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The Sopranos – Season Three

Episodes 27 & 28
Sure, they were forced to kill off the nagging mother (Livia Soprano, played by the late Nancy Marchand). But did they also kill off the show’s momentum?

Sunday night’s two-episode premiere of “The Sopranos” was anemic at best. While the issue of removing Marchand from the show was a priority, producers were hell-bent on showing her one last time, using old footage of her past performances, which resulted in an awkward, sloppy mishmash of dialogue. However, there was a shining moment afforded by this ploy: Michael Imperioli (Christopher Soprano) at Livia’s funeral, attempting to offer some profound words-and ending up profoundly at a loss for them.

On Tony’s end, one word can sum up the action: surveillance. With connected informant Pussy Bompenserio dead, the FBI appeared more desperate than usual. Their ultimate solution? Place a bugged lamp in the Soprano basement. The information they gathered from this move was quite unhelpful – they learned about Tony’s diet. Period.

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In the first two episodes, the Soprano children may have been more interesting than their storied parents. Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), a freshman at Columbia, has the potential to become the series’ most conflicted character. Usually even keel, she’s grown quite dark, with an odd new boyfriend and a dorm roommate she may very likely detest. Should prove intriguing. As for Anthony Jr.,(Robert Iler) he’s grown darker as well, showing a total disregard for authority-much like his father. This sort of resourcefulness will be needed if the show continues on its unsteady course.

Finally-expectedly-the third season offered up its share of new faces. Most notable is Joe Pantoliano (“Bound”) playing Ralph Cifaretto, a slimy, annoying new character who probably won’t be around for long.

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Episodes 29 – Fortunate Son

What a difference a week makes.

After tying up loose ends in the third-season opener, “The Sopranos” returned to its usual form on Sunday, offering up some gritty gangland dialogue that sounded New Jersey.

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Christopher finally got the nod – a made-man – placed in charge of Paulie’s sports books, though his prowess as a captain was easily in question. Ordered to earn at least $6,000 a week, Christopher came up $2,000 short, and was forced to rob a Rutgers amphitheater to make good. Though appreciative, Paulie appeared – for the first time – as relentlessly brutal, which viewers saw through Christopher’s eyes.

On Tony’s end, therapy with Dr. Melfi finally showed progress. She brought him to the realization that as a young boy, Tony feared the world in which his father lived, and feared even more the world he was being brought into. A flashback involving his father cutting off the finger of an “associate” confirmed this diagnosis. Tony, surprisingly, did not reject this conclusion. Through the haze of his uneven memory, he remembered when he had his first panic attack – at age eleven.

But, as the premiere episodes set up, the Soprano children have become the most intriguing part of the show. Meadow proved increasingly dark – rejecting the life her father has chosen – and could become the crux of this season’s conflict. Without question, Tony has a history of family members turning on him… will Meadow do the same?

As for Anthony Jr., fame on the football field became the norm – but is he mentally capable of handling the pressure? After a long workout, he suffered a panic attack and passed out on the field. The apple doesn’t fall far….

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Episode 30 – Employee of the Month
It’s nice to see that one of history’s greatest TV dramas is getting better.

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A couple of characters found their way to the ER – most notably, Dr. Melfi. Having been raped in a workplace stairwell, she developed a new appreciation for Tony: someone who could show her assailant the beating of a lifetime. After much consideration, however, she opted not to tell Tony about the attack.

Janice was sent to the ER as well, after a bruising administered by two Russian immigrants hired by Svetlana. Guess she wanted that leg back. And she got it. Janice, on the other hand, got something unexpected: religion. After her recovery, she decided to dedicate her life to God.

Sure.

On Tony’s end, a prosperous real estate deal was looking like money in the bank, but New York capo Johnny Sack began to move in on the action. Sack, stating that he needed to move to New Jersey on account of his wife, quickly grew roots in the Garden State – leaving Tony feeling uneasy about the future of the land deal.

As for his relationship with Melfi, Tony was hit with some interesting news. In order to help with his depression, Melfi confirmed that Carmela should sit in on Tony’s sessions. Watch out.

