The Sopranos S1E3: Denial, Anger, Acceptance

Directed by Nick Gomez   |   Written by Mark Saraceni   |   45 min

Creating a golem

By Colin Hart

9.2 / 10

Is Tony a golem? That is the central question of The Sopranos, or at least one of them. The series’ third episode, the climactic “Denial, Anger, Acceptance,” presents evidence as to both yes and no. To people Tony is involved with in business — like Shlomo Teittleman, a Hasidic Jew —  he is indeed a Frankenstein’s mobster, an all-consuming malevolent specter.

Teittleman comes to the mob for aid. He wants Tony and his crew to persuade his abusive son-in-law to agree to a penniless divorce with his daughter.  In return, Teittleman offers the Family a share of his local hotel business. Tony, Paulie and Silvio eventually get Teittleman’s stubborn and prideful son-in-law to agree to the divorce sans compensation…by threatening life sans genitalia. The next day, Teittleman tries to back out of the deal because Tony resorted to violence. But Tony will not have it — the 25% share was the agreement, and Tony will get what he wants one way or another.


“46 Long” was an episode that saw Tony’s pent-up stress level simmer to a boiling point. “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” finds a cooler, calmer and more collected Tony, but also a more fragile Tony. His best friend — family boss Jackie Aprile — is in the hospital dying of cancer, causing Tony to move through the three titular stages of grief.

“Denial, Anger, Acceptance” — like “46 Long” — is a very stuffed episode of The Sopranos, but like its predecessor, it moves along at a brisk pace, never too fast. We get a wide variety of plots in a relatively short amount of time (45 minutes) that continue to expand the various characters and locales.

Tony’s therapy sessions delve deep into his troubled psyche. Early in the episode, he finds himself transfixed by a painting of an empty barn and a hollow tree on the waiting room wall.  Tony tells Melfi that it is a trick painting, specifically made and placed by psychologists to trigger a response, like a Rorshach Test. Melfi finds it interesting that he would bring up the “depressive nature” of the painting. Triggered, he storms out.

Elsewhere, Tony’s therapy scenes offer much more substance, reflecting on his own mortality and the inherent nature of his humanity. “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” benefits from great pacing, and his encounters with Melfi are perfectly placed throughout — natural, introspective lulls amid the chaos of Tony’s everyday life.


The rest of the episode touches up on characters we haven’t spent too much time with. In the least effective subplot of the hour, Meadow and her friend Hunter (my least favorite character) buy crystal meth off of Chris and Brendan. Meanwhile, completely unrelated, Livia suggests that Chris and Brendan need a “talking to,” due to their continued meddling in Uncle Junior’s truck business.

Carmela, who is still portrayed as a nagging, privileged, upper-middle-class housewife, gets to show off her haughtiness when she hosts a fundraiser catered by Artie and Charmaine Bucco (the owners of the restaurant that Tony burned down in the pilot).

The writers seem to sympathize with Charmaine’s point-of-view rather than Mrs. Soprano’s. Carmela is shown as bossy and shallow, while Charmaine seems more at ease with the life she has chosen, or rather, not chosen. Carm acts superior to everyone else because of her glitzy rich lifestyle, but it’s all founded on money that has come from Tony’s criminal activities.  She is, effectively, still in denial.


By the end of the episode, we see Tony not as a golem, but as a loving father who is moved to tears by his daughter’s choir recital (guess that crystal meth did the trick after all). It is this juxtaposition that David Chase wants us to consider, especially in season one — Tony is able to revel in the beauty of his daughter’s performance, but he is also responsible for the violent actions that occur due to his influence.

It turns out that the “talking to” suggested by Livia is actually a mock execution. Chris is taken to the pier and held at gunpoint. His life is spared, but the former tough-guy is left in a vulnerable, paranoid state.  Concurrently, Brendan Filone is given the same treatment but hold the mock — shot to death in his bathtub by Uncle Junior and henchman Mikey Palmice.

All of this violence is intercut with Meadow’s performance, making for a very Godfather-esque climax. Yet it is more homage than rip-off — an immensely powerful scene that shows The Sopranos using its cinematic influences to transcend the medium.

So, who is Tony Soprano: the golem enforcer or the loving family man? The final sequence shows that he is capable of both. For now, the balance leans toward the latter, but in due time he will give himself up to the former. Only three episodes in, The Sopranos has given us much to contemplate.


  • I recently watched the season 2 episode “Bust Out” and I found that it explored very similar themes (golem or not?) as this one.  Tony consuming Davey Scatino’s business “like fucking termites” practically confirms it.
  • I really like the way the show will sometimes focus on paintings, like the one Tony angrily erupts over in Melfi’s office.  He also finds himself transfixed by a painting of a splash in a pool (an imitation David Hockney).  It is similar to Melfi’s painting with the empty barn and “rotted out” tree, if you read into it from Tony’s depressed point of view.
  • This is the first episode where we get to see the beautiful Oksana Lada as Tony’s Russian mistress, Irina.  Irina was portrayed by a blonde actress in the pilot.
  • Brendan truly deserved his shot in the head.  He is the Douchebag Epitome…
  • …however, Mikey Palmice now owns that title since Brendan is dead.
  • Perhaps the funniest line of the night is when Teittleman’s son-in-law is bragging about how the Jews stood up to the Romans and asks where they are now, followed by Tony’s “you’re looking at them.
  • I highly advise everyone to look at Wikpedia’s page on golems, which is pretty fascinating.  So, uh, these things might have actually existed?
  • Take it easy.  We’re not making a western here.
  • Hijack, bye Jack.”

4 thoughts on “The Sopranos S1E3: Denial, Anger, Acceptance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s