When I started this series of blog posts, I meant to do it weekly. Life got in the way. But hey, here I is! I’m back. And here’s more.
As I’ve mentioned, these posts are full of SPOILERS. If you have not watched the series and think you will one day, avoid them. If you have, read and argue with me below. As I also mentioned, these are meant to be casual posts. I put my time in when it comes to studying cinema. Now I’m just here to have fun.
Watching this again in rapid succession, it really struck me how little happened in season 3. The only two storylines that begin and are resolved are Jackie Jr. (with a predictable/inevitable ending) and Tony’s new girl on the side, which includes the chilling scene where he beats her. The mob stuff was peripheral, most of it appearing to set up events in season 4 – Ralphie established as a loose cannon, Adriana flipping, etc. — but not getting much traction here.
Interestingly, creator David Chase had a firm storyline in mind for season 3, but it had to be scrapped when the actress who played Tony’s mother (Nancy Marchand) passed away. Initially, the season was supposed to focus on Tony trying to make amends with her in order to keep himself out of jail. (You’ll recall that at the end of season 2, some stolen airline tickets were linked to him.)
Instead we got Ralphie the prick, Meadow the whiner, and Jackie Jr. the dope.
Ralphie is, of course, a prick to end all pricks. Meadow, meanwhile, pissed me off all season with her incessant whining. She may be cute, but damn is she an entitled bitch. Most of her stories, especially the Noah story (“Meadow dates a half-black guy and Tony doesn’t like it”), were wasted screen time. and Jackie, well, halfway through his story you just stop rooting for him because he’s a dope.
On the other hand, Paulie running Christopher ragged is excellent stuff, Junior and Bobby interacting is pure gold every time, and the show smartly puts Dr. Melfi aside once it’s clear there isn’t much more for her to do other than provide a way for Tony to express what he’s feeling.
Speaking of Dr. Melfi, I forgot how early in the series the infamous rape episode came. I thought for sure it didn’t take place until season 4 or 5, since it’s such an endgame for her character. From that point forward her role in the series becomes increasingly less important. Since she was such a huge presence up until this point my memory places it later in the series. Nope. Turns out that less than halfway through the entire series they brought Melfi’s arc to a close. The tension between her and Tony, the question as to whether or not she would ever trust him, it was done. Gone. Finished. Wow.
Her choice not to have Tony take care of the rapist was the noble, respectable thing to do. It’s also not what I would have done. This is the moment in the series where she loses me. I RESPECT the choice and respect that she decides to hold onto her dignity and humanity. I respect that she refuses to allow herself to get pulled into that world.
I’d want that bastard to pay.
Given what a big moment it is for the series, I think the rape episode is pretty uneven overall. The writing is at times ham-handed and clunky, too on-the-nose in setting up Melfi’s choice. Further, to start and finish a storyline this important to the character and her relationship with Tony Soprano in just a single episode was too accelerated an approach. She should have grappled with her difficult choice for a few episodes.
Not that that’s Lorraine Bracco’s fault. She is amazing here. In fact, I didn’t notice first time around just how damn GOOD she is throughout this whole series. Just a dynamite performance. I always thought of Edie Falco as having the series’ standout female performance — and it makes sense, given how amazing Falco is — but Bracco goes toe-to-toe with her with ease.
Also, that episode does have one of the highlights of the series. Go back and watch the last few minutes, the way it comes to a close. It’s brilliant, including the second best cut to the credits of the series. So yeah, there is that. Great close to a highly controversial episode.
Controversial? This show always was. “University” is the episode where Ralphie kills his stripper mistress. It’s got a weird standalone feel to it that few Sopranos episodes have, as if it could take place anywhere in the timeline, yet it had a HUGE impact on this show’s rep because it was brutal and ugly and highly uncomfortable. Seeing this young girl get brutalized, the callous way people treat her. It’s pretty awful.
Yep, Ralphie sure is a bastard. A different sort than Richie, but a bastard all the same … the kind you love to hate but don’t want to leave the screen (unlike, say, Janice, who I’d happily clip from the series despite all that her conflict brings to it).
Some other random observations:
Meadow’s time at college is almost always some of the most boring television of the entire series. It’s watchable only because she’s easy on the eyes. DAMN throughout this season Meadow scenes sure do drag. No, I don’t give a rat’s ass about her roommates, thanks.
Bobby Bacala was one of my favorite characters first time around. Still is on second viewing. The guy is absolutely endearing. I always get pissed when Tony and Paulie run him down. Really. What a fantastic character. Steve Schirripa injects amazing humanity into the role.
Another great revelation was that the actor playing A.J., Robert Iler, really comes into his own as a actor here. He’s got the confused teenager down pat. There is a great scene in the last or second to last episode in which he is in uniform for military school. He breaks down crying. Crying is no big deal, most performers can fake their way through it fine, but his breakdown was utterly convincing, awkward in that teenager way, very pained, lots of layers. Great stuff.
One other thing I liked, the Johnny Sack-moves-to-New Jersey storyline starts here. I love this whole subplot, in part because I like the actor, in part because the stuff with his wife is so mean and hilarious, and in part because it sets up some damn good drama.
So yeah, there was a lot of great stuff here, to be sure — Pine Barrens! (which, to pick a nit, obviously wasn’t filmed in the Pine Barrens; and I know the Pine Barrens) — but as a whole the season seemed to lack the direction and focus of the series best stretches.