Directed by Dan Attias | Written by David Chase | 50 min
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
By Colin Hart
9.2 / 10
Most shows don’t have great second or third episodes, even if they did have great pilots. Early episodes are often very difficult for the writers. It is a time for the show’s creators to experiment and play around with what works and what doesn’t. Often, these episodes are nothing more than rehashes and variations of the pilot’s blueprint. This is not the case for The Sopranos, which has a second episode that feels even more fully-formed than the first.
“46 Long” is the only Sopranos episode to begin with a cold open. It is not a striking scene, but rather plain. It’s just Tony’s crew sitting around, counting money, shooting the shit. On the TV, a man is talking about how the golden age of the mafia is over, echoing Tony’s fears from the pilot. Silvio’s Godfather III imitation is enough to lighten the mood— “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
The scene is outwardly funny but also darkly comic as well. To take their minds off of the man on TV speaking the truth, Tony and the gang call upon an impression of the past (a fictionalized portrayal of the past, at that). If you can only take comfort in an impression of a portrayal of the real thing, then the future doesn’t look too promising.
But still, this scene is great just for the way it casually spends time with the characters. The banter back and forth, the ball busting and sly jabs—these are all things that the show will solidify its reputation on. It is scenes like this that make The Sopranos so special. This isn’t a mob show that relies on murder, guts and gore, but rather a mob show that focuses on the moments in between. In “46 Long,” we see how these in between moments can build up into tension ready to boil over at any second.
There is an excellent sequence early in the episode in which Tony becomes increasingly stressed with all the headaches piling up on him. He goes to take an important phone call in the strip club, but the Bada Bing’s dimwitted bartender messes up the transfer. Meanwhile, Chris and his equally dimwitted buddy, Brendan Filone, are hijacking trucks from a company belonging to Uncle Junior. At the same time, Paulie Walnuts and Big Pussy are bugging Tony about their search for the missing car of AJ Soprano’s science teacher (a trivial task that Tony has given them).
It’s an excellent sequence with increasingly quicker and quicker edits that build the stress and tension, while also laying out the main plot threads for the episode.
The scene culminates in Tony’s phone call with his mother Livia. In the background, Tony hears that his mother has left the mushrooms on the stove and now has started a kitchen fire. Frantically, he dials up Carmela for help. As Tony storms out of the Bada Bing, the strippers show brief concern.
“46 Long” is an episode that manages—by Sopranos standards—to fit in a good number of storylines. Some are less important than others, and most are established in Tony’s frantic strip club phone call, but all are crucial in expanding The Sopranos‘ setting of North Jersey.
Tony’s therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi, in which he gets to unload his thoughts on all that is transpiring, are the highlights of the hour. It is what sets the show apart from its contemporaries. The therapy scenes delve into Tony’s complicated inner psyche, and in doing so they separate The Sopranos from being just an average show about wise guys into something more profound—a wise show about average guys.
Lorraine Bracco brings a certain warmth and magnetism to Melfi here, and she’s no longer the pure expository instrument she was in the pilot. She recognizes that Tony’s issues with his mother, Livia, are the root cause of all of his psychological problems. Melfi asks him to share one loving experience he had with his mother and the only thing he can recall is a time when everyone in the family laughed because his father tripped and fell.
Tony is getting stressed out by all the various goings on. His best friend and acting boss of the Family, Jackie Aprile, has been diagnosed with cancer, while his mother Livia still refuses to move into a nursing home. And, as mentioned before, Tony’s hotheaded nephew Christopher and his meth-addled, douchebag friend Brendan have been hijacking trucks that belong to a company in service to Tony’s uncle.
After a stern talking to, Chris adheres to Tony’s advice to stop messing around. His buddy Brendan decides to go it alone and accidentally kills one of the drivers. Tony ends up placing just as much blame on Chris, and this master-apprentice relationship will be one of the key elements of the entire series.
Despite the pressures of being a mob boss, Tony is portrayed as a genuine good guy at home. He dances around the kitchen with his wife, he shows an interest in AJ’s academics (Paulie and Big Pussy recovering the teacher’s stolen car) and he still looks out the window to see if those ducks are coming back to the swimming pool.
In later episodes we will find that Tony is capable of terrible, unforgivable things. However, in these early goings, series creator David Chase has set up a unique contrast in which we wonder if Tony is a character we should be rooting for. Is he the kind and loving family man, or is he the vicious mob enforcer?
Chase implicates the role of the audience as one of his show’s central themes, making The Sopranos postmodern in nature. Are we supposed to sympathize with this man? Why would we continue to watch a terrible person? Does TV reinforce our roles as bystanders and onlookers instead of a culture that takes action? These questions are unfair, but the episode’s closing scene underlies the latter.
In the final therapy scene, Melfi brings up that perhaps Tony has an unspoken hatred for his mother. Even though there is truth to this, it goes over as well as you’d expect—he storms out of the office in anger. The next we see Tony, he is back at the Bada Bing, paralleling where he began the episode. All of the nagging issues that he has been dealing with are bubbling and ready to boil over. The bartender, Georgie, is once again having technical difficulties. Tony suddenly and violently beats him with the phone before exiting. Framed in the doorway are the Bing strippers, who stop momentarily to observe what happened before returning to their dance.
This parallels Chase’s view of us, the audience, or the human race in general. Not in the way we twerk, but in the way we are often just casual bystanders and onlookers who stand around and do nothing. It’s a poignant tone and wonderful image to close on.
- I surmise that the best trio of episodes to open any Sopranos season are “Members Only”, “Join The Club”, and “Mayham” from season 6, but this opening stretch of season one is a very close second.
- Wikipedia has told me that the episode title is a suit size. Chris and Brendan are ordered by Tony to return the stolen suits from the truck and apologize to Junior, but not before Tony and his buddies treat themselves.
- No, those definitely aren’t 2018-gay TV characters, those are 1999-gay TV characters! Their flamboyance is hilarious. “Oh my Christ!”
- The best scene is still that opening pre-credits sequence. The cold open can be a very deadly weapon, as The Wire and Breaking Bad have shown. It’s a shame The Sopranos never utilized it again.
- Chris is seen with Adriana at his side for the first time, but she doesn’t speak and isn’t mentioned by name. Actress Drea de Mateo also appeared as an unnamed hostess at the restaurant Tony dined at in the pilot.
- Speaking of Chris, my favorite line is when he sees Martin Scorsese and shouts: “Marty! Kundun! I liked it!”
- Even if you haven’t seen the show, you can probably guess that Brendan “Ultimate Fuck-Up” Filone isn’t going to be living that much longer. Love the way Tony literally throws him out the door.
- Another hilarious moment: Livia running over her friend with the Buick.
- “I went over for a blowjob. Your mother was working the bon-bon concession at the Eiffel Tower. Sil, did you hear what I told him? Told him ‘I went over for a blowjob. Your mother was working the bon-bon concession at the Eiffel Tower.’”
- “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
- “I know seniors that are inspired!“