“Everybody Hurts” (season 4, episode 6)
In which the fate of Gloria Trillo is learned.
A constant theme of The Sopranos is Tony’s desire to be liked or even loved by people as they might love a beloved friend or brother. Tony Soprano is many, many things. He’s an excellent businessman. He’s very good at the less savory side of his occupation as well. He occasionally makes stabs at being a good son or a good brother or a good husband or a good father. He’s, if you’ll believe Artie Bucco, subconsciously super-smart, able to see 20 moves ahead of everybody else and realize that no matter what happens, the worst-case scenario will still work out pretty well for him. (You could argue, perhaps, that the world is already stacked in Tony Soprano’s favor, as A.J. learns when he drives into the city with his girlfriend, Devin, and sees how others live.) But what he most wants to be—a “great guy,” a “great brother,” a “great friend”—is something he can only be once he buys his way into that club.
I don’t like “Everybody Hurts” as much as other episodes of the show. In many ways, it’s a little too obvious and lacking in subtlety, with the story of A.J. realizing simultaneously just how privileged he is and just how much OTHER families have than his does, in particular, coming off as awfully clunky and pedantic in places. But there’s lots of strong material scattered throughout, and I like where the episode sits in the season. This has been a season fairly lacking in big, violent setpieces (at least since Chris killed the man who may have killed his father back in the premiere), but we get one here. It’s just between Artie Bucco and some French guy we’ve just met, and there’s little more to it than Artie trying to be a tough guy and eventually getting his ass handed to him. “Everybody Hurts” is clumsy in places, sure, but it’s also an episode that nicely continues building the idea that Tony Soprano is almost violently lonely and needs something more than anyone can give to him. And the one person he could turn to with those needs—Carmela—is someone he refuses to turn to, outside of paying her lip service here and there.
Tony specifically reaches out to five characters in this episode, and he harshly threatens another. Let’s take them one by one.
Christopher: Playing off of something Tony said back in the premiere, he’s decided to start skewing his operation so all of his orders run through Chris. When the episode opens, Chris and Adriana are passed out, high, on the couch, barely watching a show about the Egyptian pyramids, when Tony’s call comes in. He wants to meet with Chris, seemingly just to tell him of his plan to eventually run everything through Chris—his blood. Chris is flabbergasted (not least because he’s so high), and he stammers something about hoping he will prove worthy of Tony’s trust and faith. Tony wonders why he wouldn’t, and though Chris says it’s just something people say in situations like this, we already know just why Tony shouldn’t be placing so much faith in Chris: He’s an addict who might have had some potential at one point but is very slowly losing his shit. Where Tony wants a surrogate son he can count on in all matters business-wise, he’s got a man who’s losing himself to what seems more and more like a constant high.
One of the strengths of The Sopranos’ pacing is that everything builds so slowly that we get to watch train wrecks take shape long before they ever happen. We know, on some level, that Tony will realize at some point that Chris isn’t the man he should be entrusting so much to, but because of how the show plays fast and loose with traditional narrative build, we don’t know if this will explode in Chris’ face, or if Tony will just come to realize what a fuck-up Chris is and slowly cut him loose, leaving him to his drugs and everything else that keeps him from being successful and whole. (In particular, watch how this episode uses divided mirrors to suggest that Tony, Chris, and Artie are, in some fashion, splintered, not really themselves, with Tony having the best sense of self.) The Sopranos is so good at using the audience’s knowledge against it that there’s no real need to call attention to just how much of a mess Chris is and just how much of a bad idea Tony’s plan is. But Tony has his dreams of a real family around him, similar to the ones from the old days, and his paranoia keeps driving him to pull the circle tighter and tighter around himself, leaving him blind to the flaws in that circle, so that Chris can pass off his mental state as having had a little wine.
Artie: Artie, still working through a painful separation from Charmaine and attempting to be a cool guy, finds himself bewitched by another hostess, the French Elodi, who just happens to have a brother who just happens to be looking for investors in a new business venture, which would involve the importation of armagnac, a weird French brandy (it'll be the next vodka!) in an attempt to crack the U.S. market. Elodi has told her brother that Artie knows guys who can get the cash, but Artie points out, rightly, that because he’d be the middleman, he’d be, for all intents and purposes, the lender. Naturally, this being Artie, almost everything goes wrong, and he’s soon tracking down the brother at his apartment to try and get his money back. But the money’s gone, and Artie’s not getting any of it. As it turns out—as even Janice could have told him—there’s not much of a market for armagnac in America. He got hustled by a bad deal, and the money he was holding wasn’t even his; it was Tony Soprano’s.
