Tony's mad for Melfi, Chris is just mad -- In other words, it's business as usual for the New Jersey Mob kings in their season debut, says Alynda Wheat
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Credit: The Sopranos: Barry Wetcher
James Gandolfini
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Tony’s mad for Melfi, Chris is just mad

The opening shot may be Casa Soprano, but this house is so not a home. Just in case we missed the fact that Tony (James Gandolfini) and Carmela (Edie Falco) are still on the outs, T’s ducks are missing. Leaves lay unraked. Meadow (Jamie-Lynn DiScala) rolls up — and over — Daddy’s morning paper. Welcome back to ”The Sopranos,” only this time la famiglia has a bad case of separation anxiety.

Before we get too bogged down in the Tony/Carm pity party, we’re introduced to the new players in the game (via an evening news segment that Tony and Bobby Bacala can’t pull themselves away from). Tony’s relatives and former colleagues are getting out of the can at a steady clip. Robert Loggia is the first back in the mix, and he’s ready to earn. Tony’s eponymous cousin, played by Steve Buscemi, will be out soon, if the ”news” segment — and previews for next week’s ep — are to be believed. Oh, and speaking of Tony’s relatives: His sis Janice apparently roped Bobby Bacala into a wedding. Huh. Well, he’s gotta be better than Richie or Ralphie, at least.

Meanwhile, back at La Casa, AJ (Robert Iler) is back-talking Carmela and just generally being a punk. Carm, a piece of advice: Sometimes you gotta smack ’em a little. Not hard, just enough to let ’em know you’re there. I’m just sayin’. Anyhoo, AJ shows his true colors (a jaunty shade of yellow, to be precise) when he goes outside and runs into a black bear rumbling around the yard and screams for his ”Mommy.”

That’ll learn you, you wiseacre. Fish and Game Department comes, bear goes away. Why do we care? Two reasons: (1) One of the ranger dudes is hot, and we know Carm’s not immune to the charms of men; and (2) the bear was attracted by Tony’s duck feed. See? Even when Tony tries to be gentle and good, all it brings is bad karma.

Speaking of large animals sniffing around where they oughtn’t, Tony’s decided to put his jones for Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) out in the open by wooing her with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Tide. It’s supposed to be a cute reference to the doctor-patient relationship in ”The Prince of Tides,” but it’s just lunkheaded. Could there be a more sexist gift than detergent? Why didn’t he just send his dirty shorts along with it and tell her to make herself useful? Needless to say, Mr. Romantic is seriously rebuffed.

Cut to Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie (Tony Sirico) shooting the shinola about the Buscemi-directed snow episode (”Pine Barrens”) where Paulie kind of lost it and nearly killed Chrissie. They hurl insults. Chris yells, ”F— you!” just like he did to Joe Pesci in ”Goodfellas.” We know how well that turned out.

And where is Tony when all this is going down? On the phone to Melfi getting that aforementioned rebuff. Tony says he is ”undeterred.” What he means is, he’s got the hots for her, he’s a stalker, and he’s connected, so really she’s got very little choice in the matter. But he saves that little explanation for another day.

He saves nothing where Carm is concerned, however, going back over to La Casa just in time for another bear sighting and to spew about Furio. Just for having a mutual crush on Carmela, poor Furio is a marked man in Italy. Double standard much, Tony?

T moves on to a luncheon al fresco with some fellas. What do you know, Carmine Lupertazzi keels over and has a stroke, right there in front of Ton’ and Johnny Sack (who were gonna put the kibosh on the old guy last season until Tony backed out). Doesn’t look good for the old man, but it’s starting to look very good for Johnny Sack.

Ooh, skin. Ooh, it’s Tony and Melfi making the beast with two backs. Tony’s dreaming. Cripes, no, it’s Melfi who’s having sleep-induced sex with T! Normally, this would make us very doubtful of her resolve where he’s concerned. But no. When he returns to his new favorite hobby — hounding her — and shows up at her office with plane tickets for a weekend jaunt in hand, she stands firm. It wasn’t that hard, really.

Tony says he wants Melfi’s ”skin, I want your mouth. I want your eyes.” Ick. Is he pitching woo or ordering trophies from a hit? Melfi wastes no time telling Loverboy that she’s not interested, thank you, because, well, he’s a bad, bad man. So Tony loses it, screams at her, then calls her something we can’t even print on the Web. Whatever would compel her to turn down such a charming man?

Later than night, T’s calmer when he’s out with the fellows: Chris, Paulie, Sack, and a few others. Paulie’s ordering steak and lobsters like it’s his last meal. Since it’s on Chrissie’s dime, it just might be. He’s trying to teach the kid a lesson about respecting his elders. Just to make sure Chrissie’s learning, Paulie sends over a bottle of Cristal to some ”ladies” at a nearby table.

Tab comes to $1,184. Chris lays out $1,200. This is what is known as stiffing your waiter. When the waiter comes out back to point out Chris’s mistake, the hothead throws a brick at the poor shlub, sending him into convulsions. Paulie panics and shoots the guy. This is what is known as LITERALLY stiffing your waiter. What? You thought these were good people?

Paulie calls the next morning to make nice with Christopher and bury the hatchet. Question for the season is: In whose back does said hatchet get buried? This will be an issue.

Tony shows up at La Casa to give Carm a hard time and make like he’s the man of the house hunting bear. He sits in a chair smoking a stogie and holding a rather serious looking firearm. Stay vigil, Ton’. There’s more than bears in those woods.

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James Gandolfini
The Sopranos
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