The Sopranos S1E3: “Denial, Anger, Acceptance”

“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’s the central question of The Sopranos, at least one of them.  Well, you don’t have to use the term “golem” if you don’t like.  Tony is called a “golem” in “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” by a Hasidic Jew in debt to him, a golem being the Jewish folklore version of Frankenstein’s monster.

So, is Tony a golem/Frankenstein?  The episode presents some evidence for both yes and no.  To people he is involved with in business—like Shlomo Teittleman, the Hasid—Tony is indeed a golem, 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 Tony 25% 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, since Tony resorted to violence, but Tony is not having it—the 25% share was the original agreement.  And Tony will get what he wants, one way or another.  Teittleman calls Tony a golem, a Frankenstein, after realizing that Tony will inevitably consume his business.

But it’s a remark that hurts Tony.

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“46 Long” was an episode that saw Tony’s pent-up stress level slowly reach a boiling point and culminate in an episode-ending telephone-related ass beating.  “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” finds a calmer, cooler and more collected Tony, but also a more fragile Tony.

Family boss Jackie Aprile is in the hospital and this is something that obviously weighs heavy on Tony emotionally.  This is his best friend, after all, and he’s dying of cancer.  This is what Tony is in denial about initially—he and the fellas visit Jackie early on in the episode and are trying to joke and talk business with him as if nothing’s wrong.  Later, Tony hires a stripper from the Bing to give Jackie the sexy nurse fellate-job routine.  And towards the end of the episode, Tony again tries to tell Jackie a mob story (about Teittleman’s son-in-law, who was thisclose to receiving a full bris), but this time Jackie’s worsening condition is clear—he talks slowly and focuses on his temperature and medications.  It’s here where Tony accepts the fact.

“Denial, Anger, Acceptance”—like “46 Long”—is a very stuffed and full episode of The Sopranos, but once again, that is not a bad thing at all.  This is only a 44-minute episode, but it moves along at a brisk pace, never too fast.  We get a wide variety of plots that continue to expand the different characters and offer up unique perspectives.  Tony’s ordeal with the Hasidic Jews contains one of the show’s main themes (“Is Tony good or bad?”), but it is also just your standard “mob plot of the week.”  This plot offers up humorous scenes, while Tony’s encounters with Jackie are heavier on emotion.

Tony’s therapy sessions also continue to delve into the man’s psyche.  I think we should keep a count on how many times Tony storms out of a session, because we might be up to, like, five already.  Before his first session, early in the episode, Tony finds himself transfixed on a painting on the waiting room wall: an empty barn and a hollow tree.  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.  Naturally, he storms out.

Tony’s other therapy scenes offer much more substance.  He talks with Melfi about Jackie’s impending death, his encounter with the Hasidic Jews and coping with being called a golem.  Sometimes Tony’s scenes with Melfi have an inclination to drag, but “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” is an episode with great pacing and the different therapy scenes are perfectly placed throughout—natural introspective lulls amid the chaos of Tony’s everyday life.

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Elsewhere, Meadow and her friend Hunter (who is probably my least favorite character) are working their privileged asses off trying to cram for the SATs and preparing for their big choir recital, which both happen on the same day.  Unable to bear the stress, they hatch the bright idea to “score some crystal” meth to help them study.  Uh, I don’t quite follow your logic here, girls.

The two of them turn to Chris and Brendan, junkies themselves.  Chris and Meadow never really spend too much time together throughout the show despite the fact they are cousins—in fact, this is the only instance I can recall—so it is interesting to see this pairing, but it isn’t all too good of a subplot.  Come on, why would Meadow and Hunter think it’s a good idea to use speed to study?  Ah, ‘90s kids.

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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 burnt down).

The show seems to side with Charmaine’s point-of-view, however, and not Carmela’s.  Carmela is shown as bossy and shallow, while Charmaine seems more comfortable in her own skin.  Charmaine confesses to Carmela that she slept with Tony back in high school when Tony and Carm seemed on the outs, and that she’s perfectly fine with the decisions she’s made.  It’s as backhanded a confession as ever there was one, but it ultimately highlights Charmaine’s acceptance of the life she’s chosen, or rather, not chosen.  Carmela acts superior to everyone else because of her glitzy rich lifestyle, but it’s all founded on money that’s come from Tony’s criminal lifestyle.  She is still effectively in denial.

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Livia and Uncle Junior share a short, telling scene towards the end of the episode, which has mostly been self-contained up to this point.  The Livia/Junior scene is one that points the way forward for the main conflict of the season.

Junior comes to Livia for advice on what to do about Chris and Brendan (who have continued with their truck-hijacking antics) and Livia suddenly emerges as the sly gangster’s widow, advising Junior that she likes Christopher and that maybe he needs a “talking to”, but as for Brendan?  Send a message.  This scene expertly sets up the memorable final sequence, and shows the true nature of Tony’s mother Livia.

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Tony advances through the stages of grief in this episode, pondering on his own mortality with Dr. Melfi and by the end we see him not as a golem, but as a father who is truly moved by his daughter’s choir recital.  He is smiling, in tears, as Meadow’s voice rings throughout the hall.  It’s this juxtaposition that David Chase wants us to contemplate and wrestle with, especially in this first season.  He is able to revel in the beauty of his daughter’s performance, but he is also responsible for bloody actions that occur because of his influence.

Meadow’s rendition of “All Through the Night” is intercut with the show’s biggest burst of violence yet, as Chris is seized and taken to the pier and held at gunpoint.  He pleads for his life, thinking this is because Tony found out about him giving Meadow the drugs, crying and panicking, not the hard-ass he’s been through the first couple episodes.  It turns out that the “talking to” suggested by Livia is actually a mock execution.  Christopher is spared, but left in paranoid fear.

Concurrently, Mikey Palmice and Uncle Junior show up at Brendan Filone’s apartment and give him the mock execution, hold the mock, as he sits in his bathtub.  All this violence, intercut with the serene beauty of the choir performance, is very Godfather-esque in its execution, but that doesn’t take away from it at all.  It is an immensely powerful scene and shows The Sopranos using its influences to transcend the medium of television.

So, who is Tony Soprano?  The golem enforcer or the loving family man?  The final sequence shows Tony as the latter, but the intercut violence shows how his influence touches the former.  “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” is one of the more powerful episodes of the first season and continues The Sopranos excellent winning streak at the start of its run.

STRAY ROUNDS

  • I recently watched the season 2 episode “Bust Out” and I found that it explored very similar themes (golem vs. not golem) as this one.  Tony consuming Davey Scatino’s business “like a fucking termite” is the very definition of being a golem.
  • 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.  It’s similar to Melfi’s painting with the empty barn and “rotted out” tree, if you look at it from Tony’s depressed point of view.
  • This is the first episode where we get 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 may now own that title now that 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.”
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