Tony’s involvement in this story is key, I think, to how the show wants us to see him and how the show wants us to see its primary animating theme of money this season. Tony mentions wondering if he’s a “toxic person” a few times in this episode, but he mentions it first to Artie, one of his oldest friends. (Where he tries to make Chris a surrogate son, he longs to see Artie as his brother.) He all but bullies this old friend into taking his money, even if he must know on some level (as Artie suggests later) that there’s no way this deal will work, no way armagnac will be a success in the States. Still, he also knows that there’s not really a way this can end poorly for him. And, indeed, it doesn’t. Artie, weeping at how much money he’s lost and how badly he got fooled, attempts to take his own life, and Tony, who gets a weepy phone call from his friend, calls 9-1-1 to save Artie’s life (or else he’d have to stop consorting with his new Russian girlfriend!). In the hospital, in a fantastic scene, Artie, after agreeing to wipe Tony’s $6,000 tab at the restaurant clean, speculates that Tony knew this was coming, that he realized the “worst-case scenario” involved getting to eat for free. Tony, of course, reacts badly to the news, considering he’s just put himself out there for a friend. He steals Artie’s wallet and ring, but he’ll even admit to Melfi later that, well, maybe there was something to what Artie was saying, to the idea that he gets what he wants, no matter what. And then some: One of the last things we see is Furio going over to Elodi’s brother’s apartment to get the money back, on top of what Tony’s already taken from Artie.
Cousin Brian: Brian’s a rather minor character in the episode, but he’s the guy who says most often what Tony most wants to hear: That he’s a “great guy.” Brian drops by to set up that Soprano living trust we’ve spent so much time on, and Carmela’s finally happy about Tony’s decision to protect the family’s future. But as she goes to grab the cookies from the oven, the “ding” of the oven reminds Tony of Gloria, whom he’s just learned has killed herself. He turns on a dime, his rather formal relationship with Brian becoming one where he sets Brian up with his suit guy. And later, while enjoying drinks and dinner on a big night out to see Billy Joel with Brian and his wife (and Furio and the girl Carmela set him up with, since Adriana begged out of the evening), he buys so much for the table that Brian offers up a heartfelt toast to his “new friend.” But how much of that is honest? How much of it is just business, and how much of it is people doing whatever they can to keep Tony happy, to make this violent, occasionally ill-tempered man stay on their good sides? Does Brian really think Tony’s a “great guy,” or does he just know that’s what Tony needs to hear?
Janice: Janice sure knows what Tony needs to hear. At an expensive dinner at Artie’s restaurant (which, of course, gets put on Tony’s tab), Tony tries to talk with his sister about suicide, about whether she’s ever known anyone who killed themselves. Janice, of course, has (she lived in Seattle, after all), but her story about Murray, the man who lived upstairs and eventually shot himself, doesn’t really do much to fill in the guilt-ridden gap Tony is feeling in the wake of Gloria’s death, a gap that’s led to him reaching out to all of the people above (save Christopher). Still, Janice points toward one of the major reasons Tony has such an emptiness in the first place, subtly invoking the specter of Livia as she sucks the marrow from a bone. And after Tony spends a whole lot of money on her and gives his tacit approval of the match with Bobby, she, too, lets him know he’s a “great brother,” who’s always there for her. And he seems soothed for the moment.
Gloria: One of the things I think The Sopranos did better than any other series before it or since was use subtle visual and aural clues to invoke the sense of déjà vu the characters must be feeling in the audience as well. One of my favorite cues of this nature in the entire series is in this episode, when the “ding” of the Sopranos’ oven matches the “ding” of Gloria’s oven from Tony’s dream, the dream where he tries to go to her after he knows she committed suicide and tries to… well, not save her, exactly, but to just see her again. (Perhaps because his subconscious won’t let go of him, all Gloria wants to do is feed him or fuck him, which is really how he mainly saw her as she was alive.) Sadly, much of the rest of the dream sequence is a little too overt, like the black scarf around Gloria’s neck, or the bits of plaster falling from the ceiling into Tony’s glass of armagnac (a move that subtly links Gloria’s successful suicide with Artie’s attempt later). The Sopranos excels at visual symbols that could mean any number of things so often that the hammer-meets-nail approach here—everything is about Gloria’s suicide and the fact that Tony may be partially to blame!—leaves something to be desired. Still, her death is what drives him in this episode to continue this weird attempt to find something like genuine affection he’s been engaging in all season (and all series, really). And that’s despite the fact that he could never even say it was his fault.
