My Favorite TV Episode of All Time

You know that we do take-away.
We deliver too.
Open twenty-four hours, babe.
Just waiting on a call from you.

The Sopranos
Episode 26 – Funhouse (Season 2 Final)

Directed by
John Patterson

Written by
David Chase & Todd A. Kessler

Regular Cast
James Gandolfini … Tony Soprano
Lorraine Bracco … Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Edie Falco … Carmela soprano
Michael Imperioli … Christopher Moltisanti
Dominic Chianese … Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano
Vincent Pastore … Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero
Steven Van Zandt … Silvio Dante
Tony Sirico … Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri
Robert Iler … Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano
Jamie-Lynn Sigler … Meadow Soprano
Nancy Marchand … Livia Soprano

Guest Players
Jerry Adler … Herman ‘Hesh’ Rapkin
Federico Castelluccio … Furio Guinta
John Ventimiglia … Artie Bucco
Dan Grimaldi … Patsy Parisi
Frank Pellegrino … Frank Cubitoso
Robert Patrick … David Scatino
Louis Lombardi, Jr. … Skip Lipari
Matt Servitto … Agent Harris
Sofia Milos … Anna Lisa
Maureen Van Zandt … Gabriella Dante
Toni Kalem … Angie Bonpensiero
David Margulies … Neil Mink
Nicole Burdette … Barbara Giglione
Tom Aldredge … Hugh DeAngelis
Suzanne Shepherd … Mary DeAngelis
John Fiore … Gigi Cestone
Robert Lupone … Bruce Cusamano
Barbara Andres … Quintina
Sig Libowitz … Hillel
David Anzuelo … Flight Attendant
Kathleen Fasolino … Meadow’s friend
Ray Garvey … Airport Guard
David Healy … Vice Principal
Ajay Mehta … Sundeep Kumar
Jay Palit … Indian Man

Wrap Up
Tony is feeling pretty good, despite his mother busting his chops after Janice left. He solves it by giving her airline tickets of the Scatino bust-out, so she can go and visit an old aunt (aunt Quinn, the other miserabile). He’s earning good enough money with a prepaid phone card scheme to buy Carmela a mink coat and he’s not so depressed anymore. Another reason for Tony’s untroubled state-of-mind is the demise of Richie, ‘All my enemies are smoked’, Tony tells his crew optimistically during a diner. But it is too good to be true, his unconsciousness tries to tell him. He gets food poisoning the day after. And in a fever dream Silvio tells him, ‘our true enemy has yet to reveal himself’, in true Al Pacino style. Silvio is even wearing the maroon vest Pacino wore in The Godfather III.

Pussy’s not feeling so well. He has to give his phone card earnings straight to FBI Agent Skip Lipari. He didn’t get food poisoning though, even though he ate at the same restaurants; an Indian place and Artie Bucco’s. Tony suspects Artie’s shellfish, but when Artie calls Pussy they find out he doesn’t have any symptoms, while they had different courses at the Indian place. Tony starts dreaming again, about him at the boardwalks. First he dreams that he sets himself on fire in front of his friends because he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer (‘what if they’re wrong?’). Then he dreams that he shoots Paulie Walnuts during a card game. He discusses the meaning with Dr. Melfi in a dream therapy session, while he also talks about Pussy. ‘Pussy’ in multiple ways.

Tony knows something is not feeling right about Big Pussy. He also knows someone has to get whacked, because of the Paulie dream. In another dream sequence, a fish who looks and talks like Big Pussy tells Tony he has been working with the federal government. Tony still doesn’t want to believe it, but when he wakes up he knows what has to be done. A little later, Tony and Silvio come by Big Pussy’s house to pick him up to help them buy a boat. Tony, still sick, pretends to get another attack and goes into the upstairs bathroom. While Silvio keeps Big Pussy downstairs with Angie, drinking coffee, Tony searches the bedroom. He finds what he was looking for; wiring equipment and tapes. When Tony comes downstairs he says, ‘who’s ready to buy a boat?’

Paulie Walnuts is waiting by the boat and Pussy is getting nervous. The boat departs and when open water is reached, Pussy is taken below deck, where Tony confronts him with his betrayal. After denying it, Big Pussy has no choice but to confess. He knows his number is up. And after a last round of tequila with his friends, the inevitable happens, Tony, Paulie and Silvio shoot Pussy and he drops dead in the cabin. His body is placed in a bag with weights and entrusted to the Atlantic Ocean.

