James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, New Jersey mob boss
North Caldwell, New Jersey, Christmas 2006
Series: The Sopranos
Episode: “Kaisha” (Episode 6.12)
Air Date: June 4, 2006
Director: Alan Taylor
Creator: David Chase
Costume Designer: Juliet Polcsa
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On #SopranosSunday with Christmas just a few days away, let’s check in with everyone’s favorite mob family for the second and final holiday-set episode of The Sopranos‘ epic run.
I’m a sucker for Christmas scenes, and I always appreciate “holiday adjacent” movies like The Thin Man, Three Days of the Condor, The Godfather, Goodfellas, and—of course—Die Hard that add a certain mysticism by setting some or all of the action at Christmas, a time of wonderment and hope but often not without melancholy. Although we only spend the last five minutes of the episode in the midst of true yule celebrations, “Kaisha” is framed by family holidays, beginning with the bombing of Phil Leotardo’s New York restaurant just before Thanksgiving and continuing over the weeks to follow throughout the holiday season as the all-too-human characters of Soprano-world navigate the stressful spectrum that ranges from loveliness to an abundance of loved ones.
The third season’s “…To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” had leaned more heavily into sprinkling in some broader Christmas humor, whether with the scenes of a mobster in a Santa suit greeting neighborhood kids, Tony and Furio sporting Santa hats as they argue about who was to be the designated driver, or the remix of “The Little Drummer Boy” playing in a strip club as the guys down shots of rum.
As the finale of the penultimate season, “Kaisha” is a more introspective episode that sets up The Sopranos‘ masterful final run through the end of the series, though we do get some delightfully crude Chrimbo commentary from the always reliable Paulie Walnuts, fondly recalling the time that “Heh, I fucked a girl wearin’ a Santa hat once. It was too distracting. I kept losin’ my hard on.”
The Soprano family Christmas celebration takes over the first floor of the McMansion at 633 Stag Trail Road (actually 14 Aspen Drive), drifting from the family room where Bobby’s bored kids flip between A Christmas Carol and Casablanca on Tony’s TV, through the kitchen where the women are preparing the holiday feast, to the living room where Bobby Bacala (Steven R. Schirripa) excitedly recalls his youth when WABC would “track” Santa Claus via Air Force radar.
Despite the promises of peace in the new year after Tony’s heart-to-damaged heart chat with Phil Leotardo, there’s personal tension in the air, notably between Tony and his erstwhile protégé Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) as the latter has begun a clandestine relationship with Julianna Skiff (Julianna Margolis), a sharp real estate agent who had just rejected Tony’s own advances. The personal tensions are only exacerbated when Tony’s youngest, AJ (Robert Iler), arrives with his new girlfriend Blanca (Dania Ramirez) and her young son Hector.
An artificially effusive Carmela (Edie Falco) puts on her usual welcoming smile, but anyone who’s overheard her at a church luncheon knows the other shoe’s about to drop, and she takes the first opportunity alone with Tony to bemoan that “she’s ten years older than him and she’s Puerto Rican,” to which Tony responds, “Dominican… maybe.” Knowing Carmela’s soft spot, he adds, “…’least she’s Catholic.”
In their insightful essay about the episode in The Sopranos Sessions, Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall note that:
This newly responsible version of their son proves to be a monkey’s paw situation to Tony and especially Carmela, who wanted AJ to start taking life seriously, but doesn’t approve of the root cause of the change…
In that way, AJ’s situation isn’t that different from that of Tony’s unofficial other son Christopher, who is also struggling to get better, while being dumped on for the methods he uses along the way. The wiseguys all mock Christopher’s twelve-step activities, which only leaves him more isolated and more inclined to seek the comfort of someone like Julianna, while the more Tony and Carmela look down on Blanca and Hector, the more likely AJ seems to prefer their company to those of his parents.
