My Favorite TV Episode of All Time

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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.

10 Management Lessons From Highly Successful Gangsters

By Jeppe Kleyngeld

Running a large company or criminal empire, what’s the difference? The demands for its managers and leaders are very similar for sure. As a leader, your vision needs to inspire others and your actions need to have significant impact. You also need to be able to effectively solve problems and prevent painful blunders. Taking a close look at 10 highly successful gangsters from popular movies and television series can be inspirational. Eventually most of them went down, but they all had impressive careers as criminal CEO’s. What can business leaders learn from their successful approaches and significant failures?

1. Plan all your actions carefully
Neil McCauley
The Gangster: Neil McCauley, Heat

The Lesson: In the spectacular opening scene of Michael Mann’s Heat, criminal chief Neil McCauley and his team of robbers manage to take down a huge score. The key to their success? Planning, planning, planning. McCauley is a perfectionist; every detail needs to be scrupulously prepared, nothing can be left to coincidence. It there is even a slight chance that something is wrong; he will walk away from a job no matter how much money is at stake. Off course, there is a slight bump in the road for McCauley and his team later on, but that is only because pulling armed robberies is a highly volatile business. But even with a terrific investigation team on their tail lead by a fanatical Al Pacino, they manage to take down another – even larger – score later on in the movie.

2. Build a team you can rely on
Joe Cabot
The Gangster: Joe Cabot, Reservoir Dogs

The Lesson: ‘I should have my head examined for going with someone I wasn’t a 100 percent on…’ Yeah, you should have Joe. As a manager, your most important task is to choose the right people around you and make them perform optimally. When you have a crucial project to realise – a diamond heist in Joe Cabot’s case – you don’t want to take any chances on whom you hire for the job. Joe’s negligence at this point, allowed a special LAPD-agent to infiltrate his crew, leading to a disastrous outcome for the project and all those involved.

3. Always look out for opportunities and know when to strike
Henry Hill
The Gangster: Henry Hill, GoodFellas

The Lesson: In Wiseguy, the novel on which the classic mob movie GoodFellas is based, protagonist Henry Hill describes his bewonderment at how lazy many people are. Great entrepreneurs like him are always looking for new ways to make money. Once in a while, a golden opportunity arises and a highly successful business manager will recognize this once in a lifetime chance and grab it. In Henry Hill’s case, this was the Air France heist in 1967. He walked away with 420.000 US dollars from the Air France cargo terminal at JFK International Airport without using a gun; the largest cash robbery that had taken place at the time. This was Hill’s ticket to long term success within the Mafia.

4. Analyse, decide and execute with conviction
Michael Corleone
The Gangster: Michael Corleone, The Godfather

The Lesson: Your success as executive depends for a great deal on the way you make decisions and follow them through. When his father, family patriarch Don Vito Corleone, is shot by Virgil ‘The Turk’ Sollozzo, Michael Corleone knows the threat of his father’s killing will not be over until Sollozo is dead. That is his analysis. Then, without any hesitation, he decides to kill Sollozo despite the hard consequences that he knows will follow. The third part – the execution – he performs flawlessly, killing Sollozo and his bodyguard Police Captain McCluskey in a restaurant. Michael later in the film again proves to be an extremely decisive leader when he has the heads of the five families killed when they conspire against the Corleone family.

5. Support the local community
Young Vito Corleone
The Gangster: Young Vito Corleone, The Godfather Part II

The Lesson: For long term success, you need more than just great products (in the mob’s case: protection, gambling and theft). You will need commitment from all your stakeholders and especially goodwill from the communities you operate in. Young Vito Corleone sees that gangster boss Fanucci is squeezing out everybody in the neighbourhood he lives in. Nobody is happy with him. So he murders Fanucci and takes over as neighbourhood chieftain. Rather than squeezing out people, he starts helping them. Every favour he does for somebody, earns him a favour in return. Those are a lot of favours and a lot of people who think he deserves his success and wealth. They are willing to give everything for their Don.

6. Don’t be afraid to use your subconscious
Tony Soprano
The Gangster: Tony Soprano, The Sopranos

The Lesson: As a leader, you want to base your decisions on hard facts as much as possible, but sometimes your intuition is much more powerful than the greatest performance dashboard in the world. In the first season of HBO’s monumental Mafia series The Sopranos, family patriarch Tony Soprano’s own mother tries to have him whacked. He had revealing dreams about this before it happened, but refused to look at the painful true meaning of these dreams. Through therapy, he learned to use his subconscious like a true expert, so when his friend Big Pussy Bonpensiero starts ratting for the FBI in season 2, he knows something is wrong. In a fever dream, Big Pussy (as a fish), reveals the hard truth to Tony. When he wakes up, he knows exactly what to do. Big Pussy must sleep with the fishes. Tony’s new ability to listen to his subconscious makes him a much more effective leader.

7. Think and act faster
Nucky Thompson
The Gangster: Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire

The Lesson: After a botched assassination attempt on bootlegger and crooked politician Nucky Thompson, his enemies are left numb and indecisive of what to do next. Nucky – on the other hand – immediately makes a counter move. He goes to see his enemies and tells them the attempt on his life changed his perspective on things. He will abandon the bootlegging business and politics, so his enemies can take over. In secret however, Nucky books a trip to Ireland the next day, where he purchases a huge amount of cheap and highly qualitative Irish whiskey. His enemies underestimated him. By thinking and acting faster than his opponents, Nucky manages to surprise them and outperform them in business.

8. Take compliance seriously
Al Capone
The Gangster: Al Capone, The Untouchables

The Lesson: He was the king of his trade; the bootlegging business in Chicago. He made millions importing booze and selling it to bars and clubs. The thing that brought him down was income tax evasion. Managers can learn a simple truth from this mistake; compliance is your license to operate. Off course in Capone’s case this was a little different because he did not have any legal income to begin with, but many CEO’s of businesses have fallen into the same compliance trap. Sure, sometimes it is cheaper to pay a fine than to spend a fortune on meeting some obsolete policy, but you should never fail to answer to the most important rules and regulations. So even when it is sometimes tempting to bend the rules, in the end: being non-compliant is always more costly than being compliant.

9. Ride the Industry Waves
Tony Montana
The Gangster: Tony Montana, Scarface

The Lesson: Every industry has its waves, and a great CEO knows how to ride these waves. Take the drug business in the 1980’s. Cocaine was coming up big time in Florida. After Montana gets rid of his weak boss Frank, he sets up a massive cocaine trade in Miami and surroundings. His supply chain is very efficient. He imports the stuff straight from the source in Bolivia. Nobody can compete with that. It isn’t before long that Montana is Florida’s one and only cocaine king.

10. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer
Don Vito Corleone
The Gangster: Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather

The Lesson: You want to know what your competitors are up to? Invite them over for dinner and a meeting. Don Vito Corleone does it all the time. When he invites the heads of the five families for a sit down, in this powerful scene in The Godfather, he learns a great deal. It is not Tattaglia he should worry about, but that treacherous Barzini. Now that he understands the conspiracy against the Corleone family, he can help his son Michael take the necessary precautions.