The Sopranos, Season Six Episode 15: “Remember When”
The last image in “Remember When” is of Junior Soprano (Dominic Chianese) slumped meekly in a lawn chair outside his treatment center, absently petting a snaggle pussed cat. His tight-lipped expression bespeaks frustration at his plight, but also the fact that for the first time since the sixth season premiere “Members Only” – in Friends parlance, The One where Junior Shoots Tony – he’s without his dentures. A few scenes earlier, he’d been assaulted by a fellow patient who gave him a good sock to his fragile jaw. What we’re seeing then, is a tableaux of toothlessness at once literal and figurative – the old fox defanged.
It seems as good a place as any to leave Junior, arguably the least empathetic of The Sopranos’ major characters (seasonal bogeymen like Richie Aprille and Ralph Ciffaretto notwithstanding) and seemingly a forgotten man as far as the writers were concerned. The slow erosion of Corrado Soprano’s former sharpness has been a familiar motif over the past few years, but (pace its nostalgic title) “Remember When” charts just how far he’s slipped by introducing an old photograph of Junior and his brother Johnny, slouched casually against a Cadillac in front of Satriale’s.
As a portrait of old-style wise guy cool, it’s just about perfect. The pair’s expressions hover somewhere between avuncular and homicidal. Flipping through old photos during a South Beach sojourn with Paulie, Tony gives the picture a quick glance and seems eager to move on. He’s equally uninterested in the vintage snapshot of Paulie (a real and arresting image of Tony Sirico, all biceps and slicked-backed attitude), exclaiming a few seconds later – after Paulie has commandeered the conversation with another long-winded remembrance of malfeasance past — that “‘remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.’”
It’s understandable that Tony doesn’t really want to dredge up the past; after all, the little bit of past that’s been dredged up in a Jersey basement – the corpse of a bookie who was apparently Tony’s first-ever kill – is what has him fled to Florida, dining chez Beansie (now moving about in an expensive-looking wheelchair) and wondering which of his many regrettable yesterdays will finally undo him in the present tense. And Tony looks very much like a guy who’s coming undone: he seems paunchier and sallower than usual, and a furtive phone call to Hesh suggests he may he having money problems. (200 K is no small loan).
The week’s major revelation, courtesy of bigmouth Paulie, is that Tony murdered the bookie at his father’s insistence. No wonder Tony is reticent to reminisce. The Sopranos has always been a show marked by hauntings, but this episode was a veritable echo chamber, referencing important moments in the show’s past.Junior being pelted by paper balls by his former charge mirrored Meadow’s drunken behavior in the season three finale; the tense scenes between Tony and Paulie on a rented boat loudly (and some might say over-deliberately) evoked Big Pussy’s murder.
Despite its abundance of carefully wrought resonances, “Remember When” feels a bit like a holding pattern, another attenuated standstill to mark time as the plot slowly kicks into gear (though we did see another bloody step Phil Leotardo’s NYC takeover bid). There wasn’t much, f’rinstance, to substantiate (or refute) Robbiefreeling’s superb postulation from last week about Christopher’s possible extra-cirricular activities. (And I watched Imperioli during his one scene like a hawk). There’s more to be said, of course, and rather than try to unravel it myself, I’ll just give you both some talking points that I’m not articulate enough to jump on. Why the sudden and frankly unprecedented glimpse into Paulie’s interior life? What do you make of Junior addressing his treatment centre protégé/assailant as “Anthony?” Does the tomato plant count as another Godfather reference? Help me out here.