Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti, recently “made” New Jersey gangster
New Jersey, January 2001
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Pine Barrens” (Episode 3.11)
Air Date: May 6, 2001
Director: Steve Buscemi
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
For a series arguably among the greatest shows of our time, it is difficult to pick out which episode of The Sopranos is truly the best. While some episodes are more polarizing than others, most everyone who has seen and appreciated the show can agree that season three’s “Pine Barrens” is one of the most enjoyable and rewatchable episodes of television.
Much of the particular episode’s humor comes from the byplay between Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri (Tony Sirico), two of my favorite characters of the show.
The two manage to play a pair of “bumbling” mobsters without being too over-the-top and comical. They’re efficient enough to survive in their jobs (especially in a career where the retirement policy is grim), but believably stupid enough to find themselves in this situation. This ineptitude is highlighted in an exchange between the two:
Christopher: Russians? They’re not all bad.
Paulie: How ’bout the Cuban Missile Crisis? Cocksuckers flew four nuclear missiles into Cuba, pointed them right at us.
Christopher: That was real? I saw that movie, I thought it was bullshit.
The best part is that Chris is an aspiring screenwriter who “loves movies”. The fact that he didn’t know Thirteen Days was based on a real story (and one that nearly led to the destruction of the world) is hilarious.
The episode starts out with Paulie and Christopher sent on a typical mob errand: go pick up a payment. They get to the apartment where Valery, a Russian mobster, slops around on his couch in his pajamas, drinking and playing with his home theater. Paulie (and I do blame Paulie) instigates Valery into a fight by breaking his equipment, and the rumble ends with Valery unconscious. Fearing that they may have started a mob war, Paulie and Christopher quickly get instruction from their boss Tony (who, I’m sure you know, is played by James Gandolfini) and decide to dispose of the body in the Pine Barrens, a snow-covered woody area in south Jersey. Meanwhile, Christopher, who hasn’t eaten all day, begs Paulie to stop off for some food. Paulie tells him to take it easy, after they ditch the Russian in the woods, they can head to Atlantic City and get a room, some steak at Morton’s, and some hookers.
The fun really begins when they open Paulie’s trunk in the woods and – what do you know? – the Russian is still alive. They decide to save themselves some work and hand him a shovel at gunpoint for him to bury his own grave, all the while as Paulie mocks him for wearing his pajamas in the snow. Little do they know that the man is an ex-Russian commando who is able to overpower them both with the shovel and take off into the woods, still running even after getting popped in the noggin by a shot from Paulie’s Glock.
Now, the two men are lost in the woods without food, cigarettes, or warm clothing. Christopher is bleeding from a head wound and Paulie lost his shoe. It may not sound like the set up for one of the funniest episodes of a serious TV program, but it is. After all, The Sopranos, while one of the greatest modern dramas, also has some of the sharpest and true-to-character comedy of any medium. For instance, after the Russian escapes into the woods, Paulie uses his fading phone connection to get advice from Tony…
Tony: (over the phone) The guy you’re looking for is an ex-commando! He killed sixteen Chechen rebels single-handed!
Paulie: Get the fuck outta here.
Tony: (over the phone) Yeah. Nice, huh? He was with the Interior Ministry. Guy’s like a Russian green beret. He can not come back and tell this story. You understand?
Paulie: I hear you.
Paulie then hangs up and turns to Christopher…
Paulie: You’re not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator.
Christopher: His house looked like shit.
What’d He Wear?
What says “wiseguy from Jersey” more than a leather jacket and a silk shirt?
Chris nails the look, again—without being overly comical—of a low-level mobster out on a daily errand. He certainly doesn’t expect to find himself tromping through the snowy woodlands of south Jersey, bemoaning to himself, “I’m not dressed for this shit.”
The staple here is Christopher’s “mobster special”, a black leather jacket. This jacket provides a basic but sharp look, with minimal creases or seams visible and soft leather material. The jacket has a shirt-style collar, slanted open side pockets, and plain cuffs with no snaps, buttons, or zips. There is a horizontal seam across the upper back and a seam down each shoulder. The zipper pull is long and black-coated.
A unique detail of the jacket is the side vents that each snap fastened at the waist. Chris begins the day with the vent snaps fastened, but they come undone during the subsequent struggles with Valery at his apartment and in the woods.
Jackets like this are very easy to come by and can class up—or BAMF up—most looks. About ten years ago, I got a similar jacket from Alfani, Macy’s house brand, for a decent price and it still looks and feels good to this day. (Interestingly, Paulie’s similarly styled tan leather jacket from this scene carries an Alfani tag!)
Underneath his jacket, Chris wears a bright red silk shirt. This is probably one of the worst tactical decisions for someone planning to head out into a snow-covered forest to bury a body, but as Chris wasn’t planning to do any of that (and really just wanted that steak at Morton’s), we can excuse him. The shirt is long-sleeved with a point collar, concealed fly front, and barrel cuffs with two flat black plastic buttons with a single buttonhole to fasten on either the tighter or larger-fitting of the two.
