“Full Leather Jacket” Review
“The Sopranos Do a Cliffhanger”
Upon first viewing, “Full Leather Jacket” is the most memorable and shocking episode of season two thus far. A main character has just been shot, and The Sopranos leaves us on a surprising and unexpected cliffhanger.
Upon repeat viewing, however, Chris Moltisanti’s ambiguous fate at the end of the episode loses drama because (obviously) we already know that Chris doesn’t die. The next episode focuses on his recovery, and he’ll be back to his old self by season’s end.
I analyzed the importance of Sopranos endings in my review of last episode, but I think the conclusion of “Full Leather Jacket” deserves to be discussed as well. Aside from its memorable final scene, The Sopranos is a show that rarely utilizes cliffhanger endings, most of the time opting for a note of poignant understatement.
That’s why “Full Leather Jacket” feels like such an anomaly. Even though the unresolved ending is a great scene by itself, it loses importance in the show’s grand context.
Up until its climactic final moments, “Full Leather Jacket” abounds in ultimate “nothing happens” fare. Carmela Soprano tries to convince her neighbor, Jean Cusamano, to help Meadow get into Georgetown (Jean’s sister — who doesn’t even know Meadow — works in the admissions office). Meanwhile, Richie Aprile gives Tony a prized leather jacket that Tony has no intention of wearing.
The episode features great comedy, which is why these seemingly trite storylines are so compelling. It’s not a big hour for Tony (during one therapy session, he even refuses to speak), but it’s a necessary showcase for Carmela and her conflicted morals. Her dual personas of mob wife and suburban do-gooder — and her struggles with balancing both — are far more interesting than they initially appear.
Likewise, Richie Aprile doing Richie Aprile things (i.e. continuing to threaten Beansy) is always good for some cruel laughter. It’s amazing how funny (and likable) he’s become, especially considering the atrocities we’ve seen him commit. Then again, his one-liners work so well because they contain the scathing undertone that he could kill anyone at any second. Although it originally seemed unlikely, Richie is now one of the most admirable characters on the whole show, as he’s the only one who stays true to himself.
Chris, too, has some hilarious dialogue this episode (“How can I express how little I give a fuck?”), building on the amiability he’s gained over the last few weeks. But just when it seems like he’s finally about to turn his life around — no more drugs, no more Hollywood, finally proposing to Adriana, etc. — Chris is ambushed in the street by underlings Matt Bevilacqua and Sean Gismonte.
The stupidity of Matt and Sean has provided several laughs throughout the season, yet their existence has largely been relegated to the background. Now that they’ve finally served their purpose — two dime-store hoods desperate to be recognized — you have to wonder if their inclusion on the series was necessary at all. They exist purely to serve the plot.
And they don’t even serve it well: their plan to kill Chris as a favor for Richie is even dumber than they are. It makes little sense from a storytelling perspective, other than to set future events in motion. A last-minute subplot providing some insight into their personal lives (basically, they’re fed up with being everyone’s doormat) isn’t enough to earn our sympathy.
Nevertheless, the unexpected shootout provides an exciting rush of violence that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the episode’s easygoing nature. The sequence itself is well-executed by director Allen Coulter — Chris is left fatally wounded in the middle of the street, able to kill Sean with the last ounce of his strength.
We close the episode with Chris at the hospital in critical condition. Tony tearfully repeats: “How could this happen?”
Tony’s disbelief is the perfect capstone to such a plot twist. Likewise, the sound of Chris’ respirator — no music, just the electronic rhythm of a life hanging in the balance — makes for a haunting soundtrack.
What truly takes away from the cliffhanger’s power, however, is the scene that takes place between the shootout and the hospital bed — Matt asks Richie for protection and is immediately chased out with a baseball bat. Even though this hilarious detour lasts less than a minute, it provides a tonal shift between two moments of tragedy and undercuts them both as a result.
Ironically, the shocking cliffhanger undercuts how funny the rest of the episode is. It’s almost as if we go from “nothing happens” to “something happened” too quickly. And at only 42-minutes, perhaps the episode could have benefitted from some extra padding.
On the other hand, perhaps the shortened runtime helps maintain the episode’s shock value on rewatch. Even after multiple viewings, Matt and Sean’s ambush still feels like it comes out of nowhere, partly because “Full Leather Jacket” is 10-minutes shorter than the average Sopranos episode.
Cliffhanger or not, this is still another well-rounded episode. Aside from the uncharacteristic conclusion, the installment is a comedic triumph that greatly expands our understanding of the characters. In “Full Leather Jacket,” we’re privy to the mundanities of everyday existence, thus enhancing the show’s relatability. Nevertheless, the explosive ending is a harsh reminder that we’re just outsiders to their world.
- The only comparable cliffhanger in The Sopranos’ run is at the end of the season six premiere, “Join the Club,” in which Tony is fatally shot by Uncle Junior. However, Tony’s “almost death” isn’t so much ambiguous as it is a thrilling announcement of finality, thus making it much more impactful.
- Early in the episode, Matt and Sean help Chris break into safes and soon begin to question their future in organized crime. Several lines of dialogue (“We gotta do something to get ahead in this world”) subtly foreshadow the violent action at the end of the episode.
- Matt and Sean meet Richie toward the beginning of the episode, and they all bond over their shared hatred for Chris. The dimwitted pair severely misinterpret Richie’s parting line: “If there’s ever anything you can do for me, let me know.”
- Richie is forced by Tony, Paulie and Silvio to make amends with Beansy by adding wheelchair-accessible features to his house. Richie’s response: “I’ll build a ramp up to your ass.”
- Richie gifts Tony his prized leather jacket (he took it from Rocco DiMeo many years ago, formerly the toughest sonofabitch in Essex County) to Tony as a gesture of goodwill. Later in the episode, Richie is furious when sees the Soprano’s housemaid’s husband wearing the jacket, implying that Tony gave it away the first chance he got. I don’t blame Tony; it’s a pretty ugly jacket. In this way, the storyline isn’t too dissimilar from Jerry Seinfeld giving away Bania’s suit in Seinfeld‘s classic “The Soup.”
- Carmela will do anything to keep Meadow from going to Berkeley, including hiding an acceptance letter in the garbage can and trying to intimidate Jean Cusamano’s sister into writing a letter of recommendation to Georgetown. She makes her an offer that she can’t refuse: a ricotta pie delivered straight to the admissions office. In the end, it works out in her favor.
- “Full Leather Jacket” was written by Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess and directed by Allen Coulter.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “Nobel Prize for what? Packing fudge?”
- “Did you ever notice he’s the only motherfucker who can smoke a cigarette in the rain with his hands tied behind his back? That nose is like a natural canopy.”
- “I gave my daughter a car to rub her face in shit, and you’re telling me I did something noble?”