Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Intervention: Sopranos Style

Commercial breaks punctuating Season 4, Episode 49 of The Sopranos (which first aired on HBO in November, 2002 and reran tonight on A&E TV) promoted the documentary Intervention. The juxtaposition was ironic because this episode - "The Strong, Silent Type" - could easily have been subtitled, "Intervention: Sopranos Style."

Intervention documents sit-downs (a.k.a. "carefrontations") with substance abusers, whose loved ones make offers the addicts shouldn't refuse. At the outset, those staging interventions express affection and concern for the target, describe the tolls exacted by the addicts' behavior, and make clear: change is mandatory. The upshot: "Go to rehabilitation immediately - with our blessing - or risk losing all contact and our support." (Source: Intervention (TV series) - Wikipedia)

It was in this traditional manner that the intervention instigated by Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) for heroin-junkie Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) began. But it quickly degenerated into a brutal brawl.  [PHOTO: From >>The Strong, Silent Type (The Sopranos, season 4, episode 49)]

Anyone who didn't expect this intervention, Sopranos style, to be over the top is an uninitiated outsider.  The assemblage, alone, could not have gotten more gansta.

First, let's consider the gang of mobsters and molls gathered for Chrissie's intervention.  The former included godfather Tony Soprano, consigliere Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt), and capo Paulie "Walnuts" Gaultieri (Tony Sirico). Additionally, enforcers Benny Fazio (Max Casella) and Furio Giunta (Federico Castelluccio) stood watch as the rear guard.  The molls included Chris' cousin Carmela Soprano (Edith "Edie" Falco), fiancee Adriana Le Cerva (Drea de Mateo), and mamma dearest Joanne Blundetto Moltisanti (Marianne Leone Cooper).

Finally, there was interventionist Dominic Palladino (Elias Koteas), a recovering alcoholic, former "family" associate, and ex-convict. This bumbling, not-so-wise guy's less-than-stellar reputation, for such fiascos as getting busted for breaking into Stew Leonard's and stealing pork rinds and for requiring multiple interventions to straighten out, immediately rubbed out Dominic's credibility and efficacy. 

Pickings were slim, however, and Tony had little chance of bringing in a more credible interventionist.  For one thing, engaging Dr. Melfi in this role was out of the question. (For his sake and the good doctor's, Tony kept Dr. Melfi a secret from everyone but Carmela).  And hiring any other "civilian" counselor was similarly impossible.  A major premise, repeatedly emphasized throughout the show, was the lack of respect this bunch had for therapy in general or for people who needed it, and their inability - in both practical and cultural terms - to bare secrets with outsiders.

All these factors would have rendered even world-reknowned crisis intervention professionals, such as Candy Finnigan, Ken Seeley and Jeff VanVonderen, hard put to prevent this goodfellas' gathering from going bad.  But poor Dominic lacked a gabagool's chance at Casa Soprano of forestalling Christopher's carefrontration from being hijacked into a blame-filled, judgmental, critical, angry, ambush of the sort warns is ineffective.

In reality, bad sessions happen even with good people. But the devolution of fictional gangster Chris' drug intervention into a full-out brawl was a larger than life debacle. The mobsters transformed the meeting - intended to send Moltisanti to rehab to treat drug addiction - into a profanity-laced, insult-hurling, knock-down, drag-out melee that landed him, first, in the ER to fix a fractured skull.

As far as I know, that's never happened (on camera) on Intervention, and likely never will. Thank goodness, cuz Intervention captures real-life. But I've never LOL'd while watching Intervention as I did during this Sopranos episode, which has been commonly hailed as great TV.

Although realistic, the verbal and physical gang-up on Christopher seemingly exceeded the bounds of tough love, even by The Soprano's standards. But few of those involved in Chris' intervention - save Tony, Carmela and Adriana - had primarily compassionate intentions from the get-go. And even Tony had a mixed agenda.

Christopher's beat-down, ignited by insults on all sides, was fueled by resentments and distrust. Some of Chrissy's partners in crime were jealous of Chris and Tony's protegee-mentor relationship, of Chris' fast track up the ranks, and of his seeming status as heir-apparent to the role of capo di tutti capi (or capo dei capi) of the DiMeo/Soprano Family. Additionally, animal-lover Tony was furious about a stoned Christopher's having accidentally killed "Ade's" diminutive lap dog, Cosette, by sitting on it and breaking its neck. (Tony seemed more distressed by Christopher's killing the dog then he was by a stoned Christopher's giving "Ade" a black eye: "I ought to suffocate you!" an incensed Tony shouted ominously, foreshadowing Tony's hand in Chris' ultimate departure.) And the whole cabal feared a drug-addled Christopher could "flip over a nickel bag of white powder."

Because those secrets could be prosecutable (and, I surmise, because he had other beefs with Christopher), Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) told Tony, earlier in the episode, to put the young turk "out of his misery" the way one puts down a cherished pet who becomes "rabid." But Tony opted for an intervention (at least as Plan A).

Reviewing's Online Assessment- alcohol drug detox interventions and Jeff Van Vonderen's Why You Shouldn't Wait>>>An Intervention Is On the Way reveals Tony did the right thing, if only to get Christopher's attention. Only in Chris' case, the formal intervention session was merely a coat-puller. (Or should I say, the only way to get the message through his thick skull?)

The ultimate intervention, in "The Strong, Silent Type," was Tony's one-on-one with Christopher at the hospital. There, Tony shared: "You're my nephew, Christopher. And I love you. And that's the only reason you're alive right now. If it were anybody else, anybody, they would've had their f*ckin' intervention right through the back of their head."

The outcome was an interventionist's dream. Christopher, apologetic and scared straight (for the moment), obeyed Tony's order to check into a Pennsylvania rehabilitation center and stay put until released. (Of course, Tony's explanation that button man/accountant Patsy Parisi (Dan Grimaldi), whom Christopher understood would "take him out" if Christopher defected, prematurely, from rehab, might have been effective, too.)  All in all, Tony's approach was unorthodox, but he had staged an intervention Christopher couldn't refuse.