Episode 07 “Down Neck”
For the fans of The Sopranos who are into the mafia aspect of the show, “Down Neck” is a very uneventful episode. However if you are into the back story of Tony Soprano’s life, there is much to learn in this episode. On that note I’d like to mention that the true fans will love this and every episode, whether people are getting whacked or not.
Through a few flashbacks, we are are introduced to Johnny Boy & Janice Soprano, Tony’s father and older sister. Prior to this episode there have been several mentions of Johnny Boy Soprano, however I don’t recall any mentions of Janice up until now. Through Tony’s first mention of Janice to Dr. Melfi, we can tell right off the bat that Tony seems very bitter at her for some reason. I believe that’s an issue that Tony will deal with for the rest of his life. I believe Janice Soprano is the only Soprano’s character who is introduced through a flash back, through a younger actress. The real Janice won’t show up until season 2.
This episode focuses a lot of time on AJ Soprano. The show starts out with AJ and some friends stealing a bottle of wine from their church & trying to drunkenly perform warm-ups in their P.E. class. AJ shows signs of having no remorse for his actions and not really caring about the repercussions of what he does. Suddenly the theme from two episode’s ago returns, however this time instead of Meadow, it’s AJ who Tony is focusing on and wondering what exactly his son knows about his other life.
Tony & Carmela are summoned to AJ’s school to discuss AJ’s behaviour. Immediately, Tony, offers to pay the school back for the wine. Tony claims that all AJ needs is a good whack in the back of the head, but he also admits that they don’t hit their kids in the Soprano house, but it’s Carm’s rule, not Tony’s. AJ’s school believes he may have ADD and they would like to test AJ for the disease.
We’re treated to dinner at The Sopranos for one of the very first times in “Down Neck” and let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. Uncle Junior and Grandma Livia are over for dinner at Tony & Carmela’s. The conversation first revolves around AJ’s current behavior at school. Uncle Junior remarks, “I bet that gym teacher shit a brick when your little friend puked on his boots, huh Anthony?” The conversation suddenly morphs into Livia complaining about Tony stealing a car at 10 years old and then Uncle Joon bragging about Tony stealing & sellings lobsters as a kid. AJ’s face lights up, just in time for Tony to yell at his mother & uncle – “How many times do I gotta say this? I don’t want that kinda talk in front of this kid! That stuff is wrong and I don’t condone it.” AJ’s reply, “Yeah, sure.”
From there the conversation splits off into Junior responding to Tony, “Who do you think you’re yelling at?”, while Tony & Carmela give AJ a look when they realize that AJ must know more about Tony’s line of work than they thought he did. There is no lack of comedic relief from Junior in this scene as he gets very pissed at his nephew for yelling at him, while ignoring the fact as to why Tony got pissed in the first place.
Later that night Tony & Carm discuss their kids. Tony wonders to Carmela about whether AJ knows about Tony’s line of work or not. Carmela mentions that Meadow knows and Tony acts surprised, and blatantly lies to Carmela. Tony starts having flashbacks to his college trip with Meadow, the questions she asked him about the mafia and about what he did to Fabian Petrulio. Once again Tony is lying to his family. It’s a part of his line of work and his life. He knows no other way.
Dr. Melfi questions Tony about the intimate feelings for her, that he had mentioned at their last session. Not being a big fan of rejection, Tony replies, with a huge grin on his face, “Well I already got a girlfriend. She’s Russian, 24….How old are you?”
Tony Soprano continues to take the Prozac subscribed to him by Dr. Melfi. Whether it’s a by product of the pills or not, Tony has a few flashbacks to his past. We’re introduced to the younger version of Uncle Junior, Livia Soprano & Tony Soprano. While on his way to school one day, Tony misses the bus. As he’s running after the bus, he see’s his father, Johnny Boy Soprano & Uncle Joon giving a neighborhood man, aka Rocco Alatorre, a good ole’ Sopranos beat down (okay, I lied, there is SOME mob action in this episode).
The flashback is directly connected to the issue with AJ, as Tony is remembering the first time he learned of his father’s line of work. Tony Soprano has done a better job at hiding it from his son then Johnny Boy did to him. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” accompanies Tony’s first flashback in this episode.
Tony reveals the flashback to Melfi later and reveals that he’s glad his father wasn’t “a fag” when she questioned how he felt about seeing his father beating someone up. Melfi also asks Tony if he’s going to talk to AJ about his occupation and it becomes apparent again that Tony isn’t sure how to handle the situation. He didn’t talk to his own father about it either.
At the Bada Bing, Tony questions Silvio & Big Pussy about how they deal with their children finding out about their lives. Silvio remarks, “It’s hard to raise kids in an information age”. Christopher shows up with some watches he ripped off of a FedEx truck. Tony immediately is pissed at Chris for robbing them in broad daylight. Obviously Chris still has a lot to learn.
