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Michael Roberts
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 12:25am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Had it stuck to its original premise, a show about a man who has no choice, he has to sell drugs so he can receive medical treatment that woukd bankrupt his family, he has no easy-outs, and this guy desecnds into evil,THAT would have been compelling, but Breaking Bad took the easy way out, " Walter does this because he's megalomaniacal villain".

-----

That was never the original premise. It may have been the show that you thought you were watching, but it was not the show they were making. It's made abundantly clear after the fifth episode, when Walt refuses a job and health insurance at a company that he started, opting to continue with his drug production. He was never a man without options. He was an egomaniac sinking deeper and deeper into moral depravity.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 12:30am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

“Meadowlands”.


A great episode which combines the usual laughs with a lot of careful plot-weaving. Whereas last episode focused to a degree on Meadow’s daily life, here we get a good look at AJ, and watch his illusions casually get shattered by his sister. 

The obvious attraction Tony has for Dr. Melfi takes a step up, as he hires Vin (a surprise guest-appearance by the late John Heard) to investigate her. Since she’s revealed to have a grown child, it seems that she’s really “Dr. MILFy” for Tony, eh? There’s also a delicious irony in Tony wanting to back out of the sessions, but Carmella basically insisting that he continue, with the implication that their marriage may depend upon it.

This episode also makes it clear that their sessions aren’t happening in a vacuum. Tony seeing a shrink would have all sorts of repercussions if the Family or his enemies got wind of it, and Melfi’s personal life is not immune to her having Tony as a client.

As predicted, Jackie dies, but, surprisingly, Tony does make a move to consolidate power AND smooth things over with Junior, thanks to Melfi’s unwitting advice. Of course, he initially tried to pass on the mantle of leadership, but his reaction to Christopher’s reaction to Brendan’s death caused him to naturally slip into a leadership role, which is an interesting twist. 

Christopher is hilarious in this episode. It’s all about the neck-brace. He and Adriana are adorable together, too. 

Loving this show!
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 1:00am | IP Logged | 3 post reply

That was never the original premise. It may have been the show that you thought you were watching, but it was not the show they were making. 
+++++++

Precisely. It was a genius bait-and-switch: Attract viewers with a simple, relatively relatable, high-concept/elevator pitch premise (“Cancer-stricken chemistry teacher resorts to making crystal meth so as to provide for his family after he dies”), then go on to tell a story about an insecure man who becomes obsessed with power, and uses his initial motivation as an excuse. He lies about his motives even to himself.

Heck, in the pilot, we see Walt clearly becoming intrigued with the potential money to be made from illegal chemistry before he even finds out he has cancer, when he watches the news story of Hank and the DEA busting a meth lab. Once he’s diagnosed, he starts formulating his plan even before he accidentally crosses paths with Jesse, his former student. The terminal cancer diagnosis is just his lucky excuse to finally self-actualize, so to speak. To let out all of the ugliness that’s been building inside of him for years. Of course, his actual experiences in the drug trade accelerate the process, and almost immediately turn him into a murderer.

The big question that the show leaves unresolved is whether or not the cancer diagnosis started Walter White on the path to monstrousness, or if that monster was always inside him, waiting for an excuse to come out. Based on all of the clues, the answer certainly looks to be the latter. Walt’s power-lust is laid out in the pilot. He gets a thrill out of assaulting the boy who’s mocking his son in the clothing shop. He manipulates and blackmails Jesse Pinkman into partnering with him. He’s sexually turned on after he gets home from that disastrous confrontation with Emilio and Krazy-8 in the desert. 

The pilot also does everything it can to emasculate Walt and make us sympathize with him, so that we’ll both be hooked on his story AND understand why he ends up going down the path that he does, even if we don’t agree with his initial choice to become a criminal. He’s been scared his entire life, and gave up a potential career as a chemist because of feelings of inadequacy. It’s later implied that he left Gretchen, his girlfriend and partner, because being with a “little rich girl” made him feel insecure. In his mind, over the following years, his willing buyout from the company he co-founded became twisted into a sense of being cheated by his former partners, whose lifestyle he’s jealous of.

Add to that a son with special needs, a loving-but-henpecking wife who gives him a birthday handjob whilst monitoring her eBay auction, an unplanned pregnancy, a macho/Alpha-male brother-in-law, and students who mock him and don’t care about his passion for chemistry. It all adds up to a character who seems like a sad-sack underdog with a plausible motivation for becoming a criminal. And then comes that fifth episode, where Walt shockingly turns down a chance to solve all of his immediate problems by taking a handout from Elliot and Gretchen. Walt hates even the thought of charity. He wants to be a Real Man who earns and provides for his family, rather than relying upon the kindness of even close friends and family. He doesn’t want charity, pity, or to be viewed as less-than. Ever. Because of his pride and wounded ego. Walt’s decision to reject Elliot’s offer was the key moment where BREAKING BAD deliberately turned from a seemingly high-concept show into a deep character study.

