Monday, April 24, 2006

Luxury Lounge

A good episode of the Sopranos, a bit of a change in gears: the big gay drama of Vito is put on the back burner to focus on the business trainwreck that is Arthur Bucco. This is another character often used as comic relief or a literal punching bag for the characters' frustrations. But, similar to Agent Kellerman on Prison Break, John Ventimiglia gives a performance masterful in embodying that bastard orphan of emotions, passive-aggressiveness. His anger at Tony is (perhaps reasonably) displaced onto Benny. Artie walks a very fine line having so many violent psychopaths in his clientele, leaving him frequently cursing under his breath only to explode, ripping off tablecloths and shooting cute woodland creatures. I liked this episode because it was tense. I had no idea what was going to happen, when, and why.The whole evolve-or-die/dinosaur theme comes up alot here. I think Artie is just another example of how everyone's "business" is changing.Also there was a major focus on people's fixation on undeserved material gain: the hit men and their souvenirs; Chris and the luxury lounge; Bacall's goody bag; and underlying it all, the mstery of the credit-card scam. All of this fits in the larger theme of the limitations of the characters involved coming from their lack of self-knowledge.

Vito's still missing, but Tony wants to take a break from the search, which is good news for Chris who wants to take time off for a trip to LA with Little Carmine-they want to attach Ben Kingsley to "Cleaver." Tony balks, but lets him go. One of the hidden themes of this episode was carried over from the last episode: the inability of anyone to keep a secret. Tony had the same look on his face when he realized Johnny Sack told Phil about the hit as when Artie told him he heard about Tony's trip to the rival restaurant.A major theme in this episode is pride, much of which was Artie's, just like his pride in being a comforting host being trashed by everyone or Martina cruelly calling him out on his interest in her. I was glad to see him at the end, rediscovering his sense of pride in his cooking, through the late Mr. Hoppy and one of his dad's recipes.

Nuova Vesuvio (Artie's restaurant) has fallen behind ("40% since last year" Artie moans) due to the hot new restaurant Giovanni's drawing away the crowd and a scandal involving a sexy Albanian immigrant and stolen credit card numbers.Tony draws the comparison between his business and the restaurant business early on. It's up to him to rein in both Artie and Benny when their feud gets out of hand: first Artie beats up Benny (shock! is Vinnie getting soft?); and then when he can't keep his mouth shut about his fling with his Albanian 'Martina' crack, Artie gets his hand boiled in a pot of tomato sauce. He should take Tony's advice and go visit Melfi. And stop talking to the guests.The credit card scheme allows us to track an unlikely path from the devout Hasidic motel owner from Season 1 through to our crypto-terrorist friends, Ahmed and Muhammad in their seats at the Bing. What this connection means we have only broad speculation. Likewise, speculation on the junkie, Corky, that Chris used to get guns for the Rusty hit, leads some people to think he might be an undercover Fed. That seems a bit too smart for the Feds on this show, but what else could it be?

Christopher also had a great plot (which was nicely related to the main plotline by Tony) involving his Saw/Godfather movie and a pitch to Sir Ben Kingsley. Chris realizes, after coldcocking Lauren Bacall, that he'll never have people giving him stuff like in the luxury lounge so he plays the Adrianna card. Watching Ben squirm as a bit uncomfortable, but the Neapolitan hit men were cute enough to make up for it.Guest stars Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall inspire both the title and some hilarious lines. Well lines including a long drawn-out "Fuuuuuuck' as he see them on the plane. Lauren Bacall, I don't think was acting though. She's exactly the type of person to be that haughty and rough. I was waiting for her to knock him out. And he got the idea from Ben Kingsley! "Hopefully we can spread some that around..."Even Wilmer Valderamma appears (although he should have gotten mugged) and Lindsay Lohan gets a mention as a hot piece of ass.

All in all, not too much plot development means some people will be disappointed, although we do know now that Chris is off the wagon. And this serves as a nice goodbye feature for Artie, with his peace and creativity in the kitchen contrasted with the bloody work of his criminal contemporaries. This episode reminded me of Sentimental Education from Season 5, which was also written by Matthew Weiner. It was quality but there was way too much emphasis on Artie. It was also interesting to juxtapose how Christopher got used by Hollywood the first time in "D-Girl" but this time he gets an acting legend's swag basket.In other developments, Rusty Milio ("the Munchkin King") got shot in his Caddy in his driveway in Ozone Park, Brooklyn. No glad was particularly broken up, especially given Frankie Valli's acting. Phil seemed especially gleeful over the news, which Tony denied having a hand in, only to persist with calling for his brother-in-law's balls. Did you catch the over-loaded plate Ginny Sack was carrying at Da Giovanni? I loved when Phil said it was nice to be around men and then one of the new made guys said "you know how wine gets you worked up" like a sterotypical nagging wife. Vito's wife Marie appears for a second, weary from trying to stop all the other children from beating up Vito, Jr. for having a gay dad. Carlo is also still gung-ho for Vito's head, a plot point leading directly into next week's much-anticipated "Johnny Cakes".(Update: removed duplicate posts and added some purty pitchurs)

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