Meadowlands (Season 1, Episode 4, The Sopranos)
Directed by John Patterson
Written by Jason Cahill
Tony Soprano makes his move to be number one while Christopher is frequently reminded about his number two.
“Who are you?” Tony Soprano asks Dr. Melfi in Meadowlands, the fourth episode in season one. This episode is really about discovering who Tony Soprano is. We, the audience, get an idea of Tony’s reputation in his “other family” (as Meadow describes it to A.J.) and we view A.J.’s discovery of just who his father is.
Part of the reason I’ve been re-watching the series is to pay closer attention for the signs that Tony is a sociopath. Certainly Tony is flawed, but is he truly a sociopath? Why do I feel disappointment that he is a sociopath?
The signs are certainly there when watching with a more critical eye, but in this episode it’s also clear why it’s so easy to be charmed by Tony. He’s smart, funny, cleans up well (it’s interesting to notice that Tony is so much more stylish than the rest of the crew), and, delightful malapropos aside, is generally well spoken.
And, there are moments, where it’s very easy to fall in love with Tony, in spite of everything. One such moment is the beautifully shot closing scene at the cemetery – A.J. is off by himself watching his father. Is he the loving man in the photo on A.J.’s bed stand or is he a mobster like the ones in the website print outs Meadow gave him. We can hear the wheels in his head grinding. We see Meadow give him a knowing look as Paulie leans close to whisper in Tony’s ear. And then we see Tony glance up, smile at A.J., and give him a heart-stealing wink.
But the truth is, the entire episode has been showing us that Tony is a master of appearances and brilliant maneuvering. Yes, Dr. Melfi unwittingly assists Tony in the master stroke to accomplishing his ends, but Tony has been working towards this moment, of the Sopranos taking the reins of North Jersey, for a lot longer than we’ve been watching him.
We’re introduced to Detective Vin Makazian (played by John Heard) who has a history of doing favors for Tony for a fee or as a way to work off his gambling debt. Tony has him follow Melfi to get the answer to his question ‘Who are you?’ telling Makazian that he wants to know where she goes, what she does, and who she sees.
This plan results in Makazian following her while he’s on the job – dragging his partner into it under the guise that the car Melfi’s date is driving matches the description of a triple homicide. Makazian pulls Randall Curtin’s car over, gives him a sobriety test that ends in a brutal beating. Melfi is horrified and his partner is troubled but not enough to stop things.
The dialogue between Tony and Makazian shows Tony at his coldest. He has no sympathy only hostility and contempt. Makazian is twice divorced, paying alimony, gambling and frustrated. He is an example of what life is like when you owe Tony Soprano money – and I’m suddenly more sympathetic of Charmaine’s emphatic position on Artie not accepting money from Tony no matter how tough their financial situation.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
The scene-stealer in this episode is Christopher (last seen with a gun to his head and soiled pants) who has to figure out who was behind the mock execution – Tony or someone else. Is this, as he believed, fall out from giving Meadow crystal meth?
Every scene he’s in is delightful. First Adriana brings up the incident by reluctantly sharing with him, “I heard the nurse say you made a number two in your pants. Is that what happened?” Not enough that his life was threatened, he has to deal with the humiliation of the scare.
Then, when he and Adriana pick up Meadow to see if she has said anything to Tony about the crystal he gave her last episode, he erupts with, “This is me and Adriana moving to Florida because some crank head puke couldn’t keep her mouth shut!” The scene is even funnier with Hunter floating around asking if Brendan got the poem she sent him and, “Seriously, did Brendan ask about me?” Dark humor in that Hunter is interested in him to begin with, that Brendan would be the last person to appreciate a poem, let alone that he’s dead.
Visually we’re treated to the fact that Christopher is in a neck brace throughout the episode, beginning with a heavy-duty hard shell and then a softer foam version that doesn’t seem to compromise his ability to beat up YoYo Mendez.
We don’t see much of Livia in this episode. Tony visits her at Green Grove and brings her macaroons, “Your favorites.” Livia dismisses the gesture with, “They’re too sweet.”
Tony is paying for her to be in the most expensive retirement community in New Jersey and she is insistent on making him feel miserable about it. When he asks why she doesn’t go on the field trip to the city, she responds with the negatives of men soiling themselves, Giuliani, and women throwing babies out of skyscrapers. “You’re always with the babies out the windows,” Tony replies, his anger building. Giving up, he picks up the box of macaroons, and Livia is transparent in requesting that he leave some for “the lunatics.”
When Tony is at the Bing with Jimmy Altieri, Raymond Curto, and Larry Boy Barese, he is maneuvering to understand if they will accept him as boss. He begins by saying that it’s Raymond’s time. Raymond softly indicates with, “Go easy with the grease gun,” that he knows Tony is flattering him. But points out that he has a son with MS and is interested in doing less, not more. He also gives us some background on Tony and how he has come up the ranks noting, “You’re the boy wonder. Both him [Ercoli DeMeo] and Jackie both had you picked from day one.” Jimmy Altieri dismisses Larry Boy’s suggestion to run it as a council and goes on to say, “You want it T, you’ll get their [New York] OK.”
We’ll see future examples of this masterful manipulation – the episode when Tony boxes Ralph in to be the one to determine the fate of Jackie Jr. jumping to mind – throughout the entire series.
“He’s got more degrees than a thermometer.” Tony Soprano
“I thought we made some progress on your narcissism.” Dr. Jennifer Melfi
“Did Brendan get my poem?” Hunter
“You know, I come here to get cheered up. You think that’s a mistake?” Tony Soprano
“Plus it’s a super huge thrill to pay two alimonies on forty thousand dollars a year income.” Vin Makazian
“He tries to leave, you break his other neck.” Tony Soprano
“I’m sitting here like fucking patience on a monument waiting for discipline to be handed down.” Junior Soprano
“That nephew of yours we gave a high colonic…he earns good?” Junior Soprano
“We need a supreme commander at the top not the fuckin’ Dave Clark 5” Jimmy Altieri
“And that didn’t happen…what you said!” Christopher Moltisanti
“Call Parcels, give this guy a try out!” Tony Soprano
“Always with the scenarios!” Silvio Dante
The Sopranos (Season 1, Episode 1, The Sopranos)
46 Long (Season 1 Episode 2, The Sopranos)
Denial, Anger, Acceptance (Season 1, Episode 3, The Sopranos)
AV Club – http://www.avclub.com/articles/meadowlandscollege,42209/
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meadowlands_(The_Sopranos_episode)
Watch along with me – you can purchase the DVD set at Amazon (affiliate link):
The Sopranos: The Complete First Season