Walter White is a brilliant, complex character, astonishingly acted by Cranston. And the core of it is insecurity leading to a wounded ego leading to jealousy, pride, and rage. The seeds of that are all there in the pilot. Growth, then decay, then transformation.



...what show is this thread about, again...?


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 15 March 2018 at 1:08am
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 1:26am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

We'll have to agree to disagree about
Breaking Bad. You see it as show with
great scripts and direction, showing us a
character's decent into evil,
I see it as a show that took the easy way
out and became more cartoonish and non-
sensical as it went along.

I have decided to try to keep up with you
as you work your way through the Sopranos.
Partly because your commentary makes me
want to view the episodes again, and
partly so I can comment in detail only
about what you have watched and completely
avoid inadvertently dropping any spoilers.

Edited by Marc M. Woolman on 15 March 2018 at 1:28am
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 10:52am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

We'll have to agree to disagree about 
Breaking Bad. 
+++++++++

You took, er, the typing out of my fingers. Different strokes, and all. Watching the show for the first time was one experience. Going back and rewatching it was completely different, when armed with foreknowledge of the full course of events and the creators’ intentions. On subsequent viewings, you start picking up all of the clues regarding Walt’s innate character flaws and motivations, and he becomes far less sympathetic. The show was very carefully structured to play with audience sympathies. We’ve been trained to automatically root for the main character of any given show, but BREAKING BAD deliberately set out to make its main character more and more evil and unsympathetic as it went on. The show is like a moral Rorschach test, with its characters in a constant state of flux. I find it both fascinating and horrifying that some people were rooting for Walt right up until the end, and expressed blatant mysogyny toward Skyler White for “getting in Walt’s way”.

On the flip side, Tony Soprano is already a criminal at the beginning of THE SOPRANOS, and the show is more about showing how he deals with the craziness around him than exploring how and why he became what he is. 


Anyway, yes, I’d very much enjoy it if you watched and commented along with me! 
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 15 March 2018 at 7:03pm | IP Logged | 6 post reply

I'm almost caught up to where you are on
viewing.
One things the series does very well is
showing that no matter where you are in
life, the king of the hill, or bottom of
the pyramid, there's always problems and
complications that arise and difficult
people to deal with.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 16 March 2018 at 12:47am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

“College”.


Another great episode, and one which very much highlights the delicate balance between the two lives Tony leads. Most men wouldn’t go out of their way to execute a rat whilst college-shopping with their teenage daughters, y’know? 

Meadow blatantly asking Tony is he’s in the Mafia (and the ensuing awkward denials and half-truths) is just hilarious. As is poor Christopher spending the entire episode talking to Tony on a payphone in the rain, chomping at the bit to fly up to Maine to kill the rat in order to make a name for himself. This running gag is a very stark reminder that cell phones were not omnipresent, in the 90s. 

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this episode is that it gives us out first real look at Carmella’s inner life. Her guilt over turning a blind eye to Tony’s double-life for the sake of her children and her own comfort. Her flirtation with Father Phil. Her feelings of betrayal and anger when Dr. Melfi (also coincidentally suffering from illness) calls for Tony and reveals the fact that Tony’s therapist is actually a woman. We get a good look at what makes Carm tick, here, and Edie Falco is just wonderful—funny, vulnerable, confused. Her calling out Tony on his hypocrisy at the end of the episode is a very satisfying moment.

It’s amusing to see Tony become fixed on Fabian after seeing him by accident. He goes full-Terminator, and his enthusiastic garroting of the man is a shocking display of violence. The Hawthorne quote at Colby sums up Tony’s precarious position very well. His feeble excuses to Meadow don’t fool her for a second. He makes some progress with her in terms of being more open and honest, but then loses it, because confessing to murder wouldn’t exactly help their relationship. Of course, she treats confessing to him that she’d been using meth like it wasn’t a big deal, so maybe she’d be less judgmental than he might think, if he just told her everything. Or not!


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 16 March 2018 at 9:15am
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 16 March 2018 at 1:43am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

I thought this episode was one of the best
of season one. Tony's struggle with trying
to take out a "rat" while taking his
daughter, Meadow, on a tour of a potential
college, was brilliantly done.

