The Sopranos (Season 1, Episode 1 The Sopranos)

Sopranos Tony Ducks“I bought CDs for a broken record.”

-Tony Soprano

There is much on the mind of northern New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano in the pilot of the much-heralded, break through series.  His uncle is planning a hit in his friend’s restaurant, his nephew Christopher is not taking his job as seriously as Tony would like, his wife and daughter are fighting, and ducks have made a home in his pool.

While preparing the grill for a barbeque celebrating his son’s thirteenth birthday, Tony watches the ducks, along with their now matured ducklings fly away, only to collapse as a result of an anxiety attack.

Tony’s biggest problem is his mother Livia, a formidable maternal force – as Melfi describes her.  Tony points out that as tough as his father (Johnny Boy Soprano) was, thanks to Livia, “he was a squeaking little gerbil when he died.”

“It’s good to be in something from the ground floor – and I came too late for that, I know,” Tony reveals to Dr. Melfi during his first therapy session.  “The best is over.”

Fortunately, the pilot was a huge success and the best was not over for viewers of The Sopranos.

David Chase, creator of The Sopranos  has said that he always felt that the series required something of the audience – to bring their attention, because little details would pay off dividends later.  And, even in the very first episode, this is true.  Seeds are planted that bear fruit throughout the first season and as far into the future as the series finale.

Chase’s details also provide delightful personality facets.

Our first glimpse of Livia is the typical Sopranos blend of awful and comedic.  Tony is pounding on the door and when he finally gets Livia’s attention she asks “Who’s there?’  Tony responds with “It’s me, ma.” Livia replies with “Who are you?” even though Tony is her only son.  It’s a funny exchange, illustrating how difficult Livia is, and perhaps providing evidence of oncoming senility.  We also learn that Livia refuses to answer the phone after dark and doesn’t drive when they’re forecasting rain.  By the end of the episode we learn that Livia is as dangerous as she is difficult when she gives her tacit consent when Junior mentions he might have to “do something” about Tony.

Tony is powerful, cunning and dangerous, panic attacks notwithstanding.  We see him in Christopher’s Lexus run down delinquent Mahaffey, who owes a gambling debt to Hesch, on the lawn of an HMO office park – then give a hands on beating.  We see him construct a plan to burn down Vesuvio’s to prevent Artie from losing business as a result of Junior’s plan to whack Pussy Malanga while he’s eating at the restaurant.  We see him mastermind a way for Mahaffey to make good his $250,000 debt by writing phony insurance claims on MRIs (inspired by his own visit to the hospital following his panic attack).

Yet Tony is full of dread.  He tells Melfi he’s dissatisfied with his work and fears he will lose his family (does he mean his nuclear family, family of origin, the mob – maybe all?).

Chase said in an interview that the series could have been called “Poor You” (a phrase employed often by Livia) or “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” and there are plenty of actions and plot lines that fit the bill.

Poor You

Tony is anxious and tense as he gets ready for his MRI, but he gets no sympathy from Carmela says “The difference between you and me is you’re going to hell when you die.”

When Hesh and Big Pussy take Mahaffey on the ominous walk by the falls to discuss paying his gambling debt by processing fraudulent medical claims, Mahaffey confesses that he so depressed he can’t eat or sleep.  Hesh (always keen on medical information) asks if he’s taking anything, and Mahaffey says he’s taking Zoloft, which is supposed to be useful in treating compulsive behaviors.  Big Pussy responds with “That’s a shame…that a medication comes along after your gambling gets your fucking hip busted to shit.”

Livia SopranoNo Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Tony brings Livia a CD player and CDs of her favorite music – she flips her hand “I don’t want it…” Any conversation he attempts is met with dismissive comments from Live, for example, “Oh, that one!” or “Listen to him.  He knows everything.”

As a result of having the mobsters hanging out at the Vesuvio, Artie will see his restaurant burned to the ground – a faulty stove taking the blame, when we the audience knows it’s Tony doing (his way of saving Artie the fall out from having someone whacked in the restaurant – contrary to what Chris and Tony think – I’m wondering if that would cause more people to come to Vesuvio.)

Echoes

“At the same time, told my girl cousins that I would never be a varsity athlete and, frankly, that was a tremendous blow to my self esteem.”  Tony Soprano talking about Junior.  (Much later in the series, as Junior suffers from dementia, this comes up again.

Christopher tells Tony that he could sell his story to Hollywood and make millions.  This dream will get it’s own story line in Season Two’s “D Girl” as well as Season Six’s “Luxury Lounge.”

Visuals

After Christopher and Tony have the conversation about Christopher selling his story to Hollywood, Tony tries to lighten the mood.  He squeezes Christopher’s neck, and says “It’s a beautiful day.  What could be bad?” at which point the scene switches to a close up of Livia (who is riding to the barbeque with Junior) – I love that David Chase shares that little laugh with the audience.

At the very beginning of the show, there’s a shot of Tony walking into the pool in his bathrobe to feed and talk to the ducks “If you don’t like this ramp, I’ll build you another one.”  The image has a baptism feel to it, but could just as easily symbolize drowning.

Favorite Quotes:

“With today’s pharmacology, no one needs to suffer.”  Dr. Jennifer Melfi

“I had a semester and a half of college so I understand Freud…I understand therapy as a concept.  But in my world it doesn’t go down.”  Tony Soprano

“Somebody donated their kneecaps for those tickets.”  Charmaine Bucco

“You’d think I was Hannibal Lecture before…or something…” Tony Soprano

“I’m all agita all the time…we used to be recession-proof…no more.  You can’t blame it all on the justice department.”  Junior Soprano

“Sadness accrues.”  Silvio Dante

“You’re using mesquite.  That makes the sausage taste peculiar.”  Livia Soprano

“Talking helps.  Hope comes in many forms.”  Dr. Jennifer Melfi/Tony Soprano

Further Reading:

46 Long (Season 1 Episode 2, The Sopranos)

Denial, Anger, Acceptance (Season 1, Episode 3, The Sopranos)

Wikipedia synopsis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_(The_Sopranos)

AV Club  http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-sopranos,41724/
Watch along with me – you can purchase the DVD set at Amazon (affiliate link):
The Sopranos: The Complete First Season

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