Conversations With the Family: Christopher’s Intervention Scene
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 21, 2008
Maybe it’s just because of the 90210 re-runs I’ve been watching on SOAP recently, but I’ve recently regained an appreciation for the Very Special Episodes of The Sopranos. There aren’t too many of them, and they don’t usually look the way VSEs are supposed to, but they’re there–the one where Meadow’s friend attempts suicide after having an affair with the soccer team coach, the one where Dr. Melfi gets raped, or the one where office gossip ends up leading Chris to erroneously believe that Adriana cheated on him with Tony, for instance. They’re not done with the melodrama of your garden variety SVE, but they definitely have a different feel than other Sops episodes–a more self-contained, old-fashioned method of television that you’d probably think would clash with the show’s usually cinematic, grand-scale, and dramatically unpretentious manner.
It’s that clash, of course, that makes some of these scenes so unforgettable–no more so than in “The Strong, Silent Type,” when Tony and his family and friends decide to hold an intervnetion for the smack-laden Chrissy. The precursor to this scene, from “Whoever DId This,” is similarly remarkable–after Tony kills Ralphie in an impulsive rage because he believes Ralph burned his horse alive, he calls in Chris to help with the cleanup, and to keep the unsanctioned hit secret from the rest of his crew. While they’re disposing of his body, Tony brings up the subject of Chris’s burgeoning drug addiction and admonishes him for it. And you realize that for these two men, hacking away body parts and trying to make them disappear is probably the most likely time for genuine, emotional male bonding.
The intervention is even more striking. It starts the way you’d expect it to–with Chris acting insulted and beligerent at the insinuation that his drug problem is that serious. And then, of course, the tearful speeches start, with Adriana breaking down weeping while recounting Christopher’s drug-induced impotence (Chris: “Jesus, is this fuckin’ necessary??”) and how he suffocated their dog by sitting on it while high. Meanwhile, Tony and the other intervention members sit around and tut-tut at Christopher’s druggy misdeeds, some more violently than others. This is the stuff that after-school specials are made of, and it seems an unusually emotionally raw moment for a show that resorts to cheap shots as little as The Sopranos does.
The scene takes a much different turn, though, as Sil gets up to give his speech. Monologuing his own words like he just got called on to read through a scene of Death of a Salesman in a high school Language Arts class, he recounts the way Chris’s drug addiction has affected him personally: “When I came in to open up one morning, there you were with your head half in the toilet. Your hair was in the toilet water. Disgusting.” Chris pleads that he had the flu that week, which Tony reluctantly confirms to be true. When it becomes Paulie’s turn to talk, he is even more direct and somewhat less compassionate: “I don’t write nothin’ down, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. You’re weak. You’re out of control. And you’ve become an embarrassment to yourself and everybody else.”
At this point, Chris can’t take it any more, and he stats to point out the hypocrisy of his being condemned for his lack of self-control by the similarly indulgent and occasionally irresponsible people in the room. When his mother finally speaks up, though, urging someone to “knock some sense into him,” he commits perhaps the cardinal sin of family culture by telling Ma “fuck you, you fuckin’ hoo-er.” Naturally, the rest of the guys don’t take this kindly, and start beating up Christopher amidst the pleas of the intervention leader (played by Elias Koteas, for some reason). Eventually, the beatdown gets so bad that Chris ends the scene in the hospital, which apparently has a sobering effect, as he breaks down to Tony and willfully agrees to check himself into rehab.
The scene’s a Sops classic for any number of reasons. First off, it’s fucking funny. It’s certainly one of Paulie’s all-time great moments, as the strictly old school greaseball has very basic conflicts of interest with the new age-y philosophies being espoused by Koteas (whose constant insistence on having the intervention take place in a “non-judgemental” atmosphere is routinely ignored), and Chris’s incredulous reaction to some of the less urgent complaints about his drug use (namely his unrelated vomiting and erectile dysfunction) are pretty chuckle-worthy. It’s also certainly an emotionally wrenching scene, especially when Carmella calmly but with great hurt recounts Chris obviously being stoned at Tony’s mother’s wake, and of course it’s far from pretty when Chris tells Ma to fuck off.
Mostly, though, I think it’s an interesting scene because it shows how the Soprano Family, for all their pretense of being a family first, operates in a system too full of hypocrisy to possibly ever do something like an intervention successfully. They can’t really look down on Chris for his drug use when their own self-indulgences (sex, greed, impulsive violence) are, while occasionally less obvious, certainly just as destructive as Chris’s drug use. They can’t really open up honestly to tell Chris how they really feel, since their business is still so full of potentially lethal secrets (not just from the outside world, but from each other, as demonstrated by Ralphie’s recent death). And they can’t really confront him an a sympathetic, non-judgemental way, because fact is, if they can’t clean him up, they’ll probably have to kill him. It’s hardly surprising that it ends up with everyone brawling–the entire thing was probably so emotionally confusing to these guys that they’d have to take their aggression out on something.
Kind of makes me wish the episode where Meadow and Hunter buy speed from Chris had ended up a little more dramatically.