The Sopranos S2E1: “Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office…”

“Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office…”

Directed by Alan Coulter   |   Written by Jason Cahill   |   49 min    

“When I was seventeen, it was a very good year…”

By Colin Hart

9.0 / 10

I’ll tell you how I judge any given season premiere: I ask myself a question.  Am I glad to be back in the show’s world, spending time with these characters again?  Or rather, how effectively does the premiere draw me back into said TV world?

A TV show is an investment.  If you’re watching it live, you must make sure you’re there to see it at the same time every week.  And if you’re bingeing, you must make sure you have at least 30 or so hours to spare (we all have the time, though).

The downtime between seasons is what makes TV such a unique art form.  A season premiere is made to remedy that passage of time, show you that the wait was worth it.  That doesn’t mean it needs to blow you out of the water necessarily, but the premiere should still come off as assured and confident.  Perhaps above all—especially in an early season like this—it should come off as welcoming.

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“Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office” is all those things—assured, confident and welcoming.  And it opens with perhaps the greatest “checking-back-in-with-the-characters” montage in TV history—a poetic passage of time set to Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year”.

Tony, the boss of the family, still unfaithful to his wife; Livia in the hospital, receiving physical therapy; Dr. Melfi operating her practice out of a motel; Uncle Junior in prison; Christopher, still a junkie, now with his stockbroker’s license; Carmela growing increasingly unhappy; the children growing up.  Through it all, life goes on.

The rest of the episode goes on to establish the future developments that season two will take.  Tony tries and fails to get back in Melfi’s good graces, deciding that Carmela is right and he needs to start therapy again.  Meanwhile, Big Pussy returns and successfully gets back in Tony’s good graces.

There’s mob violence going on too, enough to titillate the senses—former Junior soldier, Gigi Cestone, kills Philly “Spoons” Parisi, who was spreading stories about Tony’s troubles with his mother.  And two douchebags, Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte—stockbrokers at Chris’ firm—beat the shit out of another broker (with coffee).

But mainly, “Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office” gets us back in the swing of things on the domestic front, the character relationships being key.   Tony’s sister Janice is introduced and at first it seems like this could be a mistake on the show’s part: “What if Tony’s annoying hippie sister from Seattle showed up?”  But it will pay off by season’s end and she will be an important character for the duration of the series.  Right now, her tolerability depends on her comic relief, of which there will soon be plenty.

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The Sopranos knows that it doesn’t need to wow us in its long-awaited return.  It does anyways—the opening sequence and the fabulous low-key ending—but the storyline for now remains subtle.  Possible plots are being laid down, but emotions are being laid on thicker.

This second season opener has a keen quality about it—the Sopranos creative staff are aware that the debut season was an amazing achievement.  “Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office” is a supremely confident episode that picks up right where we left off.  The narrative momentum has slowed down for now, but the show’s high efficiency has not.

Alan Coulter directs and I think this is the most visually stunning episode so far in the show’s run.  Much of this premiere’s confidence comes from its look and we know we are in sure hands whenever Couture is behind the camera.  Shots tend to linger and resonate more.

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Above all, it’s good to be back.  The second season welcomes us back into The Sopranos universe with open arms.  Even though much of the episode is standard season-premiere fare, it still reaches greatness because of its welcoming nature.  The characters—Tony, Carm, Chris, Paulie, Silvio, Livia, et al—it’s good to see you again, mes amis.

It’s rare that a show reaches viewer-comfortability like this in only its second season, but The Sopranos isn’t most shows.  The second season may not reach the exciting highs of season one—there’s no game-changer like “College”—but the writing is tighter, while also being freer and looser at the same time.  It’s deeper and more intricate, but it isn’t as coherent.

It is the second season in which The Sopranos reveals its true self—the more experimental series that we’ll become familiar with for the show’s duration.

STRAY ROUNDS

  • Now that Mikey Palmice is dead, who gains the Douchebag Crown?  Well, for now it’s going to have to be Matt Bevilacqua—one of Chris’ stockbroker dregs (the black-haired one) who hopes to be initiated into the Tony Soprano crew.  Both Matt and his buddy Sean have an equal claim to the Crown, but for now the honor is solely in Matt’s hands.
  • Tony’s panic attack while driving is caused by CD-skipping anxiety.  “Smoke on the Water” starts skipping right when Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan gets to the part about Frank Zappa and the Mothers (“Zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-etc.”).  I’m always on the lookout for subtle Frank Zappa references.
  • Melfi’s main arc for the beginning portion of this season will be confronting her desire to treat Tony Soprano.  As we briefly see, her other patients are very mundane compared to the thrills that Tony offers.
  • Right after the opening montage, we get the iconic shot of Tony walking down the driveway in his bathrobe to pick up a copy of the Star Ledger.  This will be a requirement for every Sopranos season premiere.
  • My sister’s here from Seattle.”
  • Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
  • Guys, any more Porsches disappear, make it two towns over and I want a taste.
  • I’ve got a family and, believe it or not, they’re better off with me than without me.
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