It certainly was a relief to have The Sopranos return last night to Tony and the gang. Terry, I know that you and David Chase like to introduce new characters on the spur of the moment—I've actually defended this offhand approach—but what on earth does Sitting Bull have to do with the price of capicolla at Satriale's? Is Phil Leotardo making a move on Indian gaming? Even for a series that likes to explore unexpected narrative digressions, your scene shift to the Dakotas struck me as self-indulgent. (I did, however, enjoy the satiric riff in which Fred Thompson was supposed to be president of the United States.)
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's turn to last night's episode, "The Blue Comet."
Another new character was introduced, thankfully one from the present century. That would be Rhiannon, a very beautiful (albeit depressed and anorexic) fashion model with whom A.J. attended high school. Rhiannon was plainly out of A.J.'s league back then, but when the two crossed paths in the psych ward, they bonded. She appears to be encouraging A.J.'s increasingly worrisome fascination with violent events in the Middle East. Rhiannon doesn't talk much, but she has "trouble" written all over her. We can assume from her name ("Rhiannon" was a hit song for Fleetwood Mac in 1975, written and sung by that elusive beauty Stevie Nicks) that her parents collected crystals and batik paintings. Never a good sign. "Rhiannon" is also, Wikipedia tells me, a beautiful horse goddess in Welsh mythology punished for misplacing her newborn child. Also a bad sign. But I'll stop there lest I fall into the very pit Jeff warned us about when he made oblique reference to George Eliot's Middlemarch and the dreadful Rev. Edward Casaubon ("this dried-up pedant … groping after his mouldy futilities"), who is not welcome in Slate's TV Club. I will merely state that Rhiannon strikes me as just the sort of fetching sprite who could lead A.J. down a very destructive path.
Terry: One of the very best things about The Sopranos is the richness of the names, starting with Tony's boy-named-Sue surname. How do you guys do it? Do you hold contests among the writing staff? Do you Google to explore hidden meanings? The person who came up with Cosette for the name of Adriana's Maltese deserves the grand prize, but kudos to "Meadow," "Big Pussy," and "Phil Leotardo" (the latter so haunted by the shame of his family's traditional name being feminized by a careless clerk at Ellis Island that he is now determined to whack Tony Soprano just to prove that he's got stugots). And many, many more.
Back to last night's episode. The last battle has begun. As Jeff notes, Bobby Bacala is dead ( buon' anima), and Silvio Dante, though in the hospital, seems unlikely to survive being gunned down as he was leaving the strip bar. (Talk about disrespecting the Bing! Brian, did you find the sight of pole dancers shivering outside the club to glimpse the grim aftermath as strangely poignant as I did?) Tony has been fired abruptly by Melfi, who, as Jeff astutely points out, was motivated less by social science than by shame. It's a pretty stressful moment for Tony to suspend "terapy." Among other worries, how do you get your hands on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors when you've gone to the mattresses? Even if Tony can find a new doctor who'll prescribe over the phone, there's the problem of actually picking up the damn things, and if I were Phil I'd have cugines staking out every CVS in Essex County.
Brian, I'm sure you noticed that Patsy Parisi managed to escape the ambush outside the Bing. What are we to make of that? My friend Glenn Garvin, television critic of the Miami Herald, posits that the botched hit on Phil Leotardo was the work of a mole, and he reminds us that Paulie was previously seen passing information to Phil's predecessor, Johnny Sack. Is it mere coincidence that when Phil was identifying the targets, he explicitly steered cleared of Paulie? But if Paulie sabotaged the Leotardo hit, then Patsy would have to have been in on it, too, because Patsy was the intermediary. But that fits. You may recall that waaaay back when Patsy belonged to Uncle Junior's crew, Patsy's brother, Phillip "Philly Spoons" Parisi, got whacked by Tony, and Patsy gave serious thought to capping Tony in return. He finally rejected the idea and instead exacted revenge by pissing in Tony's pool. This all makes the courtship by Patsy's son, Patrick, of one Meadow Soprano seem kind of sinister.
I certainly hope we aren't headed for a denouement in which Meadow dies in Tony's place. That's way too Godfather III. We've discussed this possibility before, but it resurfaced in the scene in which Tony, in Artie Bucco's restaurant, started playfully shadowboxing to the lush Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, famously used by Martin Scorsese ("Marty" to his many fans in the DiMeo family) as the title theme for Raging Bull. Less famously (and more derivatively), Francis Coppola later used the same piece of music in Godfather III when Michael Corleone held the limp body of his daughter, killed by his own would-be assassin. A hint of things to come in the last episode of The Sopranos? That would be a shame on many levels, and I know Brian agrees with me. Another question for Terry: How does the music, always used to brilliant effect, get picked for TheSopranos?