Directed by Alan Wolk | Written by Jason Cahill, Robin Green, & Mitchell Burgess | 51 min
South of the Border
By Colin Hart
9.0 / 10
The Sopranos’ first season has a very interesting structure—it begins with a pretty coherent mob story episodes one through four, has a unique standalone in “College,” picks up the mob story again in episodes six and seven, and then goes off on its own little tangent of semi-standalone character episodes before we hit the final stretch.
Last episode was a Christopher Moltisanti spotlight, one of the character’s best. “Boca” is another interesting standalone, with one half focused on Uncle Junior and the other half finds Tony caught in a moral dilemma. It’s a strange combo, full of one-off characters and plotlines, but it’s an episode that works because of the even better combo of great writing and acting.
The Sopranos revolutionized TV in the way it went about its storytelling. Nothing is straightforward and the burn is slow. Plot threads that may seem important are merely dangled in front of us, and that’s it. Just dangled. They only serve as the basis, the unseen backbone of the character-based stories happening onscreen.
Take, for instance, last week’s threat of the federal indictments—it ultimately served as a springboard for David Chase and co. to examine negative Italian-American stereotypes. In “Boca,” the mob storyline keeps churning—the feds are keeping a close eye on Junior and someone might be wearing a wire—but we mainly see how the characters react.
Junior takes his sultry girlfriend, Bobbi, down to Boca Raton for a while to lay low. Real low. Like, nether-regions low. Junior is…well, let’s just say he’s good at eating pussy. But loose lips sink ships and if word ever got out about his ability to eat out, then Uncle Junior would have a mess on his, um, hands.
It mirrors Tony’s situation of how he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s seeing a shrink. For both men, it is something that will make them seem soft, a sign of weakness.
Junior already knows of Tony’s therapy thanks to Livia’s gossip. Word of Junior’s skills in cunnilingus eventually squirts out, soon reaching Carmela. It makes for a family dinner filled with hilarious double entendres and innuendo, one of the funniest scenes of the episode. Carmela then relays this information to Tony, which turns a friendly outing of golf into a slyly-veiled shit-hurling contest. To wit: “Uncle Jun’s in the muff. Oh, did I say ‘muff?’ I meant ‘rough.’” “Hey listen, my friend. At least I can deal with my own problems. Unlike some I know.”
To go back to what I was saying earlier about The Sopranos storytelling model—this seemingly unimportant digression of vagina-whispering leads to Uncle Junior formulating the idea of possibly killing Tony, setting us up for the season’s stretch run.
The other half of “Boca” involves Meadow and a girl on her soccer team named Allie. Meadow sees Allie slit her wrists, and it is later revealed that the girl has been sleeping with the team’s coach. Tony believes that it is up to him and the fellas to take the law into their own hands.
Todd VanDerWerff, in his review of “Boca” for The AV Club, states that “Boca” feels dated because of this plotline, mentioning that it was an idea that was fresh when it came out, “but now we have stories like this on just about every primetime drama that traffics in the salacious… Similarly, it’s hard to watch “Boca” and not think of the other times The Sopranos would do this basic moral setup as a storyline and do it much better in seasons to come.”
I greatly enjoyed this episode and I don’t think the soccer-coach-child-sex-scandal is a tired cliché. In fact, it’s timeless—even more so in the wake of the #MeToo movement. A mobster’s daughter is on a very successful high school soccer team, it is revealed that the coach had sex with one of the girls, and now said mobster must determine whether he should kill the guy or not? It’s practically foolproof.
And, yeah, the whole thing is a little self-contained and out of the blue, as VanDerWerff also points out. Suddenly we’re introduced to characters and plotlines that act as if they have been recurring (Allie and the soccer team suddenly becoming a big deal). This isn’t a problem though. As evidenced before, The Sopranos gives us a “TV-worthy” plotline but merely uses it as the backbone to explore something else. We don’t get much about Allie or Coach Hauser, instead we get a far more entertaining moral tale of Tony wrestling with a tough decision.
Season one is all about asking the question “What kind of man is Tony Soprano?” with family being a key component. “College” was so effective because it based that question around whether Tony would kill Febby or not, which he ultimately did. The same question is on display in “Boca,” with similar circumstances. Once again, Tony is confronted with a man who has done a terrible thing, the order of people’s justice coming down upon his shoulders. Meadow, who embodies the innocent (as in, free of mob influence—she’s still a spoiled brat), is once more “close” to the potential murder. Tony’s decision becomes harder.
The trio of “Tennessee Moltisanti,” “Boca” and “A Hit is a Hit,” aside from being self-contained, also provides time to expand some of the minor characters. Last episode we saw larger roles for Chris and Dr. Melfi. “Boca” does the same for Uncle Junior and Artie Bucco.
Artie is a character who perpetually embodies the main moral dilemma Tony faces in this episode, albeit on a smaller scale, namely “Should I be a good guy or not?” Artie is Tony’s longtime childhood friend, but also is (er, was) a proud restaurant owner. He would love the easy cash that is right within reach, but his conscience and his nagging wife, Charmaine, are always there to sway him back.
Like Meadow, he symbolizes someone who is free of mob influence. And he is the one who eventually sways Tony to call off the hit, putting the whole thing in a more civilized perspective. Unlike “College,” Tony ends up doing the morally right thing here by letting the police handle it. Here, Tony is a good man.
But this issue is called into question once again in the episode’s great ending sequence, framed from Meadow’s perspective. She watches from the upstairs balcony as a very drunk Tony laughs hysterically to Carmela, “I didn’t kill nobody!” A glum sense of unknowing resides on Meadow’s face, similar to AJ looking on from afar at the end of “Meadowlands.”
- Chris only gets one scene after his big episode, but it’s a funny one. Involves him and Coach Hauser’s dog.
- Junior ends up cruelly breaking up with Bobbi near episode’s end, forever putting a cap on that storyline.
- Great sight gag: Junior’s mistress Bobbi passes him the red peppers with the same hand that she was just fondling Junior’s “Junior” with.
- Even better sight gag: the old-fashioned pie in the face. That’s how Junior chooses to end it between Bobbi and him. It’s a wonder that a pie in the face can still be so funny—it’s the very basis of slapstick! Bobbi blabbed about Junior’s head game, and he does have a right to shove a pie in her face…
- …but does he have a right to say “You stupid fucking blabbermouth cunt!” before he does it? Probably not.
- “They think if you suck pussy you’ll suck anything.”
- “If I had any balls, I’d do it myself.”