“…To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” Review
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
Have you ever wondered what’s going through Tony’s head during his opening-credits commute? When he finally arrives home, he slams the door to his Chevy Suburban and turns to the camera with an exasperated glare, right after having given us a long roundabout tour of New Jersey’s deteriorating infrastructure. He’s been watching the idealized past crumble all around him, and he’s pissed off.
It’s amazing that The Sopranos series creator David Chase has woven one of the show’s central societal themes into the credit sequence — turn of the century America entering uncertain postmodern times.
Tony idealizes the notion of the past but any remembrance only gets him more depressed. He begins “…To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” standing at a familiar landmark: the Asbury Park Boardwalk, looking out at the ocean and reminiscing of Big Pussy Bonpensiero. Throughout the episode, flashbacks to 1995 further dampen Tony’s mood.
Season three has taken on a much darker tone in comparison to the easygoing nature of season two. The shadows of Livia’s death, Melfi’s rape and Tracee’s brutal assault haunt every scene, and the visual palette is noticeably dark and gloomy. And while those three tragedies have formed a distinctly dreary atmosphere, the stage for season three was set with “Funhouse,” the season two finale. It’s easy to forget that the funniest overall season of The Sopranos ends with a severe calamity. Big Pussy’s execution was a turning point for the entire series.
As we saw in “Proshai, Livushka,” Tony is the type of person to hold his emotions inside and let them wallow. He didn’t cry over his mother’s passing until well after the funeral. Likewise, he has yet to truly reciprocate his feelings over Tracee’s death toward Ralph Cifaretto. But neither are as psychologically damaging as murdering a lifelong friend, and the introspective “To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” is the first time Tony truly gets to reflect.
Therapy is no help to him, the episode marking the first time in a while that he actually storms out of Dr. Melfi’s office. Talking it out with the likes of Paulie Gualtieri and Silvio Dante proves no better, with Paulie taking a particularly hostile approach (“I’d kill him again if I could” and “In the end, fuck Santa Claus”). No, the best thing for Tony to do — because it’s all he knows — is to sulk in self-pity. Another minor panic attack strikes him.
The flashbacks to the not-so-distant past aren’t saturated in Goodfellas and Bronx Tale nostalgia (as they were in “Down Neck” and “Fortunate Son”). Instead, the scenes pair well with the overcast atmosphere felt throughout the episode. The only things that differentiate past from present are the appearances of deceased characters like Big Pussy, Gigi Cestone, Jimmy Altieri and Jackie Aprile Sr. and the fact that Tony has a fuller head of hair.
Even though the flashbacks take place five years prior, it’s surreal to see how much has changed in such a short period of time. Jackie Sr. died of cancer early in season one, Jimmy and Big Pussy were both rats who were killed by their own crew, and Gigi died of a heart attack just a few episodes ago. The past continues to crumble at every corner.
“To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” takes place during Christmastime, and so Tony’s attention turns toward his X-Mas to-do list. But it does little to free his mind of stress. Arguments and altercations with Charmaine Bucco, Jackie Jr. and hostile Russians ensure that there is never a moment of peace for the embattled mob boss. Even Christmas morning brings new headaches, as Jackie Jr. shows up to gift Meadow a necklace (Tony had previously beaten him up after he caught him receiving a lap dance at a strip club). And Meadow’s gift, a Big Mouth Billy Bass singing “Take Me to the River,” gives Tony another uneasy flashback, the episode closing with a shot of the ominous ocean.
The previous two episodes, “He is Risen” and “The Telltale Moozadell,” featured a slight dip in quality. “To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” gets us back in the swing of things and also gives the Gloria Trillo subplot a much-needed break (she apparently went on vacation to Morocco for the holidays). The Christmas setting provides a unique sense of time and place, yet the overall atmosphere is far from cheery.
Aside from Silvio’s entertaining dream sequence, the episode is told almost entirely through Tony’s point of view. Even though the installment is only 45-minutes long, it still feels full-length because of the reliance on Tony’s singular perspective. Without Gloria and Ralph to cause any distractions, Tony is free to muddle in his day-to-day gloominess. Soon enough, his signals get crossed, and unwrapping a talking plastic fish on Christmas morning becomes a daunting proposition.
Every passing episode of The Sopranos seems to fall deeper into depression, which is why Tony’s opening credits commute seems more relatable every time. At the same time, however, the series keeps getting better and better. There could be a direct correlation.
- We get our first glimpse of the mystical Russian, Valery, who will play an important role next episode. Dude is massive (and possibly immortal).
- Bobby Baccala is forced to dress up as Santa Claus for the neighborhood kids as part of the mob’s annual tradition. A youngster, irked by Bobby’s glum attitude, screams “Fuck you, Santa!”
- The Christmas soundtrack is utilized perfectly throughout the episode, which brings an almost-ironic quality to the non-Christmas mood portrayed onscreen. Surprising to say this, but the best selection was by Alvin and the Chipmunks. “Christmas Don’t Be Late” never sounded so good.
- However, the most effective music selection is played over the end credits: “I’ve Got a Feeling” by The Campbell Brothers. The pedal-steel saturated gospel tune delivers a final moment of irony in an episode full of them.
- Jackie Jr. gifts Meadow an expensive piece of jewelry, an apology for receiving a lap dance at a strip club. However, Tony is the only one (for now) who knows of Jackie’s infidelities. Likewise, Tony gifts Carmela an expensive bracelet, an apology for starting a new affair. Once again, the mobsters use money to conceal their wrongdoings.
- It’s never confirmed whether or not Big Pussy was an informant back in 1995. He asks about incriminating business and won’t let anyone touch his Santa outfit, suggesting he could be wearing a wire. If he indeed flipped in ‘95, then he was already giving information to the FBI when the series began. This gives all the early episodes new context, although Big Pussy never really exhibited shady behavior until “Nobody Knows Anything.” Surely he would’ve told about Chris’ murder of Emil Kolar?
- “… To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” was written by Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess and directed by Jack Bender.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “I always wanted a house by the ocean. Maybe in another life.”
- “The Grinch. That’s where the money is. Couple hundred mill, put Jim Carrey in the motherfucker.”
- “In the end, fuck Santa Claus.”