The Sopranos S1E2: “46 Long”

“46 Long”

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 had a pretty great pilot.  Early episodes are often very difficult for the writers.  It’s a time for the show’s creators to experiment and play around with what works and what doesn’t.  Often, these episodes end up becoming rehashes and variations of the pilot’s blueprint.  This is not the case for The Sopranos, which had a great pilot and a second episode that feels even more fully-formed and better than our first taste.

“46 Long” is the only Sopranos episode to begin with a cold open.  It’s not a striking scene, but rather extremely 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, reiterating Tony’s fears from the pilot.  This kind of stuff weighs heavy on Tony’s brain.  But he’s in good company, with his friends and all, and Silvio’s Godfather III impersonation 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 would solidify its reputation on.  It’s scenes like this that make The Sopranos so special.  It’s not a mob show with constant action, killings, blood, gore, etc, but rather a mob show that focuses on the moments in between.  In this episode, we see how these in between moments can build up into tension ready to boil over at any second.

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There is an excellent sequence early in the episode where Tony is becoming increasingly stressed with all the issues surrounding him.  He goes to take an important phone call in the strip club, but the Bada Bing’s dimwitted bartender messes up transferring the call. Meanwhile, Chris and his equally dimwitted buddy Brendan Filone are hijacking trucks from a company belonging to Uncle Junior, with Chris also nagging Tony about becoming a made man.  All at the same time, Paulie Walnuts and Big Pussy are bugging Tony about their search for AJ Soprano’s teacher’s missing car, a trivial task that Tony has given them.  It’s an excellent sequence with increasingly quicker and quicker editing that builds 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—from the receiver, Tony hears that his mother left the mushrooms on the stove and has now started a kitchen fire.  Frantically, he dials up Carmela for help.  As Tony storms out, the strippers show brief concern.

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“46 Long” is an episode that manages—by Sopranos standards—to fit in a good deal of storylines.  Most of the episode’s plots are established in Tony’s frantic phone call scene in the Bada Bing.  Some of the various threads are more inconsequential than others—like Paulie and Big Pussy searching for the stolen car of AJ Soprano’s science teacher—but they all are helpful in expanding this fictionalized world of north Jersey.

Tony’s therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi, where he gets to unload his thoughts on all that’s transpiring, are the highlights of the hour.  It’s 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 just being an average show about wise guys to something more profound.

Lorraine Bracco brings a certain warmth and magnetism to Melfi here and she’s not just 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 his problems, which is mostly true from what we’ve seen so far.  Livia is a thorn, or rather, a rhino tusk in Tony’s side.  Melfi asks him to share one loving experience he had with his mother and the only thing he can muster up is a time that everyone in the family laughed when his father tripped and fell.

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Tony’s got other issues on his mind too.  His best friend and acting boss of the Family, Jackie Aprile, has been diagnosed with cancer, mother Livia still refuses to move into a nursing home and, just to reiterate, nephew Christopher and his meth-addled boneheaded douchebag friend Brendan have been hijacking trucks that belong to a company in service to Tony’s uncle, Corrado “Junior” Soprano.

After a stern talking to, Chris adheres to Tony’s advice to stop fucking around with the trucks.  Brendan, incredible douchebag that he is, does not adhere to Tony’s wishes and later ends up accidentally killing one of the truck drivers.  He knows he’s truly fucked when he cries, “Tony Soprano’s gonna go fucking ape-shit!”

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And yet Tony is still portrayed as a well-meaning man in his family life.  He’s dancing 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’s still looking out the window to see if those ducks have come back to the pool.  Tony will eventually do terrible, unforgivable things down the road, but David Chase has set up this unique contrast where we wonder if Tony is a man we should root for.  At times, he’s the kind and loving family man, but at other times (we’ll see in later episodes) he’s the vicious mob enforcer.  In the early seasons, Tony is definitely on the good side of the spectrum, but we’ll eventually come to question our own loyalty to him as a protagonist.

Chase implicates the role of the audience as one of his show’s central themes.  Are we supposed to sympathize with this man?  Why would you keep watching a terrible person?  Does TV reinforce our roles as bystanders and onlookers instead of a culture that takes action?  This will come up in the episode’s closing scene.

In the final therapy scene, Melfi brings up that perhaps Tony has an unspoken hatred for his own mother.  This goes over as well as you’d expect—he leaves the office in anger.  The next we see him is back at the Bing, paralleling where he began the episode.  All of the nagging issues that he’s been dealing with are bubbling and ready to boil over. The bartender Georgie is once again having trouble with the phone.  Tony suddenly and violently beats him with the receiver and storms out.  Framed in the doorway are the Bing’s strippers who stop momentarily to observe what just happened before they resume dancing.

This parallels Chase’s view of us—the audience, the human race in general—as just being casual bystanders and onlookers who stand around and do nothing.  It’s a poignant tone and wonderful image to close on.  In a show about the mob, the first two episodes have ended on thought-provoking notes rather than bursts of violence.

STRAY ROUNDS

  • 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 help themselves a little.
  • No, those definitely aren’t 2016 fictional gay characters, those are 1999 fictional gay characters!  Their flamboyance is hilarious.  “Oh my Christ!
  • The best scene is still the 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!
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