Within Tony’s other “family,” troublesome Ralph Cifaretto continued to be a first-class pain. His immature, violent nature forced Tony to promote a fellow mobster – Gigi Gestone – over Ralph, leaving Ralph less than appreciative. Some good, old-fashioned bloodshed should come from this.

Stay tuned.

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Episode 31 – Another Toothpick
The fifth episode of the third season began, physically, where last week’s episode abruptly ended: in Dr. Melfi’s office.

No, Melfi still hasn’t told Tony about her attack. Rather, Carmela has now joined his therapy sessions–and it’s not pretty. Tony remains clams up with his wife at his side, and whenever Carmela offers a comment here and there, Melfi disagrees with everything Carmela has to say. Not pretty.

On the drive home, agitated over the botched session, Tony floors it through traffic and is pulled over by a stoic police officer named Wilmore. The officer gives Tony a ticket–a no-no in Gangland–and Tony quickly pulls some political strings to have the officer reprimanded and demoted. More on the officer shortly.

Elsewhere, Bacala’s father has come to town to attend the funeral of a family member. Surprisingly, he tells Tony and the gang that he personally would like to stage a hit on the thug who attacked a member of the Aprile family. This comes as a surprise, seeing that old man Bacala is stricken with lung cancer and can barely get around. However, the decision is made, and Bacala, Sr. sets out to whack the thug.

He succeeds, but on the way home, suffers a coughing fit, passes out on the steering wheel, crashes headfirst into a pole, and is instantly killed.

As if Tony didn’t already have enough on his plate, good pal Artie Bucco–in a drunken stupor–reveals to Tony that he secretly loves Christopher’s fiancee, Adriana, and that his marriage is on the skids. Artie actually lets Adriana know of his feelings, but she knows that telling Christopher of this would prove fatal for the likable Artie.

On Uncle Junior’s end, he begrudgingly discloses a major medical secret to Tony: Junior says he’s been diagnosed with stomach cancer. As expected, Tony doesn’t take the news lightly. Major decisions-in both “families”-would have to be made.

Officer Wilmore returns at the end of the episode. As Tony peruses the goods at a hardware store, he eyes Wilmore working behind the counter, forced to take extra jobs as a result of Tony’s wrath. Tony experiences a flash of compassion and offers Wilmore several C-notes as payback. Wilmore refuses Tony’s charitable donation.

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Episode 32 – University

This season’s dark mood is getting darker by the moment, while the hits keep rolling in–quite literally.

At the Bada Bing, Tony is approached by a 20-year-old dancer, Tracee, who wants to thank him for helping her with her son. Wanting to be friends, she gives him a homemade loaf of bread, which he immediately rebukes, claiming it inappropriate. Apparently, she is Gladiator-lover Ralph Cifaretto’s squeeze, and Tony has no intention of crossing that line.

Not yet.

Meanwhile, Meadow is having a tough time with her roommate Caitlin, who is becoming increasingly suicidal and clingy. Meadow finds solace with the dorm’s R.A. Noah, and their relationship finally turns sexual. Meadow happily goes home, whistling all the way, prompting Carmela to ask Meadow if she is in love with Noah. She replies “At this point, I’d better be.”

But love, unfortunately, is not in the air. Shortly after their brief affair, Noah decides Meadow is too “negative” for him and breaks up with her. This certainly does wonders for the already extremely moody character.

Unaware of his daughter’s woes, Tony continues to be hounded by young Tracee, whom he learns is pregnant with Ralph’s baby. He feels for her but knows he can’t get involved. Tracee turns to the only other person she thinks might care–Ralph. Mistake number one. This pain in the ass could care less about her – or anybody else. Tracee doesn’t take this well, and she humiliates Ralph in front of the gang. He follows her outside the Bada Bing where he pretends to be nice and caring but turns nasty, just to get a rise out of her. She retaliates, punching him and drawing blood. Mistake number two–and her last. Ralph pummels her to death.

Ralph tells the others Tracee “fell,” but as Tony looks at her lifeless body, the anger wells up and he commits a major error in the land of Made Men. He hits Ralph–a few times.

