You're kidding, right? It's only 9:54, for God's sake. No commercials? No movie promos? No "It's not TV. It's HBO"? Great. That's just great. My permanently gnarled note-taking right hand salutes you. Or it would, if I could straighten out the appropriate finger.
Without so much as thirty seconds for a bathroom break, we're unceremoniously dumped into, well, a dump. Some garbage men (er, sorry. Sanitation engineers) scurry about, and suddenly a bomb explodes, showering a truck with flames. Much like the first episode, we get a newspaper headline reminding us of the mob war over garbage contracts. Instead of yet another shot of Tony fetching said paper in his robe, however, we now pan up to see him lying in a pool of what appears to be blood. He still got the robe on, though. By the way, word on the pants thing, Sars. Carmela comes home with some groceries and immediately rushes over when she sees him on the floor. Tony wakes up (because who really thought he was dead?), and she asks him what happened. He looks confused for a moment, and then answers, "Uncle Ben." He was mauled by a bear? Oh, wait, that's Gentle Ben. Never mind.
Because I'm bored, and writing this recap at work, I initially flirted with the idea of doing this next paragraph backwards, since everything now kicks into reverse, and we see the events leading up to Tony's collapse. Twenty-seven words, two Tylenol, and one really bad "Paul is dead" joke later, I finally came to my senses. Tony comes to his as well, and bounces back up off the floor. We see him making himself some lunch, then backing into the living room where he chats with Meadow and a random guy before zipping back up the stairs and out of sight. Now I know this show likes to defy TV conventions and paint a surrealistic picture of gangster angst (talking fish, anyone?), but this one was a little too jarring to be as effective as they probably hoped. Being clever can be fun, but the tenor of a show like The Sopranos is based on something altogether different (by the way, see what I did there?), and sometimes it's easy to go too far ("creamed his jeans", anyone?).
So Tony comes down the steps, facing forward and at normal speed. Meadow is in the living room, getting a tape out of the VCR. She tells him she's watching Public Enemy for a class. They banter about wasted tuition fees, and then the random guy emerges from the bathroom, commenting that "your mom really likes lavender." He introduces himself as Noah Tannenbaum, and it seems that my plea for Jewish names from the episode one recap has been answered. Since I'm a sucker for irony, I'll point out that while Tannenbaum is indeed a common Jewish name, it also means "Christmas tree" in the original German. Noah starts prattling on about mob movies and images of hyper-capitalism in the blah blah studio systemcakes. I tune out and start picturing him with a little angel on his head. And maybe some tinsel. Tony asks if he and Meadow are dating. "It's a little too early to tell," he replies, and that is so the wrong answer when you're talking to the dad, especially this one.
Tony sports an evil grin as he throws his arm around Noah and leads him to the foyer. In a blatantly transparent effort to determine Noah's racial lineage, Tony starts quizzing him on his background. Noah says his parents are in "the business," and we're apparently supposed to think he means the mob business, but then he clarifies it to "show business." Tony asks if his parents were in "those old Tarzan movies," and this is beginning to look like it could get ugly. Noah, however, doesn't seem to get it, so Tony starts asking him which boxes he checked on his application to Columbia. Noah reveals that he checked African-American, and Tony seems to be getting a real kick out of messing with the kid when he oh so politely tries to confirm that Noah is indeed a "charcoal briquette." Noah at long last figures out what's going on here, and I gotta say, for an Ivy League boy, he's kinda slow on the uptake. He swears at Tony, who laughs it off and tells him that "when [his] little girl comes down those stairs, you'll say it was nice to meet me. Then you're going to drop her off and say goodbye." Gandolfini so totally channels Brando on this last line reading that I halfway expect Martin Sheen to show up in a boat and try to kill him. That'll probably have to wait until the Emmys. Anyway, Meadow comes down the stairs to find a speechless Noah, who immediately turns and sulks straight out of the house.