“Do Not Resuscitate”
Directed by Martin Bruestle | Written by Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess & Frank Renzulli | 50 min
By Colin Hart
9.0 / 10
A little spoiler here, but fuck it: the main “bad guy” of The Sopranos season two is a vicious little fella by the name of Richie Aprile, but he isn’t introduced until next episode. The first two episodes of season two— “Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office…” and “Do Not Resuscitate”— get to provide a little breathing room before the tension starts to set in.
Not that we’re completely free of tension just yet. Tony spends most of the first two episodes in a very agitated state, mostly due to his sister Janice coming back to town. Tony spews hilarious put-downs at anyone who comes near, with some gut-busting moments directed at Uncle Junior’s obese henchman, Bobby Baccalieri. In turn, “Do Not Resuscitate” is a very funny episode—it had me cracking up numerous times.
It’s also very much a “nothing happens” episode. The Sopranos is a show that has absolutely mastered this unique approach, a rare skill which was Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s biggest takeaway from working on the show in later seasons. Both shows have an uncanny ability to craft elegant and richly textured episodes that revolve around nothing more than a common theme or two. Don Draper goes to an awards ceremony and meditates on life. Something like that. Turned into pure gold.
In “Do Not Resuscitate,” Tony must bust up a labor dispute at Masserone Construction between the workers and anti-union African American protestors. The organizer of the protest, Rev. James, is actually in business with Tony and profits via extortion from the whole shenanigans. More of David Chase’s typical cynicism on display here—everyone is shit.
Meanwhile, in true “nothing happens” fashion, Janice tries to get in Livia’s good graces, visiting her at the hospital and putting up with her nihilistic nature. It’s all just a front so Janice can move into Livia’s house under the ruse of “taking care” of mommy dearest. You see, she’s just as selfish as all the rest of the Sopranos, sociopaths all.
A lot of the episode seems to center around the Sopranos household (nothing big for Carmela yet) as Meadow passes her driving test and later AJ goes to visit grandma in the hospital. Once again, little moments, nothing big, but still strong in developing the characters. AJ hasn’t made a total ass of himself yet in season two (he made it till episode four in season one), but I’m glad we didn’t get to hear the end of his “What did one prick say to the other prick?” joke.
Often the “nothing happens” episodes are subtly meditative affairs and “DNR” is no exception. The episode focuses a lot on the presence of the elder generation. Uncle Junior is given his most sympathetic portrayal since “Boca.” He is released from prison and placed under house arrest, while simultaneously ceding over his power and previous assets to Tony.
One of the major themes of The Sopranos is the fear of the idealized “golden age” slipping away into uncertain, perilous modern times. For Tony, the generation of Junior and Livia represents the last remnants of the old ways now gone, while he himself “came in at the end”. He missed the ground floor and is left with what remains of the spoils, though victor he may not be.
Tony’s respect for his elders is evident, even if he continuously proclaims his mother is dead to him. He shows an affinity toward Rev. James’ 83-year-old father, recommending the History Channel to the old WWII vet. And even though Uncle Junior wanted him dead back in season one, there still remains an inseparable familial bond between the two.
The reverend’s father passes away by episode’s end and Tony and Rev. James have an interesting conversation relating the main themes of the episode, namely the inescapable fact of growing old. Tony knows what the preacher says is true, but he can’t help deny it (“We’re still fucking kids”), yet he does feel a pang of regret for the reverend’s dead father (“I was just talking to him”).
It’s this occasional soft spot in Tony’s heart that leads to the episode’s ending, as Tony rushes to Uncle Junior’s house after he hears that the old man fell in the shower. It’s a fantastic scene and one of my favorite Sopranos endings. The Tony-Junior relationship is one of the most interesting of the show—his uncle tried to kill him, but is still the same guy who played catch with Tony as a youngster.
The scene plays out as an unofficial making-up between the two. Unable to walk, Junior is carried out the door by Tony—hilarious and touching. But a perfect send-off needs perfect music, and The Sopranos delivers again with Ella Fitzgerald’s “Goodnight, My Love.” Fitting that an episode meditating on aging ends with a masterful relic from another time. Fitzgerald’s pure voice rings out as the light shines down on Junior’s bald head, Tony carrying him out the door like a child.
- This is one of the rare instances where the black characters on The Sopranos weren’t stereotypical caricatures. Both the reverend and his father add a nice touch in their supporting roles.
- AJ overhears Tony and Janice arguing about a DNR for Livia, and then AJ absentmindedly spills the beans when he goes to visit her at the hospital. AJ was also the one who told Livia that Tony was seeing a therapist.
- I nearly forgot! In typical “nothing happens” fashion, Big Pussy is revealed to be a federal informant. He meets with his FBI handler Skip and it is clear that Pussy is conflicted between his loyalties. It is revealed so matter-of-factly that it acts as if it has been an ongoing storyline since day one. I mean, it’s the season’s most important digression and I completely forgot about it!
- It is suggested that Big Pussy has been an informant since before the show’s timeline even started.
- A “nothing happens” episode often completely depends on its ending. If the ending is poignant, it makes all that lack of plot worth it, as it does here.
- “Why don’t you get the fuck outta here before I shove your quotations book up your fat fucking ass!”
- “Get off my car before you flip it over, you fat fuck.”
- “Fat fuck? Why don’t you look in the mirror sometime, you insensitive cocksucker?”