In a brilliant, bleak episode of ''The Sopranos,'' Christopher, newly married, with a baby on the way, does heroin again
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
Credit: Michael Imperioli: Barry Wetcher
James Gandolfini

”The Sopranos”: Christopher relapses

For us, it's springtime. But for those friends of ours on The Sopranos, there's a chill in the air and autumnal melancholy blowing down every street. No gold hats for anybody, whether a plaster saint or a "rehabilitated" user. Same lazy-ass bully Paulie, same sour, conniving Janice, same p-whipped shlub Bobby, same weak-willed, bewildered Christuhfuh, same selectively clueless Carmela. Same bored strippers with fake tits, same lousy shakedown businesses, same menu at Artie's. Groundhog Day in North Jersey. Jeez, episode 9 was the saddest story every told, no? Itchy, out-of-sorts, trippy — and am I wrong, or was that jarring scene between Tony and his nephew in the Soprano basement the first use of non-dream and non-coma dramatic flashback ever in all our years together with the family? It's as if David Chase and Company themselves momentarily couldn't bear to go forward.

Tony tells Dr. Melfi, "Every day is a gift; it's just, does it have to be a pair of socks?" Yet the episode that writer Terence Winter and director Alan Taylor gave us was, pointedly, all socks, Tony's idea of workplace excitement has been reduced to boosting cases of wine with Chris, guns blazing ("f—in' old school sh–"), as if the two were hotheaded teens, not a Mob big shot and a captain. (Proof he's not a kid anymore: Middle-aged Tony sprains his ankle.) The saint's feast has become a chintzy racket, with the young Spanish-speaking priest (who replaced the old Italian cleric) all too savvy at negotiating contribution rates and quid pro quos with Paulie. Hey, was that Julianna the real estate broker Tony spotted fleetingly, far away and unreachable dangling in a midway ride? The tea-cup ride malfunctions; people get hurt (about which Tony confronts Paulie with the episode's prize line: "You're doin' a heckuva job there, Brownie"). Carmela crosses paths with Adriana's mother, hears the bitter woman's theory that Chris killed Ade, and manages yet again to tune out any truth she doesn't want to hear.

Chris. Ah, Chris. Poor, weak, lost, impulsive, self-destructive Chris. For one brief moment, seeing him strung out on H and lying amid the tinselly garbage of the street fair, didn't you think he was dead? As Chris the romantic, he looks at the charmless McMansion he's about to buy with his knocked-up wife, Kelly, and he sees Stately Wayne Manor. As Chris the movie fantasist, he greets his loving (and addiction-enabling) uncle Tony with "Whoa, it's the Bad Lieutenant!"

As a symbol of everything that doesn't change — not from one generation to the next, not in this family — Chris may be the lostest sheep of all. "He's doin' great," Tony says about the existentially drowning man. "He's a different person, married, kid on the way. Don't sabotage his progress."

And then Tony sabotages Chris' progress, one proffered glass of wine at a time. The unsafe, badly rigged rides keep spinning. In the end, Tony whirls his baby niece around in the air, and the little girl laughs, trusting the big guy stuck on a merry-go-round.

Stop me before I begin weeping, and tell me where Paulie's Ma got the TV to watch Lawrence Welk reruns, since the old flat screen is, as we know, kaput.

James Gandolfini
The Sopranos
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