Directed by Tim Van Patten | Written by Terence Winter | 57 min
The epitome of “nothing happens”
By Colin Hart
9.1 / 10
At its core, season two boils down to the season-long arc of Tony vs. Richie. Upon rewatch, however, their conflict is not as visceral or tense as you might have remembered. In fact, [MINOR SPOILER] it is nipped in the bud (next episode) before it can even escalate to a dangerous level.
Season two, then, is somewhat of a “nothing happens” season. And “House Arrest” is the most “nothing happens” episode of them all. It is one of my personal favorites, another on the short-list of “Most Re-Watchable Inconsequential Sopranos Episodes.”
It’s written by Terence Winter, who specializes in episodes where “nothing” happens. There is even a meta-awareness unto itself— “So, what else is new?” Tony asks the guys after he has spent the entire episode away from mob-related activities. “Nothing,” Big Pussy replies. They all go back to doing whatever they were doing—Chris and Hesh playing cards, Paulie cooking pasta, Silvio smoking a cigarette, Tony polishing his shoes.
After dodging last week’s legal bullet, Tony is advised by his lawyer to spend some time at his legitimate job at Barone Sanitation. “House Arrest” consists of such mundanities as Tony organizing an office basketball pool, Uncle Junior getting his hand stuck in a garbage disposal and Janice and Richie moving into their new home.
However, it is one of the most artfully composed episodes of the season. “House Arrest” moves with a brisk pace, and it’s over before you know it. An uneventful week for the Sopranos is made compelling by sharp dialogue and good-natured humor.
For what it’s worth, season two just might be The Sopranos’ funniest. Doubling down as the Nuthin’ Happens season, it comes as no surprise that most of the ‘sodes are comedy-based. “House Arrest” leans on a hilarious, pathos-filled performance from Dominic Chianese, one of Uncle Junior’s finest episodes.
He spends the hour cooped up in his home, reconnecting with an old flame from yesteryear—the most heartwarming scene comes when she puts on his sleep apnea mask and kisses him on the forehead.
Tony spends the episode in a pissed off mood, agitated with the boring lifestyle he is forced to adopt for a little while. “How ‘bout those Nets?” is a repeated conversation starter throughout.
Melfi tells Tony that “antisocial personalities,” when they “aren’t distracted from the horrible shit they do,” have time to reflect on their actions and the impact they have on others. Tony, of course, has been doing nothing all episode. Melfi’s sentiment symbolizes itself in the rash that Tony develops on his arm—an itch he can’t satisfy until he is finally back with the fellas at Satriale’s pork shop.
Yet Melfi has her own issues going on as well (due to Tony’s impact, of course). She is drinking more, downing a tall glass of vodka before her sessions with Mr. Soprano. She gets into a tiff at a restaurant, much to her son’s chagrin.
Usually, forays into Melfi’s world outside the office can make for some disenchantment on the viewer’s part, but her storyline here fits in perfectly with the easygoing vibe of “House Arrest.” Even her own therapy sessions with Dr. Kupferberg feel right at home.
The episode ends with a magnificent shot of the gang talking on the sidewalk outside the pork store. Even Federal Agent Harris drops by to introduce his new partner and chat for a bit. The Nets are brought up again (shouts to Jayson Williams). Tim Van Patten’s camera swoops out to Johnny Thunders’ signature “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”
Some of my favorite Sopranos moments are when the show spends casual time with the characters. Doing nothing, but making it feel like you’re doing nothing with them. Like good friends.
“House Arrest” pulls this trick off perhaps better than any Sopranos episode.
- The one thread that does move the season’s main plot forward are the slight barbs Richie keeps throwing at Tony. He continues to sell coke along the garbage routes and tries to further collude with Uncle Junior. Richie even triggers Tony into two panic attacks this episode—the thing is, now he knows he can do it.
- The well-curated, classic rock soundtrack fits right in with the theme of blue-collar mundanity. The opening garbage truck vignette rocks to The Pretenders’ “Space Invader,” while Tony passes out to the tune of “More Than a Feeling.” Other strong selections include Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” the latter being one of the greatest punk songs of the ‘70s.
- Seriously, though, Melfi poured an obscene amount of vodka into that glass. It adds a darkly comic undertone if we consider that she could be drunk during all her therapy sessions with Tony. (“So, what’s up?“)
- Melfi’s son Jason, last seen in “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti,” has grown into an even bigger smart-aleck asshole than he before. For one, he’s studying deconstructive theory, and, secondly, he totally bails out on his mother during her argument at the restaurant.
- “That’s our policy, it’s written on our trucks. Double your garbage back if you’re not satisfied.”
- “Mother of fucking mercy! What’d you take a sledgehammer to my balls?”
- “I’m not a cat. I don’t shit in a box.”
- “Elliot, it’s like that thing with watching a train wreck. I’m afraid and repulsed by what he might tell me, but somehow I can’t stop myself from wanting to hear it.”
- “I’ll be relieved whenever someone puts their finger on whatever the fuck it is that’s wrong with me. I wish it was something physical so I could have it ripped the fuck out!”