Finally getting around to contributing here, garthman. And I'll head over to the first and second season polls as soon as I get a chance.
All great episodes brought up so far, but I'm surprised "Proshai, Livushka" hasn't even been mentioned. In fact, I’m really not sure if that’s a popular episode around here or not, but I for one really enjoyed it. And while it's a really close race between this one, "Employee of the Month" and "Army of One" for best of season, I always come back to this one as the favorite.
Before I say exactly why I like this episode so much, there's one negative aspect that needs to be addressed, and that's the decision to bring Nancy Marchand back for one last episode by using CGI and recycled sound clips. That particular scene is extremely awkward and ineffective. Not only does Livia’s appearance and movements seem very unnatural at times, the writing is pretty weak too (though they had little control over this; everything Tony said had to be responded to using old Livia-dialogue, which is a seriously restraint on how many writing options they had). The final scene between Tony and Livia before her death should have been a classic moment of the series. If Livia had still been alive, and there came a point where David felt it was time to write her off, I believe he would have handled it perfectly. Given what he had to work with here, though, along with his conviction that Livia had to appear on screen one last time regardless of the means, the scene was the best it could be.
It’s really all that happens after Livia dies though, that makes this episode. For those that didn’t know what was going to happen to the character ahead of time, Livia’s death would cause a true shock – It happened without any prior warning, as death often does in real life. This particular death is a momentous occasion for Tony. The scene with Melfi in which Tony admits to having “relief flood his veins” upon hearing the news is both terribly heartbreaking, and yet entirely understandable at the same time, given their history. It just reminds us yet again of how complex Tony’s relationship was with his mother; for all the turmoil, unkind words, hatred, and lack of compassion both characters felt towards each other, Tony always felt the obligation to do right by his mother (because bad sons “should fucking die”). And so, despite the initial relief Tony feels, the episode closes with him crying. There are very few places in the series where Tony cries, and of those, there are even fewer times Tony is crying for a human being – but here, after finishing “The Public Enemy” he begins to weep and mourn his mother's death. Which reminds me, the use of “Public Enemy” in this episode is perfect here, and there couldn’t have been a better episode for Chase to use it.
What also strikes me is how funny this episode is. For an episode that revolves entirely around the death of the main character’s mother, this episode has some serious laugh out loud moments. Just the sheer awkwardness of Tony trying to accept his friend’s condolences throughout the episode makes me chuckle (His standard response: “Well, what are you gonna do?”), as does his agitation at the superficial, generic words of comfort he’s given (The most used one being “At least she doesn’t suffer”). The whole “after party” at the Soprano’s household is delightfully amusing, with the entire scene of Janice trying to invoke favorable memories of her mother from the other guests being a classic, in my book. There’s Christopher’s extensive drug-influenced speech on the possibility of another Livia somewhere else in the world; Junior, out of focus and barely visible in the background, silently creeping halfway down the stairs to peak at what all the guests are doing, before quickly hurrying back up the stairs; Hesh’s awkward attempt to satisfy Janice (“She didn’t mince words. Between brain and mouth …there was no interlocketer.”); and Carmella's brutally honest speech that erupted into an argument with her own parents, in front of all the other guests. What an all-around wonderfully written/acted scene!