The Sopranos S1E2: “46 Long”

Directed by Dan Attias     |     Written by David Chase     |     50 min

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”  

By Colin Hart    

9.2 / 10

Most shows don’t have a great second or third episode, even if they kicked off with a great pilot. Early episodes are often difficult for the writers. It’s a time for the show’s creators to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Often, these episodes are nothing more than rehashes and variations of the first episode’s blueprint. But that’s not the case with “46 Long,” a second episode that feels even more fully-formed than the premiere.

This is the only Sopranos episode to begin with a cold open. It’s not a striking scene; rather very plain, just Tony’s crew sitting around, counting money, shooting the shit. A man on TV is talking about how the golden age of the mafia is over, echoing Tony’s fears from the pilot. Silvio’s Godfather III imitation is enough to lighten the mood — “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

The scene is outwardly funny but also darkly comic as well. To distract themselves from the truth, Tony and the gang call upon an impression of the past — a fictionalized account of the past, at that. If you can only take comfort in an impression of a portrayal of the real thing, then the future doesn’t look too bright.

But still, this scene is great just for the way it casually spends time with the characters. The back-and-forth banter, the ball busting and sly jabs — these are all things that the show will solidify its reputation on. It’s scenes like this that make The Sopranos so special. This isn’t a mob show that relies on murder, guns and gore, but rather a mob show that focuses on the moments in between. In “46 Long,” we see how those in-between moments can build into tension ready to boil over at any second.

tumblr_njr3w7wzbp1unj7vlo1_1280There is an excellent sequence early in the episode in which Tony becomes increasingly stressed with all the headaches piling around him. He goes to take an important phone call in the strip club, but the Bada Bing’s dimwitted bartender accidentally hangs up. Meanwhile, Chris and his equally dimwitted buddy, Brendan Filone, are hijacking trucks from a company belonging to Uncle Junior. At the same time, Paulie Walnuts and Big Pussy are bugging Tony about their search for the missing car of AJ Soprano’s science teacher (a trivial task that Tony has given them).

It’s a fantastic scene. Increasingly quicker and quicker cuts build stress and tension while also laying out the main plot threads for the episode. Director Dan Attias can proudly hang his hat on this one.

The scene culminates in Tony’s phone call with his mother, Livia. In the background, Tony hears that his mother has left the mushrooms on the stove and now has started a kitchen fire. Frantically, he dials up Carmela for help. As Tony storms out of the Bada Bing, the strippers show brief concern.

screenshot-2015-02-26-16-25-13.png“46 Long” is an episode that manages — by Sopranos standards — to fit in a good number of storylines. Some are less important than others, and most are established in Tony’s frantic strip club phone call, but all are crucial in expanding The Sopranos‘ setting of North Jersey. That’s all a second episode needs to do.

Tony’s therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi, in which he gets to unload his thoughts on all that’s transpiring, are the highlights of the hour. It’s what sets the show apart from its contemporaries. The therapy scenes delve into Tony’s complicated inner psyche, and in doing so they separate The Sopranos from being just an average show about wise guys into something more profound: a wise show about average guys.

Lorraine Bracco brings a warmth and magnetism to Melfi, and she no longer serves as the pure expository instrument she was in the pilot. She probes Tony’s issues with his mother, and correctly surmises that Livia is the root cause of all his psychological problems. Melfi asks him to share one loving experience he had with his mother, and the only thing Tony can recall is a time when everyone in the family laughed because his father tripped and fell.

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The regularness of life is beginning to strain on our antihero. Acting boss of the Family and Tony’s best friend, Jackie Aprile, has been diagnosed with cancer. Livia still refuses to move into a nursing home. And as mentioned before, Tony’s hotheaded nephew, Christopher, and his meth-addled, douchebag friend, Brendan, have been hijacking trucks that belong to a company in service to Tony’s uncle.

After a stern talking to, Chris adheres to Tony’s advice to grow up and stop messing around. Brendan, however, decides to go it alone and accidentally kills a truck driver. Yet Tony ends up placing the blame on Christopher, who you can already tell is growing frustrated with his role. This strained master-apprentice relationship will be one of the key elements of the entire series.

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Despite the pressures of being a mob boss, Tony is portrayed as a genuine good guy at home. He dances around the kitchen with his wife, shows an interest in AJ’s academics (Paulie and Big Pussy recovering the teacher’s stolen car) and still looks out the window to see if those ducks are coming back to the swimming pool.

In later episodes we will find that Tony is capable of terrible, unforgivable things. But in these early goings, series creator David Chase has set up a unique contrast in which we debate if Tony is a character we should be rooting for. Is he a kind and loving family man, or a vicious mob enforcer?

Chase implicates the role of the audience as one of his show’s central themes. Are we supposed to sympathize with this man? Why would we continue to watch a terrible person? Does TV reinforce our roles as bystanders and onlookers as opposed to a society that takes action? These questions are unfair, but the episode’s closing scene underlies the importance of the latter.

46 long.jpgIn the final therapy scene, Melfi floats the idea that Tony might harbor an unspoken hatred for his mother. Even though we’ve seen some evidence, it goes over about as well as you’d expect: he storms out of the office in anger.

The next we see Tony, he is back at the Bada Bing, paralleling where he began the episode. All of the nagging issues that he’s been dealing with throughout the hour are ready to boil over. The bartender, Georgie, is once again having trouble with the phone. Tony suddenly and violently beats him with the receiver before leaving in a huff. Framed in the doorway are the Bing strippers, who momentarily stop to observe before resuming their dance.

This parallels Chase’s view of us, the audience, or the human race in general. Not in the way we twerk, but in the way we are often just casual bystanders and onlookers who stand around and do nothing. It’s a poignant tone and wonderful thought to close on. But it is, admittedly, a little insulting.

STRAY ROUNDS

  • I surmise that the best trio of episodes to open any Sopranos season are “Members Only”, “Join The Club”, and “Mayham” from season 6, but this opening stretch of season one is a very close second.
  • Wikipedia has told me that the episode title is a suit size. Chris and Brendan are ordered by Tony to return the stolen suits from the truck and apologize to Junior, but not before Tony and his buddies treat themselves.
  • No, those definitely aren’t 2019 gay TV characters, those are 1999 gay TV characters! Their flamboyance is hilarious. “Oh my Christ!”
  • The best scene is definitely the opening pre-credits sequence. The cold open can be a very deadly weapon, as The Wire and Breaking Bad have shown. It’s a shame The Sopranos never utilized it again.
  • Chris is seen with Adriana as his girlfriend for the first time, but she doesn’t speak and isn’t mentioned by name. Actress Drea de Mateo also appeared as an unnamed hostess at the restaurant Tony dined at in the pilot.
  • Speaking of Chris, my favorite line is when he sees Martin Scorsese and shouts: “Marty! Kundun! I liked it!”
  • Even if you haven’t seen The Sopranos, you can probably assume that Brendan “Ultimate Fuck-Up” Filone isn’t going to be alive too much longer. Love the way Tony literally throws him out the door.
  • Another hilarious moment: Livia running over her friend with the Buick.
  •  “I went over for a blowjob.  Your mother was working the bon-bon concession at the Eiffel Tower. Sil, did you hear what I told him? Told him ‘I went over for a blowjob.  Your mother was working the bon-bon concession at the Eiffel Tower.’”
  • Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
  • I know seniors that are inspired!

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