When Tony comes home, his mother calls to tell him that she is being held by airport security for the Scatino tickets. Not much later the FBI comes by with a warrant. Just when Tony is handcuffed, Meadow comes in with her friends, one day before her graduation. Luckily Tony gets off easy but he is still concerned. The season ends the way it started, with a montage of all the Soprano crew’s businesses, such as Barone Sanitation, the Jewish owned hotel, the phone card scam and David Scatino who’s divorced, broke and leaving town. The scene is scored by The Rolling Stones with ‘Thru and Thru’, an insanely great choice.

At Meadows graduation party the whole Soprano cast is present and it’s one big happy family again. Tony stands alone in the living room, smoking a cigar and reflecting on recent times. The final shot is from the ocean, where Pussy sleeps forever.

Why Great?
This final episode of the second season is extremely well written and directed. It is a powerful and surprising final episode that reminds of a Greek tragedy. Tony has to make his hardest decision yet. This is totally necessary in his leadership position, but he was also the one who loved Big Pussy most whose death is therefore a great loss for him. And for the viewer as well. Pussy’s passing and the dream sequences leading up to it are so far the most exciting and memorable moments of the Soprano saga.

When I first watched ‘Funhouse’, I just couldn’t believe it. I was hoping for a terrific episode to wrap up the season, like season 1 did with ‘I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano’. A conventional finale that neatly ties up the remaining storylines, although The Sopranos was never conventional. ‘Funhouse’ did something else entirely. By adding twenty minutes of dreamtime I got much closer to Twin Peaks than to the mob films it originally seemed to be based on. It does resolve the main remaining story – that Big Pussy is indeed ‘singing’ for the feds – but it does so in a brilliantly surprising way. By delving into the main character’s subconscious and making him realise the ugly truth his conscious self couldn’t accept.

Michael Imperioli (who plays Christopher) has a theory*1 about the episode. That Tony didn’t have food poisoning at all, but that it was the knowledge that he had to kill his friend that made him so sick. And killing his friend he does. The scene on the boat, of which the interior scenes were shot in a studio, is a dramatic highlight of the show. Brilliant acting by the cast, especially James Gandolfini and Vincent Pastore as Pussy. It’s ridiculous that season 2 didn’t win the major Emmy Awards that year, but they weren’t ready for The Sopranos yet. The show has been groundbreaking from the beginning, and this episode really took it to another level again.

Finest Moment: Pussy on the Brain
Tony is having fever dreams while suffering from bad food poisoning. All dreams have certain elements in common; danger, cancer (destruction from inside out) and Pussy. It all leads up to this final dream; the dream in which Pussy – in fish shape, but it really looks like Pussy! – reveals to Tony that he is working for the government. It is in moments like this that The Sopranos is at its most powerful; using a dream as a method to really push the plot forward. In the first season, when his mother wanted him whacked, Tony was in denial and started fantasising about a Madonna. But he didn’t acknowledge the truth until he heard his mother speak on the FBI tapes. Now, Tony has learned to listen to his subconscious. He has been having a strange feeling about Pussy for a long time and now he is open to the ultimate truth. When he wakes up he knows. The fish is also a brilliant find. In a macho gang like the Sopranos, it is considered unmanly to betray your friends. Therefore, it is Pussy – the guy with the feminine name – who’s a rat. There is also a pussy joke in there, pussy smells like… you get the picture. The reference is also to death, as in ‘sleeps with the fishes’, and it foreshadows Pussy’s ultimate resting place, the ocean. This dream is the perfect crossover between the series’ essentials; the mob and psychiatry.

*1 Talking Sopranos Podcast, episode 26 – Funhouse.

Paulie Gualtieri’s Father Russ is Mentioned in David Chase Movie ‘Not Fade Away’

This blog is for die hard Sopranos fans only. People interested in Paulie Walnuts and his real father Russ.

It is about David Chase – the absolute legend who created The Sopranos – and his feature debut Not Fade Away, and a subtle reference it contains to The Sopranos.

