The Sopranos: “Remember When”

by brotherfromanother
April 23, 2007 6:24 AM
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The Sopranos, Season Six Episode 15: “Remember When”

The last image in “Remember When” is of Junior Soprano (Dominic Chianese) slumped meekly in a lawn chair outside his treatment center, absently petting a snaggle pussed cat. His tight-lipped expression bespeaks frustration at his plight, but also the fact that for the first time since the sixth season premiere “Members Only” – in Friends parlance, The One where Junior Shoots Tony – he’s without his dentures. A few scenes earlier, he’d been assaulted by a fellow patient who gave him a good sock to his fragile jaw. What we’re seeing then, is a tableaux of toothlessness at once literal and figurative – the old fox defanged.

It seems as good a place as any to leave Junior, arguably the least empathetic of The Sopranos’ major characters (seasonal bogeymen like Richie Aprille and Ralph Ciffaretto notwithstanding) and seemingly a forgotten man as far as the writers were concerned. The slow erosion of Corrado Soprano’s former sharpness has been a familiar motif over the past few years, but (pace its nostalgic title) “Remember When” charts just how far he’s slipped by introducing an old photograph of Junior and his brother Johnny, slouched casually against a Cadillac in front of Satriale’s.

As a portrait of old-style wise guy cool, it’s just about perfect. The pair’s expressions hover somewhere between avuncular and homicidal. Flipping through old photos during a South Beach sojourn with Paulie, Tony gives the picture a quick glance and seems eager to move on. He’s equally uninterested in the vintage snapshot of Paulie (a real and arresting image of Tony Sirico, all biceps and slicked-backed attitude), exclaiming a few seconds later – after Paulie has commandeered the conversation with another long-winded remembrance of malfeasance past -- that “‘remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.’”

It’s understandable that Tony doesn’t really want to dredge up the past; after all, the little bit of past that’s been dredged up in a Jersey basement – the corpse of a bookie who was apparently Tony’s first-ever kill – is what has him fled to Florida, dining chez Beansie (now moving about in an expensive-looking wheelchair) and wondering which of his many regrettable yesterdays will finally undo him in the present tense. And Tony looks very much like a guy who’s coming undone: he seems paunchier and sallower than usual, and a furtive phone call to Hesh suggests he may he having money problems. (200 K is no small loan).

The week’s major revelation, courtesy of bigmouth Paulie, is that Tony murdered the bookie at his father’s insistence. No wonder Tony is reticent to reminisce. The Sopranos has always been a show marked by hauntings, but this episode was a veritable echo chamber, referencing important moments in the show’s past.Junior being pelted by paper balls by his former charge mirrored Meadow’s drunken behavior in the season three finale; the tense scenes between Tony and Paulie on a rented boat loudly (and some might say over-deliberately) evoked Big Pussy’s murder.

Despite its abundance of carefully wrought resonances, “Remember When” feels a bit like a holding pattern, another attenuated standstill to mark time as the plot slowly kicks into gear (though we did see another bloody step Phil Leotardo’s NYC takeover bid). There wasn’t much, f’rinstance, to substantiate (or refute) Robbiefreeling’s superb postulation from last week about Christopher’s possible extra-cirricular activities. (And I watched Imperioli during his one scene like a hawk). There’s more to be said, of course, and rather than try to unravel it myself, I’ll just give you both some talking points that I’m not articulate enough to jump on. Why the sudden and frankly unprecedented glimpse into Paulie’s interior life? What do you make of Junior addressing his treatment centre protégé/assailant as “Anthony?” Does the tomato plant count as another Godfather reference? Help me out here.

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  • cnw | April 24, 2007 1:43 AMReply

    Astute and insightful analysis, eve. I'm glad you reminded us of Paulie's hideous siren song during the Kevin Finnerty episodes, pulling Tony back to the life he hates. Given the obvious theme, in these three episodes so far, of the past haunting the present -- and the way Paulie explicitly embodies the recurrence of the past -- I'm made to recall Kevin Finnerty's surprising diagnosis of Alzheimer's. If the Finnerty stuff illuminated the central themes of the season as a whole -- and I am certain, in one way or (and) another, it did -- surely there is something to the impulse to forget, to dispense with the past, an impulse that stands completely at odds with the baggage we can't let go of. The murderous resentment Tony feels towards Paulie serves as a literalization of the desire to kill the past by eliminating its mouthpiece and thereby to exorcise its demons (metaphors mixed, thank you).

    On the flip side, we have Junior, whose dementia has reduced him to replaying the past -- not just the executive game, but also his relationship with Carter (aptly revealed to be a surrogate for his relationship with Tony through a quick slip-of-the-tongue). Far from freeing him from his own sense of failure or regret, Junior's impaired mental state seems to have doomed him to reliving his failure. Junior's always been toothless and neutered, and he knows it, even if he doesn't remember his own name.

    Again, these ramblings are barely coherent and probably amount to nothing more than this: memory/Kevin Finnerty/Paulie/Junior/dementia. Discuss. I feel like Bobby: "What, you never thought about the back thing with Notre Dame?"

