Directed by Jack Bender | Written by Terence Winter | 59 min
I am all that I need
By Colin Hart
9.1 / 10
Season three weaves a tapestry with each episode. “Another Toothpick” isn’t where the season “picks up” in terms of action, but I do believe it starts an increased uptick in quality. The writing hits a new level, and all main themes—aging, changing, toxicity, sociopathy, ambiguity, cynicism—are seamlessly integrated into every episode, giving us the complete Sopranos experience.
It also helps that “Another Toothpick” is written by Terence Winter, who specializes in these la vie quotidienne installments. Où la la.
It’s quite a somber hour—the title phrase is used by Janice to refer to someone diagnosed with cancer. Of course, she remembers it as something mother Livia used to say (Tony and Janice can chuckle at this “fond” memory). Uncle Junior’s not a fan. He acts quite moody all episode, and this is brought about by the presence of Bobby Baccala Sr., a soldier from the Golden Age who is now dying of cancer, coaxed out of retirement by Tony.
Old Man Baccala (father of Bobby Baccalieri) coughs up blood with every sentence, another toothpick with one foot in the grave. After Tony sees him for the first time in years (at a funeral, of all places), the old man shows he still can have a purpose—to kill some lowlife scum (his godson) who had brutally beaten a Soprano-family associate (Vito Spatafore’s nephew) in public.
The plight of Old Man Baccala earns our empathy, but it is Uncle Junior who deserves our sympathy. After successfully completing the hit, Baccala has a coughing fit while driving. He gets into an accident. Uncle Junior is desperate to know the true cause of death—was it the car crash or was it the cancer?
This is because, as fate would have it, Uncle Junior has been diagnosed with stomach cancer himself. The elder generation dying off has always been one of The Sopranos’ chief interests (it reflects how Tony has felt since the “Pilot”), and now Uncle Junior is joining the ranks. The Sopranos is aware that death usually comes slow, but the news still hits hard.
Is Tony Soprano a good man? That’s another issue the show has returned to time and time again. His joint therapy session with Carmela shows a crumbling marriage fraught with tension, while his casual racism has alienated his daughter. He is trying to make good by Bobby Sr., but that too causes friction.
Tony’s internal crises are magnified in his encounters with a no-nonsense cop. After receiving a speeding ticket (and finding intimidation won’t work), Tony gets his political connection (Assemblyman Zellman) to strike it from the record books. As a result, the officer gets demoted—Tony chances upon him at a hardware store, no longer eligible for overtime.
It’s a clear example of Tony’s toxic influence—the man was only doing his job and now look at him (“Leo, take your break at two“). It’s also a clear example that Dr. Melfi made the right decision at the end of last episode. Who knows what would have happened had she come into closer orbit with Tony’s business, but it could not have been any good.
Tony initially feels bad— “Hey, just so you know, I didn’t ask [Zellman] to do that.” It’s pathetic, but it’s genuine, coming from Tony. He recognizes what he did was wrong and unfair. Later on, though, his heart hardens and he stops trying to get Officer Leo his job back— “Prick got what he deserved, right?”
Tony is left standing in solitude at episode’s end, pondering the question for himself. The answer seems to be that, no, Tony is not a good man.
There is plenty going on in this episode but nothing is hard to keep track of — it is superbly rich. That’s Terence Winter’s gift. He can craft endless variations on The Sopranos’ core themes without ever becoming repetitive.
“Another Toothpick” is a perfect distillation of the season three experience — powerfully humanistic, but notably somber. Jack Bender (of Lost fame) directs, and he makes frequent use of light and dark contrast. The daytime conversations often take place in natural light, which gives off a stark and dim atmosphere. The sepulchral settings help too — Junior’s own house is somewhat turning into a tomb.
This is The Sopranos doing what no other TV show can do better — packing all the complexities and disenchantments of daily life into an episode of television as slight as it is compelling.
-An amusing subplot is Artie Bucco’s heartbreak over Adriana La Cerva, who puts in her two-week notice as hostess at Vesuvio’s. The ever-creepy Artie has grown infatuated with Ade, and takes his anger out on Chris in a drunken tirade. Chris responds by nearly poking his eye out with a fork. Tony intervenes, laughs at Artie’s explanation and offers him a business partnership. After wife Charmaine rejects going into business with a mobster, their marriage seems to be on the outs. It’s a tough week for our least favorite chef.
-One of David Chase’s favorite meta-theses is the role of television viewer as hapless bystander. Note the onlookers during Old Man Baccala’s fatal car crash and Artie and Charmaine’s public divorce.
-During Artie and Adriana’s dinner scene, Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is heard in the background. Miles Davis covered the song to open his 1960 masterpiece, Sketches of Spain, but that is not the version heard here.
-Hilarious moment: Meadow inadvertently stops the FBI’s plan by taking the bugged lamp back to her college dorm.
“Maybe because you stick your dick into anything with a pulse—ever think of that for a ‘root cause?’”
“I’m going to check out the hearse.”
“Will you shut the fuck up with the toilets? All this goddamn morbidity!”
“Arthur, she’s a young girl. You could have hair like Casey Kasem, it wouldn’t make a difference.”