College (Season 1, Episode 5, The Sopranos)

Tony in MaineDirected by Allen Coulter

Written by James Manos, Jr. and David Chase

College highlights the emotional and moral jujitsu of the Sopranos.  With the story line keeping to a minimal number of characters (by Sopranos standards), we spend a lot of time with Tony and Carmela in College.  And it’s uncomfortable.

Tony is escorting Meadow in visits to colleges around the Northeast.  While at a gas station, he sees Fabian Petrulio, now living under the identity of Fred Peters.  We get the back story (in a series of pay phone conversations between Tony and Christopher) that Petrulio was once a member of the crew who flipped after being busted for selling heroin, and has been kicked out of the witness protection program but still visits colleges to speak about his life as a gangster.  And, speaking of busts, the one in Jackie Aprile’s rec room is a bust of Frank Sinatra made by Petrulio while he was serving time.

Meanwhile back in New Jersey, on a dark and stormy night, Father Phil pops in on Carmela who he knows is sick with the flu but his ziti jones is, apparently, not to be denied.  Giving us unlikable but nevertheless entertaining and interesting characters is a masterstroke of The Sopranos, and Father Phil is a great example.

Carmela and Father PhilThe back and forth between the two locales is laced with dialogue that includes Meadow asking Tony if he’s in the Mafia, Carmela and Father Phil discussing the words of Christ in the New Testament, Willem Dafoe as Jesus, Meadow confessing to using crank to get through ‘homework, SATs, and the stress of life,” and Carmela confessing that she has “forsaken what is right for what is easy.”

The tensions of Tony hunting down Petrulio and the sexual tension between Father Phil and Carmela in the midst of reminders of their chosen lives (Father Phil’s sacrament kit, A.J. calling his mom for permission to spend the night at a friends) is awful and hard to watch.

At the end of the episode, when Tony and Meadow return home and Tony notes that, “Monsignor Jughead was here” – the laugh is much needed.

Poor You

It’s interesting that the first call Tony makes while on the trip is to Irina.  He opens the conversation with a cheery “How’s my sweetheart?” only to be greeted with a full on tantrum.  We hear about Svetlana for the first time.  Irina is upset that her cousin has only been in the United States for two months but has already found someone to marry – a “knight in white satin armor” as Irina puts it.  We hear the romantic story of how Svetlana’s prosthetic leg came off at the Gap and Bill was there to help her.  Tony lamely asks if the whirlpool jets are working correctly in an attempt to change the subject.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Christopher offers to go up to Maine to take care of Petrulio. It’s the smart thing to do.  At first Tony begs off saying that he’ll ask Sil or Pussy to handle it.  But it becomes clear that he wants to do it himself.  It’s obvious that Tony enjoys tracking him down and has no problem finishing the job, just as in the pilot he has no problem beating Mahaffey.  Tony enjoys being a mobster.  He doesn’t mind the job, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty – it’s managing other people that wears on him.  We don’t see Tony in therapy in this episode, but it’s interesting to note that when he is sharing with Melfi, what stresses him is managing his families, not the killing or the extortion or the scams or the brutality.  Throughout the series, he never expresses a desire to become legitimate or to get out.

Echoes

When Tony tells Christopher about Petrulio flipping, he says, “my old man was sick and never recovered when he heard the news.”  This sounds like history is being rewritten by Tony.   It reminded me of ‘For All Debts Public and Private’ where Tony creates a backstory about the cop who killed Christopher’s father.  And Christopher fills in the unlikely detail that his father was killed while carrying his crib into the house.

When Petrulio is pleading for his life, he tries to appeal to Tony as the father of a daughter, noting that he could have killed Tony the previous night as he was assisting a drunk Meadow into her motel room, but he didn’t.  We know that his restraint was the result of two possible witnesses coming into the scene.  Yet it reminds me of the scene in Season 6 ‘Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request’ where Phil Leotardo says that he has lost respect for John (who broke down weeping as the Feds force him to leave his daughter’s wedding) and Tony responds with a softer judgment that when it comes to daughters, all bets are off.

Quotes

“Well, I had that semester and a half at Seton Hall.”  Tony Soprano

“That was Frank, that bust?  I always thought it was Shaquille.”  Christopher Moltisanti

“No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered.”  Nathanial Hawthorne

“What did you guys do for 12 hours?  Play “Name that Pope’?”  Tony Soprano

“Do I look like the friggin’ Thornbird over here?” Carmela Soprano

Further Reading:

AV Club:  http://www.avclub.com/articles/meadowlandscollege,42209/

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_(The_Sopranos_episode)

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)

Meadowlands (Season 1, Episode 4, The Sopranos)

Watch along with me (affiliate link) The Sopranos: The Complete First Season

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