This episode's look at Carmella, plants
some seeds that Edie Falco really shines
in her performance of, when the seeds are
fully realized.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 18 March 2018 at 11:11pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

“Pax Soprana”.


Not unexpectedly, Tony’s plan for Junior to serve as a figurehead isn’t going so well, since Junior is upsetting the capos’ applecart. On the flipside, his plan for Junior to serve as a lightning rod seems to be working rather well, since the Feds are now targeting Junior as boss, and think that Tony is just a capo. Looking forward to seeing how this investigation subplot plays out.

Meanwhile, we get some interesting dynamics in Tony’s personal life, as he juggles Carmella’s emotional needs, his mistress’ physical needs, and his feelings for Dr. Melfi. His declaration of love is quite shocking, although not entirely unexpected. Of course, this is very obviously a mutual attraction. There’s no way a sensible and reasonable therapist would A) Knowingly put herself at risk by analyzing a mobster; B) Not take action upon discovery of stalking/grand theft auto/etc.; C) Not immediately lay down the law and/or terminate the sessions after Tony professed his feelings and made an inappropriate sexual advance. Seems clear that Melfi is intrigued by/attracted to Tony, but is also quite afraid. The classic “girl getting the hots for a bad boy” scenario.

Tony’s dream sequences are both funny and revealing of his inner life, and he somehow remains likable despite his many physical (and now emotional) affairs. 
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 19 March 2018 at 12:59am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

This episode gives us a nice peak at
what's the foundation of Tony's marriage.

The interesting question about Tony's
feelings for Dr. Melfi, is whether Tony
will accept the explanation for those
feelings.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 19 March 2018 at 7:55pm | IP Logged | 11 post reply

“Down Neck”.


An episode which continues weaving in serialized plot threads, and provides interesting backstory on Tony and his childhood. Nice to see AJ’s present-day problems causing Tony to reflect on his own childhood. The show continues to keep reminding us of the generational aspect of it all. Tony reveals a certain fatalistic tendency to be what he was born into, but hopes that his children will have a better future.

Meanwhile, Dr. Melfi is keeping things much more cool and professional, given the events of the previous episode. On the other end, Tony is becoming more and more open about the criminal activities of both his associates and himself. 

The period sequences are well-done, and a lot of fun. Speaking of which, we get another fine reminder of the 90s, with AJ’s Spawn t-shirt!
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 20 March 2018 at 1:07am | IP Logged | 12 post reply

Lol, the series doesn't stay so
"90's".There was a long battle played out
between the producers and James
Gandolfini, over salary, that delayed one
of the seasons for a very long time.

The series' last season is 2006/2007 so
Blu-ray, Plasma & LCD TVs,etc. start to be
referenced. (Though I think the show ended
just before the Android/Apple smartphones
exploded.

Edited by Marc M. Woolman on 20 March 2018 at 1:08am
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 22 March 2018 at 7:03pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply

“The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti”.


A very fun episode, as all of the mobsters, fearing indictment, begin “spring cleaning”. The sight of Tony casually taking money, handguns, and Uzi, and a shotgun out of a ceiling vent is hysterical, as his his hiding those items in Livia’s closet.

We get a look at Dr. Melfi’s family life, and the growing strain in her relationship with Tony, as he takes out his frustrations on her. I’ve lost count of how many times Tony’s stormed out of her office in anger, at this point.

The best and funniest subplot would be Christopher’s continued obsession with making a name for himself, be through writing a screenplay or becoming a made man. Of course, he’s totally sloppy and loud (shooting a bakery clerk out of sheer impatience, digging up Emil’s body out of paranoia) when he should be keeping a low profile. It’s incredibly telling that he’s absolutely thrilled to see his name in the newspaper in a list of suspects being investigated by the FBI.

And we have Livia deliberately telling Junior that Tony’s seeing a therapist, which, of course, would be a potential liability for the Family. The implicit danger of Tony speaking to a shrink has been there since the pilot (since even the appearance of ratting or talking about things to be kept within the Family), so this development isn’t too shocking.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 22 March 2018 at 10:25pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

“Boca”.


An episode which starts out as absurd, then gets pretty dark and emotional. Absurd because the main stories are almost laughable. Junior, being an old school Mafioso, is reluctant to let anyone know about his talent regarding Bonnie’s...er...boca...since it would be deemed a sign of weakness. Tony clearly feels the same way, and both men reveal their know about each other’s theoretical weaknesses (Tony’s being the therapy, of course) on the golf course.

