“Fortunate Son” Review
“It Ain’t Me…”
Some people are born with a silver spoon. The Sopranos cynically exposes their hypocrisies. “Fortunate Son” is an episode not about sons, per se, but about fathers and mothers and step-fathers and daughters and children and parents of all kinds — biological, metaphorical, surrogate. Not a single fortunate one in the bunch. Just a collection of cross-tie walkers.
The clearest example of a not-so-fortunate son is Christopher Moltisanti. He begins the episode in bright spirits, finally becoming a made man. However, it’s never a good omen to see an ominous raven perched outside the window when you’re taking the oath of Omerta. It has all the makings of a bad moon rising.
The ceremony is far and away the episode’s most memorable sequence, and not only because of that ambiguous bad-luck bird. The whole vibe is indebted to classic gangster films, dating all the way back to The Public Enemy. The atmosphere perfectly conveys the ritualism of a secret rite of passage — I almost felt intrusive just by watching.
Chris spends his first few weeks as an “untouchable” getting burned. As a bookie he’s unable to keep up with the college football gambling lines, and as a made man he’s unable to keep up with his new responsibilities. On top of everything else, he’s receiving a classic case of rookie hazing from Paulie Gualtieri.
Paulie has always been somewhat of a father figure to Chris. But perhaps a better descriptor of their relationship is that he’s always treated Chris somewhat like a son. Either way, he expects Chris to pay his money on time and gets angry when he doesn’t. Animosity between the two starts to build.
Of course, Chris has been a foolhardy failure since day one, constantly struggling to live up to the expectations of the father figures that surround him. “It was that fucking raven,” he complains to his girlfriend Adriana. He’s getting hammered by the books (meaningless field goals making a mockery of his machismo) and falls further into addiction to offset his humiliation. Desperate like a junkie, he robs a benefit concert at Rutgers.
A small-time stick-up should be beneath a newly-christened “made man” like Christopher, but the one who tips him off about the job is another unfortunate son by the name of Jackie Aprile, Jr.
You might remember Jackie Jr. from season two, a young punk trying to get into the family business (R.I.P. Uncle Richie). Yet the move to main cast hasn’t made him any more sympathetic — he’s now the biggest douchebag on the series.
Last episode, Tony struggled coming to terms with his mother’s death because maybe he “hadn’t been a good son.” In Tony’s defense, he tried the best he could; his mother just happened to be extremely unloving and nihilistic. Jackie Jr., on the other hand, is definitely not a good son. He drops out of med school (against his dead father’s wishes) and repeatedly acts arrogant toward his still-grieving mother. Not to mention the fact that he one day hopes to take the oath of Omerta himself.
At this point in the season, the focus isn’t so much on Jackie Jr. as it is the parental figures around him. Rosalie Aprile can’t bear to see her son act this way. Her new boyfriend, capo Ralph Cifaretto, isn’t showing much concern (Ralphie is a “Douchebag of the Year” contender himself). And Tony — who looks after Jackie Jr. the same way Paulie looks after Christopher — is trying, unsuccessfully, to set Jackie Jr. down the right path.
But as The Sopranos has shown time and time again, people never change.
At home, Tony alienates his daughter due to his intolerance. At therapy, he and Dr. Melfi are getting down to root causes for his panic attacks. It results in another flashback to his early childhood, and even though the sepia-toned mise-en-scène is practically stolen from The Godfather, it doesn’t take away from the scene’s overall elegance.
Dr. Melfi deduces that Tony’s recent panic attack was brought about by eating gabagool as opposed to a combination of deeply-entrenched racism and Uncle Ben’s rice. She recalls that Tony’s initial attack back in the pilot occurred while he was grilling sausages and steaks.
This newfound revelation has a Proustian effect, triggering a repressed memory of when a 10-year-old Tony witnessed his father slicing off the butcher’s fingers. However, it’s not the violent memory that is the root cause of all his anxiety; rather, it’s the fact that his mother was turned on by the free meat. The young Tony passes out and cracks his head on the dinner table after watching Livia’s sick display of sexuality.
