“No-Show” (season 4, episode 2)
In which Chris and Meadow both struggle with responsibility.
Honesty bedevils the characters on The Sopranos. So much of their psychological guilt could be assuaged by just being honest with each other, but the cost of honesty would be death or incarceration. So they keep their true realities buttoned up deep inside, be they criminals or women who’ve just discovered their new best friend works for the FBI. And whenever anyone breaks through all of those surface levels of disguise to the ugly core of these people and what they do, it’s a terrifying moment. When Meadow brattily calls her dad a “mob boss” near this episode’s end point, you know he won’t ACTUALLY hurt her—he’s already told Melfi about how much love there is between the two of them. But that doesn’t mean that when he gets right in her face and seems about to bounce her around the room that it doesn’t feel like she’s about to be hurt terribly. And when Adriana discovers that her friend worked for the FBI and, indeed, the Bureau wants her to inform on her fiancée and Tony Soprano himself, the only reaction she can muster up is to throw up all over the desk. Honesty is terrifying.
The title of “No-Show” refers, alternately, to Chris and Paulie (who are both awarded “no-show” jobs on the Esplanade project, where they get paid without ever having to punch a clock) and to Meadow, who at first seems like she’s going to be a no-show on the first day of classes at Columbia but, instead, is a no-show for her flight to Europe. While Chris struggles to incorporate his new responsibilities as acting capo (for the in-jail Paulie) into his day-to-day life, a life that increasingly includes time for getting high on stronger and stronger drugs, Meadow struggles to find direction after the death of Jackie, Jr., (an event the show could have glossed over but chose to confront directly in this episode) and what just might be her subconscious knowledge that her father was the one who ordered the death of her ex-boyfriend. In a real way, Chris and Meadow have become absences at the centers of their own lives in the past few months, Chris sinking more and more into drugs as he cracks under pressure and Meadow sinking deeper and deeper into depression. (The show often parallels these two characters.)
But the title might as well refer to Tony himself, who lumbers through this episode like a destructive force, never quite sure what to do and, instead, deferring to his wife on parenting matters and taking less of a hands on role with the Esplanade than he might usually (which is how Chris’ facial expressions get interpreted as an excuse to steal a bunch of fiber optic cable and Silvio feels comfortable giving a direct order to steal a bunch of expensive floor tile). He’s the absence at the center of Meadow’s therapy session, when the therapist pushes her to talk more about “Dad,” then asks if perhaps Dad molested Meadow. (The look on Jami-Lynn Sigler’s face in this section of the episode is dead-on for someone who finds the accusation simultaneously horrifying, inaccurate, and kind of amusing.) The therapist finally pushes Meadow to acknowledge just what it is her father does for a living, after a lengthy period of just talking around it (including trying to claim Jackie Aprile, Sr., was a “loan shark”). And that’s when she starts to break through, to move to the point where she abandons her dreams of running away from her life because she’s confronted the void at its center.
It’s interesting that The Sopranos never made a bigger deal of the fact that no one in the family ever directly talked about the fact that Tony (and almost every adult male they knew well, save Artie) was in the mafia. Many of the show’s successors made a huge deal out of these sorts of secrets at their centers, playing off, say, the comedic potential from a family that didn’t seem to be what it was living in the middle of the suburbs (and wasn’t that CRAZY?!). The Sopranos went in the other direction, simply letting us know that everyone in this family knew what was done to keep putting food on the family table but chose to carefully avoid that subject even in conversation with each other. That’s how it would really be in a real mob family, of course. But the psychological strain on the Soprano family was also more acute, and depicting the story this way allowed for there to be moments where the cracks and fissures in the façade would start to show, then abruptly be smoothed over again.
