While The Sopranos series as a whole is second to none, certain episodes stick out for being particularly impactful. “Whoever Did This” (season four, episode nine) is one example. This blog post isn’t intended to be an episode summary, but rather, an overview of moments and themes I found significant. With that, here are some thoughts on The Sopranos “Whoever Did This.”
First, I want to note an important concept at the core of The Sopranos: the dichotomy of good and evil. I frequently consider these ideas in the context of certain characters, with Ralph Cifaretto as one prime example. Given Ralph’s prominent role in “Whoever Did This,” his place on the good versus evil spectrum is likewise a prime focus here.
Ralph Cifaretto - Evil
For one thing, it’s Ralph who viciously beat his 20-year old pregnant girlfriend, Tracee, to death outside of Bada Bing in season 3. Tracee’s death was heartbreaking, with the (possible) silver lining being her overall impact on the show. While it didn’t get him promoted, Ralph did earn the rank of top Soprano psychopath, at least for the moment.
Pie-O-My - Good
In contrast, Ralph’s race horse, Pie-O-My, is an example of pure goodness and innocence (For more on The Sopranos and animals, see Animal Symbolism on The Sopranos). Unfortunately, in “Whoever Did This,” these competing forces of good and evil collide with tragic outcomes.
Ralph's Final Road to (Non) Redemption
As alluded to, my good v. bad framework with Ralph gets complicated in “Whoever Did This” when his son, Justin, gets pierced in the chest with an arrow. Gravely injured, the next time we see Justin is in a hospital bed hooked up to a bunch of tubes. I don’t know if I’m just a sucker, but I do feel sympathetic for Ralph from this point forward.
To be clear, I think it takes a few re-watches before I can accept the idea of sympathizing with Ralph. But sure enough, seeing him in the hospital with his son lying in bed does the trick. Perhaps seeing Ralph apologize to Ro, his ex-girlfriend, also has something to do with it. I guess that’s just life, and one of the many things that makes The Sopranos so relatable.
It's Always Transactional
Though in true Sopranos fashion, while Justin’s still in the hospital, Ralph goes to see Father Intintola to talk about redeeming himself. During their conversation about Justin, mercy, and redemption, Ralph says to Father Intintola “But we had a mass for Justin’s baptism. For all the good it did.“ As if getting Justin baptized gives the boy an automatic shield from danger for life.
For what it’s worth, Ralph’s remark immediately reminds me of Paulie Walnuts and Joanne Blundetto. For one, Paulie used similar language when he went to go see his priest in season 2: “I should’ve had immunity from this sh*t, I shoulda been covered by my donations!” With Joanne, she blamed an eight-year old’s weight problem on his mother never having him baptized.
He Didn't Start The Fire?
Indeed, Justin’s hospitalization doesn’t stop Tony from being Tony, either. Specifically, while Ralph is drying his tears in a one-on-one with Tony, Tony proceeds to tell Ralph that he and Valentina (Ralph’s most recent ex) are seeing each other. Of course, this is no accident, and it makes sense if you recall that Assemblyman Zellman had recently told Tony that he and Irina were seeing eachother. As you can imagine, hitting a guy like Ralph below the belt when he already feels like he’s at rock bottom isn’t going to end well. And onward goes this dysfunctional “thing of ours.”
Whoever Did This...
Naturally, while Ralph is trying to turn over a new leaf, that hope is quickly extinguished when Tony learns Pie-O-My died in a stable fire. When Tony shows up at Ralph’s suspecting he’s the culprit, it appears Ralph may finally have his Gladiator moment. Again, in true Sopranos fashion, this whole showdown happens while he’s making eggs. (Someone probably should’ve warned Ralph to stay away from those eggs).
Of course, we know this scene is also no accident. When Tony decides to tell Ralph that he’s seeing Valentina during this particularly rough time for Ralph, T knows exactly what’s going to happen. Just as Artie mentions a few episodes earlier, Tony’s like a hawk that sees 20 steps ahead. So, getting back to this Gladiator thing. Ralph, be careful what you wish for. We know how this one ends (HINT: Tony wins).
Similarly to my feeling of sympathy following Justin’s hospitalization, there’s also something particularly heartbreaking to me about Ralph Cifaretto’s death. I think that comes from not being fully convinced it was Ralph who started that fire. Aside from that, seeing the life leave someone’s eyes from being choked to death feels particularly intimate and brutal. In any case, I suppose it was only a matter of time before Tony’s anger over Ralph killing Tracee came to a head.
Symbolism on The Sopranos
Aside from what literally occurs on the show, I love finding symbolism, parallels and connections among different Sopranos characters, seasons, and themes. Though sometimes, it can happen all in one episode. For example, Pie-O-My’s companion happens to be a goat. Goats also symbolize demonic forces in the Bible. (“Did anybody there have horns, or buds for horns?”) Also, while Ralph first sits in the tub just before learning of Justin’s accident, we find him in the tub once more near the end. And of course, Ralph slips into the water, just like we saw with Big Pussy back in “Funhouse.”
Another important symbol on The Sopranos is color, with red, white, and black having particular significance. At the end of this episode, after murdering Ralph, Tony walks out of the Bing into a strong white light. I interpret this as Tony venturing into some sort of parallel dimension. But is it heaven? Hell? Purgatory? Just the “regularness of life” that’s blinding enough by itself? We don’t know, but we’re also not supposed to know. As in real life, so much on The Sopranos is in the eye of the beholder.
She was a beautiful, innocent creature, what'd she ever do to you?!
With that said, I found the most powerful connection in “Whoever Did This” to be when Tony yelled to Ralph “She was a beautiful, innocent creature, what’d she ever do to you?!” While at first, it seems obvious that he’s referring to Pie-O-My as the “beautiful, innocent creature,” you soon realize it’s not that simple. It’s also not an either/or scenario. The way I see it, Tony is referring to both Tracee AND Pie-O-My. That’s why regardless of whether or not Ralph was behind the stable fire, it was only a matter of time before Tony sought revenge for one, or both, heinous acts.
Despite the episode’s otherwise serious tone, I can’t forget to mention the grade A comic relief of Ralph’s prank call. In a nutshell, Ralph concludes Paulie Walnuts spilled the beans to Johnny Sack about Ralph’s Ginny Sack joke. To get revenge, Ralph decides to retaliate by prank calling Paulie’s mother, Nucci Gualtieri. I have to admit that this scene always cracks me up. I mean, who knew Detective Mike Hunt from the Beaver Falls Police Department was such a comedian?
Whoever Did This: Where to Go From Here...
Altogether, “Whoever Did This” is a phenomenal episode, even by Sopranos standards. It has both hilarious and heartbreaking moments, which prove key to many of the top notch episodes. What do you find most interesting about The Sopranos “Whoever Did This”? Subscribe to Sopranos Blueprint below, and connect with me on social media for more Sopranos talk!
Miscellaneous Episode Observations
- Junior falls down “nine—no, seven steps.”
- Tony tells Uncle Jun’ he flunked his “Holstein,” but the correct term is Folstein. Does Holstein sound familiar? Holsten’s, maybe?
- Carmela + Pie-O-My: Even Carmela, who’s skeptical when hearing about a new “horse,” was quite impressed. In fact, when Tony takes Carm to meet Pie-O-My, it’s the first time I see Carm smile in Tony’s presence in quite awhile.