Melfi: Melfi is the person Tony threatens here (with shots chosen to remind us of how she had to face a terrifying act of physical violence just last season, so we pick up on the extremely mild quaver in her voice when she asks him to get away from here). And it’s because she’s the one person who will neither tell Tony he’s a great guy, nor give him the satisfaction of knowing Gloria’s death was all his fault. If Gloria killed herself for him, then he can be enough of that “great guy” that a woman who couldn’t have him killed herself when it was all over. He even tries to paint his treatment of Gloria as somehow moral, reminding Melfi that he was upfront with Gloria about his marital situation from the start. But Melfi can’t give him any easy answers or simple platitudes: Gloria was a troubled woman, and she took her own life, and he had to hear about it from his own wife, not from her (this is what really sets him off). Later, when he sees Melfi again, mostly to talk about Artie (and Melfi gently suggests that without Gloria’s death, very little of what happened with Artie would have happened), he suggests he’s put all of this behind him, that Gloria’s in his past and he’s given money to the suicide hotline in her name, and that’s it. (He even seems a little embarrassed to admit this.) And so he closes himself off again, until the next time he needs to find someone to fill that hole that’s always open somewhere inside of himself.
“Everybody Hurts” isn’t a bad episode, really, just kind of a disappointing one. I like the Tony storyline quite a bit, and the Artie story is very, very funny, even after he attempts to kill himself (the scene where Tony corrects him on how much he owes while Artie is in his hospital bed is hilarious). But there’s a sense throughout that little here is as subtle as it could be, and the closing scene—A.J. sitting around with his friends and wondering why his dad doesn’t have the money Devin’s dad does—isn’t as strong as it might be. But this is the kind of episode necessary for the show’s continued success, an episode where we mostly follow Tony Soprano around and try to get inside of his head as he deals with his family, both real and metaphorical.
- I’m surprised they’re that gossipy at the Mercedes dealer. Even if you buy that the guy figures out Tony and Gloria had a thing going on, he sure gives up a lot of information about her suicide to someone who’s a stranger.
- The look on Tony’s face when he hears what happened to Gloria is heart breaking, even as Carmela chastises him for not giving a shit.
- That’s a young Paul Dano (complete with ridiculous bowl cut) as A.J.’s friend who’s obsessed with the idea of Tony being a mobster like in the movies.
- I’m not sure I have much more to say about it than I did above, but that A.J. plotline really does seem to grind along in one gear the whole time, and while I like the sick joke of A.J. realizing just how underprivileged some people are before being in Devin’s house makes HIM feel like the one who’s underprivileged, I’m not sure there’s much more going on here than the continued insistence of the show at A.J.’s isolation (he even just wants to go into the city to have sex, to his sister’s irritation). In retrospect, though, it sure seems like Carmela brags about how much her statue cost because she knows who Devin’s dad is (or suspects, maybe).
- OK, one other thing I do like in that storyline: A.J.’s confusion when he’s dropped off in the Bronx by the car driver. His sister voluntarily goes here?
- Nice use of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” in the short scene at the dinner.
- Hey, it’s 2002 or 2001 or something alert: The Sopranos now fly an American flag outside their house. Did they before?
- Romance Furio style apparently involves some free tooth cleaning from his new dental hygienist lady love. Sexy!
- I like how Charmaine figures out that Artie’s stupidly invested money simply because Elodi is flirting with him. I would watch a whole show about the Bucco marriage.
- Another nice visual motif that’s recurring a lot this season: Note all of the close-ups of pill bottles. Still not sure what it denotes, but it’s a nice little flourish here and there.
Speaking With The Fishes:
- I remain impressed by just how well this season is preparing us for everything that comes in a few episodes. The fight between Artie and Elodi’s brother is essentially a comic spin on the fight coming between Tony and Ralphie in a few episodes.
- Most of A.J.’s friends will pop up again here and there, though none of them are terribly important in the full run of the show.
- My wife happened to catch a season 6.5 episode last night, and Cousin Brian was in it. I had completely forgotten that he hung around the show that long.
Next week: Been missing Paulie? He gets out of jail in “Watching Too Much Television.”