Nobody Knows Anything (Season 1, Episode 11, The Sopranos)

Directed by Henry J. Bronchtein

Written by Frank Renzulli

1 Nobody Knows AnythingCop Gossip

While at a bordello with Paulie and Tony, Big Pussy’s back goes out.  Later at an open house at the Sopranos, Paulie tells Christopher and Tony that he took Pussy to the “Jonas Salk of backs,” whose patients include the New York Jets, and after exhaustive testing (“MRI’s, CAT scans, dog scans”) determined that nothing was wrong with his back.  But then, “when it comes to backs, nobody knows anything, really.”

Tony knows that there are several possibilities:  that the back pain is real, that it’s psychosomatic, caused by, according to Dr. Melfi, having too much responsibility and/or harboring secrets.  And if the pain is psychosomatic, is it because Pussy has a lot of bills or is it because he’s flipped?

The rules that operate in Tony Sopranos world – the rules about sex, the rules about being vulnerable, the rules about talking about the business, the rules about socializing outside of one’s circle – have been a big part of the last few episodes.  In Nobody Knows Anything, the rules surrounding snitches and subordination are front and center.

Branching out was a theme in A Hit Is A Hit, circling the wagons is the theme in Nobody Knows Anything: seeking the proof amidst speculation on motives, behaviors, and still not knowing for sure.  Or is it a matter of not knowing anything because the central characters have blind spots?

2 Nobody Knows AnythingUpon hearing the news from Vin Makazian that Pussy is “wired for sound,” Tony is angry and skeptical, “Doesn’t make any sense.”  But Vin is firm in his response, “Yeah it does if you take off the blinders.”  He goes on convincingly to unpack all the circumstances: that his contacts know that Pussy has been moving a lot of heroin to pay for his kid’s college, that he loves his family above all else which makes him a favorite target for the feds, and that after fleeing the bust at Jimmy’s place, his release is suspicious – “How does he was from this other thing so easy?  A known wise guy resisting arrest?  Low ball bail?”

In spite of Tony insisting on seeing the 302, he knows.  In spite of blowing off Vin’s information as “cop gossip” from a degenerate gambler with a badge, Tony knows.

“Power?  I’m a shut in.”

While there is a swirl of plot activity around Pussy –– a deadlier plot line is unfolding at Green Grove.

Early in the episode we see Carmela on the phone with Livia who is calling to say that she won’t be coming to the open house.  When Carmela tells Tony and wonders if she should call back, Tony (who has obviously read ‘Strategies for Coping with Elder Family’ that Dr. Melfi recommends in Meadowlands) tells Carmela that it’s called ‘negative attention-getting’.

Seemingly Livia has had a jolt to her system.  Carmela comes to visit and notices that she’s wearing make up.  Tony comes to visit and finds out she’s at aqua-therapy  “I didn’t even know she owned a bathing suit,” he mumbles to the director, who goes on to tell him that she believes that it’s the visits from Junior that Livia looks forward to that has her exercising.

The theme of nobody knows anything extends Junior.  To watch his face as Livia drops bomb after bomb (Tony orchestrating the meetings with the capos at Green Grove, the fact that Larry and Jimmy had their mothers move into Green Grove, and that New York knows about it since Johnny Sac has been in attendance) reveals how blindsided he is.  And, while he is certainly angry, the overriding emotion is despair.  He’s crushed – because the rules that he must play by force him to get rid of Tony, “blood or no blood.”

In one sense, Livia is brilliant in that she constructs the perfect murder, which is covered brilliantly by Todd VanDerWurff at AV Club.  Certainly, Tony is capable of murder.  But he’s less horrifying than Livia.  Livia is ultimately killing her own son and manipulating a man who loves Tony into doing it.  Livia’s impulse is so repugnant and the strategy so razor sharp, it’s easy to lose sight of how much of a self-destructive move it is on Livia’s part.  Tony is her meal ticket.  He’s the one paying for her to stay at the most expensive senior care facility in New Jersey, as much as she complains about it.  With Tony dead, it is impossible to imagine life getting better for Livia, while it’s quite easy to imagine it getting much worse.


  • How big was the Columbian score? In the previous episode, Tony calls it “the score of a lifetime.”  Paulie, Pussy and Christopher made the score – so Pussy must have gotten roughly a third after they bumped up to Tony.
  • It’s entirely possible that it’s simply a fart joke, but in addition to his back problem, the early scene at the Bing has Pussy passing a lot of gas.  In addition to the back problems, are his secrets causing him the same gastro-intestinal problems that Adriana will later suffer?
  • A.J.’s reference to Bill Clinton, “He got Monica Kaczynski and the broad with the long nose” reminds us that this was first broadcast early in 1999.   I think the Sopranos has aged well, though I still don’t understand who/what “the broad with the long nose” means.
  • I love the back and forth between Livia and Junior, when Livia refers to Johnny Sac and his “mohair suits and his shoe lifts.”  Junior’s “Suits? Pleurisy?  More than once his was here?”
  • Notice who gets arrested in this episode, Jimmy, Pussy, and Raymond and tuck it away for later.

Further reading:

Watch along with me: The Sopranos: The Complete First Season