The Knight in White Satin Armor: “Breathe Deep the Gathering Gloom”
By Colin Hart
9.5 / 10
Who would have thought that the gun Richie Aprile puts to Janice’s head during sex (“It’s fetishistic, that’s all,” says Janice the “feminist”) would turn out to be a Chekhov’s gun? (“Usually he takes the clip out,” she explains to Carmela early on). It finally goes off in “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” making for the most shocking moment in The Sopranos’ entire run.
Richie spends the episode unsuccessfully trying to arrange a coup against Tony Soprano. Given how a similar coup fared at the end of last season, it’s reasonable to assume that Richie won’t be around much longer. However, the fact that his fiancée, Janice, is the one who pulls the trigger is a twist that no one could’ve seen coming.
It’s the only curveball that The Sopranos will ever throw, and it’s handled with deft grace and stunned awe. Sure, the shock factor is a key contributor, a big “moment” in the series that makes the entire episode memorable, but the real reason it resonates is because the moment is not about Richie — it’s all about Janice.
Introducing Janice into the main fold seemed like it could have been a bad idea at first. Her entire modus operandi is to be extremely self-centered and annoying. But her actions in this episode unlock her true nature — she’s a Soprano through and through.
Janice was established at the beginning of the season as a so-called free spirit who had been living in Seattle, finally returning home to reconnect with her family. In actuality, she had come back to claim her mother’s old house.
Little by little, her Soprano genes began to reveal themselves — hypocrisy, jealousy, narcissism and sociopathy were soon on full display. She even got hooked right back into the family lifestyle when she reignited the flame with Richie Aprile. Before long, she was subtly pushing him to make a move against Tony, just like Livia to Uncle Junior in season one.
Toward the end of “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” the couple get into their first major argument. Richie hits Janice across the face, and Janice then takes a brief moment to think about where this life may lead her. She returns with the gun.
“Usually he takes the clip out.” If Richie’s willing to take that gamble during sex, then Janice is willing to call that bet when a life of domestic abuse is staring her in the face. The gun was loaded, and Richie is just as shocked as we are.
He’s dead now.
Allen Coulter directs the episode, and he brings a little impression de cinéma, if you know what I mean. It’s on full display in the episode’s opening scene — a surreal argument between Tony and Janice, with Little Ricky Aprile (Richie’s homosexual son) and his dance partner waltzing in and out of the frame. The romantic classical music goes from non-diegetic to diegetic and maybe back again, providing an uncanny dissonance as it plays to the beats of Tony and Janice’s quarrel.
Coulter shines bravado yet again during Janice and Richie’s engagement party. The camera snakes its way through the festivities to capture all that is going on between the characters — Carmela mad at her husband, Big Pussy wearing a wire, Tony and Richie focused on each other, Janice ignorant of everything.
“The Knight in White Satin Armor” isn’t only significant because of its shocking death scene; every storyline is expertly composed. The various “nothing happens” subplots finally come to a head, thus making it one of the richest episodes of the season.
Big Pussy finds himself trying to turn his life around, only to be painstakingly reminded by his FBI handler, Skip Lipari, that he is doomed no matter what. For Big Pussy, this is one of his most empathetic storylines, and it ends with him in utter despair. Essentially his fate is sealed, and there’s only one episode left to go.
Carmela’s seasonal arc also reaches a climax when she confronts Tony about his Russian girlfriend, Irina. Depressed by the state of her marriage, she finds herself in tears at the apparent happiness of the newly-engaged Janice and Richie. Meanwhile, Irina becomes severely depressed after her breakup with Tony, and tries to commit suicide. It puts Carmela in the awkward position “where I feel sorry for a whore that fucks you.”
At episode’s end, she is heartened to learn that Janice has gone back to Seattle and her marriage with Richie has been called off. She has an idea of the truth, of course, but it doesn’t stop her from immediately using that knowledge to guilt Tony into buying her an expensive trip to Rome (“because if you don’t, I just might kill myself”).
Even though Tony’s greatest adversary is now gone, he still ends the episode in defeat.
I’ve often declared season two of The Sopranos to be a “nothing happens” season. That’s not an insult; as the previous episode showed, the dog days of the Mafia are often the most fun. However, the final two episodes culminate in an explosive climax, and “The Knight in White Satin Armor” is only the start.
As a matter of fact, it seems like a turning point for the series. When Tony voiced his concern that “the best is over” back in the pilot, he was right. But he’s been too agitated by petty concerns — trivial squabbles with Livia, Uncle Junior, Janice and Richie — to cherish the little things.
“The Knight in White Satin Armor” marks the end of the carefree days, in which the main concerns are executive poker games and sporting goods bust-outs. Now begins the dark days, full of doom and darkness and bloodshed, a slow funeral march toward the series finale.
To quote Henry Hill, reminiscing about the mob’s golden age at the end of Goodfellas: “And now it’s all over.”
- As Tony is leaving Janice’s house in the early morning after an all-night clean-up, he accidentally confronts Livia. It’s the first time they’ve spoken to each other since season one, and her manipulative powers are once again out in full force. Nevertheless, they seem to share a brief moment of reconciliation (“I suppose now you’re not going to kiss me …”), but the spell is broken when she laughs as Tony trips walking down the porch steps.
- Throughout the season, Richie has relied on Uncle Junior as a sort of confidante. He finally comes to Junior with plans to have Tony clipped. Junior mulls over Richie’s proposal (“He couldn’t fucking sell it”) and quickly comes to the conclusion that he is much better off with his nephew alive. Bobby Baccala is left dumbfounded: “I’m in awe of you.”
- Junior informs Tony of Richie’s plans, and so Tony moves forward with plans to whack Richie first. Of course, Janice ends up being his titular “knight in white satin armor,” a deus ex machina that no one saw coming.
- Irina coins the phrase that gives the episode its name — combining “knight in shining armor” with The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.”
- Tony breaks up with Irina for good and has Silvio Dante give her an envelope full of cash to help get her back on her feet. Her cousin, Svetlana, also makes a memorable appearance.
- Even though there is a lot of action, that doesn’t mean “The Knight in White Satin Armor” any less funny than the other season two episodes. Once again, The Sopranos comes through with great comedic timing and plenty of dark humor.
- Tony’s farewell scene to Janice before she boards her bus is another great moment. There’s so much shared history between the two, and deep down they truly love each other, despite their intense sibling rivalry.
- “The Knight in White Satin Armor” was written by Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, and directed by Allen Coulter.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “He’s got tremendous moxie for his size.”
- “Running all over looking for his kid’s science teacher’s car. What the fuck was that? Any faith I had went out the window that very day.”
- “You are putting me in a situation where I feel sorry for a whore that fucks you?”
- “He wouldn’t miss an opportunity to fucking foxtrot and tango in front of everybody.”