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 point out an important concept at the core of The Sopranos: the dichotomy of good and evil. I frequently consider this good-evil spectrum in the context of certain characters, with Ralph Cifaretto a prime example. Given Ralph’s prominent role in “Whoever Did This,” his character is likewise a prime focus here.
With that said, it’s not all about Ralph. In fact, “Whoever Did This” actually opens to Junior Soprano’s trial on federal racketeering charges. Upon leaving the courthouse, Junior turns to greet a female reporter and proceeds to fall down the courthouse steps. Though he appears free of serious injury, the fall adds another layer of mystery to Junior’s overall neurological health. Speaking of wellbeing, it’s ironic that Junior spends so much time and money trying to stay out of prison. I mean, wasn’t he basically already there? He may not have technically been in the can, but I feel like it was pretty close. House arrest, heart issues, cancer, the trial…and of course, dementia slowly but surely progressing in the background.
Ralph's Road to (Non) Redemption
On that note, let’s get back to Ralph. While violence is no foreign concept on The Sopranos, Ralph takes it to a whole new level in Season 3. Specifically, he viciously beat Tracee—his 20-year old pregnant girlfriend who worked at Bada Bing—to death. Tracee’s death was heartbreaking, with the (possible) silver lining being her overall impact on the show. While he didn’t become captain that night, Ralph did solidify his status as top Soprano psychopath, at least for the time being.
Besides Ralph, another central figure in “Whoever Did This” is the horse known as Pie-O-My. While originally skeptical when hearing about a new “horse,” even Carmela seems pretty enamored with Pie. In fact, when Tony takes Carmela to go see her, it’s the first time I see Carm smile in Tony’s presence in quite awhile. Though sadly, we know this lovefest ends just as quickly as it begins. Poor Pie-O-My has to “be destroyed” after the stable catches fire later in the episode. (For what it’s worth, I always hated how “destroyed” was used in this context).
But before all the tragedy, we thankfully get some grade A comic relief when Ralph concludes Paulie Walnuts spilled the beans to Johnny Sack about Ralph’s Ginny joke. In classic Ralph fashion, 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?
As we know, prank calling Nucci is the last time we’ll see a grin on the face of Ralph Cifaretto. Following the prank call, Ralph’s son, Justin, is severely injured when he gets pierced in the chest with an arrow. I can’t really put my finger on it, but for some reason, I feel sympathetic for Ralph from this point forward.
To be clear, the first few times around, I think I’m too horrified with what Ralph did to Tracee to accept that I can simultaneously sympathize with him. But sure enough, seeing him in the hospital with his son lying in bed does the trick. Perhaps seeing Ralph apologize to Ro 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
Of course, when Ralph speaks to Father Phil about his son, mercy, and redemption, I can’t help but think of some other characters. For example, 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 blames an eight-year old’s weight problem on his mother never having him baptized. 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.
He Didn't Start The Fire?
Indeed, Justin’s hospitalization doesn’t stop Tony from hurling a fireball Ralph’s way by bringing up Ralph’s recent ex, Valentina. Specifically, while Ralph’s drying his tears in a one-on-one with Tony, T proceeds to tell him that he and Valentina are seeing each other. Of course, this is no accident, and it makes even more sense when you think about how Assemblyman Zellman had recently told Tony about Irina. And onward goes this dysfunctional thing of ours. Why do I have a feeling this isn’t going to end well?
Ralph and Tony: Gladiators
As alluded to, 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 was behind the fire, 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.
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. Additionally, for some reason, seeing someone get choked is particularly unsettling for me. 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 happened to be a goat, while it’s been said that goats symbolize demonic forces in the Bible. Also, while Ralph first sits in the tub just before learning of Justin’s accident, we find him there once more near the end. And of course, slipping 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 this brilliant show 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 “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.
Whoever Did This: Where to Go From Here...
Altogether, “Whoever Did This” is a phenomenal episode, even by Sopranos standards. It has its 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!