Take, for instance, Carmela’s arc in this episode. When it begins, we see her touching herself up as she prepares for Furio to come pick her husband up to go and get his car at the mechanic’s. Of course she’s got a little bit of a crush on Furio. Tony isn’t the type of guy to either be faithful to her, nor to satisfy her particular needs, and Furio, even if he’s cut from the same cloth as Tony, at least seems like he’d be better at this sort of thing. But what’s interesting is that Carmela almost seems as if she isn’t admitting this to herself, as if she’s checking her hair, outfit, and makeup while on auto-pilot, the truth about what she’s doing buried down deep somewhere. Meanwhile, as she tries to get Meadow out of bed, she, too, avoids the truth of what happened to Jackie, Jr. If she was ever sad about the kid’s death, she’s gotten over it because to dwell too long on it would let her realize just how much the crime points toward her husband (and by extension herself), a line of thought that could bring everything she’s been working for down around her ears. Carmela puts up with a certain amount of shit in order to keep living the life she’s accustomed to, but that also means a constant regimen of lying to herself, of making sure the void doesn’t grow large enough to become noticeable.
Part of the reason Tony acquiesces so readily to his wife at home is because he knows this is the case, because he knows that giving her this realm of influence will be something she would like. (He also genuinely seems baffled by how he turned out a smart girl like Meadow.) But the gap between the two grows larger and larger with each season. Season four of The Sopranos is already digging as deep into the marriage between Tony and Carmela as the show ever went, and the show says so much while saying so little about just how distant these two are from each other. The final shot of the episode—one of the series’ best—pictures the two in the same room, but at completely opposite ends, after Tony’s peace entreaties to his wife (after he seemed to suggest that Meadow should just fucking go to Europe in a fit of pique, then seemed to blame the fact that she was staying in the U.S. on her mother) fail. They’re in the same opulent room, the same big bathroom his money bought them. But they couldn’t be farther apart.
And there’s that theme of money, of business, rearing its head again. The Esplanade stands to be a big money-maker for the Soprano crew, but only if the crew can withhold its illegal activities to the fact that it’s been given those no-show and no-work contracts. Instead, the people on the no-work jobs notice more and more things that could be stolen from the job site, and they make off with them, leaving Tony to have to reassure the construction company owner that things will be made right, immediately before even more items go missing from the site. What the guys have is a pretty sweet deal (even if Patsy says it’s tough to sit out on a chair every day for a certain amount of time), but they can’t stop trying to make it even sweeter. Nobody on this show knows when to quit or how to shut down their greed. Taking things is paramount, and finding a way to make another buck becomes the order of the day. They don’t NEED to take that cable, but, hey, doesn’t the construction company have insurance?
But it’s the Adriana story that really has long-term implications here. After introducing the idea of Ade’s new best friend being an FBI agent, unbeknownst to Ade, it seemed like the show might tease this out over the course of the season (or even many seasons). Instead, she finds out in this episode just what’s up, all thanks to her fiancé being a cad. “Danielle” comes over to the club with Adriana and Christopher, and she heads into the back room with the two so they can get high and she can (hopefully) garner more evidence to take to her bosses. Instead, Chris comes on to her while making out with Adriana, hoping that he can lure her into a threesome, and Adriana, of course, blames everything on “Danielle,” not on her jerkish fiancé. (Previously, the two had speculated about who she might really be, with Chris saying the truth was staring them in the face: She was a lesbian! Very funny work from Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo in this scene.) And so four months of hard work is sucked down the drain as Adriana cuts “Danielle” out of her life, even as she tries more and more desperately to ingratiate herself with her former best friend.
One of the things I love about this storyline is that you’re never entirely sure about how “real” the friendship between the two women is. Obviously, the basis for it is entirely fake, since “Danielle” doesn’t exist and she’s using Adriana to get to information about the Soprano crime family. But at the same time, when we see the two women interacting in this episode and the one before, they DO seem like real friends, and the advice “Danielle” gives Adriana about the OBGYN in New York seems to come from a genuine place, to the point where perhaps the doctor was the one she went to during her own recent pregnancy. (Also, I forgot to note this last week, but I love that her husband is G.O.B. Bluth. I also love the little drop-ins on their own version of homey domesticity.) On some level, Deborah really does care about this woman and really does think of her as a friend. But is that all on the performance level? Or does it run deeper? By the time she’s brought Adriana in and revealed who she really is, she has to keep things professional, but it seems evident she’s a little ashamed of how much she led Adriana on. (When Adriana throws up, it’s as much for the betrayal of a friend as it is for the situation she finds herself in.) Yet another series of disguises, covering up something at the core that can’t be revealed without changing everything.
