“From Where to Eternity”
Directed by Henry J. Bronchtein | Written by Michael Imperioli | 55 min
Magical Realism in The Sopranos
By Colin Hart
8.9 / 10
In “From Where to Eternity,” there is definitely some spooky shit going down. Everything is handled with David Chase’s typical flair for shrugged-off cynicism, so don’t expect to actually be frightened, but a few ambiguous, supernatural happenings resonate strongly throughout the hour.
The episode opens to the sound of Otis Redding’s “My Lover’s Prayer” (it will be heard twice more), as a tearful Adriana sits beside a comatose Christopher. Tony, Carmela, Paulie and the rest are constantly in and out of the hospital, the late-night phone calls and uneasy shoulder-pats-on-the-back relaying all the stress and worry that comes with such a situation.
If anything, though, deep down, these characters could ultimately shrug it off. Christopher dying, I mean. Adriana, of course, would be devastated, but Tony, Carm, Big Pussy and Paulie would be able to easily move on.
Throughout the episode, they are concerned with only themselves—Tony with revenge, Carmela with unbridled jealousy, Big Pussy with getting back in his boss’ good graces and Paulie with paranoid superstitions.
Carmela, after hearing that another mobster’s comare accidentally got pregnant, orders Tony to get a vasectomy. Tony, of course, prefers his testicles intact and vehemently opposes such an indictment. He lies about his current affairs to save his scrotum— “I broke it off months ago!” (Tony remains ignorant throughout, continuously lying to Carmela and openly insulting AJ to his face)
But when push comes to shove—when Chris’ heart stops in the middle of the night and the doctors swarm his bed—Carmela thinks of the bigger picture. She goes into an empty room and prays to God that Chris be spared so that he can find salvation.
Her prayers are answered (depending on where you stand) as Chris wakes up the next day. Chris had been clinically dead for over a minute, and he did “see the light” in a way.
It’s a shame we don’t get to see Chris’ trip to Hell. It would have made for one of The Sopranos’ greatest moments of surrealism. Instead, we are left with one of The Sopranos’ greatest examples of mysticism.
Chris specifically requests to speak with Tony and Paulie when he wakes up, and imparts to them all he saw—Chris visited Hell, and was told that’ll be where he ends up when the time comes, forever in eternity with the likes of Brendan Filone and Mikey Palmice.
One other piece of ambiguous info that Chris imparts—Mikey Palmice left a message for Tony and Paulie. “3 o’clock.”
“3 o’clock” — whether you put faith in Chris’ visions or not — is ultimately a MacGuffin that sets Paulie off on a superstitious existential crisis. Paulie spends the episode worried about what the time might mean. He eventually goes to see a psychic.
The Sopranos—like The Leftovers after it—provides no concrete answers, but supplies credence to several explanations. It is a proponent of realism at its core.
Christopher’s “visions” of the afterlife can be shrugged off as morphine delusions, just as Carmela’s heartfelt prayer could be mere coincidence. This is the outlook Tony chooses. In a revealing therapy session with Dr. Melfi, an angry and conflicted (and scared) Tony confesses his belief that “soldiers” like Chris and him don’t deserve a place in Hell. For them, murder is part of the job, a pact made between God and the Devil.
It isn’t until Paulie’s superstitions take him to a psychic that magic, or magical realism, comes into play. The medium is able to speak with several vengeful spirits. What at first seems to be typical hoax turns into curious anomaly when he starts revealing facts from Paulie’s past that only vengeful spirits would know. He recognizes Mikey Palmice, who chidingly asks if Paulie’s poison ivy still itches.
“From Where to Eternity” is a very meditative episode of The Sopranos. Issues of faith combine with mysticism, and the whole thing culminates in a euphoric expression of life — Tony and Carmela making love rather than fucking. All is forgiven.
Otis Redding closes out the episode with a third reprise of “My Lover’s Prayer,” though whether it has anything to do with the ambiguous 3:00 is uncertain.
— Of course, I forgot to mention the fantastic sub-plot that features Tony and Big Pussy searching for and eventually killing Matt Bevilacqua. It features great interactions between two friends who are rapidly drifting further and further apart.
— Now that Matt Bevilacqua is dead, who takes the Douchebag Crown? For now, it resides with mad dog Richie Aprile.
— “3 o’clock”—just like the Russian in the woods—will forever remain a misdirect. It provides no clues to the series finale, nor does it guide the characters’ actions beyond this episode.
— A later Paulie-centric episode, season six’s “The Ride,” does feature a little bit of 3:00 imagery, though.
— Continuing the Legendary Season of Chris, this fine episode is the first written by actor Michael Imperioli.
“Do you have any idea what a bastard child would do to this family?”
“Hey, I had her tested for AIDS. What do you think I am?”
“He had on a gangster suit. Pinstripe. Old-fashioned style.”
“We’re soldiers. Soldiers don’t go to Hell. Soldiers kill other soldiers.”
“I’m supposed to get a vasectomy when this is my male heir? Look at him.”