I figured this nugget of knowledge would be online somewhere, but lo and behold, I couldn’t find it anywhere… So it appears that I have the honour of being the first to report it. Here it goes:

In the 69th episode of The Sopranos ‘The Fleshy Part of the Thigh’(*1) Paulie’s aunt Dottie – a nun – tells him she’s not who he thinks she is: “Paulie, during the war I was still a novitiate. I was helping out at the U.S.O.(*2) and there was this soldier – Russ. And he was so lonely… I got pregnant. I had a baby. Paulie, it was you. You’re my son.”

It turns out that the woman who raised Paulie – Nucci – was really his aunt. He gets pretty sore when he hears this news and he cuts Nucci off. Until the resurrected and positively spirited Tony reminds him of everything she did for him, like getting his ass out of the can time and again when Paulie was a kid. So Paulie decides to continue paying for her Green Grove retirement community by blackmailing the poor sucker Jason Barone(*3).

Five years after the final season of The Sopranos aired, tv veteran David Chase made his directorial debut with Not Fade Away, a movie about a band that tried to make it, but never did, in the sixties. It’s a little indie movie with a terrific soundtrack which Stevie Van Zandt (who plays Silvio Dante in The Sopranos and was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band) helped to arrange. Yes, you can expect The Beatles, The Stones, Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, The Moody Blues and many more. The film is not great, nothing like The Sopranos in terms of superb acting and writing, but it’s very watchable.

The reference to Russ occurs when main character Douglas has dinner with his father (Chase regular James Gandolfini). They talk about why he never got drafted (he was producing goods useful for the war effort). Then he mentioned some friends who did go into the army. “Tom with the one leg missing. Iwo Jima. And our buddy Russ. He never left that island.”

The battle of Iwo Jima was in 1945, so he would have had to make the nun Dottie pregnant before that. It all ties up very nicely. So Paulie, if you’re reading this: your dad died at Iwo Jima. Sorry my friend. Luckily you turned out very well anyway.

*1 – In this excellent episode Tony discusses the implications of quantum mechanics in the hospital where he is recovering from a gunshot wound. While watching a boxing match with a gangster rapper and rocket scientist, the scientist John Schwinn (Hal Holbrook) tells him: “It’s actually an illusion those two boxers are separate entities. Their being separate entities is simply the way we choose to perceive them. It’s physics. Schrodinger’s equation. The boxers, you, me – we’re all part of the same quantum field. Think of the two boxers as ocean waves or currents of air – two tornadoes say. They appear to be two things right, two seperate things? But they’re not. Tornadoes are just the wind stirred up in different directions. The fact is: Nothing is separate – everything’s connected. The shapes we see exist only in our own consciousness.”
At the end of the episode, the makers pull a neat editing trick by making it appear as Tony and Paulie are in the same space while we know they’re at entirely different locations. There’s a reason why this is still my Nr. 1 show.

*2 – The United Service Organization (U.S.O.) was established in order to provide social clubs on America’s military bases during the Second World War. Located in Central New Jersey, Camp Kilmer is a former United States Army camp that was activated in June 1942 as a staging area and part of an installation of the New York Port of Embarkation. The Hostesses of Camp Kilmer were given an unofficial title, the ‘Kilmer Sweethearts’. These hostesses provided a wide range of services including serving food, dancing with the soldiers, and probably other services as well like the one aunt Dottie provided for Russ. They also visited sick and wounded soldiers in America’s hospitals. The U.S.O. also organized shows for Allied servicemen both at home and abroad. Many big stars of the era volunteered to participate in these shows.

*3 – For four grand a month! I don’t know what salary this guy makes, but I would have to steal every month to be able to pay him. Luckily there is no mob here.

TV Dungeon: Deadwood

(2004 – 2006, USA)

Creator: David Milch
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, W. Earl Brown, John Hawkes, Paula Malcomson, Powers Boothe

3 Seasons (36 Episodes)


’Some Fortunes Are Better Left Unclaimed’

Sheriff Seth Bullock, pimp and saloon owner Al Swearengen, prostitute Trixie, and alcoholic Calamite Jane. Just a handful of the colorful characters that inhabit the raw and lawless frontier town of Deadwood. In the midst of Indian land, the late 18th century laws don’t apply. The power lies with Al Swearengen and his cronies. Through deceit, intimidation and murder he controls the town. Al Swearengen is Deadwood. But new opportunists arrive that all want their share of the wealth that the trade and the earth in Deadwood generates.

