'The Sopranos' Rewind: Season 1, Episode 11: 'Nobody Knows Anything'
Welcome to the latest installment of our summer trip through "The Sopranos" season 1. When I revisited early seasons of "The Wire," as well as the whole run of "Deadwood," I did separate versions of each review for newcomers and veterans, but over time realized that the newcomers weren't commenting much, if at all, and that it therefore made sense to simply do one review. Any significant spoilers for episodes beyond the one being reviewed will be contained in a separate section at the end of the review; so long as you avoid that, and the comments, you should be fine.
Thoughts on the eleventh episode, “Nobody Knows Anything," coming up just as soon it's 1954 inside this house...
"This is our friend we're talking about here." -Tony
After "A Hit Is A Hit" put most of the bigger season 1 stories on pause, "Nobody Knows Anything" presses play on one of the greatest home stretches any TV season has ever had. From here through the finale, it's nothing but portents and bad omens, death and destruction, and a tragic blurring of the lines between family and Family.
There's a scene early in this one where Tony goes to see Vin Makazian, who informs him that Big Pussy is now an informant for the FBI. It's notable not just because of the utter contempt and dismissal with which Tony treats Makazian — a cavalier attitude that surely didn't send Vin jumping off the Donald Goodkind Bridge, but one that contributed to a larger feeling of hopelessness and being unwanted that put him there — but because of the weather and the way the scene is shot. Revisiting the season, I've been reminded how well the show captures the extremes of weather in this area. When it's hot in North Jersey, it's like being blinded and punched in the gut when you step outside, and the show's photography nails that. Here, the news that one of his oldest and closest friends has turned rat is among the worst things Tony Soprano could ever hear — at least until he finds out what his mother and uncle have been talking about over at Green Grove — and the air around him in that scene looks and feels like doom, with the sky full of black clouds and the wind making Tony's shirt impotently flap around him.
The news sends ripples through Tony's entire crew, and leads to uncomfortably tense moments like Paulie demanding that Pussy take his clothes off before their unscheduled schvitz. But unsurprisingly, it weighs heaviest on Tony himself, particularly in a great therapy scene where he again turns to Dr. Melfi to unwittingly give him management advice. As Melfi explains the many reasons why someone might be having psychosomatic back pain, the camera pushes in on Tony, and you can see on James Gandolfini's that Tony knows that his friend has betrayed him. He knows it, but he still needs to triple-check it, because Pussy is his friend, and friendships still matter deeply, even in the Family.
Livia has less equivocation about pushing Junior into a position to order her son's murder. We've known going back to her counsel on the matter of Brendan Filone that Livia has no qualms about arranging for the death of another human being. And we have ample evidence of how little she likes, never mind loves, Tony. But until now, she's viewed his treatment of her more as an irritation — and the sort that's given her license to complain in the way that so clearly gives her great pleasure. But selling her house out from under her — and thus seemingly keeping her imprisoned in Green Grove for the rest of her life — is one sin too many, particularly when it comes on the heels of Carmela calling her out so bluntly as a manipulator who's far more powerful than she wants anyone to believe. And Carmela is proven absolutely right with the way Livia walks Junior up to the idea of having Tony whacked, even as she's acting so pained to hear Junior discussing such a thing.
There's a lot of miscommunication here, but also situations where multiple things can be true at the same time. Makazian owing Pussy money, and even Jimmy Altieri being a rat, don't automatically clear Pussy of suspicion. And while Tony isn't technically plotting a move against Junior when he meets with other wiseguys at Green Grove, that's only because he already made his move back in "Meadowlands," and has been secretly running the Family without Junior realizing it.
The episode's final scene proper — other than a brief glimpse of Tony contemplating the darkness that's coming, under another ominous sky — takes us somewhere we've never been before, Mikey Palmice's house, as he fills his wife JoJo in on what's coming next for poor unsuspecting Tony and Mikey's own position within the Family. Mikey's a goon and not nearly as clever as he thinks he is, but it's interesting to see him come right out and tell JoJo what's coming. We've seen in the past, during the evidence-hiding binge in "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti," that Carmela knows a bit of what goes on in Tony's business, at least on the level of where the guns and money are kept, but he's never let her in on Family doings to this degree.
Secrets are necessary in this line of work, but as Dr. Melfi notes, secrets can bring with them many burdens, physical as well as emotional. If all the members of Tony's family and crew were more open with each other, there would probably have been even more bloodshed as a result, but there wouldn't also be this agonizing feeling — for both Tony and the viewer — about what's actually happening, and what's coming next.
Some other thoughts: