“Do Not Resuscitate” Review
“Mother and Child Reunion”
The main antagonist of The Sopranos season two isn’t even introduced until next episode, which means that these opening installments — “Guy Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office …” and “Do Not Resuscitate” — provide a little breathing room before the tension sets in.
That’s not to say that we’re completely free of tension in the first place. Tony Soprano spends the episode in a very agitated state, mostly due to his sister Janice being back in town. As a result, Tony lashes out at anyone who comes near, with some particularly harsh (and hilarious) put-downs directed at Uncle Junior’s obese assistant Bobby Baccalieri. In turn, “Do Not Resuscitate” is a very funny episode — it had me laughing my ass off.
It’s also very much a “nothing happens” episode. The Sopranos is a series that has absolutely mastered this unique approach, a rare skill which only Mad Men can compare. Both shows have an uncanny ability to craft elegant and richly-textured episodes that, on the surface, appear to be completely plotless. For example, ‘Don Draper goes to an awards ceremony’ or ‘Chris Moltisanti takes an acting class.’ An impossibly simple story turned into pure gold.
In “Do Not Resuscitate,” Tony must bust up a labor dispute at a construction site between an Italian company and a group of black protesters. Even though it nearly results in a race riot, the organizer of the protest, Rev. James, is actually colluding with Tony so they both come out on top. It’s another cynical lesson from series creator David Chase — everybody’s a piece of shit no matter whose side you’re on.
Meanwhile, in true “nothing happens” fashion, Janice tries to bond with her mother by visiting her at the hospital. But Janice’s compassion is just a front so she can move into Livia’s house. In the end, she’s just as selfish and scheming as all the rest of the Sopranos, Livia included — everyone’s a sociopath, too.
Most of the episode takes place in the Soprano household. Meadow passes her driving test, and AJ spends quality time with grandma. Even though it doesn’t sound like much, every scene contains strong character development, hilarious dialogue and excellent performances. This is an episode that places emphasis on family over Family.
Case in point: a storyline that should come as a major shock — Big Pussy has been working as an FBI informant — is revealed so matter-of-factly that you completely forget about it once it’s mentioned.
Elsewhere, Uncle Junior is given his most sympathetic portrayal since “Boca.” Released from prison while he awaits trial, Junior is placed under house arrest. To add insult to injury, he’s forced to cede all his power and assets over to Tony. (Once again, however, Junior will retain his title as ‘boss’ to take federal attention off Tony.) In the end, Uncle Junior is just an old man falling in the shower, literally stripped of all his dignity.
Despite arguments with his uncle and continuously proclaiming that his mother is dead to him, Tony still shows an evident respect for his elders. When Rev. James’ 83-year-old father passes away by episode’s end, Tony begins to feel the inevitability of aging. He’d just been talking to the WWII veteran a few days earlier. Echoing fears from the pilot, it’s becoming more and more evident that the idealized “golden age” is slipping away.
The pilot also emphasized Tony’s fear of losing his family, which is why Tony decides to let bygones be bygones when it comes to Uncle Junior. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of his mother just yet. Livia spends the episode manipulating anyone and everyone, to brilliant comedic effect.
Tony’s relationship with Junior is one of the most complex on the series. True, his uncle wanted him dead back in season one, but this is still the same guy who played catch with him when he was just a kid. This sense of nostalgia is what leads to the episode’s terrific ending.
Tony rushes to Junior’s house after he hears that the old man broke his hip in the shower. Junior is unable to walk, so Tony is forced to carry him out the door, an unofficial making-up between the two. The scene is hilarious and touching, but even more important, it’s one of The Sopranos‘ most heartwarming endings.
Ending the episode with Ella Fitzgerald’s 1937 hit with Benny Goodman, “Goodnight My Love,” is a perfect choice. Fitting that an episode focused on aging finishes with the 40th best song of the 1930s. As Fitzgerald’s voice rings out into the night, Tony holds Junior in his arms like a child.
- Tony spends the entire episode in an agitated state, and you can definitely tell based on his attitude. But even his trivial tasks, like struggling to untangle the garden hose or having issues with the TV remote, show that he’s stressed to the max. As much as he hates to admit it, he needs therapy.
- This is one of the rare instances where the black characters on The Sopranos aren’t just stereotypical caricatures. Both Rev. James and his father add a nice touch in their supporting roles. Unfortunately, the labor dispute storyline is mostly relegated to the background, which makes it one of the episode’s least interesting aspects.
- AJ overhears Tony and Janice arguing about getting a DNR for Livia, which AJ then absentmindedly tells grandma when he visits her at the hospital. (AJ was also the one who told Livia that Tony was seeing a therapist.) Livia now knows Janice’s ulterior reasons for returning home.
- AJ hasn’t made a total ass of himself yet in season two (he made it till episode four in season one), but I’m glad we didn’t get to hear the punchline of his “What did one prick say to the other prick?” joke.
- Along with Ella Fitzgerald, “Do Not Resuscitate” also features Paul Simon’s great “Mother and Child Reunion.” Janice sings along to the song while driving back from the hospital, having just bonded with Livia for the first time in years.
- Livia, who ended up becoming the main antagonist in season one, has been somewhat sympathetic so far. Even though she’s still full of self-pity and negativity, pretty much everything she says is funny.
- When Big Pussy meets with his FBI handler, Skip Lipari, it’s suggested that he’s been working as an informant since before the show’s timeline even started.
- A “nothing happens” episode often completely depends on its ending. If the ending is poignant, it makes all that lack of plot worth it. The final image of Tony carrying Junior lasts in your memory long after the episode is over.
- “Do Not Resuscitate” was written by Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess and Frank Renzulli and directed by Martin Bruestle.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “Why don’t you get the fuck outta here before I shove your quotations book up your fat fucking ass!”
- “You could never stand it here. You could never stand yourself. And that’s why you ran away.”
- “Never underestimate a man’s determination to be free.”
- “My father told me never get old. I should’ve listened to him.”
- “Get off my car before you flip it over, you fat fuck.”
- “Fat fuck? Why don’t you look in the mirror sometime, you insensitive cocksucker?”