Jeff Barnosky: I was pretty knocked out to see Nancy Sinatra in the episode. Her father after all was Johnny Fontane, no matter how they tried to deny it. And then when Phil Leotardo is talking to the Goth Kid, he’s more than just echoing the “You can act like a man” speech the Godfather gives to Johnny Fontane. And then Tony gives him the same speech.
I think Tony’s contemplating killing at least three major characters (Bobby, Paulie, Hersh). Two more and we have the five heads that Michael killed. Christopher? Phil? Junior?
AJ is trying to go straight, stay out of it. Just like Michael. Now his girlfriend is gone, like Apollonia, so he will become the next Godfather. Tony survived a gunshot wound, just like Vito.
And I just knew at some point, Hersh would find a dead something in his bed. Just like the producer and the horse head. Though I might really be reaching on that one.
Alright, I might just be full of it.
Matt Tobey: First things first, before they said her name, my wife and I both agreed that the singer was Marianne Faithful. The years have not been kind to Nancy.
I don’t think you’re off-base with the Hesh (It’s “Hesh,” not “Hersh,” and IMDB says his birth name is Herman, though I could swear his girlfriend called him Herschel.) thing at all. Obviously, he and Jack Woltz (the producer in The Godfather) are both Jewish, but the thing that popped in my head when you mentioned it is the fact that Hesh is the guy who sold Pie-O-My to Ralphie. The fucking horse that Tony loved so much. So add that to the pile of Johnny Fontane-related references in the episode. But what do they all add up to?
Was I the only one who thought the death of Hesh’s lady was altogether peculiar? She seemed like a relatively young woman and died suddenly in her sleep. Yet they didn’t feel obligated to explain how she died to the audience. Can’t tell if it’s just weird or if there’s something underlying there.
Do you think Tony subconsciously started gambling more to punish himself for Vito’s death? As Tony never neglects to mention, Vito was his biggest earner, so what better way to make his death felt more than to blow a shitload of dough?
JB: You know they were criticized so much for the dream sequences, especially at the first part of this season, that part of me thinks they’ve embedded all of these subconscious, dreamlike allusions directly into the story. For me one of the greatest moments in the whole series was the dream sequence with the horse and Annette Bening. She said, “we don’t want our husbands coming out with their dicks in their hands.” She’s also played the girlfriend of Bugsy Siegel, who was the real life basis of Moe Green. Let’s not forget the Ben Kinglsey thing last season. Ben Kingsley played Meyer Lansky in that movie, the real life basis of Hyman Roth. And Uncle Junior played Johnny Ola. I think the subconscious level of all these characters is so rife with The Godfather and Goodfellas that they are falling into some weird, dreamlike existence dominated by their subconscious and directed by the fate of the fictional characters who they modeled themselves after. And they are dealing with the tragedy of not being anywhere near as powerful, heroic, glamorous or tragic as the movies told them they would be.
The whole damn thing is so meta. I think that’s why it’s weakest when it tries to be straight gangster (yo). The writers, and especially Chase, know it’s a tired trap for a story.
MT: Holy shit. You’re blowing my mind. I’ll go ahead and add that Lauren Bacall was in Key Largo, which had a gangster character based on Lucky Luciano.
I never understood the criticism of the dream episodes. I think the show is at it’s best when it’s overtly existential. I have a hard time understanding people who watch the show purely to see tough guys fucking broads and killing people. I mean, I like that stuff as much as anyone, but it’s more like gravy to me, and it’s always got a bigger meaning.
I’d say you’re definitely onto something with the theory that it’s a show influenced by Hollywood gangsters about characters influenced by Hollywood gangsters. At times it’s walked a line between those two concepts, but more and more it’s all blending together almost to the point of the characters becoming aware that they are in fact characters. You could actually say the entire series has been about Tony’s struggle with being a fictional character and his attempt to break free of that. Which is just a complicated way of describing enlightenment, hence the Buddhist monks he met while in the coma. Hence the entire season built around the concept of two Tonys (and an episode with that name to boot).
So what happened when Tony Soprano killed Tony Blundetto? Did he kill one of his two internal Tonys, or was it only a tragic and futile attempt to reach enlightenment with a shotgun? I’d say it’s the latter, but something definitely happened when Tony Soprano died briefly. I think when he woke up from that coma, it was a turning point for the two Tonys. The struggle goes on, but his true self is now the dominant self. The impossible-to-live-up-to fictional persona is still there, and still has a grip on him, but it’s weakening. For proof, look no further than his inability to whack anyone anymore.
Which brings us back to The Godfather. You suggest that Bobby, Paulie and Hesh represent the heads of three of the five families (we actually only need one more, since the Corleones were one of the five). Killing the heads of the other families signified Michael’s ascent to Godfather, and now we have Tony deciding not (or unable) to kill these guys. It’s The Godfather in reverse all over again. My guess is things are going to heat up to a boiling point with Phil (a literal head of one of the five families), and for whatever reason, Tony won’t have him whacked. The question then becomes, what happens instead? Does Tony get whacked? Does he retire? Does he go lay low in Sicily (which is, incidentally, what ultimately happened to Lucky Luciano in real life)?
As an aside, I might suggest that Bobby could represent Carlo, since they’re both brothers-in-law. Remember that when the hits went down on the heads of the families, Carlo got whacked too, so Tony letting Bobby live could be the unwhacking of Carlo.
JB: I’m totally fascinated by the Tony Blundetto/Soprano thing. The Doppelganger is one my favorite ideas, though I’m not sure it exactly fits here. It also occurs to me, after you said the thing about Bobby being a brother-in-law like Carlo, that Tony is way more like Sonny than Michael or Vito, and that the Corelone’s were doomed if Sonny was in charge. And what would be more apt than Tony being whacked at a toll booth on the Garden State Parkway? Or the turnpike.
One of the things that always fascinates me is that he’s leaving Manhattan, as far as I can tell, at the beginning of the credits, yet he rarely goes there during the show. I’ve always thought that North Jersey would be more intimately connected with New York in reality than they are on the show. It might just be a reflection of the fact that people in North Jersey are intimately connected with New York, South Jersey, Philadelphia, but still want their own identity.
MT: I really feel like there are things that go over my head, not being an East-Coaster. I’m completely oblivious to the location of 90% of the scenes on the show.
Something I keep meaning to bring up with you is the animal imagery. It’s always been a part of the show, starting with the ducks on through Pussy-as-a-fish and Pie-O-My, and it seems to be showing up even more lately. Last night we had Vito Jr. allegedly killing a cat (pussy?) and then Tony losing a boatload of cash on a horse named Meadow. Any thoughts?
Incidentally, the funniest moment of the night was probably when Sil suggests they get a dog for little Vito, and Tony (thinking of the cat) says, “that’s probably not a good idea.”
JB: It’s funny. The New Jersey thing is everything, yet it’s in some ways the least authentic thing. It’s not representative of the state, but how could it be? Why should it be?
Anyone who works with kids (they tell you this a few times) is told that one of the most obvious signs of a truly disturbed kid is cruelty to animals, so when I heard that I just immediately made the connection with that idea. Also, high on the list: shitting in the shower. Though that is just assumed. I’m not sure about the animal imagery. I kind of feel like that’s Chase’s own creation. He is after all as accomplished as most novelists out there today. I think the line you qouted was the funniest line of the night and exactly what the show does best. So this evil monster Tony is still able to have protective paternal feelings over this horrid kid and whatever animal they might have. So how can he be evil? How does he balance it? How do we all balance our, less extreme contradictions? Chase is just showing us that we all do this every day, it’s just not as obvious.