Tuned In

"Sopranos! You Go Too Far!"

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HBO

The problem with reviewing new episodes of a show like The Sopranos in advance is that you have to do it without divulging any essential plot points, which are kind of important to, you know, understanding what actually happens in the show: e.g., “Bobby coldcocks Tony during a drunk Monopoly game and they nearly kill each other!”

Anyway, this is one of those episodes that a certain breed of Sopranos fan will just hate: the fan who, a few episodes into a given season, starts asking, “When’s somebody going to get whacked? Enough with the family bulls___ already!”

I watched this episode a couple times to review it, and it was only on the second viewing that I appreciated how well constructed it was, how perfectly pitched the character interplay was, how many tiny lines and moments resonated with earlier events from years ago. The return of the duck imagery, for instance, which I mentioned in my Time magazine review, but also the passive-aggressive competition between Janice and Carmela.

Speaking of which, I’ve never been a huge Janice fan, but this episode had her down. It would be funny, if a small child were not involved, to see what a simultaneously doting and awful mother she is. (Her nanny must have the worst job in the childcare industry.) For instance, there was the sudden obsession, after Carmela’s child-drowning story, that her daughter not go in the lake when she’s not present, which leads to her sending Domenica to nap as a punishment, which probably in turn leads to the girl’s reluctance to stay in bed. (Yes, I’ve read one too many sleep-training books.) Which problem Jan then attempts to solve by bribing the girl with a Laffy Taffy–and let’s just say, given Tony and Janice’s genes, you don’t want to be going down the food-as-comfort road in this family.

But hands down my favorite Janice moment: her rushing out, in the fight scene, to restrain Bobby… only after the fight was clearly over.

And that Monopoly game. The entire sequence–the innocent hanging out, the gradually deepening drunkenness, the slow slide from friendly to tense to ugly, the awkward aftermath and Carmela brushing the bloody house from Tony’s forehead–was one of the best-written single scenes in Sopranos history. I loved Bobby’s principled stand on the Free-Parking rule, which itself was a veiled rebellion against Tony’s ethics of convenience: “You know, the Parker Brothers took the time to think this all out…. This is bulls___. You take a game of skill and you make it just about luck.”

Luck–Bobby’s is that he’s never had to kill a guy, which, despite Tony’s attempt to be big about it (“Salut. It’s a big fat pain in the balls”) clearly eats at him. It may finally be a bigger offense than Bobby beating him up–being unsullied, above it all, with his innocent conscience and his pretty vacation home and his cute, adoring little girl–and Tony’s punishment is to make sure Bobby has to get right down in the moral crapper with him.

Oh, and we haven’t even discussed the bravest performance of the night: Edie Falco, belting out those beautifully awful bars of “Love Hurts” into the karaoke mike. Just before she gets thrown on her shoulder trying to keep her husband from beating her brother-in-law to death. Love hurts indeed.

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