”The Sopranos”: Growing old disgracefully
So much for the glamour of the gangster life, huh? This relatively ungainly episode might just as well have flashed a sign announcing that the theme of the evening was Indignities and Old Men. ”This is what life is still like? At our age?” asked Carmela as her husband packed his toothbrush for a few days on the lam — a precaution in case the exhumation of a long-buried skeleton led FBI investigators on a forensic trail to Tony (who made his bones with the whacking some 25 years ago) or to Paulie Walnuts, who was Tony’s admired role model at the time of the hit. The answer is that, yes, this is exactly what life is still like, because there’s no escaping what these men (or are they dinosaurs?) have fashioned themselves to be.
Paulie is still a vain, uneducated, parochial goon with a bachelor’s finicky habits and a lonely boor’s urge to yammer (and, at a hotel breakfast buffet, to hoard plates heaped with pastries ”for the room”). His multiple pairs of Miami-white shoes, his belligerent ignorance, his ”hair thingies” (as one of the pneumatic young Miami lovelies described the trademark hairdo so excellently), his cackling ”heh-heh” that caused Tony to consider murdering the guy, like an old spouse who can’t stand one more night of a mate’s familiar annoying habits — that’s all there is in Paulie’s life. Tony’s old compatriot, Beansie, is reflective down in Florida, with a loving wife and a perpetually balmy climate to cheer him, but Beansie is in a wheelchair for good, the legacy of a life-threatening beating he took from Richie Aprile some seasons back. Some trade-off.
Uncle Junior has moments when he’s sharp as ever, rattling off jokes like a comic doing a Las Vegas stand-up act. But at the end of his life, he’s still an addled oldie in psychiatric lockup, running a poker racket to keep his hand in the hustle, but prone to amnesia, dementia, and — the worst insult of all to such a proud, worldly gentleman — incontinence, too. When not zonked out on drugs or lost in a stupor in front of the TV, he wails, ”I’m dyin’ a slow death,” matching Livia Soprano for flamboyantly expressed misery. The terribly angry fellow inmate (played by Ken Leung — did you recognize him from X-Men: The Last Stand or The Squid and the Whale?) who befriended the gangster in captivity became Uncle June’s enabler, at least for a while. (Leave it to Corrado to solicit the help of fellow gun handler Dick Cheney to plead for clemency, and to use his jail buddy as a personal secretary.) But clearly the restless new ”friend” whom Junior tried to appease with a Hootie and the Blowfish CD harbors rage-at-father issues of a psychotic order. What is it about Uncle June and his big-bug eyeglasses that causes young men, including AJ, to lunge at him with intent to kill?
As for Tony, well, yes, at his age, he’s on the lam, an embarrassment made worse by being shackled to a brontosaurus like Paulie. Just two weeks before, T got emotional telling Dr. Melfi about how Christopher’s father had served as a friend and mentor when Tony was a rising Mob soldier. Now we’re supposed to believe that Tony is seriously considering offing one of his old faithfuls. ” ‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation,” he muttered, heartily sick of memories he can’t escape. But see, that’s where this episode (written by Terrence Winter, directed by Phil Abraham) felt so strained and stubbornly inert. Paulie’s done a lot of dumb crap in his time; much as he denied it, it was, indeed, he who vengefully passed along the rude jokes about Ginny Sack. But why should this night be different from any other night? No convincing case was made for Tony to be seriously fed up with the goon, and the heavy visual hinting that took place on the charter fishing boat (including shots of a usable ax, a usable knife, and a flashback to Big Pussy on his final boat ride) was far less sophisticated than the show’s usual standards.
Oh, and while Tony and Paulie were out, Doc Santoro got blown out of the running for New York family boss, too. As Tony said, ”You gotta wonder what’s next.”
So help me out: Did you at any time really believe that Tony would whack Paulie? Or that Junior was going to escape with his fellow geezers by finagling a trip to the dentist? Do you think Phil will be ordering up more killing ahead? And should Vice President Cheney have helped incarcerated citizen Corrado Soprano?