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The Countdown: The Third Best Sopranos Tangent Episode

April 27, 2006

3) Tony, Paulie and Christopher go to Italy (Season 2)

While this episode covers some other significant material – Big Pussy gets spotted with an FBI agent, Big Pussy’s wife contemplates divorce, Big Pussy kills an Elvis impersonator with a hammer – the bulk of the episode is concerned with Tony’s business trip to Naples with Paulie and Christopher.

The trip to Italy may be the most hilarious thing David Chase has ever written. As soon as a taxi drops them off at their hotel, Christopher points to Vesuvius and says, “I don’t care what anybody fucking says, I’m going to see that fucking mountain!” Soon thereafter, Chris meets an Italian mobster with a taste for heroine. Christopher doesn’t leave the hotel for the rest of the trip. After a multi-day bender of smack and slut, a hung-over Chris buys Adrianna something from the giftshop at the Naples airport.

Paulie steals the show. While talking up his desire to experience the authentic Italy, he quickly finds the old country is, well, just not new enough. Upon being served fettuccine with squid-ink sauce, he asks if they have any “macaroni and gravy.” Later in the meal he goes to the water closet. The stall is small and missing a toilet seat. He decides better of it. After the meal, he asks Tony to return to the hotel so he can go to the bathroom.

While exploring the streets of Naples the next day, he greets everyone with an enthusiastic “Commendatori!” An elderly man at the waterfront asks, “American?” Paulie says yes, and the man curses him out in Italian for the incident when a U.S. marine plane hit a cable-car at an Italian ski resort. Paulie, not knowing Italian, smiles and keeps walking. And when a local prostitute shows Paulie disinterested service, he asks, “Haven’t you heard of the saying the customer’s always right?”

Tony’s plot is more serious: he meets and flirts with the female mob boss who runs the Naples family because her father-in-law is senile and her husband is in jail. They have some interesting conversations about gender and power but the actress who plays the boss is just a little too beautiful and glamorous to be believable.

This episode demonstrates what appears to be the main purpose of the tangent episodes: comic relief. They’re like the drunken clowns in Shakespeare’s plays who seem so out of place to modern eyes. It’s Chase’s concession to the rabble. (Or maybe he’s just lazy and undisciplined. Or maybe, like Shakespeare, it will take 400 years and 200 dissertations to determine that Chris’s encounter with Massive Genius in Season 1 was the most brilliant thing Chase ever wrote.)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Brad Glaser permalink
    April 29, 2006 6:44 pm

    Paulie is at his best when the world does not conform to his vision of it. His confusion, resulting in shortening his already miniscule fuse, plays great both for comedy and an anything-can-happen-now dynamic. Witness also the Russian in the Woods episode. That alone made this episode worthwhile. I thought the material with Tony and the female boss was stilted, but it did set the groundwork for Furio’s arrival and some of the subsequent dealings with Naples.

  2. BIll Musto permalink
    May 1, 2006 1:56 pm

    I loved the contrast between Tony’s crew and the regular people of Naples…. it is a great reminder to Americans (who may stereotype Italians) that Tony’s boys are not “real Italians” but their own kind of unique mutts.

    I also didn’t buy into the female mob boss – she was very beautiful but a little too unblemished.

    Can we talk about that crazy Russian some more?

  3. May 1, 2006 2:29 pm

    Agreed on all counts.

    As for the Russian, sit tight. We’ll get there. It just may take a few days until I get Internet access at my new place.

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