Tony returns home and discusses the possibility of AJ having ADD with Carmela. In this scene Tony grabs some orange juice out of the fridge. Those of you who are familiar with the Godfather and the references to oranges should take heed. Of course it could just be the writers of The Sopranos messing around with us, but if you keep a close eye out for oranges or orange juice in this show, it seems that a hit isn’t too far away. (In the scene after this, Livia Soprano is looking at a newspaper headline that reads “Death Notices”…)
As part of his punishment for stealing the wine at school, AJ must ride his bike to visit his grandmother every day that he’s suspended from school. This scene plays a pivotal role in the plot development for season 1 of The Sopranos. AJ reveals that he had to go to a psychiatrist for his misbehavior. Livia exclaims that psychiatry is a “racket for the Jews!” AJ shrugs his shoulders and replies, “Dad goes”. Livia immediately denies this, but AJ tells her that he heard his parents talking about it. Livia automatically thinks that Tony is going there to talk and complain about her. There is a fruit basket on the table where Livia & AJ were going to play Scrabble, but no oranges are visible (AJ grabs a pear).
On the way to the dentist, Tony & AJ get a flat tire. AJ is relieved as he wasn’t looking forward to going to the dentist. AJ wants to call the auto club, but Tony affirms, “We change tires at our house. Watch & learn.” Tony find’s a chance to question AJ about his comment at the dinner table. AJ lies and tells Tony that some kids at school told him that Tony was in the mafia. So now AJ is lying like Tony, like father like son? AJ mentions Uncle Jackie’s funeral and the feds that were there, “just like in Godfather one.” Tony tells AJ that his Uncle Jackie was a complicated man, as if to take the spotlight off of himself. AJ also mentions the mafia website to Tony. Tony remarks, “You didn’t see me on it, did you?” AJ replies, “No.” Tony, “That’s right.”
Dr. Melfi questions Tony about the ducks and his dream that he originally told her about. She questions whether that was a bad omen for his family and if this is the terrible thing, his children finding out what he does for a living. Tony flashes back to a time when his sister Janice went somewhere with their father. Tony wasn’t allowed to go and Janice teased Tony as they left, flipping him the bird when their father wasn’t looking.
Tony was left home alone with his mother and younger baby sister (Barbara Soprano). While asking his mother for a keyboard, Livia lost her temper and threatened to put a fork in young Tony’s eye. I wonder if Tony takes after his mother or father?
Suddenly Tony remembers why he’s thinking back to that time. A few weeks later, after sneaking into the trunk of his father’s car, Tony found out that his father was taking Janice to Ride Land, some type of amusement park. Tony was heartbroken that his father took Janice and not him. A few weeks after that Tony took a bus and went back again, this time, the NJ State Police showed up to arrest Johnny Boy & Junior Soprano. They were doing their business at the amusement park and bringing their children as a front. “In my heart, I knew my father wasn’t a freedom fighter”. Throughout the flashback scenes, it’s obvious that Tony was jealous of the affection their father gave to Janice and not him.
Tony’s reveals in this session with Melfi is that he does not want AJ to be like him. Melfi insists that people have choices & free will. Tony doesn’t agree, “You’re born to this shit, you are what you are.”
Junior pays Livia a visit. Livia begins to reveal to Junior that Tony may be headed for a “mental hospital”, just as Tony shows up. Junior questions her, but her comment won’t be revealed to Junior just yet. After Junior leaves, Tony questions his mother about something he remember in his flashback. Johnny Boy had an opportunity to go out to Vegas with Rocco Alatorre (a man who had later become a billionaire), but Livia had questioned it and stopped Johnny Boy from making the move. Tony felt that it was his father’s lost chance to get out of the mafia life.
Livia quickly becomes offended and replies to Tony, “Well if it bothers you, maybe you better talk to a psychiatrist.” Tony is thrown off for a second. He plays it off and asks Livia what she’s talking about. Livia throws it in Tony’s face that people go to psychiatrists to blame other people about their lives. Tony strikes back and let’s his mother know that he remembered when she had threatened to “smother her children” to his father. Livia acts puzzled. Tony quips, “You know everybody thought dad was the ruthless one, but I gotta hand it to ya, if you’d been born after those feminists, you woulda been the real gangster.” Livia walks into the dinner hall, followed by Tony who has a smirk on his face.
Tony & Carmela return to AJ’s school to find out the results of his ADD testing. The teacher mentions that AJ fidget’s and that is one of 9 possible symptoms of ADD. Tony loses his temper and asks the teacher, “What constitutes a fidget?” Tony calls bullshit on the ADD theory and tells the teacher, “That’s the problem with you people, every time you see a problem you turn it into a disease!” Carmela & Tony storm out of the teacher’s office, with one last demand that they not be charged for the ADD testing.
Next we catch a glimpse of The Soprano’s basement, where Tony is working out and we see him watching The History Channel for the first time. I don’t recall too many other scenes in the series where we actually see Tony working out. Tony returns upstairs to see AJ working on some homework. AJ confesses that he’s depressed. Another case of like father, like son? Tony tell’s AJ that he’s just upset about his punishment and that he’ll get over it.
In a father son bonding scene, Tony prepares a sundae for him and AJ. Tony & AJ take turns taking “shots” of whipped cream. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” returns to play us out to the credits.