The other plot is ridiculous, at first. Monsters trying to bribe/intimidate a soccer coach into not taking another job? This isn’t exactly high-stakes stuff. Then comes the reveal that Coach Hauser is a pedophile, and things get dark. Tony only reluctantly calls off a hit on the man at Artie’s request, then mixes prescription drugs and alcohol before making a spectacle of himself in front of his wife and daughter. 

As Dr. Melfi notes, Tony does seem to have a drive to “fix” things around him, no doubt stemming from feelings of not being in control of his life. And, of course, there’s a cold war brewing with Junior, who seems more and more willing to murder Tony, in part because of Livia whispering in his ear.


A very enjoyable episode. Hard to believe there are only a few more to go in this first season!
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Vinny Valenti
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Posted: 23 March 2018 at 11:00am | IP Logged | 15 post reply

"shooting a bakery clerk out of sheer impatience"

---

Dunno if you know, but that's a bit of a callback to his role in Goodfellas, getting shot in the foot.

"It happens."
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 23 March 2018 at 1:15pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

I haven’t seen GOODFELLAS in many, many years, but I did read about that bit of trivia after I watched the episode. Michael Imperioli is a joy to watch on this show.


And, aside from obviously being influenced by THE GODFATHER films, the in-universe characters of THE SOPRANOS constantly make references to those films, to the point of saying, “Y’know, like in II” and the like. They don’t even need to name the films. Just the numbers!
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 24 March 2018 at 4:41am | IP Logged | 17 post reply

Boca is such a fun episode! "Sports
parents" and the
rules/beliefs/superstitions that the
wisebgu6s have. They're like school girls,
lol.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 24 March 2018 at 5:12pm | IP Logged | 18 post reply

“A Hit is a Hit”.


A fun episode, one which really shows Drea de Matteo coming to prominence. There’s also the culture clash of Italian, Jewish, and a lack mobsters coming together when Massive Genius insists on reparations from Hesh. Lots of fun moments from Christopher as he and Adriana try and break into the music scene. His insistence that Richie take drugs to improve his music, which escalates to hitting Richie with his own guitar is comedy gold. 

Meanwhile, Tony is facing a culture clash of his own, as he gets chumming with Cusamano’s buddies on the golf course, and is treated as something of a Mafia curiosity. Less obviously awkward is Dr. Melfi’s dinner with the Cusamanos, where she actually seems to take offense to,all of the Mafia jokes being thrown around at the table. And then there’s the moment where she goes to the bathroom to peek at the Soprano house. Hmm.

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 28 March 2018 at 11:49pm | IP Logged | 19 post reply

“Nobody Knows Anything”.


A great episode which keeps numerous plot threads chugging along, provides some good laughs, and generates a very interesting dilemma for Tony. The opening sequence is wonderfully absurd, and we finally see Big Pussy get some story attention, as he becomes a potential traitor. 

Of course, the traitor ends up being Jimmy (or does he?), but the whole experience certainly puts Tony even more on edge, as does Makazian’s suicide. Tony is clearly shaken when he learns that the man had anxiety and depression not too unlike his own. Loyalty and the old code of mobster ethics are the principles Tony Soprano lives by, as is illustrated by his assertion to Meadow that their home is “1954”. All of the forces conspiring against him within his own Family—some without his knowledge—are an obvious source of stress. 

Carmella telling it like it is to Livia is a great scene, and Junior finally putting a hit out on Tony is clearly the catalyst for what will come in the season-ending episodes. 

And the scene of Paulie taking Pussy to the sauna and insisting that he undress—hoping to confirm whether or not Pussy is wearing a wire—is hilarious.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 08 April 2018 at 4:59pm | IP Logged | 20 post reply

“Isabella”.


A great episode which sets up the season finale really well. Lots of laughs in this one, too, particularly Tony’s depression, Christopher accidentally stopping the first attempt on Tony’s life, and the awkward Soprano family dinner. In stark contrast, the second attempt in Tony’s life is quite shocking and tense, although the hitmen themselves are pretty blatantly incompetent.

We also have the tense first meeting (sort of) between Dr. Melfi and Carmella, and it’s obvious that Melfi has all but admitted to herself that her life is in danger. Meanwhile, Livia continues her usual act of pretending to be downtrodden and/or senile as a cover for her plans, and Uncle Junior has a some very funny reactions in this episode to Livia, the hitmen, and Tony’s crew reacting to the his arrival at the Soprano home.

Of course, the through-line of the episode is Tony’s budding relationship with Isabella. I had a feeling that she’d turn out to be a lithium-induced hallucination, since it makes perfect sense. In the throes of depression, Tony’s imagines a perfect woman, a nurturing Madonna figure who would make up for the definiciencies of his domineering mother and nagging wife. 

