“All Due Respect” (season 5, episode 13; originally aired 6/6/2004)
In which Tony Soprano takes care of it himself
It can be kind of a cheap trick to have a story end exactly where it began, only to give new context to the events by the time the ending rolls around, but damned if I don’t smile just a little bit every time Tony Soprano emerges from the woods in “All Due Respect” roughly where the bear did all the way back in “Two Tonys.” Bears are protective of their own families, but they’re also incredibly dangerous, ready to maul you at a moment’s notice. Where that bear first seemed to mark Tony’s absence, now we can see that it was just as indicative of the man himself. They’re both lumbering through the woods, ready to plow on out and do damage. But the bear’s gone, off to whatever corner of New Jersey it emerged from; Carmela lets Tony back inside the house. He’s here to stay.
“All Due Respect” closes off the fifth season just about perfectly. Little strands of story you might not have expected to get tied back in are wrapped back into the narrative perfectly, and the suggestion of what might come in the sixth season is integrated just as perfectly. Johnny Sack is headed to jail, most likely, brought down by the feds after one of his trusted men ratted him out. Phil Leotardo—shown in this episode as even more ruthless and vengeful than we found him previously—will presumably be put in charge, and he’s an adversary who has no grudging respect for or friendly feelings toward Tony. (If you’ve seen the sixth season, you’ll recognize the foreshadowing going on all over the place here, but we’ll save that for the spoilers section.) But what makes it most satisfying to me is that this is a season that began with Tony kicked out of his house—seemingly forever—that ends with his wife welcoming him back in after he knocks. He’s taken a long journey to get right back where he started from.
This is one of the things that drives people nuts about The Sopranos. Nothing ever changes. No one ever changes. Things seem like they might shift, but then they just go back to the way they were before. Arguably, there’s no better example of this than Tony and Carmela’s separation. As much as I’ve always liked the fifth season, I used to see this separation as a missed opportunity, a chance that the show could have used to better delineate Carmela as someone independent of Tony. What I’ve realized on this go-round, though, is that there is no Carmela independent of Tony. Yes, she’s a person separate from him, and she has her own interests and desires (interests she’s beginning to pursue with the spec home), but as with any long marriage, she’s one half of a larger entity almost more than she is herself. And even though Tony dominates that marriage in most ways, he’s just as much a half of that entity as her. These two aren’t perfect for each other, by any means, but they are stuck with each other, and Tony’s going to do everything he can to reinforce that fact.
Along the way, though, he’ll have to go out of his way to clean up the mess his cousin made, to restore peace between New Jersey and New York, at least if he wants to have a prayer of stopping something like all-out warfare or of keeping Christopher alive. (Christopher, who’s seemingly internalized the death of Adriana completely, only letting it out ever so slightly, has perhaps more existential concerns to worry about.) There’s a great sense in this episode of the weight of being Tony Soprano. David Chase and his writers don’t really like the man very much, but they have a grudging respect for what he has to do, for the calls he has to make, and his choice to kill Tony Blundetto—the cousin he had such a close relationship with (a relationship built, remember, entirely over the course of this season)—is portrayed with a suitable level of agony and despair. He doesn’t want to do this, but it’s somehow the only “humane” thing he can do, lest he betray his cousin to a man who would rip him from limb to limb and make sure Tony B. was alive to enjoy it.
There’s a great scene early in the episode where the usual suspects are gathered around a table, discussing the situation with New York, and I love the way that they all try to suggest that they might be the target Phil is after, the one that he will kill to enact his retribution, should he not be able to find Tony B. Since Phil’s brother died, perhaps Bobby Bacala will die, because he’s Tony’s brother-in-law. No, no, no. It’ll have to be Paulie, since he and Tony go back the furthest. And on and on. It’s a funny scene, yes, but it also speaks to the way that Tony Soprano is both one of these men and separate from them. The entire episode is devoted to showing how isolated he is, how alone in his thinking he has to be, how vulnerable he is because of these things. Later on in the episode, Tony goes over to Paulie’s. The ostensible reason for the scene is so he can discover that painting of Tony and Pie-o-My that Paulie rescued last season, thus arriving at his decision to kill Tony B. when he remembers that he must be the “general” of his men. But there’s another point here, as Paulie tells Tony that he doesn’t come around as much as he used to. Sure, that’s because the guys’ houses are watched. But it’s also because Tony isn’t even as much a part of this group as he was in season four, much less season one. The more time passes, the more Tony drifts into his own orbit. No wonder he goes back home.
