Remember When. . .
The Continuing Saga of the Sopranos. (Spoilers follow.)
The first episode two weeks ago dealt with the porous boundary between family and The Family, the episode last week focused on the thin line between reality and film or fiction. Last night’s episode, entitled “Remember When,” continues the theme of boundaries, tracing divisions between the past and the present, as well as the continuing connection between the two through memory, on the one hand, and ongoing consequences, on the other.
Informed the feds are digging up the basement of a house in their old haunts, Paulie and Tony get concerned. There is a body, from 1982. The victim was an insignificant bookie, but both Tony and Paulie remember because it was Tony’s first kill-he was 22 at the time, and it was days before the birth of Tony’s daughter Meadow–who’s now about to go to medical school. It was his initiation, and his tough Uncle Paulie took pride in encouraging him and helping him through the initial aftermath. It’s probably just dry bones, but criminal forensics not imagined a quarter of a century ago can make even dry bones live today–and testify to crimes long past.
To be safe, Tony and Paulie decide to get out of town, to drive to Miami until the threat has passed–it’s a literal and figurative trip down memory lane. They used to do this drive rather frequently in the past, but recently, it’s not been necessary. As they wind their way south, Paulie reminisces, chats with strangers, and generally makes Tony nervous about his ability to keep his mouth shut if he were ever questioned by the feds.
The past has disappeared. Tony’s shaken by the disappearance of the old, familiar, specific places, and the construction of new chain hotels and restaurants. They can’t get a steak and a bottle of liquor from room service, as in the old days–they can only get wraps after 11:00 p.m.
The men hire prostitutes who weren’t even alive at the time the bookie was killed.
At the same time, the past still has some painful hooks into the present. In Florida, Tony and Paulie meet an old associate, Beansie Gaeta, who was shot by the late Richie Aprile). He’s chipper, but not exactly whole –he’s in a wheelchair, and his urine is collected in an external bag. He shows them pictures of Tony’s father, a young Uncle Junior, a young Paulie, and a very young Tony. Beansie also assures Tony that Paulie is loyal to the core.
Memory of the past, and its continuing consequences for the present, create almost unbearable tension in a scene on a boat in Miami. Tony’s informed that he’s off the hook–that the feds don’t think he’s responsible for the crime. So he invites Paulie out on a huge fishing boat to celebrate. Paulie, remembering that this is how they killed Big Pussy, is understandably reluctant. He goes anyway. On the boat, Tony persistently questions Paulie about whether Paulie had been the one to pass on a rude joke in the Soprano family about Jonny Sack’s wife to someone in the New York family, thus creating a war with New York. Paulie, who must have remembered the scene from Godfather I where Michael questions his brother-in-law to find out the truth before killing him, vehemently denies that he was the loose mouth. We’re not sure what’s going to happen, but in the end, Tony decides not to kill Paulie.
It’s a miracle.
The subplot has to do with Uncle Junior, the former mob boss with Alzheimer’s who briefly recpatures his glory by running a card game in the nursing home with the help of a college student hospitalized for anger issues.
Uncle Junior ends up badly beaten. Doc, the elderly new head of the New York mob, ends up dead. And Paulie Walnuts is an old fool–and vulnerable precisely because of that fact. (I think he did pass the joke on to New York.)
So there we are.
By the way, about that miracle: Paulie is played by acclaimed actor Tony Sirico.
Tony Sirico’s real-life brother is Father Robert Sirico, the president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. You have to love America, the land of opportunity, for making coincidences like this possible. I think Father Sirico must have been praying for Paulie–the only way to explain Tony’s mercy. It may be Tony’s undoing.