Aside from Meadow, who phones in her yuletide greetings from California, the holidays bring everyone together and the growing Soprano/DeAngelis/Moltisanti/Baccalieri clan takes their positions on couches and carpet in front of the immaculately decorated tree in the Soprano living room, sitting as silent as the night Frank Sinatra describes on the soundtrack. It’s the last on-screen Christmas that the Soprano family would share and—for at least three heads of household in the room—quite possibly the last Christmas they’d be alive to spend with their families. Blanca breaks the ice by telling Carmela, “You have a gorgeous home,” to which the dutiful homemaker automatically responds with “Thanks,” before truly hearing what was said, observing her surroundings, and acknowledging earnestly: “We do.”
The series gives us this one final moment of peace with the Soprano family, with Meadow conspicuously absent (perhaps foreshadowing her absence in the series’ famous final scene), and the soundtrack fades from Ol’ Blue Eyes to a reprise of “Moonlight Mile”, the appropriately reflective ballad by The Rolling Stones that framed the beginning and end of the episode. While clearly not a Christmas song, this closing track from the Stones’ 1971 masterpiece album Sticky Fingers is worthy of a listen any time of the year, whether you’re indulging in nostalgia for the past, living in the present, or looking ahead to an uncertain future.
What’d He Wear?
“Tell her I kept my promise, I’m wearin’ yer present from Paris,” Tony asks Carmela to inform Meadow during her Christmas call. It’s never made clear whether Carmela—a woman of questionable taste—had meant the black Basque-style beret to be a heartfelt holiday present or a gag gift, but kudos to Tony for embracing the spirit of the season of giving and wearing the hat, if somewhat begrudgingly, for a portion of the family’s holiday celebration.
Tony wears a fashion-forward dark striped shirt for Christmas dinner, patterned with burgundy and taupe stripes over a dark brown ground, with each “stripe” actually consisting of a thick stripe bordered on each side by a thinner one of the same color. (The unique shirt reminds me of one that I had also acquired in 2006, wearing it to a spring dance when I was a high school junior and again two years later during my grandmother’s annual outing to see The Nutcracker… a yuletide context à la Tony.)
The shirt has a then-trendy two-button spread collar and three buttons on each mitred cuff, a unique touch that suggests a shirtmaker inspired by Turnbull & Asser‘s signature three-button squared barrel cuff, though the mitred corners of Tony’s shirt cuffs add length to the sleeves that are most flatteringly balanced by a larger-framed man like James Gandolfini. The buttons on the collar, cuffs, and up the plain (French) front are all off-white plastic, fastened through white-stitched buttonholes that accentuate the contrast against the rest of the dark shirt.
If the muted burgundy stripes on his shirt are Tony’s “holiday red”, he supplies the complementary green with his olive-colored slacks. He wears these trousers with a dark brown leather belt with a polished steel single-prong buckle, covering the extended waistband tab with its single-button pointed tab.
These double reverse-pleated trousers have slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
Tony wears a pair of cap-toe oxford shoes in a mid-brown shade of calf leather, similar to what Tony-approved shoemaker Allen Edmonds calls “dark chili” on similar shoes like its Park Avenue Cap-Toe Oxford (also available on Amazon.) Tony’s dark socks appear to be a maroon cotton lisle, a subtle nod to the festive colors associated with the season.
Even for a quiet evening at home, Tony Soprano doesn’t miss an item of his usual complement of gold jewelry including St. Jerome pendant and rings, though the wide coverage of his three-button shirt cuffs all but hides the gold chain-link bracelet on his right wrist. On the opposing wrist, Tony wears his usual Rolex Day-Date “President”, the yellow gold chronometer that had adorned his wrist since the show’s second episode. The Rolex “President” or “Presidential” dates back to the 1950s when a gold Day-Date with this distinctive link bracelet was gifted to Dwight Eisenhower, and it has been associated with several American heads of state in the decades to follow from Tony’s own beau idéal JFK to LBJ.
Tony Soprano wears a ref. 18238 Rolex Day-Date, differentiated from the oft-misidentified 118238 by its polished lugs and heavier bracelet (thank you, BAMF Style reader Chris!) The 18-karat yellow gold watch has a champagne-colored gold dial with a long display for the day of the week across the top and a date window at 3:00.
