“From Where to Eternity”
Directed by Henry J. Bronchtein | Written by Michael Imperioli | 55 min
Magical Realism in The Sopranos
By Colin Hart
8.9 / 10
In “From Where to Eternity”, some spooky shit starts to happen. Everything is handled with David Chase’s typical flair for shrugged-off cynicism, so don’t expect to actually be frightened, but a few ambiguous, supernatural happenings resonate strongly throughout the hour.
The episode opens to the sound of Otis Redding’s “My Lover’s Prayer” (it will be heard twice more), as a tearful Adriana sits beside a comatose Christopher. Tony, Carmela, Paulie and the rest are constantly in and out of the hospital, the late-night phone calls and uneasy shoulder-pats-on-the-back relating all the stress and worrying that comes with such a situation.
If anything, though, deep down, these characters could ultimately shrug it off. Christopher dying, I mean. Adriana, of course, would be devastated, but Tony, Carm, Big Pussy and Paulie would be able to easily move on.
Throughout the episode, they are concerned with only themselves—Tony with authority-based revenge, Carmela with unbridled jealousy, Big Pussy with getting back in his boss’ good graces, and Paulie with paranoid superstitions.
Carmela, after hearing that another mobster’s comare accidentally got pregnant, orders Tony to get a vasectomy. Tony, of course, prefers his testicles intact and vehemently opposes such an indictment, lying about his current affairs to save his scrotum— “I broke it off months ago!”
So, that’s what Carmela’s got on her mind. Tony remains ignorant throughout, continuously lying to her and openly insulting AJ to his face.
But when push comes to shove—when Chris’ heart stops in the middle of the night and the doctors swarm his bed—Carmela shows that she deep down, she does care. She goes into an empty room and prays to God that Chris be spared and find salvation when he returns.
Her prayers are answered (depending on your viewpoints) and Chris wakes up the next day. While Carmela was praying, Chris was clinically dead for over a minute, and he did “see the light” in a way.
It’s a shame we don’t get to see Chris’ trip to Hell. It would have made for one of The Sopranos’ greatest moments of surrealism. Instead, we are left with one of The Sopranos’ greatest examples of mysticism.
Chris specifically requests to speak with Tony and Paulie when he wakes up, and imparts to them all that he saw—that he visited Hell, that they told him he’d be there too when his time comes, forever in eternity with the likes of Brendan Filone and Mikey Palmice.
One other piece of ambiguous info—Mikey’s message to Tony and Paulie: “3 o’clock.”
“3 o’clock”—whether you put faith in Chris’ visions or not—is ultimately a MacGuffin that sets Paulie off on a superstitious, existential crisis. Paulie spends the episode worried about what it might mean, looking for signs where there aren’t any. He eventually goes to see a psychic.
The Sopranos—like The Leftovers after it—provides no concrete answers, just like in real life, but supplies credence to several explanations.
Christopher’s “visions” of the afterlife can be shrugged off as morphine delusions, just as Carmela’s heartfelt prayer could be mere coincidence. This is the outlook Tony chooses. In a revealing therapy session with Dr. Melfi, an angry and conflicted (and scared) Tony confesses his belief that “soldiers” like Chris and him don’t deserve a place in Hell. For them, murder is part of the job, a pact made with God and the Devil.
Carmela, Paulie and, to a lesser extent, Chris all hold faith in spirituality. Chris believes he is resigned to his fate—the bouncer in hell was pretty convincing. Carmela may claim that Chris has been given a second chance from God, while Paulie can convince himself that Chris only visited Purgatory, yet no one really knows what Chris saw except for Chris.
It’s not until Paulie’s superstitions take him to a psychic that magic—or magical realism—comes into play. The psychic is able to speak with several vengeful spirits, but what at first seems to be typical hoax turns into curious anomaly when he starts revealing facts from Paulie’s past that only vengeful spirits would now. He brings up Mikey Palmice, who chidingly asks if Paulie’s poison ivy still itches.
The answers, of course, are not concrete. Everybody is looking for something. Some look for 3 o’clock in the skies, some hold firm in their faith, and others believe that all that matters is the here and now.
“From Where to Eternity” is a very meditative episode of The Sopranos. Issues of faith combine with mysticism, and the whole thing culminates in a euphoric expression of life: Tony and Carmela making love rather than fucking. All is forgiven.
Otis Redding graces the soundtrack a third time, though whether it has anything to do with the ambiguous 3 o’clock is unknown.
- Of course, I forgot to mention the fantastic sub-plot that features Tony and Big Pussy searching for and, eventually, killing Matt Bevilacqua. It features great interactions between the two friends who are quickly drifting further and further apart.
- Now that Matt Bevilacqua is dead, who takes the Douchebag Crown? For now, it resides with mad dog Richie Aprile.
- “3 o’clock”—just like the Russian in the woods—will forever remain a misdirect. It provides no clues to the even more ambiguous series finale, nor does it guide the characters’ actions beyond this episode.
- Continuing the Legendary Season of Chris, this fine episode is the first written by actor Michael Imperioli.
- “Do you have any idea what a bastard child would do to this family?”
- “Hey, I had her tested for AIDS. What do you think I am?”
- “He had on a gangster suit. Pinstripe. Old-fashioned style.”
- “We’re soldiers. Soldiers don’t go to Hell. Soldiers kill other soldiers.”
- “I’m supposed to get a vasectomy when this is my male heir? Look at him.”