This is certainly one of the most ambitious productions ever by HBO. Not only ambitious in scale but in storytelling as well. These characters are not your average gunslingers. Creator David Milch wanted to show the west as it really was; dirty and corrupted. Filled with people scheming, swearing and double-crossing their way through life. There were no gunfights every ten minutes. Entrepreneurs operated sneakily to be able to fully profit from the rising economy. Although the show reminds of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, it is something we haven’t quite seen before.

Deadwood breaks with the typical western tradition. Vicious killers dominate the setting and famous western figures such as Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp are not the legendary characters they are generally made out to be. They are as human as the rest. Plagued by faults, addictions, self-pity and regrets. Despite their raw nature, the characters talk in very complex Shakespearian dialogues (filled with lots of cuss words) which makes it hard to understand their motivations at times. Figuring out the function of some characters in the main storylines is equally challenging. This, and the fact that there are quite a lot of uneventful episodes, could be off-putting for some viewers.

But those willing to invest their time will be rewarded with beautiful art-direction, cinematography and lighting. Not to mention a few shocking surprises and some monumental performances. The most intriguing (and humorous) character by far is Al Swaerengen, wonderfully portrayed by Ian McShane. He can cut a throat without blinking an eye, but is also able to show mercy and understanding to those in a weaker position. Because of his witty lines, amicable moments, and because of the constantly disgusting behavior of Swearengen’s rival Cy Tolliver, one can easily forget that this is an evil man. The frequent reminders of his ambiguity are among the most powerful moments of the show, as well as other character revelations that often occur in the form of extremely violent outbursts or other displays of ugliness.

Besides McShane, the other casting decisions have turned out very well. Timothy Olyphant is in his element as the frustrated lawman Seth Bullock, and Powers Boothe is utterly hideous as the gambling house owner Cy Tolliver. Then there is Molly Parker as the opium addicted Alma Garret, a widow due to Swearengen’s lust for gold. Her character as well as Calamite Jane’s show the independent spirit of the female, since most other women in the town are ruled by men like Swearengen and Tolliver.

The rise of a civilization is shown in many forms. Business opportunities are exploited and political alliances are formed. In the course of the series Deadwood sees the establishment of a hardware store, a school, a theatre and a bank. Also represented is healthcare (Doc Cochran) and the media (the Deadwood Pioneer). The primary human needs in Deadwood seem to be booze and prostitution though. Swearengen and Tolliver are more than willing to provide the people in that department. The church is only present in the form of one reverend who suffers from a brain tumor. Ironically he gets mercy-killed by Swearengen at the end of the first season.

Deadwood is based on real historic persons and events. Although I doubt that they exactly spoke like these characters, the series feels like an authentic vision of the west. Unfortunately it was cancelled after three seasons. 10 years later it was concluded in a TV-movie.

To those who have seen it already, re-watching the show is recommended. Where the first viewing requires concentration, the second time around more subtle things will come to the surface. You got that, you cocksucker!

TV Dungeon: Spaced

(1999 – 2001, UK)

Writers: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Jessica Stevenson, Simon Pegg, Julia Deakin, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Katy Carmichael, Aida the Dog

2 Seasons (14 Episodes)

Before they conquered the world with Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Jessica Stevenson and Nick Frost made the small, low budget sitcom Spaced, which is loved in cult circles and became known to a wider audience after the creators’ international breakthrough.

It revolves around two twenty-something flatmates – immature skateboarding wannabe comic artist Tim Bisley (Pegg) and moody, responsibility-shy writer Daisy Steiner (Stevenson) who navigate through various weird adventures along with their assortment of strange friends and neighbors.

Spaced is not an ordinary sitcom with canned laughter and static camerawork. It is a true original. What is especially lovely about it is the recognizable situation. It really reminds of the student days of drinking, smoking weed, playing videogames and watching movies. Life can be that simple when you don’t have a (real) job or own family yet. Flatmates are the closest thing to a family in these days and the joystick is your other best friend.

Edgar Wright directs the ultra low-budget concept like it is a movie – full of innovative camera and editing tricks – and the writers throw in more movie references than any sane person can take notice off. Most importantly,  Spaced is genuinely funny. Every episode features at least a dozen good jokes.

If you like dry British humour, loads of pop culture references and a flashback to the good old days, then Spaced is definitely your fix.