The episode reveals that Tony’s been an unfortunate son his whole life. It just took the death of his mother and three years of psychotherapy to finally realize the cause of it.
However, the most unfortunate son of all is AJ Soprano. Of course, he’s ultra-privileged in the fact that he never needs to worry about money or material goods, but he’s constantly neglected by both parents. How many times throughout this episode is AJ asked to leave the room so others can talk in private?
Sure, AJ’s an annoying moody teen, but that shouldn’t be enough to make him pass out during freshman football practice. As Tony learned in a previous episode, the Soprano anxiety attacks are more genetic than previously thought.
Like father, like son. Chris, too, ends the episode ignoring the incessant ringing of his telephone, instead curling back into bed and hiding underneath the covers. Mentally speaking, it’s not a good installment for any member of The Sopranos. But it is a good episode, critically speaking. And as a critic speaking, I’ll have you know that “Fortunate Son” is completely worthwhile despite a few superfluous storylines.
- Superfluous storyline (but a funny one, so it gets a pass): Janice steals Svetlana’s prosthetic leg. Svetlana (Irina’s cousin) was Livia’s caretaker during her dying days, and so Livia bequeathed unto her a large collection of old vinyl records. Janice selfishly wants them back so she can sell them on eBay. Because Svetlana won’t budge, Janice steals and hides her prosthetic leg when she sleeps.
- I take back what I said — Noah Tannenbaum is actually the biggest douchebag on the show. He’s the most pretentious character of all time and shows nothing but disrespect (under the guise of self-righteousness) to everyone he comes in contact with. Sure, Tony was a racist asshole to him last episode, but Noah is the absolute worst.
- Meadow, too, has also become one of the most annoying and insufferable characters.
- When AJ recovers a fumble during his freshman football game, the camera shows Tony and the rest of the crowd cheering in deep-voice slow-motion. It’s a questionable directorial choice, for sure. Is it because AJ has a concussion? If so, The Sopranos was far ahead of its time when it came to CTE.
- Tony talks business with Carmine Lupertazzi, who is the head of the New York crime family. Carmine is supportive of Tony’s therapy, which is such a contrast when you consider that the entirety of season one was based upon Tony being ashamed of his therapy and nearly starting a civil war because of it. Another anticlimax in a series full of anticlimaxes.
- Good use of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” at the pizzeria. Later on, we hear “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” by Van Halen. This pizza parlor is awesome (aside from the fact that you might get punched by Jackie Jr. for no reason)!
- When Tony meets with Svetlana to deal with the stolen leg incident, Irina is also there. She clearly has not yet gotten over her break-up with Tony despite the fact that she claims she is getting married soon. Tony compulsively raids the fridge for cold cuts as the anxiety of the situation begins to set in.
- Perhaps the “staircase ghost” in “Proshai, Livushka” is Tony’s father. After seeing Johnny Boy Soprano in flashback, that mysterious shadowy figure could pass for a much older version of him. Also notable that a flashback to Johnny Boy and Livia occurs right after the episode Livia died.
- The flashback scene is fantastic. Similar to “Down Neck,” it’s always a treat to see the circumstances that shaped Tony into the man he is today. Joseph Siravo’s portrayal of Johnny Boy is a lot more realistic (i.e., less stereotypical) than the last time we saw him. Instead of the nostalgic atmosphere of the “Down Neck” flashbacks, the sequence in “Fortunate Son” is much more glum.
- The great flashback is also a reminder of how badly The Many Saints of Newark butchered its storyline. Why didn’t series creator David Chase just adhere closely to the readymade style that was already in place? I saw that movie. I thought it was bullshit.
- “Fortunate Son” was written by Todd A. Kessler and directed by Henry J. Bronchtein.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “You look good. Shoot your cuffs.”
- “There’s no stigmata these days.”
- “Don’t disrespect the pizza parlor.”
- “He’s the hair apparent.”
- “You’re only as smart as this week’s spreads.”