But the character really bumping up against all of these issues is, of course, Meadow. When she signs up for the philosophy course (on the self, morality, and society) at the end of the hour, it’s a nice reminder that one of the pivotal battles of the series is for the soul of Meadow Soprano. If there’s someone who’s going to break the cycles that have destroyed generation after generation of Soprano family members, it’s her, because she’s got the brains and the wit to make it in the world without the backing of her mob family ties. In the world of The Sopranos, it’s rare for people in the mob to find their children not following in their footsteps. But Meadow is the girl Tony pins all of his hopes on, the girl that he thinks has a shot to do what Jackie, Jr., couldn’t. In Tony’s hopes for his daughter, you see whatever level of remorse and shame he feels over his career choice. For him, it’s the best thing to do. But for his children? It should never, ever happen. It’s a part of a dying world, and getting involved in it is to die yourself. Will Meadow ever push past her self-absorption to confront the life she was born into? It’s possible, but to get a real idea, you’d have to look at her parents. And that should fill no one with hope.
- “Kid A” is just a phenomenal closing musical choice for this episode in a lot of ways, but not least because both Meadow and Chris have been “Kid A” for Tony at various points throughout the series. (Thus ends your incredibly obvious readings of Sopranos musical choices for the week.)
- I didn’t have a great memory of Sigler in this role, but I’m more and more impressed by her on this rewatch. She’s not afraid to make herself a brat, and she’s really good at portraying just how depressed Meadow is, even as she hides it underneath layers of bluster. I also love James Gandolfini’s reaction when he finds out that Meadow may need Prozac, which says everything about how Tony never wanted his children to have any of his flaws without a single word.
- I didn’t really touch on Ralphie, but he’s all over this episode, trying to figure out the best way to continue to advance in the organization, even as he’s at the back of the line. Now, his new plan involves dating Janice, which will apparently endear him even more to the boss. Joe Pantoliano has a great moment when he’s hiding upstairs as Tony rages at his sister about how she’s taken up with Ralphie, and you can see just how much Ralphie both wants Tony to embrace him and how much he loathes his boss.
- A nice callback to the scene where Paulie sniffed Ade’s underwear here, though Chris now blames it on Patsy, probably because he’s convenient.
- The scene where Chris roars onto the job site to chew out the guys for taking the cable without his permission has a great, violent capper when the innocent crew member who’s wandered over to try to keep the peace takes a pipe to the face. When things go south, the only recourse is violence, and the only person to take out that violence on is someone utterly unconnected.
- I also liked Meadow giving her perspective on that ultra-schmaltzy scene from the end of the last season, where Junior sang all those old Italian ballads. I had critic friends who thought that scene glossed over a lot of horror, and it’s nice to see that Meadow feels the same way.
- Hey, it’s 2002 alert: The kids use the land line for almost everything they need in communicating with their friends. A.J. needs his mother to get off the dial-up Internet. (The Sopranos wouldn’t at least have cable Internet at this point? I did, and I was a college kid living in a rotting house!)
- We also get a scene where we visit Paulie in jail and see just how much he’s frustrated by being stuck in there AND get an indication that his new connections to New York make him extra sensitive to that Ginny Sacramone joke.
- Man, Cosette is an ugly little dog.
- "You were saying she had a nice ass." "I was trying to say something positive because she's your friend!"
Speaking To The Fishes:
- Ralphie’s joke about Ginny Sacramone having a mole removed from her ass will turn into a fairly major plot point, strange as that might seem right now.
- It’s fascinating to watch Vito talk with Ralphie about what’s attractive about Janice, now that we know the character is gay (though at this point in the show’s run, I don’t believe even the writers had figured that out).
- And, of course, Carmela’s flirtation with Furio becomes a big part of the season’s hidden plot, which is all about how Tony and Carmela’s marriage ultimately splinters apart.
Next week: Well, it’s that time. Columbus Day arrives, and, according to the Wikipedia summary, Tony “befriends” a horse in “Christopher.”