[S7E5] Pressure Pile-Up
So if there's no such thing as an unpleasant episode of Curb, what are the criteria by which we determine the best of the best? A prolific Susie appearance always helps. Dialog that went on to birth an ingeniously relatable and applicable phrase for social behavior is even better. But truly, Curb is at its best when every subplot converges into a major intersection for a beautifully orchestrated pile-up of comedic proportions. LD is a master conductor, his wizardry is at its peak when even the most disparate of story threads weaves together under the radar to provide a worthy comeuppance to whatever self-righteous havoc he wreaked earlier in the episode. But to be honest, sometimes an episode just needs five minutes of Leon ranting to make the cut. Either way, you're in for one hell of a marathon. Here's hoping season nine leaves us scrambling to re-do this list at Christmas.
[S7E5] Pressure Pile-Up
Tony also comes to terms with the issues he had with both his parents. He realizes Livia's behavior was fueled partly by a hurtful betrayal on Johnny Boy's part. She had a painful miscarriage where she bled significantly. Johnny Boy meanwhile was having an affair with Fran. Worse still, he refuses to accept responsibility by telling her he was at a Yankees game and forcing Tony to corroborate for him. But he remains resentful towards both. He still feels guilty for his part in supporting Johnny Boy's lies. He also has residual anger from both of them giving away his beloved pet dog, Tippy, to Fran.Tropes: Abhorrent Admirer: Fran ultimately becomes one for Tony. She's past her prime, and she had a role in his issues with both Johnny Boy and Livia. The cringeworthy reenactment of "Happy Birthday Mr. President" didn't help either. Fran, for her part, saw Corrado as such when they were younger.
The Ace: Nobody can match Vito when it comes to poker, and as we will see down the road a lot of other things as well.
Addiction Displacement: J.T. Dolan might have kicked his smack habit, but it is soon made clear he has not really addressed any of the things in his psyche that edge him towards addiction. This is what leaves him vulnerable to becoming The Gambling Addict, and which ultimately sends his life into another downwards spiral.
Always Someone Better: Uncle Junior is convinced that once Fran saw Johnny Boy dressed to the 9s, and became his Goomah, any hope he had was extinguished.
Amoral Attorney: Melvoin always knew exactly who his clients were. But, being an example of the trope, shines more clearly than usual when he's a willing accomplice to Uncle Junior's Loophole Abuse of legal permission to attend funerals.
Blatant Lies: Johnny Boy told Livia that he had been at a Yankees game the night Livia miscarried, instead of carrying on with Fran. Worse still, he forced Tony to back up the story.
Broken Pedestal: Tony definitely thinks less of Johnny Boy after fully appreciating Johnny's role in Livia's Freudian Excuse (see below).
Bullying a Dragon: Tony may be a Boss and Phil may not. But Phil is still high-ranking enough in a more powerful crime family that Tony's humiliation of him qualifies.
J.T. mouths off to both Chris and Little Paulie. The result is predictable.
Cabin Fever: Uncle Junior starts to feel really restless after spending enough time on house arrest. He, therefore, has Melvoin constantly make applications for Junior to attend funerals. And that includes funerals where Junior's personal connections to the deceased were tenuous at best.
Chase Scene: Tony pursues Phil while both are in their cars. Phil crashes into the back of a delivery truck and gets his neck injured, providing Tony with a perfect opportunity to Kick the Son of a Bitch.
Comically Missing the Point: Chris asks J.T. Dolan, who's just fallen Off the Wagon, "Why the fuck didn't you call me?" It's a little hard for Dolan to think of the same guy who just beat the living shit out of him as a possible source of support.
Continuity Nod: JFK's United States Navy uniform hat was also worn by Irina in the series pilot.
J.T. Dolan briefly muses on the idea of playing in the Native American Casino.
Chris is still pissed off at Jon Favreau for taking advantage of him.
