“The Knight in White Satin Armor”
Directed by Allen Coulter | Written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess | 60 min
“Where is my knight in white satin armor?“
By Colin Hart
9.5 / 10
Who would have thought that the gun Richie puts to Janice’s head during sex (“It’s fetishistic, that’s all” says Janice the “feminist”) would turn out to be a Chekhov’s gun (“Usually he takes the clip out” she explains to Carmela early on). It finally goes off this episode, making for the most shocking moment in The Sopranos’ run.
Richie Aprile spends the episode unsuccessfully trying to arrange a coup against Tony Soprano. Given how a similar coup turned out at the end of last season, it’s reasonable to assume that Richie won’t be around much longer. However, the fact that his fiancée Janice is the one who pulls the trigger—well, that is just completely unexpected and bananas.
It’s the only curveball that The Sopranos will ever throw, and it is handled with deft grace and stunned awe. Sure, the shock factor is a key contributor, a big “moment” in the series that makes the entire episode memorable. But the real reason it resonates is because the moment is not about Richie—it is all about Janice.
Introducing Janice into the main fold seemed like it could have been a bad idea at first. Her entire modus operandi is to be extremely self-centered and annoying. But her actions in this episode unlock her true character—a Soprano through and through.
Janice was introduced at the beginning of the season as a so-called free spirit who had been living in Seattle, finally returning home to reconnect with her family. In actuality, she had come back to claim her mother’s old house.
Little by little, her Soprano genes began to reveal themselves. Hypocrisy, jealousy, narcissism and sociopathy were soon on full display. She even got hooked right back into the family lifestyle when she reignited the flame with Richie Aprile. Before long, she was subtly pushing Richie to make a move on Tony, a la Livia to Uncle Junior in season one.
Towards the end of “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” the couple get into their first major argument (Richie’s finances have taken a hit and Janice is accepting of Richie’s gay son). Richie hits her, Janice takes a moment to think about where this life may lead her and she returns with the gun.
“Usually he takes the clip out.” If Richie is willing to take that gamble during sex, then Janice is willing to call that bet when a life of domestic abuse is staring her in the face. The gun was loaded and Richie is just as shocked as we are.
He’s dead now.
The whole episode is masterclass, but there are four great scenes that stand out. Two of them are season highlights, while the other two are great unto this episode.
The two season highlights are Richie Aprile’s aforementioned death and an earlier scene in which Uncle Junior weighs his options. Throughout the season, Richie has relied on Junior as a sort of confidante. He finally comes to Junior with plans to have Tony clipped. What follows is a brilliant example of thinking aloud—Junior mulling over Richie’s proposal (“He couldn’t fucking sell it”) and quickly coming to the decision that he is much better off with his nephew in charge.
Dominic Chienese has done an excellent job at turning Junior into a much more sympathetic character in season two. This may be his finest scene of the year. Bobby is left staring, dumbfounded: “I’m in awe of you.”
Allen Coulter directs the episode and he brings a little impression de cinéma, if you know what I mean. You know he always brings the goods. He shows it in the episode’s opening scene—a surreal argument between Tony and Janice, with Little Ricky Aprile and his dance partner waltzing in and out of the frame. The romantic classical music goes from non-diegetic to diegetic and maybe back again, providing an uncanny dissonance as it plays to the beats of Tony and Janice’s banter.
Coulter shines bravado yet again during Janice and Richie’s engagement party. The camera snakes its way through the festivities to capture all that is going on between the characters (Carmela, mad at Tony; Tony, focused on Richie; Richie, focused on Tony; Big Pussy, wearing a wire; Janice, full of herself).
It’s scenes like this that make this episode truly great. “The Knight in White Satin Armor” isn’t just significant because of a shocking main-character death—every storyline is expertly composed.
“Knight” is also the richest episode of the season. There is so much going on—the season’s various “nothing happens” subplots finally coming to a head—that my attention never wavered for even a second.
Big Pussy finds himself trying to turn his life around, only to be painstakingly reminded by his FBI handler Skip Lipari that it’s futile. For Big Pussy, this is one of his most empathetic storylines of the season and it ends with him feeling as if there’s a rock in his stomach. Essentially, his fate is as good as sealed and there’s only one episode to go.
Carmela’s seasonal arc also reaches a climax when she confronts Tony about his Russian girlfriend, Irina. Depressed by the state of her marriage, she finds herself in tears at the apparent happiness of the newly engaged Janice and Richie.
At episode’s end, she is heartened to learn that Janice has gone back to Seattle and her marriage with Richie has been called off. She has an idea of the truth, of course, but it doesn’t stop her from immediately using that knowledge to guilt Tony into buying her an expensive trip to Rome (“because if you don’t, I just might kill myself”).
Even though Tony’s greatest adversary is now gone, he still ends the episode in defeat.
I haven’t even talked about what Tony is up to this episode. That’s a good indicator of how much depth “The Knight in White Satin Armor” has.
Season two had been very good and very steady up until this point, but this is the first episode that can be called truly great, which it definitely is.
And I hear the finale tops it.
- So, what is Tony up to this episode? His break-up with Irina, in which she attempts suicide shortly afterwards, is his main ordeal. He also starts to move forward with plans to take out Richie. Of course, Janice ends up being his titular “knight in white satin armor.”
- Irina coins the phrase that gives the episode its name—combining “knight in shining armor” with The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.”
- Even though there is a dearth of action, that doesn’t mean it is any less funny than the other season two episodes. There is also a dearth of hilarious lines and great comedic timing, which have been season two staples.
- Tony’s farewell scene to Janice before she boards her bus is another great scene. So much shared history between the two, a real case of tough love.
- “He’s got tremendous moxie for his size.”
- “Running all over looking for his kid’s science teacher’s car. What the fuck was that? Any faith I had went out the window that very day.”
- “You are putting me in a situation where I feel sorry for a whore that fucks you?”
- “He wouldn’t miss an opportunity to fucking foxtrot and tango in front of everybody.”