The Sopranos S2E5: “Big Girls Don’t Cry”

“Big Girls Don’t Cry”

Directed by Tim Van Patten   |   Written by Terence Winter   |   52 min    

Walk like a man

By Colin Hart

9.0 / 10

This might not be an episode for everyone, but it’s certainly my cup of tea.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Christopher Moltisanti and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is another one of the character’s finest moments.

The natural continuation to season one’s “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” once again finds Chris in a very sympathetic state.  He continues to be conflicted between his machismo and his passion for movies.  For his birthday, Adriana enrolls him in an “Acting for Writers” course to help him get his screenplay woes (the unfinished You Bark, I Bite) off the ground.

It sounds like the blandest and most pointless storyline yet, but make no mistake, Chris’ scenes are what make this episode so great.  You could argue that if the rest of the episode were better, or at least a little more interesting, then this one could have been an all-time classic.

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Writer Terence Winter makes his Sopranos debut with this episode.  During his tenure with David Chase, he was responsible for some of the best episodes of the series.  In his review of the episode for the AV Club, longwinded critic Todd VanDerWerff notes how Winter excelled at writing The Sopranos’ best in-between moments.  The lulls in action when the day-to-day lives of the characters take center stage were his specialty.

Winter manages to touch base with nearly every character save for Janice and Livia as his script moves from downtime to downtime.  The lack of action hardly matters because Winter already has a mastery over these characters.  Some are only featured for a little, but not a moment is wasted.  The subtle actions rely on us having a good knowledge of what has come before, and the understatement provides depth to each respective arc without having to say much.

Notice as AJ remains silent and dismayed in the corner of the kitchen as his father angrily rips the phone out of the wall.  Artie and Charmaine Bucco continue their marital squabbles.  Watch how Carmela immediately slams the door when Uncle Junior shows up at the house.  Or how Big Pussy—feeling forgotten—tries to make jabs at newcomer Furio.  And, of course, Irina giving junk food to some nearby ducks, much to Tony’s dismay.  The little moments are what make up this episode, and it relies on us having empathy for all the characters and understanding what they’re going through.

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The mob plot this week involves Furio, who is coming over to America, and a brothel-keeper who is behind on his payments.  The two stories meet when Tony commissions Furio to send a message.  And send it he does.

The in-between moments give way to the show’s biggest burst of violence yet, as Furio goes into the brothel armed with a pistol and a baseball bat, and hellfire ensues.  Tim Van Patten once again directs and he follows Furio’s carnage through the massage parlor in one visceral and unbroken tracking shot.  The shaky handheld camera provides a sudden jolt to the system.  We saw how ruthless Furio could be in “Commendatori,” but this Tarantino-like intensity blindsides us.  True to the Tarantino aesthetic, the violence is beautiful.

Tony waits outside in his car, happily puffing on a cigar when Melfi calls him.  She goes to her own therapist, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, throughout the episode and relays her confliction with dropping Tony as a patient.  It’s obvious that for her role on the show to continue, she will have to pick Tony back up eventually.  Her therapy sessions with Kupferberg may be tedious—as are Tony’s “therapy sessions” with Hesh later on—but they do provide some good moments of humor.

She calls, Tony answers.  She says she’ll take him back, Tony rejects the offer.  She leaves the hour open, Tony shows up at her office.  She probes, Tony lashes out.  A return to normalcy.

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But Christopher’s plotline is the one that gives “Big Girls Don’t Cry” its high grade.  You could say that him taking a theater class is another in-between moment, but it’s one that resonates throughout the episode, even transcends it.  Every time the episode cuts away from his story, I look forward to getting back to it as quickly as possible.

Chris has had some good moments thus far in season two, but nothing special.  In fact, he hasn’t done anything much since “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.”  “Big Girls Don’t Cry” places him squarely in that lovable underdog role once again.  Not to mention the fact that Chris’ lines are pure comedic gold.

Chris is insecure and unconfident, constantly looking for some sort of recognition.  To his (and our) surprise, he’s a natural actor and quickly becomes the star of the class through his talent, humor and charisma.

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When Chris first introduces himself to the class, Van Patten films from a slight downward angle, as Chris keeps his head down and eyes on the floor.  Once he tells a few jokes and taps into his natural flair for the theater, he sits confidently among his classmates and looks them in the face.

Yet, he is still conflicted.  This may be the life he dreams about, but he is still forever trapped by his other life and the commitments that shackle him to it.  If anyone ever found out about his acting abilities, it could ruin him (just like Tony and his therapy in season one).  And so, he’s afraid to break out of his shell.  Adriana starts to giggle when the two practice a scene together.  Chris immediately retreats, says “fuck this” and snorts a line of coke.

When Chris finally does break out of his shell, he goes too method and breaks down in tears during a scene.  After the scene is over, he storms out.  The next class, he punches a dude in the face.  Creator David Chase loves to cruelly tease how people will never change.

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The ending of the episode is a particularly heartbreaking cruelty from Chase, and it hits all the right notes of tragedy.  Naturally, it centers on Chris and the scene doesn’t need dialogue to operate.

Chris walking out to the street and throwing away all his screenplay material is one of the saddest moments of the entire series.  It’s the perfect close to this episode and Chris’ stellar arc.

I’d wager that season two is Chris’ best season of the entire show.  It’s certainly when he is at his most likable—he retains the underdog rooting interest shown here throughout the season’s duration.  In fact, I’d say this is his season.  “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is his first central focus, but he will go on to steal every scene he is in this year.  This is one of his, and actor Michael Imperioli’s, finest hours.

STRAY ROUNDS

  • “Big Girls Don’t Cry” plays in the background during a scene at Vesuvio’s.  Another Four Seasons song will be used as the title for a later, Chris-centric episode.  That great episode is “Walk Like a Man,” from the show’s final stanza.
  • Does this one clinch it for Richie?  Tony: “There are men in the can better looking than my sister.”  Richie, stops cooking eggs and looks up: “To each his own, Tony.  To each his own.” (Returns to cooking eggs)
  • One of the best Tony-Melfi exchanges occurs late in the episode during their first session together since season one.  Tony, in reference to Furio’s rampage: “I wished it was me in there.”  Melfi: “Giving the beating or taking it?
  • I had some problems with my screenplay so I bought that book, uh, ‘How to write a movie in 21 days.’  That was a year ago.
  • You got a problem besides those fucking pants?
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