I wouldn’t read Tony’s killing of his cousin as some final death of his connections to his childhood or some killing of his shadow self or anything like that. But there’s still something incredibly lonely about the act. Tony reminded Melfi a few episodes ago of Tony B.’s high IQ, and here, he reminds Johnny of his own. Tony B. was someone that Tony could relate to, on some level, someone who didn’t solely treat him as the big boss, and even if that irritated him at times—as when Tony B. tried the “Boy, are you fat!” line on him early in the season—it was still something he could appreciate. Tony’s always worried that he’s surrounded by sycophants, yet all he wants is to be surrounded by sycophants (another theme of the season). Tony B., in that regard, served a useful function, as the one guy who could punch through Tony’s gloom and self-seriousness and needle him just a little bit.
So if there’s something tragic about Tony having to kill Tony B.—even if it’s not nearly as tragic to my eyes as Adriana’s death last week—it’s still carried off majestically. The use of “Glad Tidings,” one of Van Morrison’s saddest songs, yet one that’s set to a perky, happy beat, is terrific, and the moment when Tony B. finally wanders back into the episode, only to immediately meet with a shotgun blast to the head from his cousin is terrific and abrupt. There’s nothing glorious about killing or being killed in this universe. Just an ugly calculation of who can surprise whom and how little you’ll flinch in the act of doing it. Tony must know that killing his cousin will result in Phil’s anger becoming even more pronounced, but he also knows that Johnny will call an end to it and work out a truce if his cousin’s out of the picture. It has to be done, even as he has no desire to do it. Or, as he tells Melfi, he made all of the wrong choices. He’s talking about Tony B., of course, but after this season, he could be talking about absolutely everything.
If there’s a fly in this ointment, it’s the simple fact that, well, we haven’t gotten to know Tony B. very well. If this story had been about Christopher or Sil or Paulie—and it’s easy enough to come up with scenarios where Tony would have to kill any one of them—the full tragic weight of it would have been immediately apparent. The show cheats a little bit by using the, “We knew each other as kids!” card with the two Tonys, but it sort of gets away with it, because Gandolfini and Buscemi are strong enough actors to carry it off. At the same time, for as much weight as the decision to kill Tony B. has on Tony, the actual death isn’t nearly as horrifying. Maybe that’s the point. These things sometimes just happen in this world, and they can happen to anyone. But Tony B.’s relative unknown-ness to us makes this whole thing something that works but has less of an immediate core to it than “Long Term Parking” did. This is not to say the episode is bad, but as a season finale, it lacks some of the visceral impact of “Whitecaps” or “Funhouse.” It’s at the level of, say, “Army Of One”: very good, but hinging on stuff that we don’t care about as much as some of the other things out there.
Still, the finale works for me because it ties in so many of those little threads from the rest of the season. Season five is my favorite Sopranos season because it feels the most “complete,” without betraying its essential, shaggy Sopranos nature to become so. Adriana’s death, of course, resonates over the episode, but so do such minor things as that painting Paulie took back in season four or A.J.’s lack of direction. Tony’s attempts to reach out to people—first Junior (who simply rambles on about his lawyer having a stroke), then Melfi, then, finally, Paulie—are ultimately rebuffed. The growing sense we get that the crew has certain resentments it holds toward Tony is burnished by the scene where they all admit that if the person in danger was anyone but Tony B., Tony probably would have turned him over by now. And throughout, the force of nature that is Phil Leotardo stalks the edges of the story, beating up Benny and looking for Christopher, who stays hidden out at his mom’s and then at a hotel. (Phil doesn’t particularly care if he hurts Christopher’s mom either.) And in the best touch in the whole episode, the landscaper who got in over his head thanks to Paulie is ever-present, a reminder of what happens to people who get mixed up in this world—even when they have no intention of getting mixed up in the first place. He’s there, working on the Soprano home in the ice and snow, and he’s there working on Johnny Sack’s home when the Feds move in. Tony Soprano destroys what he touches and converts it into gain for himself. We know this, but it’s another thing to see it, to see that hapless guy slaving away in the backyard, the son that was to be off at school at his side.
Which brings us—and the story—full circle. “All Due Respect” is an unusually straightforward episode of the show. Outside of a few stray scenes with Christopher or A.J., this is an episode that’s mostly about Tony making a decision that pains him very much. And that means there’s only one place he can go, ultimately, even if he has to run clear across town to get there, through snowy woods and across streams of freezing cold water. He’s got to head back home, right back to the woman who tossed him out in last season’s finale and now welcomes him back with open arms and a slightly irritated query of where he’s been to get into such a state. The Sopranos is, as much as anything else, the story of a marriage, and season five has been about showing us how inevitable it was that these people would always be together, at least until one of them dies. It might have seemed at one time that they would have the strength to split, but, ultimately, you feel safer with the bear in the backyard being on your side than you do if he’s just lumbering around, tipping over trash cans. You welcome him back in because he’s what you know, and he re-enters, because that’s what he knows. There’s a comfort and a safety in that, but there’s also a kind of horror. “All Due Respect”—and this show’s fifth season—succeed because they always remember that.
