Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood 27

W Chase D Coulter PLOT The feds scheme to place a bugged lamp in the family's basement as the Sopranos go about their quotidian lives: Freshman Meadow settles in at Columbia University, AJ skips school, and Tony ponders what to do about new crew member Patsy, who suspects Tony of offing his dear, departed brother Philly. (Patsy's grieving process apparently involves peeing in Tony's pool.) introduces Meadow's unstable roomie, Caitlin (Ari Graynor). BEST LINE Paulie Walnuts ranting about the bacteria in men's bathrooms: ''You look at ladies' johns, you could eat maple walnut ice cream from the toilets.'' CRITIQUE This slightly delayed third-season premiere presents the perfect reintroduction to Tony, a goomba who's more at ease making veiled threats (''You've put your grief behind you,'' he says to Patsy. ''Let me hear you say it'') than he is dealing with his home's burst water heater. Alas, the episode also delivers the season's first (of many) abandoned story line: Adriana's flirtatious lesbian tennis teacher (The Guardian's Erica Leerhsen), introduced here, will never be seen again. B+

Proshai, Livushka 28

W Chase D Van Patten PLOT Tony suffers another anxiety attack after warning Meadow's new half-black ''friend'' Noah (Patrick Tully) to stay away from her. (''[You're a] charcoal briquette. Mulignon.'') Livia dies of a stroke, causing the extended Soprano family to scratch its head trying to think of a praiseful eulogy. Janice returns to search Livia's house for hidden riches and to kick out Livia's nurse, the one-legged Svetlana (Alla Kliouka). INTRODUCES Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), who clamors for captainhood after taking over Richie Aprile's crew. HISTORIC MOMENT The late Nancy Marchand (in her final, posthumous appearance) is shown arguing with Tony via creepy, digitally inserted recycled footage. CREATIVE CASTING Peter Riegert as Assemblyman Zellman, who pays his respects to Tony at Livia's funeral. BEST LINE ''This is such a crock of s -- -.'' (Carmela, reacting to a positive tribute to her deceased mother-in-law) CRITIQUE Chase himself writes the perfect eulogy for Livia: Tony's tortured vacillations between grief and anger (he cries watching how much more loving the mother in the classic film The Public Enemy is to her gangster son) tidily sum up what a button-pushing piece of work the old gal was. A

Fortunate Son 29

W Kessler D Bronchtein PLOT Christopher finally becomes a made man, but Paulie makes him miserable by demanding a cut of his already-in-the-red bookie operation. To make payment, Christopher robs a Jewel benefit concert with Jackie Aprile Jr. as his getaway driver. In therapy, Tony remembers his first childhood panic attack, which came after witnessing his father cut off a deadbeat butcher's pinkie and then seeing his mother's elation (a rare positive emotion from her) over the free meat. Later AJ, a budding football star, has his first panic attack after being named defensive captain. When Svetlana won't give up Livia's valuable record collection, Janice steals her prosthetic leg. BEST LINE Christopher describes Jackie Jr. as ''the hair apparent.'' CRITIQUE A complex familial portrait, revealing that the two main things AJ has inherited from Tony -- delinquency and passing out -- are the very things Tony fears most for his son. Less complex is Tony's overly facile meat-shop revelation. Still, what's not to like about an episode in which Melfi makes a lengthy reference to Proust's madeleine only to have Tony reply, ''This sounds very gay.'' a-

Employee of the Month 30

W Green/Burgess D Patterson PLOT When Melfi is raped and her assailant goes free after a police error, she considers siccing Tony on him. Ralph brings Jackie (whose mom he's dating) to help him beat up a debtor, underscoring the recklessly violent streak that gets him passed over for captainhood. Janice finds God after her ribs are broken by two Russian thugs enlisted by Svetlana, who wants her leg back. (A leery Tony remarks: ''All this soul-searching, Janice.... It's always on my f -- -ing dime.'') HISTORIC MOMENT The show once again tweaks its cultural detractors by having Melfi and her ex, Richard, argue over whether Mafia TV shows reflect poorly on all Italian Americans. BEST LINE When Christopher refers to Jackie Jr. as ''Little Lord F -- -pants,'' an eavesdropping fed asks ''Whose moniker is that?'' CRITIQUE This ep won a writing Emmy for a reason: The painfully realistic rape scene fires up viewers' bloodlust for a Soprano-sponsored street-justice climax that Melfi ultimately chooses not to put in motion. (Tony: ''You wanna say something?'' Melfi: ''No.'') A

Another Toothpick 31

W Winter D Jack Bender PLOT When a local dirtbag knocks an Aprile cousin into a coma with a golf-club swing to the head, Tony recruits the attacker's ailing little-g godfather to whack him. Junior reveals he has stomach cancer, and Artie (who's separating from Charmaine) confesses that he's in love with an oblivious Adriana -- a declaration Tony warns him never to repeat. When Tony gets caught speeding, he feels guilty after Assemblyman Zellman has the ticketing cop demoted. CREATIVE CASTING Charles S. Dutton (Roc) is the offending policeman, and Burt Young (Rocky) plays the ill godfather/hitman. BEST LINE When Carmela joins Tony for a squabbling therapy session and Melfi points out that they seem angry with each other, Tony snaps, ''You must have been at the top of your f -- -in' class.'' CRITIQUE A dense and affecting mix of violence and ethical conundrums, but one cook spoils this stew: Artie's out-of-the-blue Adriana lust comes off as arbitrary, and uncharacteristic. B

