Directed by Allen Coulter | Teleplay by Terence Winter & Salvatore J. Stabile | Story by David Chase, Terence Winter, Todd A. Kessler, Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess | 49 min
“No apologies/For the misogyny“
By Colin Hart
9.4 / 10
What is the best way to condemn violence? By glorifying it? Art for art’s sake is always a sticky issue. Quentin Tarantino has made an entire career toeing this line. Violence for violence sake?
I propose the theory that TV itself is postmodern in nature. A TV show, then, should conform to this aesthetic to reach its full potential. The Sopranos is built like a Guggenheim Bilbao, with irony as one of its main pillars. In postmodernism, irony and violence mix well.
“University” is the most violent and cruel episode in The Soprano catalogue, but it is handled with care and sorrow. Writing credit is split among the show’s prime architects — this is a cornerstone episode.
Irony only works as a double-edged sword for so long. The Sopranos’ gritty violence perfectly complements what is really a morality play at heart. However, it is hard to argue that the gratuitous Bada Bing boobage is nothing more than lowbrow eye candy. But “University” is an episode that will forever justify all future Soprano skin — this one’s for the strippers.
The one-off central storyline concerns an abused stripper named Tracee, who is stuck in a volatile relationship with Ralph Cifaretto. Several times throughout the episode, she reaches out to Tony for help. Tony, in no position to take on a new stripper friend, politely declines her requests. It isn’t too long before Ralphie gets carried away and kills her.
“University” succeeds in making us care for a one-time character, but it accomplishes its best work when it gets our signals crossed. “University” plays two stories off each other — the tragedy of Bing girl Tracee next to Meadow’s relationship struggles with Noah Tannenbaum. Through use of precise match cuts, we begin to associate one story with the other and vice versa. The important thing to note is that the episode’s two main girls are both around the same age.
While Meadow is just figuring out that guys are assholes, Tracee has known this her entire life. She’s pregnant with Ralphie’s baby, but he is nothing more than a drugged-out sadist, as unfit a father as ever there was. His antics are cartoonish (re-enacting Gladiator at the expense of Georgie the bartender’s eye) and his vulgarities reprehensible (forcing Tracee to engage in backroom threesomes) — he is the show’s most deplorable villain yet.
The behavior Tracee is subjected to is absolutely sickening, not just from Ralphie, but also from club owner Silvio. It is hard to watch, but it reminds us that this unfortunate lifestyle really exists, shared by far too many women. It is inevitable that Tracee meets her doom, though even she should have been spared such a cruel and painful exit.
Season three of The Sopranos is as pro-feministic as the show will ever get, but don’t expect Mad Men. Must the gals be raped or murdered for their plight to be recognized?
Questions of misogyny aside, “University” is an all-around fantastic episode. The very fact that Meadow breaking up with her boyfriend is just as interesting as the whore-with-the-heart-of-gold is quite a feat. Usually the Soprano kids play second fiddle, but now that Tony and Carmela are sharing joint therapy sessions, these familial connections have only grown stronger.
Yet it is Tracee for whom this episode is remembered. Her death may not be alluded to much in the future, but the memory — just like Dr. Melfi’s rape — is what lives on. These traumatic events (along with Livia’s death) hang over season three, which has been a most dark and depressing trudge — a perfect counterpoint to season two’s lighter shades of comedy.
So, where do we stand going forward? From a plot standpoint, Tony could be in deep trouble after laying hands on Ralphie, a made man. This new development takes all precedent — losing Tracee was ultimately nothing more than a business expense. Ralphie is a loose cannon more dangerous than Richie Aprile, yet he can’t be disposed of as easily.
From an emotional standpoint, there is no going back. We have become entangled in the lives of these terrible people and, just like the strippers, we know it’ll end in tears. But it’s always good to carry a bit of that postmodern irony to lighten the mood.
-Tracee and Meadow are inextricably linked, and not just from tricks of the camera. Tony views the dead stripper somewhat as a daughter figure now, and this will pay dividends in season four.
-Meadow’s boyfriend Noah breaks up with her and I’m glad we are finally ending this chapter of the show. He is one of my least favorite characters, such a pretentious twat. Her depressive roommate Caitlin certainly had a hand in tearing them apart.
-Caitlin provides a few moments of levity, her hysteria not really making much sense.
-Not much of a sequel to “College” so much as the name would suggest, “University” does stand out as one of Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s best acting performances on the show.
“If you wanna work the VIP, it’s 50 bucks to me plus a blowjob later on.”
“Oh, look at that. It’s like an ad for a fucking weight loss center—before, and way before. Here what I said, Ton?”
“I have come to reclaim Rome for my people!”
“Believe me, with Ralphie as the father, you’d be doing this kid and the next few generations a favor.”
“This Moltisanti kid, he’s got his head up his ass. This is a great gladiator movie? Look at Kirk Douglas’ fucking hair. They didn’t have flattops in ancient Rome!”