The Strong, Silent Type: “Whatever Happened to Gary Cooper?”
By Colin Hart
9.2 / 10
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 crime drama has leaned wholeheartedly into its newfound minimalist aesthetic throughout the entirety of 2002.
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 chasing 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 depressing themes, “The Strong, Silent Type” concerns itself with Christopher Moltisanti’s heroin addiction. He’s fallen as far as humanly possible from his season two high point, hitting true 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, Paulie and Silvio. By the end of the hour, he’s 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, yet it is hardly the most important element of the episode. In fact, it’s almost a shame that such a tragic story is treated with such levity. It’s truly a credit to how funny the episode is (and how intricate the characterization is) that we are able to still support Chris 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 no surprise that he starts a mob war with New York by defying Johnny Sack, or that he starts a civil war within his crew for lying about Ralph’s death, or that he starts a domestic war with Carmela by sleeping with Svetlana, Uncle Junior’s one-legged caretaker, the latter of which is 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.
More contrasts come in the form of Carmela’s unspoken connection with Furio. Because they never directly address their love for each other, we’ll never know their true compatibility, but we can be certain that Furio treats Carmela with much more respect than Tony (the episode begins with Tony disapproving of Carmela’s new, short haircut).
The final scene shows a lonely, 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.
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. “The Strong, Silent Type” is a premium example of a TV show doing everything right.
- 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-Oh-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.
- Terrible timing: the painting that Tony commissioned two episodes ago finally arrives (a portrait of him standing next to Pie-Oh-My). He tearfully tells his crew to burn it. A humorous sub-plot 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 they kill him. It’s not the first time that he’s suggested something like this. He was also the one who ordered the hit on Dickie Moltisanti, Chris’ father.
- “The Strong, Silent Type” was written by 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.”
- “You’ve caused much suffering yourself, haven’t you?”
- “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.”