Create Your Own Villain: Tony essentially creates his own destined Arch-Enemy in this episode, although anybody who's watched the series to its end will have the benefit of hindsight. First, the race track negotiation clearly goes in Tony's favor so as to lock Phil into a Leonine Contract. Then Tony collects the amount owed by Phil by chasing Phil down while both are in their cars, and then applying pressure to Phil's injured neck along with threats. But Phil is just not the kind of person who can let go of any slight against himself, no matter how minor or long ago. The events in this episode poison almost all interactions between the two men thereafter, and the numerous additional conflicts that arise between them only serve to pile up Phil's resentments towards Tony. A mortal Evil vs. Evil conflict becomes unavoidable.
Cutting Corners: J.T. Dolan pretends he needs to see somebody in order to leave Chris with the cafe bill. Chris shaking his head indicates that he sees right through it. Also doubles both as Foreshadowing and an Establishing Character Moment to indicate that Dolan is The Gambling Addict.
Despair Event Horizon: Uncle Zio's funeral brings one on for Uncle Junior. The realization that Uncle Zio and Aunt Concetta spent almost 70 years Happily Married, and are now Together in Death, hits Junior hard with the realization that he's been a Confirmed Bachelor his whole life. And he'll never stop being one for what little is left of his life. "I'm trapped."
Do You Want to Haggle?: Tony gets a decent return on his claim to the race track, although Phil obviously disagrees with the amount he's required to pay.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: Tony picks up that Phil looks down on the Jersey mobsters, including himself as the recognized boss. So he's perfectly willing to dish it out to Phil in his own turn.
Due to the Dead: Played Straight when everyone is very somber at Aunt Concetta's wedding.
Subverted by Uncle Junior, who likens visiting Johnny Boy's grave as "prayin' to a chunk of marble" when he'd rather be enjoying the sunny day.
Subverted yet more by Uncle Junior. He also starts to abuse the legal privilege of attending funerals in order to alleviate the Cabin Fever stemming from his house arrest. In that respect, his attendance at Aunt Concetta's funeral may have served as a "Eureka!" Moment for him.
Drugs Are Good: Apparently mood inhibitors have made Uncle Junior a little less of a Grumpy Old Man.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: The first hint we get that Tony on some level still cares about his now-deceased mother is when he feels uncomfortable about Fran speaking negatively of Livia.
Tony then recognizes that Livia had a legitimate Freudian Excuse for her behavior.
Subverted in the end. Tony still won't forgive Livia. The tipping point is that Livia forced Johnny Boy to give away his beloved dog, Tippy.
Even Evil Has Standards: Tony becomes so repulsed when recounting his father's behavior that he momentarily empathizes with Livia.
Evil Debt Collector: Tony is merciless in forcing Phil to pay the outstanding 40 grand.
As is Chris in trying to collect the gambling debt from J.T. Dolan.
Evil Is Petty: The seeds for the prolonged conflict between Tony and Phil are planted in this episode, where they both really get off on the wrong foot with each other. That the race track negotiation went against Phil and Tony humiliated Phil after chasing him down was likely enough to poison any future interactions between the two men for good. Every other conflict that occurs only serves to pile up matters so that a mortal Evil vs. Evil conflict becomes inevitable.
Faux Affably Evil: Chris is laying it on pretty thick when he's encouraging J.T. to go back to rehab, and going easier on the debt payments.
Flashback: The flashback is comprised of various shots of Johnny Boy enjoying himself with Fran, Johnny Boy making Tony his Guilt-Ridden Accomplice, and then feeding his Blatant Lies of being at a Yankees game to Livia.
Foreshadowing: A picture of a younger Hesh reveals he has a thing for Black women. He explicitly admits it to Tony too.
Fran mentions in an offhand way that one of the guys involved with the race track was a guy named Phil, "with the hair from New York". Tony's first run-in with the Big Bad of the series itself is about to go down.
