Can’t you feel it all starting to crumble around them?
It was another joyless week in Jersey, as this week’s episode, “Cold Stones,” set the stage for a mob war with Phil Leotardo’s New York crew in the same bleak, muffled tones we’ve come to expect from this season. Even the inevitable whacking of Vito Spatafore was a muted affair, occurring mostly beyond the frame-line and devoid of the show’s signature graphic violence. (On this morning’s Howard Stern Show, actor Joseph Gannascoli explained that not only was this one of four “endings” filmed for his character, but what aired was also a shorter and more discreet edit of the scene they originally shot.)
After spending the past ten weeks watching our characters try on different personas and alternate lives, it looks like everybody’s about to start slipping back into their old, now ill-fitting skins with a sigh of weary resignation. Vito’s attempt to buy his way back into The Life was half-hearted at best, complete with hollow-sounding re-assurances to his wife that he was on the verge of making things right with Tony.
It was an unexpectedly fine performance from Frank Vincent this week, as we saw stray traces of his ambivalence about killing Vito—it began to feel as if he was goaded into it by the double-barrels of his horrible shrew wife and the Catholic Church’s relentless persecution of gays. The episode was shrouded in homosexual panic: Phil “came out of the closet” before he whacked his brother-in-law, and then freaked out over the bodybuilding competition on TV. Tony walked in his living room to hear A.J.’s friends telling stupid gay jokes, and even T’s driver-side blow-job was a subtle callback to the first time we found out about Vito.
But the most significant development in “Cold Stones” was the almost complete un-raveling of Tony’s recent progress. The decision to get rid of Vito took a painfully visible toll, as Gandolfini blustered and sputtered a series of rationalizations (one of which was quite amusingly shot down by Silvio) before trying to dull his rage with whisky and strippers. Note the music cues that accompanied Tony’s night on the town: AC/DC’s “Back In Black” segueing into Skynard’s “Simple Man.” T immediately went back to being sullen and uncommunicative in his therapy, and I was convinced he was going to put that brat son of his in the hospital. (Have you ever seen a look of murderous disgust like quite the one Gandolfini registered upon seeing A.J. on the Internet in his underwear, “giggling like a fuckin’ schoolgirl?”)
Still unsteady on his feet, Tony dithered a bit in the face of Phil’s antagonism and was initially trying to strategize his way out of a war—too bad Silvio and Carlo accidentally got rid of that option. The killing of Fat Dom at Satriale’s—prompted by, again, more stupid gay jokes—was one of the sloppiest and most brutal in the show’s history. (And how does Steve Van Zandt’s ridiculous wig manage to stay glued-on even when he’s getting a piggy-back ride like that?) There was a ghoulish brilliance to the shot of these two idiots playing cards next to the dead body, and Tony’s no nonsense appraisal of the situation (“Tell Gab I hope she gets over the flu!”) seemed to slam shut any doors that had opened since his near-death experience.
Vacation’s over—it’s time to be the boss again. And Tony’s first move was to straighten out A.J. the way he should have years ago. (The cliched, jerky hand-held camera in the garage was director Tim Van Patten’s only visual misstep in this otherwise quite exquisitely helmed hour.) It was a scene that left the viewer strangely torn; seeing the Old Tony again, so cunning and commanding, was like being back somewhere you weren’t really certain you ever wanted to return. Still it was hard to stifle a cheer when he wiped the smirk of A.J.’s face by smashing the little shit’s windshield—back in black, indeed.
Of course, the real question on everybody’s mind is “Why so much Paris?”
At times, the travelogue aspects of Carmela and Rosemary’s trip seemed shoehorned in as a way for Chase to justify the expense of an overseas shoot. (On the other hand, having just sat through Ron Howard’s shockingly pedestrian use of the same areas in The DaVinci Code, I was simply thrilled to see location footage photographed with a bit of panache.)
Just when she started to seem hopeless, Carm’s finally starting to ask questions about Jackie Jr., and admit it—you knew she wasn’t going to be able to sleep in a strange hotel without having another Adrianna dream. Falco’s such a mesmerizing actress; I was captivated by the contradictory play of emotions across her face throughout the trip, and found her mini-existential crisis surprisingly moving. (And as our pal Alan Sepinwall pointed out in his Star-Ledger column, the Eiffel Tower’s searchlight was a neat visual rhyme with the airport beacon outside Coma Tony’s Costa Mesa window.)
Also touching was Tony Sirico, hunched and glowering in the corner throughout the episode with barely a line of dialogue to call his own. The former buffoon is radiating a terrific sadness these days—a perfect fit as the troops seethe with dissatisfaction, getting ready for a pointless war that nobody wants, and an inevitable ending that will probably feel like a mercy-killing for some of the most miserable people in television history.
It’s all going to rot these days—Silvio pointed out that there are rat turds in Satriale’s kitchen and the Bada Bing’s sign is covered in bird-shit. But Carmela assures us that no matter how much we worry, in the end everything gets washed away.