“The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti”
Directed by Tim Van Patten | Written by David Chase & Frank Renzulli | 48 min
Chris’ Very Own Episode
By Colin Hart
9.2 / 10
Chris has always been a somewhat polarizing character among fans. He’s often a boneheaded loose cannon and his arc in the final seasons can be repetitive. Some people get annoyed with Chris. I fall on the other side of the argument. I was a fan of Chris my first time viewing the series and he’s been a favorite of mine ever since. This is the episode that did it.
The first couple episodes saw Chris as a hotheaded cocky asshole. After he received a mock execution in “Denial, Anger, Acceptance”, he was emotionally knocked down a peg and has since gained a little more sympathy. “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti”, however, is the first time where the character earns our empathy.
The episode begins in Chris’ dreams, which is a strange feel at first. It quickly turns out to be the best dream sequence so far—a very surreal and uneasy atmosphere marks the scene. He’s being haunted by Emil Kolar, dead man he killed back in the pilot, and it’s driving him paranoid.
Chris spends his free time working on a movie script, “Made Man.” This is his true passion. The movies are something Chris loves deeply but it’s obvious that his writing abilities are trash. Besides, he thought the computer would do most of it. His low self-esteem is only amplified when a news report refers to the now-deceased Brendan Filone as a soldier/Soprano family associate. Even with Adriana there to cheer him up, Chris starts to fall into a depressive funk.
Tony and Carmela watch the same news report and prepare for the federal indictments to come down. An interesting character shade to Carmela in this episode—The whole series she effectively remains in denial of her relation to Tony’s life of crime, yet here she is, helping Tony stow away cash, guns, and stolen jewelry in Livia’s closet at Green Grove.
In true Sopranos fashion, the threat of the feds proves to be nonexistent and nonessential to the overall plot. They show up, they search the house, a clumsy agent named Grosso breaks a bowl, and that’s that. It takes a backseat to what creator David Chase truly wants to examine in the episode. Like last episode’s side focus on ADD, Chase this time examines the role of Italian-Americans being cast in a bad light because of the Mafia.
It’s a route the show will often traverse and these digressions can often end up with some of Chase’s more on-the-nose moments. That isn’t too much of an issue in this episode. Tony and Carmela preach to their kids that law enforcement has always treated the Italians unfairly. “It’s like Michelangelo never existed!” At dinner, they show their pride for the old country by referencing famous Italians throughout history. “Everybody knows Antonio Meucci invented the telephone!” And Tony dispels any notions of the Chinese having invented pasta. “Why would people who eat with sticks invent something you need a fork to eat?”
Chase, who co-wrote the episode with Frank Renzulli, contrasts the viewpoints of the Sopranos with that of the Melfis. This is our first look at Melfi’s family, which will never be an important part of the show. The scenes aren’t bad but her son Jason comes across as a smart-aleck asshole and her ex-husband Richard a pretentious jerk. Richard is ashamed of his heritage and when he finds out that Jennifer is treating a mobster, he becomes frightened. He suggests Melfi stop treating her special patient. “Soon you’re going to get down to good and evil. And he’s evil.”
When The Sopranos occasionally runs a social commentary on Italian-Americans or when it focuses on Melfi’s personal life, that’s when it can sometimes hit a bit of a lull. Both of those elements are combined here, but it doesn’t make for flat-out “bad” scenes. It’s just inferior to the strong material around it.
The episode earns its high marks mainly for the Chris storyline, where The Sorpanos finds true pathos. For me, this is the episode where he went from semi-charismatic cock-of-the-wok to lovable underdog. His Hollywood aspirations are humorous but also carry a shade of tragedy. He dreams to write mob stories but he’s confined to forever be a character in one.
Feeling downtrodden, he is waiting in line at the bakery. And he keeps waiting. The punk kid in charge simply has it wired in his soul to be a major prick to Chris for apparently no good reason. Fed up, Chris forces a fellow customer outside and then threatens the punk with a gun, giving him a lesson on how and when to be a tough guy. After forcing him to fill a box with cannoli, Chris ends up shooting him in the foot anyways. “It happens.”
It’s a scene that is hilarious but shows—however gruesome—endearing shades to Christopher’s character. On a more serious note is his conversation with Paulie. True organ blues—“Summertime” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s—plays in the background as Chris confesses to Paulie that he feels he has no identity, no purpose in life. The apartment is dark and dingy, the music perfect in the background. It’s another scene that’s funny but also carries great weight. “Where’s my arc, Paulie?”
Similar is his conversation with Tony. Tony boxes Chris in the head and chastises him for his carelessness throughout the episode—shooting the bakery boy and taking Georgie the bartender to go dig up Emil Kolar. However, he quickly feels sympathy and tries to connect with him. Tony tries to help but the conversation goes nowhere. Chris is too closed, too machismo. Same for Tony, who can’t admit he is seeing a therapist.
The scene is excellent in the way that it shapes the whole Tony and Chris dynamic throughout the series. Chris is like a son to Tony, and vice versa, but the love is never there. They are forever too distant.
A failed script, a father figure who is also boss—desperate for some form of recognition, Chris finds himself hopeless in bed. But a phone call from his mother where she voices her concern because his name was mentioned in the paper, this is enough to give Chris a renewed sense of purpose.
The episode ends with a shot of Chris pulling his car up to the nearest street corner and running out to buy a paper. He sees his name in print and, with smile on face, grabs the whole stack of Star Ledger’s and drives off. A perfect end to another great episode.
They say once a television character has done something or had a moment that has truly endeared them to you, you’ll find it hard to turn your back on them after that. That holds true for me with “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti,” a signature moment for Chris.
- Chalk up the “Tony storms out of therapy session” count to 6, or whatever, as he does it again this episode. He explains his situation to Melfi early on that he might miss a session because of the federal indictments. He does miss one session and later in the episode she charges him for it. This greatly upsets Tony and I don’t really see why Melfi would do this anyways. It is unthoughtful of her and Tony does have a right to be pissed…
- …Does he have a right to say “This is what it’s all about, huh? The motherfucking cocksucking money” and throw the money at her? Probably not.
- Another very good scene occurs when Livia tells Uncle Junior that Tony is seeing a psychiatrist. Backed by the world’s worst comedian!
- Great directing here by Tim Van Patten, especially in the opening dream sequence. This is his first episode and he would become the prolific Sopranos director, helming 20 episodes—including classics like “Whoever Did This”, “Long Term Parking”, and “The Second Coming”.
- Chris shooting the bakery boy in the foot is an homage to a scene in Goodfellas, where Michael Imperioli plays the waiter Spider, whom Joe Pesci’s Tommy shoots in the foot. Both Chris and Tommy say, “It happens.”
- A customer named Gino, played by Joseph R. Gannascoli, is the one ushered out of the bakery by Chris. Gannascoli is recognizable since he will later play the character of Vito Spatafore, who will become important in season 6A.
- “Oh, so I could go out fuck your sister come back Saturday and I could go to the front of the line?”
- “You know who had an arc? Noah.”
- “It’s just that the fucking regularness of life is too hard for me or something I don’t know.”