“Denial, Anger, Acceptance”
Directed by Nick Gomez | Written by Mark Saraceni | 45 min
Creating a golem
By Colin Hart
9.2 / 10
Is Tony a golem? That is the central question of The Sopranos, or at least one of them. Well, you don’t have to use the term “golem” if you wish. Tony is called this by a Hasidic Jew who owes him money, comparing him to a Frankenstein’s monster as well.
So, is Tony a golem? The episode presents some evidence for both yes and no. To people he is involved with in business—like Shlomo Teittleman, the Hasid—Tony indeed fits the bill, a person who initially helps you and then ends up consuming you.
Teittleman comes to the mob for aid. He wants Tony and his crew to help get his abusive son-in-law to agree to a penniless divorce with his daughter. In return, Teittleman offers the Family a share of his hotel business. Tony, Paulie and Silvio eventually get Teittleman’s stubborn and prideful son-in-law to agree to the divorce sans compensation by threatening life sans genitalia. The next day, Teittleman instead tries to offer cash because Tony resorted to violence, but Tony will not have it—the 25 percent share was the original agreement. And Tony will get what he wants, one way or another. The old Hasid calls Tony a golem, a Frankenstein, after realizing that Tony will inevitably consume his business.
“46 Long” was an episode that saw Tony’s pent-up stress level slowly reach a boiling point, culminating in an ass-kicking with a phone receiver. “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” finds a calmer, cooler and more collected Tony, but also a more fragile Tony. His best friend—family boss Jackie Aprile—is in the hospital dying of cancer, which moves Tony through the titular stages of grief.
“Denial, Anger, Acceptance”—like “46 Long”—is a very stuffed and full episode of The Sopranos, but like its predecessor, it moves along at a brisk pace, never too fast. We get a wide variety of plots in a relatively short amount of time (45 minutes) that continue to expand the various characters and locales.
Tony’s therapy sessions delve deep into his troubled psyche. Before his first session, early in the episode, he finds himself transfixed by a painting of an empty barn and a hollow tree on the waiting room wall. Tony tells Melfi that it is a trick painting, specifically made and placed by psychologists to trigger a response, like a Dvorak Test. Melfi finds it interesting that he would bring up the “depressive nature” of the painting and starts to question him on it. Triggered, he storms out.
Elsewhere, Tony’s therapy scenes offer much more substance, reflecting on his own mortality and the inherent nature of humanity. “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” benefits from great pacing, and his encounters with Melfi are perfectly placed throughout—natural, introspective lulls amid the chaos of Tony’s everyday life.
The rest of the episode touches up on characters we haven’t spent too much time with. In the least effective subplot of the hour, Meadow and her friend Hunter (my least favorite character) buy crystal meth off of Chris and Brendan. Meanwhile, completely unrelated, Livia suggests that Chris and Brendan need a “talking to” because of their continued meddling in Uncle Junior’s truck business.
Carmela, who is still portrayed as a nagging, privileged, upper-middle-class housewife, gets to show off her haughty qualities when she hosts a fundraiser catered by Artie and Charmaine Bucco (the owners of the restaurant that Tony burned down in the pilot).
The writers seem to sympathize with Charmaine’s point-of-view, however, and not Mrs. Soprano’s. Carmela is shown as bossy and shallow, while Charmaine seems more at ease with the life she has chosen, or rather, not chosen. Carm acts superior to everyone else because of her glitzy rich lifestyle, but it is all founded on money that has come from Tony’s criminal activities. She is, effectively, still in denial.
By the end of the episode, we see Tony not as a golem, but as a loving father who is moved to tears by his daughter’s choir recital (guess that crystal meth did the trick after all). It is this juxtaposition that David Chase wants us to consider, especially in season one—Tony is able to revel in the beauty of his daughter’s performance, but he is also responsible for the bloody actions that occur due to his influence.
It turns out that the “talking to” suggested by Livia is actually a mock execution. Chris is taken to the pier and held at gunpoint. His life is spared, but the former hard-ass is left in a vulnerable, paranoid state. Concurrently, Brendan Filone is given the same treatment but hold the mock—shot to death in his bathtub by Uncle Junior and henchman Mikey Palmice.
All of this violence is intercut with Meadow’s performance, making for a very Godfather-esque climax. Yet it is more homage than rip-off—an immensely powerful scene that shows The Sopranos using its cinematic influences to transcend the medium.
So, who is Tony Soprano—the golem enforcer or the loving family man? The final sequence shows that he is capable of both. For now, the balance leans toward the latter, but in due time he will give himself up to the former. Only three episodes in, The Sopranos has given us much to contemplate.
- I recently watched the season 2 episode “Bust Out” and I found that it explored very similar themes (golem or not?) as this one. Tony consuming Davey Scatino’s business “like fucking termites” practically confirms it.
- I really like the way the show will sometimes focus on paintings, like the one Tony angrily erupts over in Melfi’s office. He also finds himself transfixed by a painting of a splash in a pool (an imitation David Hockney). It is similar to Melfi’s painting with the empty barn and “rotted out” tree, if you read into it from Tony’s depressed point of view.
- This is the first episode where we get to see the beautiful Oksana Lada as Tony’s Russian mistress, Irina. Irina was portrayed by a blonde actress in the pilot.
- Brendan truly deserved his shot in the head. He is the Douchebag Epitome…
- …however, Mikey Palmice now owns that title since Brendan is dead.
- Perhaps the funniest line of the night is when Teittleman’s son-in-law is bragging about how the Jews stood up to the Romans and asks where they are now, followed by Tony’s “you’re looking at them.”
- I highly advise everyone to look at Wikpedia’s page on golems, which is pretty fascinating. So, uh, these things might have actually existed?
- “Take it easy. We’re not making a western here.“
- “Hijack, bye Jack.”