Click Here for the first part of this two part Long Overdue Recap of Season 2 of The Sopranos.
Season 2 of The Sopranos is awash with a plethora of top tier major storylines. In lesser hands, they may fight against each other for control of the series. But The Sopranos makes it work. It may be too much to say they coalesce into one comprehensive storyline, but they do hold together. And they do so through the defacto boss, Tony. Around him, revolve three characters who join the scene at the beginning of this season (kind of), Janice, Ritchie, and Pussy (who is not new but reappeared after disappearing in season 1).
It is impossible to decipher which character of the three is the most disruptive and anxiety inducing. Ritchie refuses to respect the wishes of our fearless leader, looking the gift horse di-fucking-rectly in the mouth. Janice embodies some of the most annoying traits of Tony’s mother, deflecting blame, meddling where she doesn’t belong, and bullying Tony in a way he would never let another man do. And then there’s Pussy. He is likeable, he makes viewers want him to get away, but he also is hard to respect- A. For what he is doing and B. For the wishy-washy way he tries to be half in and half out of both organizations, crime and federal.
These characters and their stories all converge at one point- Tony’s rage. Each character affects it in a unique way, but all of the stress they create builds to a magnificent culmination in the final two episodes albeit in incredibly different ways.
Janice and Ritchie begin as very separate affectations. Janice as a family beggar, wanting to suckle at the teat of her mother’s assets and disguising those questionable desires as familial duty. But everyone can see through the façade. Janice has built a life around bailing on family for greener grass, and this instance is no exception. Tony at first takes a pleasantly distant approach to Janice, keeping her and his anger towards her at bay. But Janice wheedles her way into his life through those closest to him like Carmella (who allows her to move in), his mother (so she can get her house and the funding to take care of her), and eventually Ritchie.
Ritchie walks out of prison and his first step is right onto Tony’s toes as he smashes Beansy over the head with a coffee pot and then rolls over him with a car. Ritchie wants the respect, money, and deals he had ten years ago pre-prison, and he wants them now. But Tony runs a different type of family, in some ways smarter, in all ways more modern, and Tony values time on task and loyalty more than seniority and street cred (which is why the jacket was a nonstarter for Tony and Ritchie’s relationship, although I still think Tony should have seen an opportunity to amend their relationship through that hideous jacket). Eventually Ritchie reunites with Janice, and it is hard to decipher whether it was because of his love for her or his hate for Tony. What better way to raise his standing with the man keeping him down while also needling him in a way impossible to ignore?
It is hard to say for sure which was more of a motivator, but in the second to last episode of the season, Ritchie pops Janice in the mouth out of his anger and frustration at what Tony has done to him. He hits a Soprano, even though it is not the one he actually wants to hit, and in doing so, he reveals a lot about where his motivations lie.
Because of this fated punch, these two issues of Tony’s take care of each other. Janice kills Ritchie, taking him out of Tony’s life in the most real sense, and then must get out of dodge herself. This was a fitting and smart way to keep storylines fresh, rather than every season ending with a whack and an aspirin.
This episode could have easily served as the finale, but wait, there’s more. And the actual final episode is a masterpiece.
Janice and Ritchie had occupied most of Tony’s negative attention while they were in his life (with a bit reserved for his extra-marital affair and his psycho-therapeutic one as well). He smashed telephones, had anxiety attacks, lost money, and was generally stressed out of his mind because of these two. And when they were gone, when they were no longer occupying the majority of his mental space (and a lot of his other issues as well- Chrissy was healed, Bevilaqua was dead, he had cut it off with his gumar, and things were as good as they could be with Carmella), and in the midst of fever dreams spurred on by food poisoning, Tony’s intuition kicks in, and he realizes, with the help of a fish on ice, that Pussy was working with the feds.
There is something delightfully anti-climactic about Pussy’s ending, not the scene where he was killed, which is excellent, but the build up to it. After episode 12, and the eleven episodes that precede it, we are lulled into not even thinking about what might become of Pussy. It seemed like a problem for another time. Tony wasn’t worrying about it, so we weren’t worrying about it.
But Tony always knew. He always did. He just didn’t want to admit it and deal with it. He preferred to think Jimmy was the only rat and that he was passing Pussy up for promotion because of how Pussy bailed, not the seed of mistrust that had bloomed into a massive oak.
Playing it back, I wonder how much of his anger, which bloomed ever since season one, where his subconscious knowledge of Pussy’s betrayal was planted, was due to things not sitting quite right with him. He knew all was not well in his family, and he knew it with his gut. And eventually, his gut is what spoke to him, through some ‘big ones’ as AJ put it, and a lot of vomit. I don’t think it was Artie’s mussels or the Indian food. Tony was finally confronted with the certainty that had settled in his belly, not his brain, and he was only able to see it after his other oppositions were out of sight, out of mind.
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