University 32

W Teleplay by Winter and Salvatore J. Stabile, story by Chase/Winter/ Kessler/Green/Burgess D Coulter PLOT Bada Bing! stripper Tracee (Ariel Kiley) gets pregnant with Ralphie's baby, and is repeatedly rebuffed by Tony when she comes to him for advice. He later wishes he'd helped more after an increasingly volatile Ralphie beats her to death behind the club. Meadow develops man trouble when grade-driven Noah gets a C- on a paper and decides to break up with her. BEST LINE Gladiator fan Ralphie screams as he watches Spartacus: ''Look at Kirk Douglas' f -- -in' hair. They didn't have flattops in ancient Rome!'' CRITIQUE Some called this ep too violent, but what were they expecting, Arli$$? Ralphie's sociopathic brutality (not to mention Silvio's, who smacks Tracee for missing work) is a harsh reality check that these characters can be beasts, while Tony's remorse reminds us they're also human. A

Second Opinion 33

W Lawrence Konner D Van Patten PLOT Junior professes utter faith in his cancer surgeon (''You tell me to take a crap on the deck of the Queen Mary, an hour later they're hosing it down with disinfectant''), but when the doctor proves inattentive, Tony and Furio forcefully correct his manners. Tony also strong-arms a complaining Angie Bonpensiero, Big Pussy's widow (whom he's now financially supporting), and mediates between the increasingly disputatious Paulie and Chris. Meanwhile, Carmela sees a psychiatrist on her own and, instead of a friendly shoulder, finds stone-cold judgment. Calling Tony ''a depressed criminal, prone to anger, serially unfaithful,'' the shrink warns her, ''Take only the children -- what's left of them -- and go. One thing you can never say: that you haven't been told.'' CREATIVE CASTING Tony winner Frank Wood (who had previously starred opposite Falco in Broadway's Side Man) as Meadow's college dean, who shakes down Carmela for a $50,000 donation. BEST LINE Tony's definition of Italians as ''Jews with better food.'' CRITIQUE An Emmy-nominated script with the sharpest line-by-line writing of the third season offers Chianese's fragile, furious Uncle Junior a rare chance to shine, and lets the superb Falco find both hypocrisy and pathos in Carmela's should-I-stay-or-should-I-go dilemma; her scene with the psychiatrist (Sully Boyar, who died two weeks before this episode first aired) doubtless helped her toward her second Emmy. A

He Is Risen 34

W Green/Burgess/Kessler D Coulter PLOT It's Thanksgiving, and while Meadow and Jackie Jr. grow tighter, Tony and Ralph Cifaretto are at near war in the wake of Tracee's murder. Ralph even asks New York mobster John ''Johnny Sack'' Sacramoni (Vincent Curatola), whose recent move to Jersey has unsettled Tony, about switching families; he's rebuffed. But when new captain Gigi Cestone croaks on the toilet, Tony promotes Ralph and effects an icy semitruce -- for now. INTRODUCES Annabella Sciorra as Mercedes saleswoman Gloria Trillo, a patient of Melfi's (''Serial killer -- I murdered seven relationships'') who by episode's end is bedding Tony aboard The Stugots. BEST LINE ''That guy in Hollywood too. Don something. Producer of The Simpsons.'' (Silvio, adding Top Gun producer Don Simpson to a list of famous loo fatalities) CRITIQUE Sciorra's live-wire performance crackles (and only gets better), but the emphasis on Ralph, a loose cannon whose temper threatens Tony, feels too much like a reprise of season 2's Richie Aprile story line. B

The Telltale Moozadell 35

W Imperioli D Attias PLOT Tony's affair with Gloria intensifies as she learns who he is (and we start to see how unstable she is); Christopher ''gives'' Adriana a nightclub in which he and Furio are ''silent partners''; Jackie Jr. ineptly dabbles in thug life when he tries to intercede with Chris for a drug dealer who wants to work out of the club; Tony lets him know that given his involvement with Meadow, the consequences for bad behavior will be severe. But AJ's bad behavior has no consequences at all; when he and some pals trash the Verbum Dei HS pool, the principal lets him off with a last warning. BEST LINE ''I hate all of them! My patients! Lying to my face, full of s -- -, with no concern for what I do!'' (Dr. Melfi, griping to her son) CRITIQUE A nothing-special episode whose whole purpose seems to be inching slow-to-develop plotlines along, though Cerbone's turn as studly dimwit Jackie Jr. is a hoot. B-

