'The Sopranos' Rewind: Season 1, Episode 6: 'Pax Soprana'
Welcome to the sixth 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 sixth episode, “Pax Soprana," coming up just as soon as I’m living next door to Gunga Din…
“I love you. I’m in love with you. I’m sorry. It’s just the way it is.” -Tony
One of the things I've most loved about covering shows online is the insight that you guys have to offer, even on shows and episodes I've written thousands of words about over many years. For example, look at this comment from Sully during last week's discussion of "College":
The thing that's always notable for me is the joy Tony has throughout the whole process of tracking and killing Febby. He never has that put upon or stressed out demeanor we see him have so often in the show, even though it's an incredibly stressful tightrope he has to walk. He doesn't advance from this and it doesnt alleviate a threat or anything but heloves every minute of it and it's the first time we're shown how Tony only truly enjoys life when he's committing crimes.
Tony's love of mob action at its simplest (whether killing Febby or some of the random fights or robberies he gets into in later seasons) was a clear part of the character throughout the series, yet I never saw it described as well as Sully does here. And it casts an interesting new light on "Pax Soprana," which on one level could have come immediately after "Meadowlands," but which makes more sense once we've seen how relatively carefree Tony is when he's away from the stresses of everyday life as husband, father, son, lover, and capo.
That stress is everywhere throughout "Pax Soprana," whether from Junior's high-handed new leadership style or from Tony's uncomfortable dealings with the many demanding women in his life(*). Tony is back on his home turf, allegedly running things behind his uncle's back, with a wife, a mistress and a therapist all catering to his needs in different ways, and he could not be more miserable through most of it.
(*) Though, interestingly, Meadow is absent after being so prominent in "College."
In their first scene together this week, Melfi notes that she is a proxy for all the women in Tony's life, and it's fascinating to watch how they've all started to blur for him. A few weeks ago, he dreamed that his mother was Dr. Melfi, where here his unconscious gives him Melfi as both his mistress (even speaking with Irina's voice) and his wife. He wants Irina to start dressing like Melfi, and in a therapy session blames the burn that Irina gave him on Carmela. The problem is, he can't perform with any of them, physically or emotionally. He can't get it up with Irina, is barely interested in trying with Carm, and gets completely shut down in his attempt to seduce Melfi, who knows a good case of transference(**) when she sees it. He can't give them what he wants, nor can he get what he needs from them any more than he can get Livia to be even the slightest bit affectionate when he visits her at Green Grove. (She reacts to his attempt to slow dance even more coldly than Melfi defuses his profession of love.)
(**) "In Treatment," the only HBO show even more psychiatricall inclined than "Sopranos," dealt a lot with this problem, particularly in the Melissa George episodes from the first season.
Though the episode doesn't much comment on the events of "College," look at how Carmela is behaving in regards to her husband not long after her confessional epiphany with Father Phil. She wants to have sex with him — and isn't aware that he's not doing any better in that regard with his mistress — and rather than pushing him towards the church, or trying to be a better person herself, she tries to get his attention by spending his money on new furniture. She's right to call him out for ducking out on their anniversary to talk business with Johnny Sack, but whatever qualms she briefly had about enjoying the fruits of that business washed away awfully fast.
And Tony understandably develops qualms in a hurry about the Frankenstein monster he's created by making Uncle Junior the fake boss. It's a brainstorm that seemed brilliant in theory but runs into the complicated realities of human beings, from Junior's pride to Livia's continued attempts to strike back at her son for putting her in a
nursing home retirement community. At the moment, it's other members of the Family suffering — Jimmy's buddy with the poker game, Hesh having to pay back taxes — and Tony is able to manipulate the Hesh situation into one that everyone can live with. But you don't have to have watched the rest of the series to suspect that Junior's reign won't be peaceful for nearly as long as Octavian's — and that's even without the continued interest of the FBI, who are taking surveillance photos of everyone at Junior's coronation dinner.
"College" stood out not only for what Tony does to Febby, but for being so structurally unique compared to the four episodes before it. "Pax Soprana" is much more in the previous mold, and the sort of episode the show presented the majority of the time, particularly in the early seasons. But it's so fraught with discomfort and complications with both family and Family (and whatever separate sphere Melfi occupies) that it's nearly as compelling in its own right as last week's Very Special Episode.
Some other thoughts: