“The Weight” (season 4, episode 4)
In which Johnny Sack and Ralph nearly get clipped.
If the first three episodes of season four didn’t have enough mob action for you, “The Weight” would like to make that up to you. It’s not exactly wall to wall with mob plot points or anything, but the center of the story is one of those things that’s uniquely of this world. Even better, much of the rest of the episode is the kind of ghoulish fun only The Sopranos could be when it was clicking along. How many other series would have gone in for a set piece as weird and wild as Silvio and Christopher’s visit to the elderly assassins guild of Rhode Island? And how many would have turned an off-color comment at a dinner, a fat joke, no less, into one of the major plot points of the season? Now, “The Weight” ends anticlimactically, I guess, in that neither Ralphie nor Johnny Sack die, but it’s one of the most lived-in episodes of the series. Every moment here feels just about perfectly observed.
Johnny Sack’s unwilling to let go of the crack Ralphie made about his wife having a 90-pound mole removed from her ass. Ginny, you see, is sensitive about the whole weight thing, and Johnny feels bad on her behalf. In the old days, he would have been able to clip Ralphie, and no one would have said a single thing against him. But now, he has to work his way through Carmine and try and strike a deal with Tony and feel out Ralphie for an apology. Johnny finally tires of all of this and just decides to take matters into his own hands, ordering a hit on Ralphie to take place at a Miami hotel. At the same time, Tony gets the go-ahead from Carmine to take out Johnny (something that will result in Carmine’s idiot son stepping into the underboss role). And so, it seems, both men will end up dead.
One of the things I love about this episode is how clearly it sets up Tony and Johnny Sack as a weird flipside of each other. Both have to deal with enfeebled old men who are ostensibly in control of the families, but Tony has far less to put up with with Junior, who’s mostly been sidelined since about mid-season one (though Junior’s advice in this episode is very sharp, as it often is when Tony goes to him). Carmine is constantly standing in the way of what Johnny wants to do in this episode, refusing to sanction the hit on Ralphie because, well, that could result in the Esplanade project falling apart and Carmine losing a lot of money. Is that all he cares about? Johnny asks. Well, yes, it would seem. He understands why Johnny’s angered on behalf of Ginny, but he also doesn’t see why he can’t just put the crude joke behind him and move on.
But the similarities between Tony and Johnny Sack don’t just stop there. Both men spend much of this episode dealing with their wives, but where Johnny is genuinely caring and loving toward Ginny, only losing his cool when he finds out that she’s been cheating on her diet and asking her why she diets in the first place, when he loves her so, Tony is far more mercenary toward Carmela. Carm spends most of the episode thinking about her upcoming real estate exam, as well as attempting to plan for the family’s future, in the event of the family ending up Tony-less. Tony mocks these ideas, for the most part, suggesting that he doesn’t really want to talk about planning for the future because it’s boring to him. (A.J. is similarly bored throughout the episode, suggesting Tony’s got something of an adolescent mentality when it comes to these things.) But as the episode ends, he realizes what an ass he’s been and buys his wife a fancy dress, one designed to show off her physique, in a scene so good it elevates everything around it.
There are lots of little grace notes like this throughout this episode. Check out, for instance, the way that Ralphie’s would-be killer is stopped from killing the guy just before Ralphie gets on an elevator with him. (This scene, where the two men size each other up, is a great example of the show utilizing that sense of the random events that keep complete chaos from raining down upon these men’s heads.) Or look at how the party at Furio’s house is allowed to play out as it actually might, with no one quite noticing the one-sided flirtation Carmela is tossing in Furio’s general direction. Or even look at the scene where everyone tries to call into the big conference via cell phone, or the scene where Tony and Junior talk out what’s to be done about Johnny while watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
It’s hard to say just why this is so much fun. To be sure, one of the chief appeals of watching a TV series is getting to know the characters and feeling that growing sense that we’re hanging out with them, that we can predict just what they’re going to do next. The Sopranos has always had a bit of a push and pull with this usual dynamic, constantly trying to rub in our faces just how awful these people we ostensibly want to hang out with are. But the early going of season six seems to have curbed this just a bit. When Kupferberg describes Tony to Melfi (without knowing who he’s describing) as a big Bluto kind of guy, sure that’s who he is, but there’s also a sense in this season that this is Tony at a point of relative calm. His biggest threat, really, is Ralphie, and he’s figured out a fairly smart way to neutralize him, even if he’s a constant thorn in Tony’s side. If much of season four is about these characters in decline, then these early episodes are the ones where no one quite realizes just what’s going on.
The episode, of course, also has plenty to say about the Soprano marriage, particularly when contrasted with the marriage of Johnny and Ginny. We’ve already talked about how mercenary Tony can be in trying to buy his wife’s love (and even she points this out in this episode), but there’s also a sort of quiet desperation going on inside of Carmela’s head. She spends much of the episode trying to solve a fairly tiny problem for Furio (he wants his parents to move into his backyard garage and wants to know what to do about zoning), and that dance scene, as mentioned, is surprisingly sexy. It’s hard to know just how much Furio reciprocates Carmela’s attraction. Certainly he sometimes seems as if he can see how attractive she is and how much she’s all but throwing herself at him, but there’s also a sense he’d never do anything because of who his boss is. Carmela’s embarking on something fairly dangerous, and it’s because she feels singularly unwanted in her own home, what with both of her kids seeming to have little to no time for her and her husband being completely uninterested in what she’s doing.
Compare this with the Sacrimonis, who spend much of the episode like something out of a ‘50s sitcom. Ginny reminds Johnny to drive safely on his way up to Boston. Johnny congratulates her for sticking with her diet when he sees her making the fruit salad. When she admits how much she messed up, he’s briefly mad at her, but he quickly turns the corner and gives her his support again. If The Sopranos is, in some ways, a dissection of an American marriage (Tony and Carmela’s), then the Sacrimoni marriage is one of those key pieces of evidence in the other direction, just like Melfi and Richard symbolize another kind of upper class marriage. The Sacrimonis show that just because all of the mobsters we know are horrible to their women doesn’t mean that has to be the case. Johnny is truly supportive of his wife, in a way that Tony couldn’t possibly dream of being. Tony’s idea of support usually involves buying gifts and not fucking other women. If someone insulted Carmela, do you really think he’d be ready to murder the man who did? Or would he pay lip service to the idea, then shrug it off?
All of this—Carmela’s flirtation, the Ginny Sack crack, Tony’s attempts to keep everything on an even keel—collides in that terrific final scene. Tony gives Carmela the dress, then asks her to put it on. It’s not immediately clear just why he does this. Has he realized he’s been kind of an ass? Has he seen how in love with his wife Johnny is and wants to fake the same? Has he realized just how thin and desirable his wife is, compared to Ginny? The answer, as always on The Sopranos, is all of those things and more. At the same time, Carmela responds to his touch, his lips on her shoulder, but she’s thinking of Furio. In a great gag, the music from when she was dancing with Furio starts up, and we’re led to believe this is a kind of indication of what’s really going on in her mind. But no. Meadow is just playing Furio’s CD really loudly, and while Carmela goes to get her to turn it down, Tony disrobes. And then, as she collapses into his arms, the music returns, quieter this time, but just as insistent.
Or look at an earlier scene, where the two sit over a kitchen table and talk about how Tony doesn’t seem at all interested in her financial planning. The shots are mostly close-ups, shot so Carmela and Tony are seen from the waist up as they sit at the table. This creates the effect that the two are very close together, even if we logically know they aren’t. They’re married, of course, and even if they sometimes seem to be irritating each other, they’re in this together, right? The final shot of the scene tells it all in a single beat, just like the closing shot of the two in their bathroom two weeks ago. These are two people seated at opposite ends of a long table. They’re once again in the same room, but they couldn’t be farther apart.
If “The Weight” has a flaw, it’s in the fact that it shoehorns in a kind of pointless Melfi plot, just to make sure she’s still got something going on. Sure, it’s fun to have Kupferberg run into Tony in the Columbia parking garage (though it rather smacks of the writers trying like hell to have the two encounter each other, rather than anything organic), and sure, it’s nice to see that Melfi will never really be over her assault from last season. But there’s not really much going on here, outside of the occasional glimpse we get into Melfi’s private life. This was right around when the series was completely uncertain of what to do with Lorraine Bracco, since it needed Melfi around for the eventual end game, but it had done most of the work to get her character ready for it (in “Employee Of The Month” and the fallout from that episode). So she continues to hang around the edges of the series, not really getting anything to do, and the show is weaker for not having her strong, moral voice somewhere in the mix.
But there’s so much good stuff going on in “The Weight” that it’s hard to hold one misconceived storyline against it (especially one that takes up so little time). Let’s spend our last bit of time, then, in the house of those Rhode Island assassins. The Sopranos always had a thick nostalgic streak for the “good old days” of organized crime, but it also understood that its characters’ nostalgia was rarely accurate. Where Junior talks of these men as if they are unstoppable killing machines, we now see that they’re confined to a ramshackle house, on oxygen tanks and other medical implements. The leader, DiMaggio, is even blind, with one eye rolling up into his head (though the show fakes toward him being able to smell the drugs on Chris, in a nicely creepy moment). The Sopranos is so full of characters who pretend to examine their lives thoroughly that it’s nice to get a reminder like this that not a one of them has much of a clue what’s going on. In a very real sense, these characters are the blind leading the blind, waiting for something terrible to happen.
- If you’ve burned through all of your lifelines by question five, you really shouldn’t be on the show.
- One of the consistent things about the show is Tony’s desire to see Meadow not come anywhere near the legal profession. In this season, his desire to see her become something like a pediatrician is almost comical, in fact. This desire, of course, is rooted in his subconscious hope that his kids will have nothing to do with his way of life. If Meadow becomes a lawyer, it’ll be too easy for her to slip into the role of mob lawyer. And while the mafia does, indeed, have need of doctors, as a pediatrician, she could be safely ensconced far away from everything else. It’s an interesting dynamic, and it’s really the only thing worth commenting about in regards to the “Meadow starts volunteering at a law center” plotline.
- Bobby’s slowly figuring out how to put his life together, picking up his kids and taking care of them without Karen around. It’s a nice reminder of the way that the show uses traumatic events, often sending them to the background after they happen.
- However, I’m not entirely sure what’s up with A.J. locking the kid in the garage. At the end of the episode, it’s tempting to assume he was just left in there.
- Come to think of it, it’s hard to know just what’s up with A.J. period in this episode. That scene where Carmela goes over to see Furio’s backyard and brings her son is mostly told from his point-of-view, for some reason.
- I don’t know if there was an attempt to add something to the sound mix in that final shot, but it sure SEEMS like Tony and Carmela’s love making is given some animalistic sound effects on the soundtrack.
- Johnny calls back to last season, when he tells Ralphie that he should have left Tony cut off his head back when the two were feuding and Johnny brokered peace. Man, nobody likes Ralphie at all (for good reason).
- Johnny’s beating of Donny K., the incident that kicks off the whole episode, seems another example of the show’s attitude about how these men don’t, ultimately, care. What they care about is making money.
- "Create a little dysentery in the ranks?"
- "The implication was that her ass was so big, she could have a mole that size removed from it."
- "His father owns a steamship company!"
- "Parking garages are not inherently dangerous places."
- "Turns out this guy was another parent or, more likely, a repairman."
Speaking With The Fishes:
- Of course, that comment about Ralphie’s head being cut off is foreshadowing for the method in which Tony will eventually dispose of Ralphie’s body in “Whoever Did This.” Season four is full of great foreshadowing like that.
- Is this the first time we hear about just how much of an idiot Little Carmine is? (I honestly thought this was the first time we see Carmine, Sr., but that’s not the case, so it’s possible we already know this.) His malapropisms are either a comic highlight of the final few seasons or eye-rollingly stupid, depending on your point of view.
- I remember thinking something in the Junior scenes foreshadowed his upcoming dementia, but now I have no memory of what that was. Readers?
Next week: Tony grows closer to a horse in “Pie-O-My.”