Friend to All Living Things: Janice lampshades that Tony seems to be more compassionate to dogs than human beings. Doubles as Call Backs to more than one previous episode, as well as Foreshadowing a Freudian Excuse for Tony.
Freudian Excuse: Ever wondered why Tony was a Friend to All Living Things to the point that he was willing to kill human beings who hurt animals? We get an answer here. He was really attached to a dog named Tippy. He notices Tippy in a picture with Fran's son, Bruce. And it turns out that Johnny Boy gave Tippy away to Fran, likely because the dog annoyed Livia.
Tony comes to acknowledge that Livia had a pretty strong one herself. She was in the throes of a miscarriage that caused her to bleed significantly. Where is Johnny Boy while that's going on? Enjoying himself with Fran. And worse still, he gives her Blatant Lies that he had been at a Yankees game, and forces Tony to cover for him.
The Gambling Addict: J.T. Dolan, and it gets him in a world of trouble.
Gold Digger: Fran was this for Johnny Boy, and attempts to latch onto his son for a similar relationship.
Grave-Marking Scene: Tony and Fran meet each other at Johnny Boy's grave.
Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Tony was forced by Johnny Boy to back the story that Johnny had been at a Yankees game instead of carrying on with Fran.
Hate at First Sight: The first interaction between Tony and Phil. They clash harshly about some money owed to the goomah of Tony's father goomah. When Phil is reminded that Tony deserves the respect of a boss, Phil shows his lack of consideration for the Jersey mob.
History with Celebrity: Fran had a fling with John F. Kennedy.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Uncle Junior relates that the reason he never proposed to Fran was that he didn't want to expose her to the dangers and drawbacks of the gangster lifestyle.
I Was Quite a Looker: Tony admits that in her prime, Fran had been a classic Jewish American Princess.
Improvised Weapon: Chris smashes the framed movie poster of Dr. Strangelove over J.T. Dolan's head.
Inelegant Blubbering: Uncle Junior really breaks down at Uncle Zio's funeral.
Kick the Dog: Literally, for both Fran, Livia and Johnny. Likely on Livia's behest, Johnny gave away the family dog Tippi - towards whom Tony had a great deal of affection - to Fran. Fran then had the dog put to sleep when her son went to college.
She and Johnny had another mutual Kick the Dog moment when Livia suffered a miscarriage, and Johnny spent the night with Fran rather than deal with his wife's (in this case, quite justified) grief.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Tony chases down Phil while they're both in their cars. Phil crashes into the back of the truck and injures his neck. Tony pretends to be a concerned citizen long enough to close in for some private one-to-one, applies pressure to Phil's neck, and threatens him into making good the 40 grand.
Laser-Guided Karma: Tony's shakedown of Phil is every bit as humiliating as Phil's treatment of Lorraine during previous episodes.
Leonine Contract: How Phil feels about being obliged by Johnny Sack to fork over $40,000 as part of the race track deal.
Living Lie Detector: Whatever flaws Livia may have had, she was no fool. Lying back down on her bed and turning over to face away from Johnny Boy and Tony belies that she didn't believe their Blatant Lies for even a second.
Loophole Abuse: Uncle Junior more and more wants to relieve his Cabin Fever stemming from his house arrest by having Melvoin make numerous applications for legal permission to attend funerals. And that includes funerals where any personal connections that Uncle Junior may have had to the deceased were tenuous or even outright questionable.
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Chris and Little Paulie give an especially brutal one to J.T. Dolan for falling behind on his payments.
Oedipus Complex: Dr. Melfi is convinced that Tony still has it, with Fran as its focus.
Off the Wagon: J.T. Dolan is back to shooting heroin following the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown Chris and Little Paulie gave him.
The One That Got Away: Uncle Junior indicated that he hesitated in proposing to Fran, and became the reason he remained a Confirmed Bachelor for the rest of his life. At least that's how Junior viewed it. Fran claims that Junior practically stalked her when Tony mentions how his uncle felt about her.