You may not have the gumption or desire to pull off a red silk shirt, so any red shirt would do. Just know that a mob wannabe like Chris would indeed spring for the silk.
Chris’s slacks are a pair of flat front trousers in dark charcoal pencil-stripe with plain-hemmed bottoms. They have open side pockets and jetted back pockets that fasten with a button. His pants are held up, luckily enough for him, by a black leather belt with a rounded steel single-prong buckle.
Okay, so a leather jacket, silk shirt, and pinstripe trousers may not be the best attire for an impromptu snow burial in the Pine Barrens, but Chris’s biggest mistake for the day are his shoes. A pair of black leather derby shoes and black socks may be ideal for any other mob errand, but Chris probably spent that freezing night in the van wishing he had thought to wear boots. That said, the fact that he opted for lace-ups probably saved him from poor Paulie’s night of suffering after losing one of his loafers in the snow.
Chris, who shockingly avoids the accessory overload of his mobster cohorts, only wears a gold pendant on a thin gold necklace. Not even his usual Cartier wristwatch in this case, and no rings.
Luckily for Michael Imperioli, it seems that the costumers snuck an off-white long-sleeve undershirt into his wardrobe for the especially chilly night scenes. Unfortunately, the shirt cuffs poke through and can be seen in some shots. In the show, Chris typically only wore his white ribbed sleeveless “John McClane”-style undershirts.
Go Big or Go Home
Chris should not be an aspirational character by any means. He is an alcoholic, drug-addicted mob murderer who repeatedly cheats on his girlfriends and lets his quick temper guide his emotions. When he is funny, it’s unintentional and typically a result of his ignorance (such as thinking the Cuban Missile Crisis was a figment of Kevin Costner’s imagination.) However, despite his flaws, he does have ambition. He wants to be both a top screenwriter – maybe an actor, too, if he can – and a top mobster. The only things getting in his way are his laziness, personal choices, stupidity, and substance abuse… but Michael Imperioli plays him brilliantly.
“Pine Barrens” is one of the few times we don’t see Chris drinking before season four and the poor guy can’t even get his Marlboro lit since both he and Paulie left their lighters in the car. He even resorts to scraping sticks together to try for a spark. Scratch what I said earlier about laziness; if Chris wants something, he tries very hard to get it. (He’s just usually not smart enough to make it happen.)
Chris carries a variety of weapons throughout the show, from a Bond-like Walther PPK in an ankle holster to a macho Desert Eagle for truck hijackings. His main weapon is a Glock 19, Paulie’s weapon of choice in this particular scene while Chris packs a heavy-duty Colt M1911A1 Government Model semi-automatic pistol.
Where some films use 1911A1s made by other licensed firms such as Auto-Ordnance, Remington Rand, Ithaca, etc., Chris carries a genuine Colt, as seen in the slide markings when he draws the pistol on Paulie. A more eagle-eyed viewer (or one with a Blu-Ray) might be able to ID the serial number and we can figure out when it was manufactured. I don’t know what good it would do us, but it would be kinda cool?
On an unrelated note (well, not totally unrelated), I am proud to say I was instrumental in building up The Sopranos‘s IMFDB page over the course of a few months, which was greatly added to as other users were able to get their hands on some of the actual firearms used in the series. It’s definitely worth checking out.
How to Get the Look
Chris dons a very simple look for his journey into Pine Barrens. It’s good for both mobsters and civilians alike.
- Black soft leather zip-up jacket with shirt-style collar and slanted hand pockets
- Red silk long-sleeve shirt with point collar, black buttons under a fly front, buttoned barrel cuffs
- Dark charcoal pencil-stripe wool flat front trousers with side pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, belt loops, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with a squared steel single-prong buckle
- Black leather derby shoes
- Black dress socks
- White ribbed sleeveless undershirt
- Gold pendant on a thin gold necklace
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the third season.
Captain or no captain, right now we’re just two assholes lost in the woods.
Do any fans of the show have thoughts about what happened to Valery?
Supposedly, David Chase begrudgingly shed some light on this…
OK, this is what happened. Some Boy Scouts found the Russian, who had the telephone number to his boss, Slava, in his pocket. They called Slava, who took him to the hospital where he had brain surgery. And then Slava sent him back to the Soviet Union.
Although, Tony Sirico also mentioned a different proposed scenario…
We had a scene this season when Chris and I are talking in the bar about whatever happened to that Russian guy. And in the script we were supposed to go outside and there he was standing on the corner. But when we went to shoot it, they took it out. I think David didn’t like it. He wanted the audience just to suffer.
Paired with the camera’s POV, looking down from a tree in a voyeuristic style as Chris and Paulie search for the wounded man, the evidence points to the theory that Valery indeed lived, despite the cold and the gunshot wound, but was probably too dazed or brain-injured to remember enough about what happened since Slava would have most certainly taken revenge on the Soprano family.
Of course, since we don’t really know what happened in the finale…