Down Neck (Season 1, Episode 7, The Sopranos)
Written by Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess
The impact of one’s parenting is often a terrifying thing to ponder, at least maybe for well-meaning parents. And much of our parenting decisions usually springs from what happened to us (good and bad) as children. While the belt was Johnny Boy Soprano’s “child development tool” of choice, after watching Down Neck, his interactions with Tony weren’t nearly as horrifying as Livia’s.
There is a hope (in healthy parents) that we will do a better job with our children than our parents did with us. One of the great joys of being a parent is seeing the world anew through your children’s eyes, just as one of the great agonies is the worry that a particular misbehavior can lead to more bad decisions that will prevent a child from a happy future.
Down Neck presents this parental angst unflinchingly in ways we all can relate and, more interestingly, in ways that we can’t relate.
Junior’s comment, “What happened to boys will be boys?” is really spot on as we watch A.J. and his buddies raid the Verbum Dei sacristy to get the sacramental wine. They know what they’re doing is wrong, but how bad can they be when they discuss going to confession and admitting that they stole, but not what they stole? The boys can’t hold their liquor and are found out and suspended from school. Tony and Carmela meet with Father Hagy who has brought in the school psychologist Dr. Galani who has been “keeping an eye on Anthony.”
The dinner scene with Livia and Junior is wonderful. Grandma or grandpa (or your kindly gangster great uncle) sharing stories that dispel the notion that your parents are infallible is heady stuff when you’re a kid. When Carmela puts the hammer down and shares how A.J. will be “consequenced” (to use Dr. Galani’s term), we get a momentary shot of Tony’s face – a combination of sympathy and being carried off by a memory. (Stating the obvious, but compelled to do so, Gandolfini is a tremendous actor.) In addition to no Mario Cart or television for three weeks, Carmela informs A.J. that, every day, he will ride his bike to visit Livia at Green Grove. Livia’s muttered, “Oh, that’ll be nice…” is a signature Sopranos touch.
I’m fascinated with Tony’s lies of omission. The first is letting Carmela believe that Dr. Melfi is man. And in this episode, when Tony asks Carmela “Do you think he [A.J.] knows?” she responds with “She does.” We know that Tony and Meadow discussed this in College, but Tony does not share that with Carmela, even though she specifically asks if anything happened during the trip that would explain Meadow’s peculiar behavior.
In Pax Soprano I noted the bizarre conversation Carmela and Father Phil have – as if the awkward sleep over never happened. Contrast that with Tony’s discussions with Dr. Melfi – where every word is registered. The first of Tony’s sessions in this episode begins with Tony sharing his concerns about A.J. and asking questions about A.D.D. including, “If he’s got a disease, why do they tell me to punish him?”
When Dr. Melfi brings up their last session together, when Tony declared his love, in a very short back and forth of dialogue, Tony’s attitude makes a hair pin turn from “Intimate feelings? I think I said I was in love.” to “Well I already got a girlfriend. Russian. 24. How old are you?” Melfi’s face registers the briefest shock, then revulsion, then curiosity, “I find it interesting that it took you so long to tell me you had a girlfriend.” And with a maliciousness he probably learned from Livia, he repeats her own words back to her, “How are you doing with it?”
In Down Neck we meet Johnny Boy Soprano through Tony’s stirred up memories of how he discovered what his Dad did for a living. We also get to see Livia as a mother and wife – and some moments of awful malevolence.
When A.J. visits Livia at Green Grove, we find her pouring over the obituaries and when the other resident asks why A.J. isn’t in school, Livia is genuinely delighted when she answers, “Because he was a bad boy. Yes he was. That’s why.”
Later when Tony is changing the tire, and A.J. tells him about the federal agents at Jackie Aprile’s funeral and the website, Tony realizes that while A.J. suspects, he doesn’t know for sure. Tony brings this up with Dr. Melfi, who asks him about the dream he shared in the first episode and asks, “Is this the terrible thing?” Tony shares the story of Johnny Boy using Janice as the front in order to meet with other associates at the amusement park. As a kid, going to an amusement park is so much fun and even though we know that Johnny is up to something, it hurts to see how crushed young Tony was at the thought of his father bringing Janice and not bringing him. It’s even worse that he’s left with Livia who, in the midst of an argument over an electric organ, threatens to stick a fork in his eye, to which a horrified Melfi pulls us into the present, “She said what?!”
Later when Tony visits Livia at Green Grove, Junior is also there for a visit. Livia was just about to tell him that Tony is seeing a psychiatrist. Junior praises Tony, remarking that he’s “keeping his hair and that he’s a good son, coming and visiting his mother.” Junior leaves and Tony walks Livia to the dining room, reminding her that she thwarted Johnny’s chances to make it rich in Reno by threatening to smother his children rather than bring them to Nevada. Livia ends the discussion with a vicious “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
In the pivotal scene where A.J. tells Livia that Tony is seeing a psychiatrist, after the hilarious back and forth with Livia repeating “He does not!” and A.J. repeating “Yes he does,” A.J. checks out of the conversation and focuses on eating a pear while Livia continues with “What does he need a psychiatrist for? He goes to talk about his mother. That’s what he’s doing. He talks about me, he complains. She didn’t do this. She did that. I gave my life to my children on a silver platter and this is how he repays me.” Livia crying into the hanky is a something we’ve seen before.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Christopher Moltisanti rips off a Fed Ex truck and brings a collection of stolen watches for Sil, Pussy and Tony to choose from. Tony gets upset with him because he didn’t think about the implications if he was caught, and Christopher responds with “I’d take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.” When Christopher tries to be clever – he’s just not that funny; the comedy comes in when Christopher is serious and unintentionally funny, like we’ve seen in past episodes.
- Dr. Galani tells Tony and Carmela that he’s spoken with all of Anthony’s teachers, and Sister Patricia, his are teacher notes that Anthony has “strong skills and spatial orientation.” Later on, we’ll hear Janice make a similar claim about herself.
- Watch Tony’s face when Dr. Galani tells him that A.J. has trouble following rules, weighing consequences, doesn’t think before he acts, is inattentive and prone to impulsivity. It reminds me of Detective McNulty (The Wire) going to Quantico and hearing the profile of his phantom serial killer.
- When A.J. is tested by the psychologist, the drawing he is asked to describe is of a rider-less horse with a barn in the background. In Anger, Denial, Acceptance, Tony is agitated by a painting of tree (which Tony perceives as rotting from the inside) with a barn in the background, in Dr. Melfi’s waiting room.
- This is the second time Tony brings up selling patio furniture as a career alternative. When driving with Meadow he tells her that being a rebel in his family would be selling patio furniture on Route 22. In this episode, he tosses out selling patio furniture in San Diego.
- When Johnny Boy comes home from jail he brings ice cream. When Down Neck ends, Tony is making ice cream sundaes for himself and A.J.
“These girls are pulling down $1500 a week. This bears no weight with the principessa.” Silvio Dante
“It’s hard to raise kids in the information age.” Silvio Dante
“That man is so full of himself since becoming copporuggi. He makes me sick.” Livia Soprano
“He fidgets with hands or feet?” Tony Soprano
Pax Soprano (Season 1, Episode 6, The Sopranos)
College (Season 1, Episode 5, The Sopranos)
Meadowlands (Season 1, Episode 4, The Sopranos)
Denial, Anger, Acceptance (Season 1, Episode 3, The Sopranos)
46 Long (Season 1, Episode 2, The Sopranos)
The Sopranos (Season 1, Episode 3, The Sopranos)
Watch along with me (affiliate link): The Sopranos: The Complete First Season