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The Countdown continues: The second best Sopranos tangent episode

May 4, 2006

2) Trip to Colby (Season 1)

In this episode, Tony takes Meadow on a trip to check out Colby College in Maine. While he’s there, he takes care of some old business: he tracks down and kills a rat living an anonymous life as the owner of an autoshop. (Come to think of it, Big Pussy was in the same business. Was this a bit of foreshadowing?)

Like the episode where Christopher befriends and brutalizes Tim Daly, this episode brilliantly demonstrates the division between these guys’ personal and criminal lives: drop kid off at campus tour in the morning, track down and strangle a guy in the woods in the afternoon. It’s even more effective than that ep because of the contrast between the peaceful, verdant beauty of God-given nature and the ugly brutality of man-made violence. Seeing an informant chocked to death with piano wire in Hoboken seems ho-hum, an expected consequence of urban anomie; but seeing the same thing happen in unspoiled nature is shocking.

For whatever reason, the writers of The Sopranos are often at their best when their characters are out of their element, out in the elements: think of the episode where Chris and Paulie spend a night in the Pine Barrens, the episode where the crew kills Big Pussy on the yacht, the episode when Tony and Christopher visit Tony’s uncle farm, the episode when Tony comforts his sick horse on a rainy night.

This episode is also a wonderful little study of a man – the rat – who has escaped the life and is trying to live like a citizen. Sometimes he’s a regular Joe; other times, he’s paying local meth-heads to kill Tony Soprano. But this guy has been a civilian for so long he’s lost his ruthlessness. When he spots Tony outside his motel, he hesitates from shooting him because Meadow is there. Unlike Tony, he can’t completely separate his criminality from his humanity.

The episode ends with Tony and Meadow driving back to Jersey. Meadow asks Tony if he’s in the mob, and Tony gives her a scrap of truth: he says he’s involved in some illegal activities, but that it’s nothing like you see in the movies, no murder or anything like that. This bit of sophistry is worse than a lie because it’s so believable. But it’s also the start of the slow deterioration of the walls between Tony’s life of crime and his family life; eventually, by Season 6, A.J. has so internalized the rumors about who his father is that he fashions himself a young gangster.

There’s another interesting parallel between this classic episode from Season 1 and the most recent episode. In the most recent episode, after Tony bails A.J. out of jail for attempting to kill Junior, A.J. calls his father a hypocrite. His rationale? When they watch The Godfather, Tony always says that the scene where Michael kills McClusker and Sollozzo in the restaurant is “his favorite scene of all time.” Tony’s response? “That’s just a movie. You have to grow up, A.J.”

In both episodes Tony uses the seeming unreality of “the movies” – specifically a movie that he and his buddies actually model their lives after – as a way to obfuscate his own crimes. In a way, he’s right: his life is nothing like The Godfather. In The Godfather, the mob killings always seemed honorable, and the life seemed glamorous; in The Sopranos, the killings are always horrible and the life is grotesque.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Brad Glaser permalink
    May 4, 2006 3:00 pm

    If I remember correctly, a clip of the scene from the car ride in this episode was the featured clip in the first commercial for The Sopranos. That has no real relavance, but for what it’s worth…

  2. May 4, 2006 3:15 pm

    As long as we’re on the subject of early Sopranos, has anyone else noticed how strange the first episode was? Meadow was chubby, A.J. was like five years old and Carmela pulled an AK-47 on Meadow when she tried to dodge curfew. It was like another show entirely…

    I assume the pilot was shot about a year before the second episode was filmed, because Meadow aged about three years between the first two episodes.


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