Call Me Irresponsible’. ‘Wonderful Love’ by Creeper Lagoon. Junior sings ‘Core 'ngrato’ at Vesuvio restaurant. During the song the music mutates into a medley of other tracks, including ‘Parlez-moi d'amour’ by Lucienne Boyer and ‘La Enramada-Bolero’ by Los Tres Ases. ‘Wihtout You’ by Angie Stone. ‘Wondering’ by Nathan Wang. Meadow sings a line from ‘Oops I Did It again’ by Britney Spears at the wake. ‘Ambient music track #7 (blur)’ by the Aphex Twin plays over the closing credits.

Surveillance Report: When they first meet to discuss the proceeds of the safe job, Paulie calls Ralphie Richie – but nobody seems to notice. Was this a slip of the tongue by the actor which went unnoticed or an attempt to wind Ralphie up? It has to be asked – what is the significance of Junior seemingly signing in tongues at the end of this episode? His own voice is replacing with three other voices singing in other languages, yet the music is cleverly timed so it appears Junior is lip-synching the words. Is this meant to represent the universal nature of the themes in his song? The global problems of family and the heart? Who knows? Creator David Chase and the rest of the production team. The viewer is just left scratching their head as the season closes with the most oblique moment yet in The Sopranos. This episode drew 9.5 million viewers when it was first broadcast on US television. This is higher than the ratings for Season Two’s finale, but down on the eleven million viewers who tuned into the double-length premiere for Season Three. By way of comparison, The X Files’ finale screened at the same time on the Fox network got 14 million viewers. But only a third of US homes have HBO access, so The Sopranos’ ratings are still very impressive. FBI Agent Ciccerone is played by Fairuza Balk, an actress best known for playing the lead witch in supernatural thriller The Craft and other gothic roles. The role was recast for season four.

The Verdict: ‘We’re starting a new regime around here!’ Jackie Jr meets his inevitable. AJ gets expelled and only just escapes being banished to military school. Tony’s man management techniques leave something to be desired as he alienates both Christopher and Paulie, storing up trouble for the future. Viewers who tune into this episode expecting a traditional season finale neatly tying up long-running plot threads have come to the wrong place. The only things resolved are Jackie Jr’s fate, Junior beating cancer and house arrest. Aside from that, everything else is still up in the air. In fact, this episode sets up several new plot elements. Fairuza makes her debut as an FBI agent assigned to making friends with Adriana, while Johnny Sack starts working on Paulie to have him betray Tony. When creator David Chase began planning Season Three, he asked for the first episode’s broadcast to be pushed back from the usual January slot to March 2001. This extra two months would be spent plotting out both Seasons Three and Four. So this episode is really just the halfway point in a 26-episode run, rather than the expected apocalyptic season finale. On that basis it another strong effort, if not the equal of the two preceding episodes.

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