- This will be our last Sopranos article for a little while. I’m glad you all joined in for these season five recaps, and it’s been the most popular season yet for this series, readership-wise, with “Long Term Parking” setting a new high-water mark. (I’d like to say that’s all me, but I think we all know it’s just because this is such a superb season of television.) I’m also sure you remember the poll I ran to choose the next series that I would cover between seasons, and I’m happy to announce that the winner is… Carnivale. I’ll be covering season one of the show starting January 18, and I haven’t quite decided how many episodes I’ll cover per week. That said, you should likely expect this feature to return April 11, when we’ll settle in for season 6A.
- The A.J. plot in this episode doesn’t do a lot for me—there aren’t a lot of A.J. plots that do a lot for me, period—but I do like the scene where Tony and Carmela consider his party planning and decide it’s good that he’s getting “fired up” about something. That’s some great parenting rationalization.
- I briefly alluded to it above, but I think the scene with Melfi in this episode (one of only a few she’s appeared in in the back half of the season) is one of the better ones for her in the show’s latter half. The point where she finally gets frustrated about how she can never touch some of the more serious issues hurting Tony is a good one, and I also like the way she cuts the bullshit and just tells Tony that he longed to hear A.J. was special and didn’t get that information.
- Another callback to earlier in the season: Tony goes to see A.J.’s football coach, clearly hoping that this coach will think as highly of A.J. as Tony’s coach thought of him. (The meeting happens offscreen, sadly, but Tony talks about it with Melfi at length.)
- Typical A.J.: His friend has to be the one to fight when the two learn kids are ripping off their party.
- I’ve singled out the use of “Glad Tidings” as particularly good (and I like the way it sounds like Christmas—which is just over the horizon in this episode—without being a Christmas song), but I also like when Tony pauses outside of the school to call his lawyer, and you can hear the kids scream-singing “Mr. Tambourine Man” inside. One of those little real-life details that the show captured so very well.
- Junior’s dementia has gotten to the point where he barely remembers what he’s doing in the moment, and he seemingly can’t focus on anything. It’s also readily obvious to Tony, where he didn’t seem terribly concerned before.
- I kind of wonder if “Glad Tidings” was chosen solely for the line “We’ll send you glad tidings from New York.” It works so well that I don’t care if it was.
- The image of Tony B.’s body lying on the woodpile in the dark is a nicely chilling one.
- I love the shot of the FBI guys closing in in the background as Tony talks to Johnny. You really only notice it if you know to look. (Also love Tony desperately chucking the gun in the snow.)
- Okay, so, according to Drea De Matteo on the “Long Term Parking” commentary and numerous interviews with cast and crew in the wake of this episode (and before season six began), Tony B. was originally supposed to survive this season, but the writers realized that there was basically no way that he would ever make it out of this situation alive, and they were forced to kill him. For those of you who’ve seen it (and know how to mark spoilers), what do you think a season six with Tony B. might have looked like?
- “Be of good cheer. Call you when I hear more.”
Speaking With The Fishes (spoilers):
- Will Phil come for Bobby, Tony’s brother-in-law? Well, not in this episode, but he does just that in “The Blue Comet,” when war between New York and New Jersey finally breaks out. (Speaking of that, the length of time that it takes for this conflict to finally boil over is one of the most effective cases of narrative blue balls in TV history, and it fizzles out almost as quickly as it starts.)
- I’m amazed at how well this episode plants in our head that Phil’s the one Tony really needs to worry about—as we’ll see throughout season six—then rips the Johnny Sack safety net out from under us almost as soon as we’ve gotten used to the new status quo.
- This is probably me reaching, but I think the seeds for Melfi dumping Tony as a patient—also in “The Blue Comet” (which is a companion to this episode in many ways)—are laid here, as she realizes that her treatment of him will probably remain fruitless, so long as he refuses to delve into what he actually does for a living.
Next time: We’ll be back in April—probably April 11—with “Members Only” and one of the most shocking endings in Sopranos history. Until then, please join us for weekly reviews of HBO’s weirdest series, Carnivale, beginning January 18. See you then!