  • robbiefreeling | April 23, 2007 11:13 AMReply

    Wow, eve m., will you write for us? Seriously? You have a depth and understanding of the show that I find daunting. Your descriptions of Paulie's past stuntedness and man-child aggressions are the most incisive I've ever read on the character....

    And I'm glad you brought up the tight structural paralleling of the Junior and Paulie storylines...of withered father figures and mentors unable to lead their proteges down any sort of sensible path.

    Do we see Junior as effectively out of the picture? Toothless, like brotherfromanother says, and neuteured? Was this the last moment accorded Junior, inverting the iconic image of virile Vito? Is Chase just slowly giving each of his characters a final whimper of glory?

  • brotherfromanother | April 23, 2007 8:55 AMReply

    All: Yes, that EW list was enough to make me never read the magazine again (unless they put Aqua Teen Hunger Force on the cover).

    I didn't mention one telling moment in the vein that Robbie is describing -- the acid self-reflexivity: after getting the call that the 80s murder has been pinned on Jackie Aprille, Tony relievedly sighs something to the effect of "what's it gonna be next." Add "week" to that sentence, and it seems like a bit of a wink.

    Matt: stop reading film blogs.

  • robbiefreeling | April 23, 2007 8:15 AMReply

    Well, I'm actually inclined to think they should be taken almost as a joke...especially when they're so brazenly iconic (Junior grimacing with sunken jowels, stroking a kitty cat) or offhanded and out of left field (tomatoes?!). The Bobby-Tony fishing scene in the first episode managed to recall Godfather II with proper import, yes, and last week's restaurant shooting was the stuff of prime mobster murder (face down in the food, natch), but the more there are, the more they seem like David Chase & Co. are just placing them there as distractions for the fans. Yes, I think it's implicit to make us think of the series as heading towards some sort of grandiose tragedy, but I find it more like the beginning of last week's episode with the insanely gratuitous violence of the "Cleaver" clips...MORE CREATIVE DEATHS! Chase's contempt for his own them what they want while also mocking them for wanting it.

    Hence, idiocies like Entertainment Weekly's TOP TEN FAVORITE DEATH SCENES! Adrianna #6?! Aside from the fact that she doesn't even get the dignity of a number one could this be a "favorite" anything? #10: Tracee, the stripper whose head was bashed against an iron grate. Supercool!

    So, perhaps TOP TEN GODFATHER REFERENCES isn't too far off.

  • cnw | April 23, 2007 6:24 AMReply

    I waited too long editing my response and missed Robbie's contribution. Apologies for any redundancies. So let me toss this out there to Brother, Matthew, Mark, Robbie, or anyone else who has an idea: What's up with these GODFATHER references?

  • Matthew Nayman | April 23, 2007 4:44 AMReply

    Great post Adam.

    After reading this blog carefully, I realized that its themes tie closely into the first episode of this season, "Soprano Home Movies".

    Tony seems to regret his first murder, perhaps realizing that it steered him down an irreversible path to his current, sociopathic-self. However, just last week, Tony pointed Bobby Bacala down the very same path by sending him on his first murder.

    This all ties into my own pet-theory about how they show may end.

    Extrapolating from Robbiefreeling's idea that Chris may already be flipped, I surmise that...

    -The FBI's entire RICO against Tony is based on Chris' testimony.

    -Tony finds out and is considering killing Christopher to save his own skin. Chris doesn't know he knows, nor do the feds.

    -Phil is still out to hurt Tony or his family.

    -After 7 years of psychotherapy and humanization, Tony comes to the realization that he cannot kill Christopher (the little five-year-old in his bicycle basket) just to save his own skin. Perhaps as Dr. Krakhauer suggested, Tony has decided not to hurt someone, and to face the music.

    -In an act of serendipity, Phil guts Chris like a fish, destroying the FBI's RICO case and saving Tony Soprano from a life in Federal lock up. His feud with Tony ends, and Tony is off scott-free.

    -Perhaps this is a life changing event for Tony, and his willingness to sacrifice himself so as not to kill again (even someone as loathsome as Christopher Moltisanti) leaves Tony a changed man, and sends him packing for the country having left his money and children with Carmella. Perhaps he will sit by a lake and watch the ducks fly in. Much like the 2nd season's Witness Protection murder, we know is will all catch up with Tony some day, but for now, he can have a little bit of peace.

    Of course, this is all speculation, and I am projecting my own wishes for Tony. I just want to see him get out, and that would be a fairly neat-and-tidy way for him to do it.

    I apologize is the above grammar isn't perfect... it's early, and my brother is a far better writer.


  • Mark | April 23, 2007 4:36 AMReply

    The tomato plant was, of course, a very obvious Godfather reference, especially Tony's line that he had to leave just as his tomatoes were coming in. Any connection to Don Corleone dying amongst his plants? Foreshadowing?

    One thing is that I disagree about Tony not being interested in the photos. The picture of Paulie from the '60s sparks a flurry of reminiscences about how much he admired Paulie back then and almost wished he was his father. It's when Paulie starts going on and on about illegal deeds in front of the three women that Tony loses his patience. It taps into another major Sopranos theme -- willful denial. Tony's content to talk about how much he admired Paulie back in the day, but when the reality of why he admired Paulie so much is brought to the forefront... he just wants him to shut up.