If there’s a bad way to wake up, it’s being woken up with the news that a body you buried from a hit over 20 years ago is in danger of being unearthed linking you to the crime is pretty close to the top of the list (although waking up hungover in a pool of blood is also a pretty bad way to wake up, but that’s neither here nor there). Tony is informed of this unpleasant news which means he and Paulie are forced to take a road trip to Miami and wait for things at home to cool off. Would this be a road trip filled with crazy shenanigans, male bonding, and hookers in Tijuana? Not so much. Instead it’s a road trip filled with distrust and unease revolving around the idea of fatherly mentors and how those mentors can let you down. It was another episode filled with interesting moments but which seemed to focus on the past and lumber backwards as opposed to moving towards the finale.
While Tony sees the entire ordeal as another burden in the life that he’s chosen, Paulie seems to look at it as a vacation, a chance to get out of the house. As the trip progresses Tony begins to see Paulie less as the man who he once wished was he father and more as one of those crazy old bastards who will tell endless stories about their grandkids to any complete stranger unfortunate enough to be dragged into the conversation. Discussing the problem with "guy from the old neighborhood" Beansie over dinner and then later with a random blond girl he just got done plowing, Tony expresses both his concern in Paulie’s overall integrity, but also how much he looked up to Paulie back in the day, leaving him feeling torn about the situation.
Tony, already strongly questioning Paulie’s usefulness at this point, then makes a horrific discovery and witnesses Paulie shrieking in delightful laughter as he unwinds with a little "Nick at Nite" in his hotel room. This seems to shake Tony’s faith in Paulie more than anything else, because apparently none of Paulie’s previous antics said "I’m batshit insane" as much as laughing at the antics of Mr. Roper and Jack Tripper.
This leads to the single most suspenseful scene of the season thus far, as Tony and Paulie rent a boat to take in some deep sea fishing, which of course is La Cosa Nostra code for brutal murder. Paulie recognizes the situation immediately, remembering both how Big Pussy was murdered in a like-wise fashion and also how he’s currently in Miami, where many old people go to die. On the boat, Tony interrogates him, indirectly questioning his allegiance to the family. While Paulie maintains his loyalty to the Soprano family, Tony still seems to distrust him. He spots a knife in a nearby cooler and struggles with the idea that maybe he might be better off without Paulie around. Knife or beer? Beer or knife? Tony finally decides to spare Paulie, tossing him a brew instead of gouging out his insides, which was nice. Paulie later sends him an expresso maker as a way of saying "Thanks for not killing me and dumping my body in the ocean" (because apparently Hallmark doesn’t have a card to cover that) but it’s acts of compassion such as this that will probably lead to Tony’s downfall in the end.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, that pesky body that started this whole mess? Turns out the Feds just conveniently placed the blame elsewhere. I took this as one of the many "Tony thinks everything is coming up Milhouse, when in fact, it’s a smaller charge overlooked because the Feds are building up a RICO case against him." Such is the life of the Soprano family.
And speaking of the Soprano family, the show also provided a glimpse into the terribly depressing world of a character we haven’t seen in a while, Uncle Junior. A major factor in the first half of this season (you’ll remember he shot Tony and then wandered around New Jersey in his robe and slippers), Junior is currently confined to his prison/retirement home. Desperate to regain even a shred of his old life, Junior has taken up the role of Randle McMurphy, bribing guards, holding poker games, telling jokes he occasionally forgets the punch lines too and occasionally wetting himself. Ah, life is grand. He even makes a friend in Carter, his own little Short Round, a young man so desperate for a father-figure that he looks up to Junior Soprano, because apparently the mental patient that laughs and cries randomly was too busy.
The relationship between the two, however, proves to be positive, albeit in a dysfunctional way. Carter gets a mock mentor in the old man and Carter inspires flashes of the old Junior. These flashes come mainly in the form of him kicking the tenure out of "the Professor", another inmate who squealed on Junior and broke up his poker game. Small acts of rebellion, such as almost beating a man to death, soon lead to more torment by the staff and fellow inmates and Junior seems to accept his fate and give up. Seeing his mentor defeated leads Carter to smother Junior with a pillow and then throw that huge water fountain thing out the window to run to free-er, I mean, beat the holy hell out of Junior for becoming another let down of a father-figure and a shell of the shell that was his former self. We leave Junior a broken and beaten man, both in body and mind, and seemingly down for the count. Is this another possible foreshadowing of Tony’s future? Perhaps if he doesn’t change his ways and leave the life behind, he’ll be the one sitting in a wheel chair, stroking a cat, and staring vacantly into the distance (and not in the good way like he was doing at the lake). Or is it a gentle reminder to the core Sopranos audience of males ages 18-45 that getting old is the worst possible thing in the world and you should hold onto youth with both hands and refuse to ever let go, even if it means looking like a complete fool as you face the icy stare of death with a Guitar Hero controller swung around your neck. Could go either way really.
While the majority of the episode dealt with the Soprano family, we did get a brief glance into life on the other side of the river. Last week, with Little Carmine bowing out by choice and Gerry Torciano getting his brains blown out not so much by choice, the two chief rivals for the head of the New York family were Phil Leotardo and some other guy who’s name I’m not going to bother to look up. While in some places, like the America that exists only in our imaginations, a man can be voted into an important position by the decision of the masses, life doesn’t quite work like that in the Mafia. Here it’s just easier to kill your opponent, which to be fair, is probably more civil than producing a horribly slanderous commercial about your political opponent which not so subtly paints them as a racist or a child molester. So that other guy gets shot in the eye by three men who apparently felt the best way to look inconspicuous during a hit was to dress up as Run-DMC. This clears the way for a now hungry, angry, eye-of-the-tiger-ish, Phil to either take control of New York or just raise hell his own way and challenge a somewhat confused and apathetic Tony. We now know that Phil will crush anything that stands in his way to wield total power. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for Mr. Soprano. Too bad his mom isn’t around to try another assassination attempt. That really got Tony’s mojo working last time.