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.

George Lucas, Not Guilty

Today, on the premiere of ‘The Last Jedi’ – the eighth official episode in the Star Wars saga, creator of Star Wars – Mr. George Lucas – stands trial. He is accused of being a hack.

The prosecution (The internet)
Of the many things that catch blame for ‘ruining’ the Star Wars prequels – Jar Jar Binks, midi-chlorians, almost every line of dialogue George Lucas wrote for Padme and Anakin – there is one moment that makes almost every fan cringe, no matter how dedicated. We’re talking about Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, literally the jumping-off point of the entire Star Wars saga.

In this moment, Vader learns that he has lost his wife and unborn children…and has been transformed into, like, a Space Robocop. So, what does he do? He breaks free from his shackles and lets out the now infamous, “NOOOOOOO!” that felt like it had a Kanye-level of autotune to it. It felt ridiculous when it should have been the defining moment of the prequels. What the hell was Lucas thinking?

The defense (Johnny Cochran)

This defense will be short and easy. This is the man who gave us Star Wars after all. The original Star Wars films still form the best trilogy ever created hands down. Even the third part – which is never the best in any series – is in case of Star Wars nearly perfect: ‘Return of the Jedi’ contains some of the best stuff of the series. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013) gave each of the three original films the maximum rating of four stars (read his awesome reviews here, here, and here).

So why is Lucas so hated despite being the man who gave us Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker amongst many others? Because he also gave us Jar Jar Binks? Because he writes remarkably terrible love scenes? So what? Didn’t the other great filmmakers of his generation make similar mistakes? Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter in ‘The Godfather: Part III’ and it nearly ruined the film. Yet, he is never criticized in the way Lucas is.

Statistically, after sunshine comes rain. Lucas gave us the best trilogy ever made, so the prequels were never going to top that. Still, that is no excuse for not making better movies. But are they really so terrible?

Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the worst, most will agree. But look at what it does have: the pod race, Darth Maul (IMDb-poll names him the second greatest SW villain after Vader), and the return of many great characters: Palpatine, Yoda and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor is perfect casting as a young Alec Guinness). There is also fun foreshadowing going on of all that is to come. Finally, the world building is spectacular and unforgettable.

Roger Ebert – who gave ‘The Phantom Menace’ 3,5 stars out of 4 – concluded: “Mostly I was happy to drink in the sights on the screen, in the same spirit that I might enjoy ‘Metropolis’, ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Dark City’ or ‘The Matrix’. The difference is that Lucas’ visuals are more fanciful and his film’s energy level is more cheerful; he doesn’t share the prevailing view that the future is a dark and lonely place.”

Episode II: Attack of the Clones – The greatest weakness is the love story, we can be clear about this. But it would be a shame to let that ruin the whole movie experience, because episode II has a lot going for it. First of all, it has a terrific Raymond Chandler-style mystery plot. Also, there is a great sense of urgency; the battle for the galaxy has now really begun. And the filmmaking in general – the editing, sound, production design, music, etc – are all A-grade. There are few filmmakers with such imagination, and with the ability to bring it to the screen, like Lucas.

As for villains, usually the best thing about a Star Wars-film, I don’t like Jango Fett so much, but Count Dooku – played the uncanny Christopher Lee – is terrific, and so is his lightsaber duel with Yoda. The dark side is really prevailing now and Lucas effectively uses the principles of Eastern Philosophy to craft the story development. People may not like Hayden Christensen, but what is actually accomplished by his performance is that we get an uneasy feeling about Anakin. The air gets thick in the confrontational scenes. Unlike Obi-Wan – who was the perfect Jedi-student in episode I – Anakin is the pupil you always have to worry about. And these foreshadowing shots with Palpatine are grand. His quest to the dark side is thus very well handled.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith  Episode III is a return to the classic space opera style that launched the series, and many agree that Lucas really approaches old trilogy greatness here. In the saga’s darkest chapter, Anakin really journeys to the dark side under the influence of the demonic Palpatine. Aside from the infamous ‘Noooo’-moment, episode III is a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable film with some of the best action sequences in the series.

And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if George Lucas is a hack, then Chewbacca lives on Endor, and therefore you must acquit! The defense rests.

So let us all shut the hell up and enjoy Lucas’ legacy.