“The Strong, Silent Type” Review
“Whatever Happened to Gary Cooper?”
Despite last week’s explosive action, season four of The Sopranos has mainly dealt with the non-violent aspects of organized crime. From union scams to marital squabbles, David Chase’s mafia drama has leaned wholeheartedly into a minimalist aesthetic as the series has reached the halfway point.
Then again, perhaps we’ve just become desensitized. If you look carefully, the violence has actually become more realistic this season, yet it is less addictive due to the context. Instead of murdering Russians in the woods or stalking federal informants in Maine, we’ve been privy to race riots and domestic abuse.
Keeping with season four’s naturalistic subject matter, “The Strong, Silent Type” concerns itself with Christopher Moltisanti’s heroin addiction. He’s fallen far from his season two high-point and truly reaches rock bottom in this episode. In typical Sopranos fashion, however, great tragedy is offset by great comedy.
Chris begins the episode in a heroin stupor, mindlessly watching TV and absent-mindedly passing out on Adriana’s beloved dog. It only gets worse from there: he gets his car stolen while trying to score smack in a rundown neighborhood and later beats Adriana when she suggests he go to rehab.
Despite being a lovable underdog for much of the series’ early run, it’s hard to feel any sympathy toward Chris now. Nevertheless, his subsequent intervention is one of the funniest scenes in the entire series.
As expected, the confrontation quickly devolves into a comedy roast. Insults are hurled, lines are crossed and the whole thing ends with Chris getting his ass beat by Tony Soprano, Paulie Gualtieri and Silvio Dante (and ancillary associate Benny Fazio for some reason). By the end of the hour, Chris is forced to check into a rehab clinic in Pennsylvania, the last time we see him until the season finale.
Chris’ saga of drug addiction and domestic abuse is a real-world cautionary tale, but it’s almost a shame that such a tragic story is treated with such great levity. Once again, The Sopranos leans into its satirical nature by approaching the storyline as a condemnation of every character. Sure, Chris is an unrepentant junkie, but Silvio is a misogynistic woman-beater, Paulie is a dishonorable psychopath and Tony is a lustful sociopath who cares about animals more than people. Who are they to judge anyone else’s behavior?
Even though everyone on The Sopranos is a piece of shit, the ensemble is always fun and entertaining to watch. The characterization is so intricate that we are still able to support Chris (and everyone else) even after such an ugly ordeal.
Although the episode is best remembered for Chris’ intervention, “The Strong, Silent Type” explicitly refers to Tony, or at least the way he’s described himself since the pilot. Over the last four years, we’ve come to find that it’s one of his most hypocritical statements ever.
Tony is a walking contradiction, and all his perceived strengths are weaknesses — leadership breeds distrust, chivalry leads to adultery and charisma has quickly turned into arrogance. He now embodies all his worst traits.
It’s not a surprise that he starts a mob war with New York by defying Johnny Sack, or that he starts a civil war within his own crew for lying about Ralph’s death, or that he starts a domestic war with Carmela by sleeping with his uncle’s one-legged caretaker Svetlana (the latter being the episode’s most important development).
Because Svetlana is a strong-willed character with a worldview that is both admirable and pragmatic, this is actually the least “shallow” affair that Tony has ever indulged upon. Come to think of it, they make a perfect match. Nevertheless, director Alan Taylor keeps their faces drenched in shadow, reminding us of their immorality no matter how much sense it makes in the moment.
Another possible perfect match is Carmela’s unspoken connection with Furio, but because they never directly address their love for each other, we’ll never know their true compatibility (Tony would probably kill them both before something like that could ever happen). We can be certain, however, that Furio treats Carmela with much more respect than her own husband does (the episode begins with Tony disapproving of Carmela getting a shorter haircut).
The final scene shows a lonely and somber Furio fixing himself a handmade pasta dinner, backed to Italian jazz-fusion. Across town, an isolated yet indifferent Tony microwaves leftover noodles in silence. Furio drinks wine; Tony drinks milk. Yet in case we’ve forgotten, Furio is still as much a cold-blooded killer as Tony, despite one being much more of a “good guy” compared to the other. And Carmela is still complicit in all the violence around her. Once again, the hidden message is that everyone is a piece of shit.
By the end of the hour, we’ve completely forgotten about Chris’ intervention, showing that The Sopranos can seamlessly weave all its emotional beats into a single episode without feeling disjointed: comedy, tragedy, romance, family, philosophy and more all combined into a single tapestry that makes us laugh, squirm and ponder the nature of humanity. In short, “The Strong, Silent Type” is another example of why The Sopranos is the greatest TV of all time.
- Tony has been mirrored with Adriana in several episodes throughout this season. The latest similarity comes in the loss of a beloved animal: Tony grieving for Pie-O-My while Adriana laments Cosette.
- Tony doesn’t really take Chris’ drug addiction seriously until he learns that he was responsible for killing Adriana’s dog. “I should suffocate you!”
- Terrible timing: the painting that Tony commissioned two episodes ago finally arrives (a portrait of him standing next to Pie-O-My). He tearfully tells his crew to burn it. A humorous subplot involves Paulie secretly taking the painting for himself and having it repurposed so that Tony is dressed in Napoleonic garb. However, Tony’s ever-watchful eyes still haunt Paulie from behind the portrait.
- Tony asks Uncle Junior for advice on how to handle the Christopher situation, to which Uncle Junior responds he should be put down like a dog with rabies. It’s not the first time that he’s suggested something like this. He wanted Chris dead way back in season one and also was the one who ordered the hit on Chris’ father Dickie Moltisanti.
- At the beginning of the episode, Chris is shooting up and randomly watching an Our Gang short film before he accidentally kills Cosette. It’s another hilariously out-of-context moment and a great example of The Sopranos‘ morbid sense of humor.
- “The Strong, Silent Type” was written by series creator David Chase, Terence Winter, Mitchell Green and Robin Burgess and directed by Alan Taylor.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “She must’ve crawled under there for warmth.”
- “Can’t I just be sad for a horse without some touchy feely Freudian shit component to it?”
- “You’ve caused much suffering yourself, haven’t you?”
- “I’m like a visitor in my own town. Life went on without me.”
- “People are people.”
- “That’s the trouble with you Americans. You expect nothing bad ever to happen when the rest of the world expects only bad to happen, and they are not disappointed.”
- “You have everything, and still you complain.”