And as a silent and sullen Tony and Carmela sit in Dr. Melfi’s office at the end, it’s apparent this is going to effect Tony for a long time. In more ways than one.

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Episode 33 – Second Opinion
One man would determine the reigning Boss of Tony’s gang: John Kennedy.

Dr. John Kennedy, that is-the man who was chosen to remove the cancer from Junior’s stomach. Luckily for Junior, and Dr. Kennedy, the surgery was a success. Junior made it through easily, but Tony still had some suggestions for the doc, which Kennedy flatly ignored. Annoyed by Kennedy’s arrogance-and the fact that he wasn’t returning Junior’s subsequent emergency calls-Tony decided a brief pow-wow with the doctor was necessary: Tony and Furio ambushed Kennedy on the golf course, sending him into the water hazard.

Kennedy met with Junior the next day.

If Kennedy thought he had it bad, Christopher certainly had it worse. Paulie harassed him over money issues, loyalty issues and, well, Paulie’s penchant for smelling Adriana’s panties. Throw in an impromptu strip search and Chris was certainly feeling the burden of being “made.”

On Melfi’s end, she’s seen very little of Tony, but Carmela has been showing up regularly. Concerned that treating both of the Sopranos would be a conflict of interest, Melfi sends Carmela to another shrink, Dr. Krakower. This guy is brutally honest. He tells Carmela to leave Tony and she bursts into tears. However, she cannot discredit Krakower’s suggestion.

Finally, a blast from the past sends Tony into a fit of rage. Pussy Bompensiero’s wife, Angie, has been misappropriating the funds Tony has been generously providing. When he sees she has used his contributions to buy a luxurious new Cadillac, he takes a baseball bat to the car. He confronts her about the purchase, but Tony can only muster up some ill feelings about Pussy, not Angie.

Old habits….

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Episode 34 – He Is Risen
Surprisingly, the eighth episode of season three focused on Junior’s flailing former gang–the misfits of North Jersey.
Ralphie again became the center of attention, as paranoia set in over his falling out with Tony. Ralphie’s beef: Tony disrespected him with a punch to the face and a retracted invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. Tony’s beef: Ralph killed a 20-year-old girl who reminded him of Meadow and refused to have a drink with him. Something had to give.

The showdown was imminent. Well, not so fast.

Using techniques he learned from The Art of War, Tony, urged by his peers, made an attempt to settle things nicely, asking Ralph to politely apologize for his actions. Ralph, never the levelheaded one, indignantly refused, of course, until New York Boss Johnny Sack suggested to Ralph that Tony might promote him if admission of guilt was offered. Ralph gave in and apologized. Tony accepted the apology-then turned back to his pasta and left Ralph standing in silence.

Now, the showdown was imminent. Well, not so fast.

As the situation was coming to a boil, Ralphie’s gangland Boss, Gigi, suddenly died of a heart attack while sitting on a toilet. A new Boss would have to be named. Partly because of strategy, partly because of necessity, Tony appointed Ralph the main man, settling their score.

Elsewhere, Meadow got juiced up on Ecstasy at a frat party and made out with Jackie Aprile, Jr.-before passing out. She and Jackie began dating, somewhat seriously, but Jackie’s true affections seemed suspect until Meadow crashed his car, leaving him bereft with guilt and clutching her in a warm embrace. How sweet.

Back on Tony’s end, an attractive Mercedes-Benz saleswoman, Gloria, caught his attention. After meeting her in Melfi’s waiting room, Tony decided to go see her at her place of work. He told her he wants a “test drive.” She was more than willing. They ended up together in Tony’s boat.

This set up an enticing predicament: Tony is with Melfi’s patient, Melfi is increasingly attracted to Tony and Carmela is being advised to divorce him. Interesting.

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Episode 35 – The Telltale Moozadell

The Soprano children were the focus of Sunday night’s episode: Anthony Jr. became a bona-fide delinquent and Meadow continued to whore herself to Jackie Jr.
Despite his budding high school football career, A.J. decided a career in vandalism was his cup of tea. He and several buddies dumped furniture and trophies into the school’s pool, but left behind an important clue–a specialty pizza A.J. ord