”The Sopranos”: AJ makes his move
For a moment there I thought, wow, he’s really going to do it. Didn’t you? Angry, frustrated, thwarted AJ, I mean, who packed a knife for a visit to Uncle Junior in psychiatric lockup. For a moment I thought, jeez, the kid (whose new haircut takes him from the realm of Van Helsing to that of the early Beatles) is really going to follow through on his anguished threat/boast/promise/plea to do in his old great-uncle’s ”f—in’ mummy head” as payback for the bullet Corrado Soprano fired that nearly took AJ’s father’s life. And in that instant, I was excited — and fearful that this wouldn’t be The Sopranos I love but instead some other kind of show, some kind of action series in which stuff happens because we’ve wished it so (or at least talked about it in online discussion groups).
I needn’t have worried: AJ’s attempt at simultaneously avenging his father’s injury and establishing some cred for himself as someone who’s more than just ”the gangster’s kid” who can pick up a club bar tab was as bungled and incomplete as everything else he has ever attempted. And the scene with his father afterward — in which Tony puts the f—in’ myth of The Godfather in its place once and for all — explaining that ”it’s a movie. Ya gotta grow up” — was one of the great scenes in this extraordinary series’ long and rich tradition of dramatizing family dynamics better than any other show on television. Remember, seasons ago, when Tony and AJ shared a tender moment in the kitchen, squirting whipped cream into each other’s mouth? And when Tony took AJ out on the first Stugots, the two of them linked as father and son and oblivious to the fishermen who capsized in their wake? Remember all those times Tony has looked up at his own pale, wet face in a bathroom mirror, staring down a panic attack exactly the way his son now does, too?
This episode was the reward for sharing all those anti-Kodak moments — achingly rich and subtle, loaded with emotional payoff built on years of our investment in these flawed, average, inconsistent, charismatic people (some of whom also happen to be criminals, even killers), and brewing with unease: The Sopranos at its very best.
The stuff in the dreamlike white-picket-fence New Hampshire town between Vito and the short-order cook who’s also a volunteer fireman, a dad, and a gay man comfortable in his own skin? Gorgeous, and compassionate, and sexy, and the very antidote to all those ignorant taunts thrown by Phil Leotardo and the rest of the goons at their homophobic worst. (Phil! Don’t you just want to knock a few of his game-show-host-white teeth loose and mess up his vain silver coif?) The stuff with Carmela? Marvelously astute, as Tony struggles between love (and even sexual desire, thanks to that ”baguette” in his pants) for the wife who helped save his life, and hate for the faithfulness in which he feels tangled by gratitude. (Temptation was rarely so understandable as when T met the Century 21 real estate broker played by Julianna Margulies; I can think of no better client for such a hard-edged, modern kind of gal as the trendy, souped-up liquid elixir known as Jamba Juice.)
”Sometimes,” Vito explains to himself as well as to the short-order cook he so clearly desires, ”you tell lies so long you don’t know when to stop.” Yet Tony said ”stop” to the woman he might have seduced, and urged his son to stop inventing Godfather fantasies for himself, too. Dr. Melfi called her own therapist, Dr. Kupferberg, on his hypocrisies, exposing the shrink’s gossipy interest in ”Patient Soprano” and Tony’s uncle, uh, ”Buster.”
Then again, Vito can’t hide out forever. Jamba Juice is replacing the old chicken-and-egg store. And the new Starbucks’ corporate structure isn’t set up to work with Mob shakedowns. ”It’s over for the little guy,” Patsy observes, and later he wonders, ”What the hell is happening to this neighborhood?”
Well, what the hell do you think is happening? And hey, what do you make of that glimpsed tussle between Bobby Bacala and Paulie Walnuts in next week’s preview?