Parental Substitute: Bobby's kids are finally starting to warm up to Janice, largely because she's adopted a Hands-Off Parenting approach.
Pet the Dog: Tony goes out of his way to be kind and financially supportive of Fran.
He doesn't give Hesh any serious punishment even though he is rightly infuriated that he disrespected his dead father's wishes.
Quick Nip: Fran offers Tony one (while he's driving) before taking one herself. A mix of Remy Martin and VSOP. Even Tony finds it strong."One for the road, honey! And this looks like road to me!
Reasonable Authority Figure: Johnny Sack realizes that getting a buyer for a struggling race track was both rare and fortunate. So he pulls rank on his own Dragon, Phil, to give Tony a fair return on the track in the hopes of defusing the potential for any further conflicts over the matter. It's only on account of Phil's pettiness that it goes sideways.
Rhetorical Question Blunder: More than one in the same conversation.J.T. Dolan: What is this, fucking Pulp Fiction? Am I supposed to be afraid?Little Paulie: I don't know, I didn't see it.J.T. Dolan: You're really bein' a prick, huh? I told you I need more time. I don't have the money.Chris: Then fucking get it.J.T. Dolan: Chris, you know me. What could you possibly do to me that I haven't already been through?Chris: I'm positive we'll think of somethin'. Cue the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
Rule of Symbolism: J.T. Dolan has a framed movie poster for Dr. Strangelove hanging on his wall. Although the film itself has Mutually Assured Destruction as its prominent theme, the poster may suggest that both J.T. Dolan and Chris will always be their own worst enemies on the way to self-destruction.
The stripper girls in the background of the Bing remind Tony, even as he's telling the other guys about Fran, that even the most beautiful women will eventually get old and lose their looks.
Stalker with a Crush: Uncle Junior was one towards Fran when they were younger.
But then Fran turns her sights on Tony.
Stepford Smiler: Fran has a warm and friendly demeanor, yet is petty and materialistic on the inside.
Suspiciously Apropos Music: Tony running down and then humiliating Phil is accompanied by "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash. The Apropos for that song comes from the multiple layers of Foreshadowing it provides. The song itself is about rebels repeatedly playing rock music in an Islamic dictatorship in the name of democracy and freedom. Tony's numerous conflicts with Phil, which have started in this episode, will become a constant exercise in Bullying a Dragon.
It also foreshadows the In-Series Nickname that Tony will give Phil, the "Shah of Iran".
Sympathetic Adulterer: Tony is at least initially of the viewpoint that Johnny Boy cheating on Liva was more understandable given the Awful Wedded Life that Livia trapped her husband in. Fran offered welcomed relief from the misery.
Take That!: When J.T. attempts to pawn his Emmy Award in order to pay Chris what he owes him, the dealer only offers him $15. "Maybe if it was an Oscar, you know, an Academy Award... but TV?"
Together in Death: Uncle Zio is devastated by Aunt Concetta's death, and doesn't last much longer.
Trapped by Gambling Debts: J.T. Dolan really puts himself in the red during poker, and straight into the waiting arms of Chris.
Tropaholics Anonymous: Chris and J.T. Dolan meet each other at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Unexpected Inheritance: The race track becomes one for both Tony and Fran.
Visual Title Drop: Fran reenacts Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy, whose presidency was frequently called "Camelot", in a desperate attempt to win Tony over. Tony is not impressed.
What the Hell, Hero?: Tony gets upset when he learns that Fran continued to smoke in front of Johnny Boy, even after the latter experienced the acute onset of emphysema.
Wicked Pretentious: Phil is intentionally belligerent towards Tony during the negotiation over the rack track. He later admits that he doesn't consider a Jersey boss worthy of respect. But given we have already witnessed his foul mouth, and his penchant for street-level violence, he can't quite carry true Wicked Cultured the way Carmine Sr. could.