...To Save Us All From Satan's Power... 36

W Green/Burgess D Bender PLOT As Satriale's readies for Christmas, Big Pussy (the party's former Santa Claus) is on the minds of Tony, Silvio, and an unrepentant Paulie (''Don't waste another second on that rat f -- -, Tone -- I'd kill him again if I could!''). Also on Tony's list of who's been naughty: the Russian who beat up Janice (see episode 30) and Jackie Jr., who feels Tony's fury (''I haven't decided what to do with you'') when he's caught carrying a gun and consorting with a stripper. CREATIVE CASTING Jason Cerbone's look-alike brother Matt plays young Jackie Jr. BEST LINE ''Next year, he goes to Santa school.'' (Silvio, after Bacala gives a horrid performance in the red suit) CRITIQUE Although the ep continues to slow down the narrative momentum, devoted fans will enjoy some holiday treats, including Meadow's Christmas peace offering to Tony (Big Mouth Billy Bass), and Tony and Carmela's two-seasons-in-the-making squabble over his high school tryst with Charmaine Bucco. B

Pine Barrens 37

W Teleplay by Winter, story by Winter/Van Patten D Steve Buscemi PLOT Sent to collect a debt from Russian mobster Valery (Vitali Baganov), Paulie loses his temper and chokes him senseless. He and Christopher decide to bury him in the snowy woods, but Valery, not dead after all, escapes, leaving the two in unsuccessful pursuit, not to mention bloody, bruised, cold, and lost overnight until Tony and Bacala rescue them. And a pair of romances also freeze over: Meadow catches Jackie Jr. cheating, and Tony's dinner with the mercurial Gloria ends when she Frisbees a steak at his head. Melfi gets the last word: ''Depressive personality, unstable, impossible to please,'' she says of Tony's girlfriends. ''Does that remind you of any other woman?'' BEST LINE ''No Spanish!'' (Jackie Jr., after Meadow puts down oblique in Scrabble; his words, Meadow notices grimly, are ass, poo, and the) CRITIQUE A smashing return to form that earned Emmy nods for both the hilarious script and Buscemi's sharp, Fargo-ish directing, this hour gives Sirico's Paulie a well-deserved showcase, and is filled with smart, subtle depth charges -- Paulie's propensity for violent instability could make season 4 very interesting, as could Valery's return. A-

Amour Fou 38

W Teleplay by Renzulli, story by Chase D Van Patten PLOT Jackie Jr. is a marked man when he robs the wrong card game and sparks a shoot-out that gets Sunshine (Paul Mazursky) killed, Furio wounded, and forces Chris to take out Jackie's pal Dino (Andrew Davoli). Tony urges Ralph to ''do the right thing'' to punish the kid. When Gloria goes all fatal attraction on Tony, he nearly chokes her -- and then has Patsy threaten to end her life in a way that ''won't be cinematic'' if she contacts Tony again. After a cancer scare, Carmela decides to stay in her marriage. BEST LINE ''She stuck by him and put up with the bulls -- -, and in the end what did she do? She set up her own little thing.'' (Rosalie Aprile, discussing Hillary Clinton as a role model for Mob wives) CRITIQUE We get payoff after payoff as season 3 reaches a brilliant and violent early climax in an episode that won writing and directing Emmy nominations. This stands among Gandolfini's finest hours -- he gets to play Tony as enraged lover, tender husband, self-styled ''captain-a'-industry type,'' and shrewd and ruthless crime boss. When he explodes at the eerily Livia-like Gloria, it's both a therapeutic breakthrough and a terrifying glimpse into his heart of darkness. A

The Army of One 39

W Chase/Konner D Patterson PLOT On Ralph's orders, Jackie Jr. is shot point-blank outside the housing project where he's been hiding; at his funeral, Silvio and Chris are busted for promoting gambling; a hard-drinking Meadow lashes out at her parents but sounds more than ever like a Mafia princess when she defends her dad's life in ''waste management'' to Jackie's devastated sister; Junior gets a trial date; Paulie complains to Johnny Sack after Tony rules against him in a dispute over money with Ralph; Tony and Carmela consider military school for AJ when he's expelled from Verbum Dei. CREATIVE CASTING (and recasting) When this episode first aired, Fairuza Balk played fed Deborah Cicerone, who tries to get close to Tony by befriending Adriana; her scenes were then reshot for subsequent airings with Lola Glaudini (NYPD Blue), who'll return in the role. BEST LINE ''It sucks to be you.'' (AJ to Tony, who responds by slapping him in the face) CRITIQUE The drawn-out music-infused climax strains a bit too hard for effect, but this somber episode, focusing on Tony and Carmela's guilt and fear about their children, is exceptionally moving; it's a heart-piercing moment when Tony admits to Melfi that it'd be best for Meadow to ''get away from me,'' then asks imploringly of AJ, ''How we gonna save this kid?'' (oddly resonant given Iler's recent brush with the law). With trials approaching, the feds closing in, and Paulie seemingly flirting with betrayal, ''things,'' as Tony said in episode 1, ''are trending downward.'' But it's a journey we'll follow to its bitter end. A-

Originally posted Sep 06, 2002 Published in issue #670 Sep 06, 2002 Order article reprints
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