This week on Pod Yourself A Gun, we’re discussing Sopranos episode 13, “I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano,” the season one finale of the Sopranos and thus the season one finale of Pod Yourself A Gun. In this episode, all of the Sopranos‘ biggest season one storylines come to a head, and many to a resolution. Tony finds out his mother and uncle conspired to try to have him whacked. Carmela realizes Father Phil is a f*ckboi. Dr. Melfi puts her cards on the table and tells Tony what she suspects about his mother. Tony becomes a physical threat to Dr. Melfi. Tony removes a suspected snitch from his crew and comes clean to his remaining guys about seeing a shrink. Livia doubles down on dementia and/or faking dementia.
In our first segment, The Wayback Machine, we even get some background on creator David Chase from a piece in the New York Post released the same day as the episode (April 4th, 1999):
Over lunch, Chase is asked: ‘Where do ‘The Sopranos’ come from within your imagination?’
‘The idea started about 10 years ago,” be begins. ‘I wanted to do a show based on my mother, who was a very negative person.
‘After a while I refined the idea and decided to place her character into a Mafia context. I had read that [former Philly mob boss] Nicky Scarfo’s mother was a ‘stone gangster.’ That clicked.” […]
The other original element Chase has added is the suburban wiseguy, ‘because they hadn’t been done before.”
‘Goodfellas [his favorite Mafia film of all time] did the mob grunts. The Godfather did the elite bosses. I wanted to do middle management, the ordinariness of the daily mob life.” […]
‘I was born to play Tony,” Gandolfini says in a rare interview. He’s turned down an interview with the New York Times Style section, and rejected an appearance on the Letterman show because he thinks self-promotion is ‘out of character for my character.
‘I was afraid HBO wanted a pretty face for the role, but I wanted it so much I agreed to audition for it.
‘I felt I knew Tony,” says Gandolfini who was a bartender and a selzer deliveryman until he started acting at age 26. One article called him ‘a former bouncer,” but he says, ‘I was too nice to be a real bouncer.”
It doesn’t even seem like Gandolfini is acting as Tony. But he is – brilliantly – with his eyes, his breath, his shoulders.
‘Paradox and moral contradictions are key to the show,” Chase says. And Gandolfini projects both homicidal menace and comic insecurity at the same time.
In one of season one’s best episodes, and arguably one of the best season finales of any show, we get a culmination of the themes introduced with a few intriguing questions left to explore. It seems to come from a time when prestige TV seemed to think it owed us more in terms of catharsis and closure. “I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano” ranges from dramatic and thrilling (Jimmy Altieri’s death, Tony flipping the table on Dr. Melfi) to introspective and psychological (Carmela calling out Father Phil, Livia’s psychosomatic dementia) to the kind of comedy that really only the Sopranos could do and maybe hasn’t been done the same since (Mikey Palmice’s death scene, one of the greatest in TV history).
To discuss this week’s episode, our guest is Laremy Legel, former critic at Film.com, author of Film Critic, long time friend of the pod and Matt and Vince’s co-star in Whoop Dreams, our documentary about the Gathering Of The Juggalos. He joins your regular hosts, Matt Lieb from Good Mythical Morning, The Star Wars Show, and Newsbroke on AJ+ and me, Vince Mancini, Senior Film And Culture writer at Uproxx. We hope you enjoy it, but if you don’t, as always, va fongool.