If you’re looking for a last-minute gift but aren’t looking to drop the five to ten thousand dollars a used Rolex President would set you back, may I suggest one of these gold-plated steel alternatives from Seiko? The quartz Seiko SGF206 is strapped to a Jubilee-like bracelet while the automatic Seiko SNKK52 has a bracelet that more closely resembles the President while the dial itself is considerably different. As of December 2019, each watch is less than $150.
What to Imbibe
When Christopher isn’t hogging “all the ice” for his Coca-Cola, Tony pours himself a dram of 12-year-old Glenlivet single malt Scotch… neat, of course.
Over the course of the series, Tony’s Scotch preference evolves with his status, from bottom-shelf Cutty Sark in the first season when he’s a capo under Uncle Junior, with J&B bridging the gap as he is increasingly seen enjoying Johnnie Walker Black Label, a more exclusive blend, from “Nobody Knows Anything” (Episode 1.11) through the final season of the series. Beginning at the end of the third season, we begin to see more single malts among his office collection and in his glass, specifically 12-year-old Glenfiddich, Macallan, and—of course—Glenlivet.
What to Listen to
Who else? Frank Sinatra provides the backdrop for the last on-screen Soprano family Christmas, beginning with the last of three versions of “The Christmas Waltz” that Ol’ Blue Eyes would record over his prolific career. In her AV Club review of the Mad Men episode “Christmas Waltz”, Emily VanDerWerff nicely summed up the song for The AV Club as “one of those carols that hasn’t been over-recorded but is just familiar enough to be recognizable to just about anybody who hears it” with a “lovely, wistful quality” echoed not only by the Mad Men episode she was reviewing but also the finale of “Kaisha” as The Sopranos closed its penultimate season.
The wintry waltz was conceived on a hot summer day in 1954 when songwriters extraordinaire Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne were contacted with the demand that Sinatra wanted a Christmas song. Sinatra, whose comeback star was explosively rising on the heels of his recent Academy Award win and his string of successful concept albums for Capitol, was not a man to be refused at the time, even when Cahn insisted to Styne that it would be next to impossible to compete with the massive success of “White Christmas”.
Frank took to the studio on August 23, 1954, to record his first version of “The Christmas Waltz”, arranged by Nelson Riddle, which would be released as the B-side to his own rendition of “White Christmas”. Three years later, Gordon Jenkins arranged a new version featuring Sinatra and the Ralph Brewster Singers for Frank’s Christmas album for Capitol, the seminal A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra. (The album’s closing track, “Silent Night”, can also be heard in this episode.)
More than a decade later, it was another warm August day when Frank gathered in the studio to record “The Christmas Waltz”, now joined by the Jimmy Joyce Singers and his three kids—Frank Jr., Nancy, and Tina—all lending their talents to the appropriately titled album The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas that would be released the following year with “The Christmas Waltz” as the penultimate track.
While it may not have the ubiquitous staying power of Bing Crosby’s signature ballad, “The Christmas Waltz” is at least a longtime holiday favorite of mine and often the first song I play to kick off my Christmas season on November 1st (yes, I’m one of those people.)
How to Get the Look
Tony Soprano would never be the sort of man to emblazon himself in a bright red and green on Christmas, though he does nod to holiday colors with the muted burgundy stripe in his shirt and his olive trousers for a stylishly understated and comfortable ensemble that even an ill-informed beret can’t tank.
- Dark brown (with burgundy and taupe alternating stripe sets) shirt with spread collar, 2-button neck, plain front, and 3-button mitred cuffs
- Olive double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark brown leather belt with polished steel squared single-prong buckle
- Brown calf leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Dark maroon dress socks
- Black wool Basque-style beret
- White ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Rolex Day-Date “President” 18238 chronometer watch in 18-karat yellow gold with champagne-colored dial and “President” link bracelet
- Gold curb-chain link bracelet
- Gold pinky ring with bypassing ruby and diamond stones
- Gold wedding ring
- Gold open-link chain necklace with round St. Jerome pendant
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Looking for the perfect last-minute gift for the mob boss or proud patriarch in your life? Carmela Soprano seems to endorse the black beret, but you don’t need to travel all the way to Europe and the cold stones of Paris… for less than $10, you can get one on Amazon Prime that can be at your doorstep by Christmas Eve!
Merry Christmas, baby.