The Sopranos S1E11: “Nobody Knows Anything”

“Nobody Knows Anything”

Directed by Henry J. Bronchtein   |   Written by Frank Renzulli   |   49 min    

The Clot Thickens

By Colin Hart

9.2 / 10

The main plot of The Sopranos isn’t always entirely clear.  Oh, it’s there, guiding the characters’ actions, but at the same time it’s somewhat hidden and pushed off to the side.  Many of the episodes that make up the early/middle portion of any given Sopranos season seem guided by random rules.  This usually makes for excellent meditational mood-setters, but sometimes we’re still looking for a more traditional sense of direction.

It isn’t until season’s end, then, that all the dangling and subtly hinted at plot threads are picked up and pieced together, which makes for a damn fine and exciting conclusion.  And in terms of ranking “Most Exciting Home Stretch to Finish a Sopranos Season”, season one can probably lay claim to the top spot.

Why is it the most exciting? Even though some seasons—namely 5 and 6B—finish with a more ambitious and epic sweep, the final three episodes of season one maintain a sprinter’s pace throughout.  Once we begin “Nobody Knows Anything”, we’re off to the races and we won’t let up until the season finale.

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After the standalone events of the previous three episodes, “Nobody Knows Anything” gets us back into the thick of the main mob action.  The first couple of scenes buzz with a Tarantino-like energy.  Big Pussy throws his back out while at a whorehouse, one that crooked cop Vin Makazian frequents.  A quite random “4 Days Later” title card leads to a crackling scene where the feds bust Pussy and fellow capo Jimmy Altieri for drugs and guns.  Pussy tries to make a run for it, but he’s Big Pussy after all and doesn’t get far.  Not five minutes into the episode and it’s already brimming with intensity.

Can it keep up?  It’s not action upon action obviously, but, yes, the episode does not relent.  No detours into gangsta rap or country-club golf.  “Nobody Knows Anything” is strict mob action through and through.

The main thrust of the episode comes from the possibility that Big Pussy is wearing a wire.  This crucial information reaches Tony via Vin Makazian, who presents a strong case that this is indeed true—Pussy just got busted for heroin yet was back on the street within days.  Tony must be sure though, as this is his best friend and basically family to him—not just Family, but family.  Tony loves Big Pussy like a brother, so it’s something he obviously doesn’t want to believe.   And besides, Tony treats Vin Makazian like freshly stepped-in dog shit, so why would he even want to believe him?

Tony tasks Paulie to follow Big Pussy around, to check if he is indeed wearing a wire and to do the deed if he can find out for sure.  Puss isn’t making it easy though.  His back has been hurting (which may be due to psychological, not physical, stress) and when Paulie takes him to a steam bath, he refuses to take off his clothes.

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Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero has been a minor player so far.  He has carved a distinct personality in the show, yet he’s not as distinguished as Paulie or Silvio, say.  From what we have seen of him, though, he’s been a very friendly and funny guy, someone whom Tony loves and respects.  Other than Vin Makazian’s word, nothing in this episode truly proves that Big Pussy is a rat.  Yet once the idea is floated, it’s hard to look at him the same way.  His excuses do seem plausible, but, considering the newfound facts, they are hard to buy.

In fact, it seems Pussy knows that Tony and the others know, else why would he be acting so weird and elusive?  Yet, in the end, nobody knows anything and no truth is certain—Pussy has disappeared.

Still, it is something Tony refuses to believe.  He needs to be more than sure.  He even goes to Melfi for advice, asking her about if his friend’s back problems could be caused by severe stress, which she reveals is a possibility.  It is not the first time Tony has used Melfi’s advice for his managerial decisions and it certainly won’t be the last.  More on this as we go on throughout the series.

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Silvio Dante tells Tony that Vin Makazian owes Pussy $30,000 in football gambling debts.  It’s all Tony needs to discredit Vin’s word.  On top of this, Jimmy Altieri is released from custody and stops by Tony’s home one evening, asking all sorts of potentially incriminating questions.  Tony then concludes that Vin must have gotten Pussy and Jimmy mixed up, as they’re “both fat fucks with black hair”.

As for Vin, we’ve seen throughout the season that he is a troubled soul.  Ever since he beat up Melfi’s date in “Meadowlands”, we could tell that something was a little off with the guy.  Tony has counted on Vin for reliable information intermittently throughout the season, but he hasn’t enjoyed their time together.  Tony completely looks down upon and has no respect for him, calling him a “degenerate fucking gambler with a badge” more than once.  It’s all starting to get to old Vinny.

Vin gets caught at the brothel (where Pussy threw his back out in the beginning of the episode) when it’s raided by the feds.  He loses his badge.  Only he doesn’t lose it entirely.  He flashes it one last time to move past a traffic jam, only so he can get to a spot on the Donald Goodkind Bridge and jump off.  He couldn’t wait any longer.

It’s a tragic end for Vin Makazian and the sight of him falling to the water below encapsulates Tony’s poisonous influence.  While Tony wasn’t entirely responsible for Vin’s suicide, his dickish attitude toward him certainly didn’t help.  Symbolically speaking, it’s much like the planes exploding over Walter White’s house at the end of Breaking Bad season two.

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The best scene of the hour is Tony’s tense encounter with Paulie and Silvio near episode’s end as they scramble with what to do—which one of their capos must they kill? Pussy has vanished, Makazian is dead and nobody can claim anything.  For now, they all agree that Jimmy is the rat.

Elsewhere, Livia’s manipulative powers are out in full force.  Carmela sees right through Livia’s bullshit, calling her out in an excellent encounter between the two.  But Junior is getting duped—fully ensnared in her nihilistic clutches.  She passes onto him the fact that Tony has been meeting with the other capos at Green Grove behind Junior’s back, subtly pulling off inception and giving Uncle Junior the idea that he should put a hit out on his own nephew.

This new development sets us up for a brilliant finish, yet the Big Pussy storyline—which will be shelved until season two—is what fuels “Nobody Knows Anything”.  The fraught paranoia and the lack of conclusive evidence makes for a tightly-written episode that completely gets us back in the swing of things after the misstep of “A Hit is a Hit”.

STRAY ROUNDS

  • The final scene of the episode occurs in Mikey Palmice’s house as he discusses with his wife the possibility of Tony Soprano being killed off.  It’s a strange place to end the episode but, like Vin Makazian’s suicide, it goes to show the vast and unknowable extent of Tony’s influence.
  • The final shot of the episode—with a somber Tony looking out at the Goodkind Bridge—is a perfect image to close with.
  • The Sopranos being The Sopranos, the whorehouse run by Madame Debbie plays a significant role even though it had never been alluded to previously.
  • Vin Makazian frequented the brothel because Madame Debbie was the only one he could talk openly to.  “Who wouldn’t want to sleep with their shrink?” Debbie later says to Tony, and his expression is priceless.
  • “Debbie, you’ve got magic fingers.  I bet you give a great handjob.
  • Oh, I’m sorry I’m under a little bit of pressure here.  I don’t have time to suck your dick.
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