By Colin Hart
9.3 / 10
At its core, season two of The Sopranos ultimately boils down to the season-long story arc of Tony Soprano vs. Richie Aprile. Upon rewatch, however, their conflict is not as visceral or tense as you might have remembered. In fact, it’s nipped in the bud before it can even escalate to a dangerous level.
Season two, then, is somewhat of a “nothing happens” season. And “House Arrest” is the most “nothing happens” episode of them all. It also happens to be one of my personal favorites.
Penned by Terence Winter, who specializes in humdrum conglomeration, “House Arrest” is inconsequential to the core. There’s even a special meta-awareness unto itself — “So, what else is new?” Tony asks the guys after having spent the entire episode away from mob-related activities. “Nothing,” Big Pussy replies.
After dodging last week’s legal bullet, Tony is advised by his lawyer to spend some time at his legitimate job at Barone Sanitation. “House Arrest” consists of such mundanities as Tony organizing an office basketball pool, Uncle Junior getting his hand stuck in a garbage disposal and the soon-to-be wed Janice and Richie moving into their new home.
Surprisingly, it’s one of the most artfully composed episodes of the entire season. “House Arrest” moves with a brisk pace, and the hour is over before you know it. An uneventful week is made compelling by sharp dialogue and good-natured humor.
For what it’s worth, season two is also The Sopranos’ funniest. Doubling down as the Nothing Happens season, it should come as no surprise that most of the installments are based in comedy. For example, actor Dominic Chianese delivers a hilarious, pathos-filled performance in one of Uncle Junior’s finest hours.
He spends the installment cooped up in his home, reconnecting with an old flame from yesteryear. The most heartwarming scene comes when she puts on his sleep apnea mask and kisses him on the forehead.
Meanwhile, Tony spends the hour in a pissed off mood, agitated with the boring lifestyle he’s forced to briefly adopt. “How ‘bout those Nets?” is a repeated conversation-starter throughout.
In therapy, Dr. Melfi tells Tony that “antisocial personalities,” when they “aren’t distracted from the horrible shit they do,” have time to reflect on their actions and the toxic influence they have on others. Tony, of course, has been doing nothing all episode, and Melfi’s sentiment symbolizes itself in the rash that Tony develops on his arm — an itch he can’t satisfy until he’s finally back with the fellas at Satriale’s pork shop.
Yet Melfi has her own issues going on as well (due to Tony’s impact, of course). For one, she’s been drinking more and more, casually downing a double-shot of vodka before every session with Mr. Soprano. She also gets into a drunken tiff at a restaurant, much to her son’s chagrin.
Usually, forays into Melfi’s world outside the office can make for some disenchantment on behalf of the viewer, but her storyline in “House Arrest” fits in perfectly with the episode’s easygoing vibe. Even her own therapy sessions with Dr. Kupferberg feel right at home.
The episode ends with a magnificent closing shot of the gang simply hanging out outside the pork store. Even Federal Agent Harris drops by to introduce his new partner and have a friendly chat. The Nets are once again the topic of discussion as Tim Van Patten’s camera cranes upward to Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”
Some of my favorite Sopranos moments are when the show spends casual time with the characters, just doing nothing. “House Arrest” makes it feel like you’re doing nothing with them. It’s like spending time with close friends.
These are the good days, the type that every mobster would trade violence and bloodshed to relive just once. When Tony told us to “remember the good times,” this is what he meant. Cherish the little things.
- The only storyline that moves the main plot forward is the growing tensions between Tony and Richie. He continues to sell coke along the garbage routes, and tries to further collude with Uncle Junior. Richie even triggers Tony into two panic attacks this episode. Even worse, now he knows he can do it.
- The well-curated, classic rock soundtrack fits right in with the theme of blue-collar mundanity. The opening garbage truck vignette rocks to The Pretenders’ “Space Invader,” while Tony passes out to Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” Other strong selections include Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and the aforementioned “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” the latter being one of the greatest punk rock songs of the ‘70s.
- Melfi’s drinking adds a darkly comic undertone if we consider that she might be drunk during all her therapy sessions with Tony. She begins one session by casually asking him “So, what’s up?”
- Melfi’s son Jason, last seen in “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti,” has grown into an even bigger smart-aleck asshole than he was before. For one, he’s now studying deconstructive theory at Bard, and even worse, he totally bails on his mother during her argument at the restaurant.
- “House Arrest” was written by Terence Winter, and directed by Tim Van Patten.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “That’s our policy, it’s written on our trucks. Double your garbage back if you’re not satisfied.”
- “Mother of fucking mercy! What’d you take a sledgehammer to my balls?”
- “I’m not a cat. I don’t shit in a box.”
- “It’s like that thing with watching a trainwreck. I’m afraid and repulsed by what he might tell me, but somehow I can’t stop myself from wanting to hear it.”