“The Happy Wanderer”
Directed by John Patterson | Written by Frank Renzulli | 50 min
The pitfalls of seven-card stud
By Colin Hart
9.0 / 10
“The Happy Wanderer” is slight in the grand scheme of things (like many of these S2 episodes), but it is damn good. A lot of its power comes from how funny of an episode it is. The Sopranos can often double down as both great drama and great comedy, and that rare skill is on full display here.
Tony has been in an agitated funk all season. The pressures of being boss coincided with his sister Janice’s return to New Jersey, and I’m sure Richie Aprile’s release from prison hasn’t helped. And finding out that he had a mentally challenged uncle he didn’t know about who is long dead, well, that’s probably not good for the conscience either. But in terms of comedy, an agitated and angry Tony is the best Tony.
The title refers to the type of person that Tony hates. The happy wanderer—people who walk down the streets without a care in the world. He tells this to Dr. Melfi in one of their highly entertaining therapy sessions.
The passage of time since Tony and Melfi last talked in her office on good terms has been quite a while (roughly since “Isabella”). I guess that’s why this episode’s therapy scenes seemed to crackle so much. I didn’t really miss them altogether, but the sessions in “The Happy Wanderer” make me wish I had. Missed them, that is. That’s a compliment, right?
Also of note: I like how subtly aggressive Melfi has been in their scenes thus far. She’s getting in a lot of good jabs at Tony. It appears she isn’t taking any shit this time around.
Tony also talks to Melfi about his current situation with Davey Scatino. Once again, The Sopranos casually slips a new side character into the fore like it’s nothing.
Davey went to high school with Tony and Artie Bucco. He owns a sporting goods store and his son is friends with Meadow (the two are to sing a duet in the upcoming school concert). He’s also a gambling addict and—expertly portrayed by Robert Patrick—a loser at heart.
Tony now runs the coveted executive poker game, formerly hosted by his father and Uncle Junior. This is high stakes and the players go deep. High rollers include a wealthy doctor, Johnny Sack, Frank Sinatra Jr., Paulie, and Silvio, whom Christopher describes as “a sick fuck when he’s gambling.” Scatino wants in the game because it is in his nature as a down-luck gambler. Tony rejects him because it is in his nature as a former high school friend.
Davey soon finds himself in debt to Richie Aprile for 10 g’s in a “smaller” poker game. Richie Aprile is a sick fuck even when he’s not gambling. He is the ultimate no-shit-taker, and it’s good to have his threatening nature finally integrated into the main fold. I get a kick out of his encounter at the store with Davey’s son Eric.
Davey shows up at the executive game and pleads with Tony to float him five large so he can get in. He’s good for it, he says. This time Tony relents, because it is in his nature as a wise guy, and a businessman, to prey on the weak.
The game is seven-card stud. The bets get high, fast. Davey wins a couple hands in the beginning, prompting Silvio to get increasingly angry. He completely boils over when Tony orders Matt Bevilacqua to sweep up the cheese on the floor, “especially under Silvio.” One of the episode’s funniest moments.
The games can sometimes last for days and it is early morning when Tony wakes up to find that Davey is in the hole 48 boxes of ziti. Richie Aprile swings by the hotel, sees Davey and threatens to kill him. The scuffle is enough to scare off both the wealthy doctor and Frank Sinatra Jr., thus ending the game.
Davey is momentarily spared, as Tony takes his anger out on Richie for wrecking the game. He punishes him by calling for Davey to pay back Richie only after Tony himself is payed back. So, no, Davey is not spared.
Davey is basically Gil from The Simpsons. He gets smacked around in his own office by Tony. Artie won’t lend him any money. He’s in debt way over his head and he’s about to drown.
Of course, he takes away his son’s car and gives it to Tony as partial payment. And, of course, Tony gives the car to Meadow as a surprise present.
But Tony doesn’t believe he is in the wrong. “A grown man made a wager. He lost. He made another wager. He lost again. End of story.” Maybe it’s time he tries to become the happy wanderer and not give a shit anymore.
Richie’s son Eric drops out of the concert with Meadow at the last minute. I’d be pissed too, kid. Tony and Carm, in the crowd, hear the announcement that Meadow will now be performing by herself. Carmela is delighted by this news because now her daughter can put a solo on her college resume.
Tony, meanwhile, pays it no mind. As the first performer sings Schubert’s haunting “Gretchen am Spinnrade”, the soundtrack abruptly smashes to Frankie Yankovic’s rendition of “The Happy Wanderer.”
What is so great about this ending is the fact that “The Happy Wanderer” song plays before the end credits even appear. It’s a disorienting effect. Tony watches the blond soprano onstage and his mind is basically empty. He is Homer Simpson with the image of the clapping monkey in his head. Homer Simpson, of course, being the happiest wanderer.
- Chris only appeared in one scene in “Boca”, which came right after his season one showcase, “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.” It was short, but it was funny. He follows up “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in somewhat similar fashion. Obviously, you can’t have two Chris episodes in a row so no surprise there. But he does make several solid contributions to “The Happy Wanderer”, the best (and funniest) coming when he grooms Matt Bevilacqua and Sean Gismonte for working the executive game. In the same scene, he uses a sly trick to steal fish from the fish market. I’ll keep saying it: season two of The Sopranos is the Legendary Season of Chris.
- Tony once again brings up to Melfi how his role model was Gary Cooper, a concern he first voiced way back in the pilot.
- Proving that there is some continuity in The Sopranos one-offs, the executive game is held at Schlomo Teittelman’s hotel. He was the Hasidic Jew from “Denial, Anger, Acceptance.” I guess Tony is a golem, because the hotel is now overrun with hookers.
- I guess what makes this episode so great is just how natural it feels. The mob-related poker game is a story that already comes with a quality of mischievous joy. Throw in some big laffs and another perfect ending and “The Happy Wanderer” makes my short list for Most Re-Watchable Inconsequential Sopranos Episodes.
- Robert Patrick plays Davey Scatino. He was the T-1000 in Terminator 2.
- “In high school these guys were like Joe Namath and Y.A. Tittle. Now they’re like Phil Donahue and Alan Alda.”
- “I’m thinking I’d like to take a brick and smash your face into a fucking hamburger.”
- “The kind of man I admire is Gary Cooper. The strong, silent type.”
- “She kept talking about my father’s feeble-minded brother but I always thought she meant you.”
- “Hey. Cheese fuck. Get me some food.”