The end of the episode sees Tony basically getting his mojo back after the assassination attempt, and I’m very eager to see how things play out. Now that I’ve finished my rewatch of STAR TREK: TNG (aside from the movies), I can finally turn my attention to THE SOPRANOS. Yay!
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 16 April 2018 at 12:29am | IP Logged | 21 post reply

“I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano”.


An immensely satisfying first-season finale which ties up numerous running plot lines while also setting the stage for the second season. Lots of big laughs in this one, too. My favorite bits would be Artie confronting Tony with a hunting rifle, Paulie touching poison ivy during the Hilton Mikey Palmice, and Tony calmly telling Dr. Melfi that she’s been a good doctor to him after revealing that he life is in danger and she needs to go on the lam. We also reach a tipping point in the Tony/Melfi relationship, as he initially physically attacks her for daring to suggest that Livia was behind the attempt on his life, then comes back demurely to earn her that she’s in danger. Lorraine Bracco really shines, here, as Melfi goes from hiding a pair of scissors in her sleeve for self-defense to unprofessionally cursing out loud as Tony explains that she needs to go on the lam.

It’s very satisfying whe Tony finally sees though Livia’s constant smokescreen of senility (and now a faked stroke), and realize that she was indeed responsible for the attempt on his life. We also have the end(?) of the flirtation between Father Phil and the long-suffering Carmella. Perhaps most interesting of all is Junior being arrested and offered a deal if he fingers Tony as the de facto head of the Soprano Family...and turning it down out of ego and spite. 

I’ve greatly enjoyed this first season, and am eager to begin the second. As noted when I started watching, I had no idea just how friggin’ hilarious this show is. It manages a perfect balance between humor and drama. The humor can be truly absurdist, at times (which is right up my alley), but it never quite feels over the top, somehow. Love the tone and the style of it.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 22 April 2018 at 10:04pm | IP Logged | 22 post reply

“Guy Walks Into a Psychatrist’s Office...”


We hit the ground running in the second season premier with an amazing opening montage (set to “It Was a Very Good Year”) that catches us up with what everyone has been up to. Tony’s relationships are strained across the board, and his self-medicating isn’t helping. We also get a big expansion of the family in this episode, with the introduction of Carmella’s parent’s Tony’s hippie-moocher sister, Janice, and his more level-headed sister, Barbara. 

Some very funny moments in this one, especially with Christopher’s thugs providing some education in the finer points of stock-brokering, and Dr. Melfi running her practice out of a hotel room. Her unexpected reunion with Tony is a strong and well-earned scene, and her distress over the suicide of a patient because of her involvement with Tony underscores the collateral damage that his criminal activities result in. Tony’s failed attempt to find a new therapist is also quite funny.

And, even with Big Pussy finally back on the scene, there’s still an undercurrent of tension between Tony and his men. To say nothing of the fact that Tony has one of his men executed for spreading (correct) rumors that Tony intended to murder his own mother. Yikes. 

A satisfying kick-off to the season which builds on what’s come before while also laying lots of foundation for what’s to come.
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Marc M. Woolman
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Posted: 23 April 2018 at 1:42am | IP Logged | 23 post reply

I loved that the season one finale
establishes that Tony's wife, Carmella,
will succinctly and perfectly call someone
out on their bullshit.
This quality if her's is always enjoyable
when it pops up.

I know Junior's response to the Feds
offering him a deal smacked of pride and
ego, but I think that was for show. Uncle
Junior is old school, he's no rat and he'd
never take a deal.

Season 2 introduces 2 of my favourite
characters of the series, Tony's crazy,
scheming sister Janice, and Bobby Baccala.

While it's clear that Tony's mother was
certainly in on the decision to kill Tony,
it's also quite clear that her dementia is
real.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 23 April 2018 at 10:00am | IP Logged | 24 post reply

I know Junior's response to the Feds 
offering him a deal smacked of pride and 
ego, but I think that was for show. Uncle 
Junior is old school, he's no rat and he'd 
never take a deal.
+++++++

Yeah, it’s obvious that the mobster code of ethics is Junior’s primary motive for not ratting, but the undercurrent of how that scene is played really comes across to me as him also angrily trying to save face when confronted with the idea that Tony is de facto boss.


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 23 April 2018 at 10:00am
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Trevor Thompson
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Posted: 25 April 2018 at 4:14am | IP Logged | 25 post reply

Currently watching the show all over again. One of very few shows I can watch again. Great storytelling. 
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