"Pine Barrens" is the 11th episode of Season 3 of The Sopranos. It is the 37th overall episode in the series. Its teleplay was written by Terence Winter from a story idea by Winter and Tim Van Patten. It was the first of four episodes of the series directed by Steve Buscemi and originally aired on May 6, 2001.
- James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano
- Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi
- Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano
- Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti
- Dominic Chianese as Corrado Soprano, Jr.
- Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante
- Tony Sirico as Paulie Gualtieri
- Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Meadow Soprano
- Robert Iler as Anthony Soprano, Jr.
- Drea de Matteo as Adriana La Cerva *
- Aida Turturro as Janice Soprano *
- Steven R. Schirripa as Bobby Baccalieri
* = credit only
- Tom Aldredge as Hugh De Angelis
- Vitali Baganov as Valery
- Jason Cerbone as Jackie Aprile, Jr.
- Oksana Lada as Irina Peltsin
- Annabella Sciorra as Gloria Trillo
- Suzanne Shepherd as Mary De Angelis
- Frank Ciornei as Slava Malevsky
Tony is on the outs with Gloria Trillo when, on The Stugots, he receives a call from his former mistress, Irina, who has a long history of drunk dialing. However, it is Gloria who answers first and Tony continues Irina's lie about the call being from A.J.'s school but then decides to come clean. Gloria asks Tony to explain his deceit and he lets slip that he didn't want to "piss her off", and just wanted to be honest. Gloria is furious with Tony and throws his Christmas present into the marina and leaves. However, the pair manage to reconcile later when Gloria presents Tony with a gift, a djellaba she bought from Morocco, and they sleep together.
After Silvio catches the flu, Tony asks Paulie and Christopher to make his collections, one in particular from a member of the Russian mob, Valery, in Fair Lawn. Tempers flare when Paulie, unprovoked and already angry because he doesn't want to make Silvio's pick-up, mocks the Russian and deliberately destroys his universal remote control by dropping it, feigning it as an accident. Valery insults Paulie, prompting him to attack the seated Russian. Christopher had tried to stop Paulie from acting out, but he jumps in on Paulie's side. The three men fight, and eventually Paulie chokes Valery with a floor lamp, severely injuring him and apparently cracking his wind pipe. The situation causes the Mafiosi to panic and they wrap Valery in a carpet before wheeling him out to their car. While trying to figure out what to do with the body, Paulie suggests that they take it to the Pine Barrens, as it will be deserted and is in close proximity to Atlantic City. Christopher, who has not yet eaten, wants to stop for breakfast at Roy Rogers but Paulie insists that business must come first, and will soon be completed.
In the woods, Christopher and Paulie open the trunk to find that Valery is still alive and has chewed through the duct tape. They lift him out of the car, present him with a shovel and force him to dig his own grave. When the pair are distracted, Valery smacks them with the shovel, delivering a blow to Christopher's head and a jab to Paulie's groin before fleeing. Christopher and Paulie draw their guns and give chase, but are amazed when Paulie shoots Valery, clearly hitting part of his head, and the Russian immediately gets up and runs into the woods. They try to track his blood and footprints in the snow but are eventually left with no clues. Still on the hunt, the pair hear something and run, firing some shots. Paulie slips down a slope and loses his shoe. They discover that they killed a deer. They try to return to Paulie's car but cannot find it, and soon realize that they are lost in the woods. Paulie uses his cell phone to call Tony for help, but communication is limited by poor reception, interference and crosstalk.
Tony learns from Valery's boss and best friend, Slava, that, although he has developed substance abuse problems since, Valery was previously in the Russian Ministry of the Interior's special forces and once killed 16 Chechen rebels single-handed. However, the poor phone signal between Tony and Paulie results in a mix-up: Paulie passes the message on that Valery killed 16 Czechoslovakians and he's an interior decorator, to which Christopher replies, "His house looked like shit." As the night draws nearer, the lost, shivering pair become more desperate to find their way to food and warmth.
Sometime later, Tony fails to show up on time at a dinner that Gloria had prepared, causing another heated argument. After making up once again and just before eating, Tony gets a call from Paulie telling him to come and get them as they may be dying of hypothermia, starvation, or even injury to Paulie's shoeless foot. Left with no option, he tells Gloria that he has to leave for an emergency and can't eat, causing her to become extremely angry. She throws a cooked steak at Tony, who suppresses his annoyance by laughing off the situation and leaves to help his associates, as Gloria trashes the laden table setting.
Meadow has a cold and is spending time with Jackie Aprile, Jr. at her college dorm. Jackie leaves early after she declines to have sex with him. Later, he calls and gives a poor excuse not to come to Meadow's place and fails to call when promised, so Meadow becomes suspicious and gets a friend from her dorm to give her a ride to Jackie's place. The pair catch him walking down the street with another girl. Meadow gets out of the car and tearfully confronts Jackie. The two women then pull off in the car leaving a frustrated Jackie. Meadow is taken to the hospital wing shortly afterward and rehydrated. She is surrounded by her friends in the dorm, who try to convince her that Jackie, although attractive, was not suited for her. Meadow tells her friends they can't understand her feelings.
Paulie and Christopher manage to find an abandoned van, where they spend the rest of the night. For warmth, Paulie rips up the van's carpet and he and Christopher share packets of frozen ketchup and relish from an old Nathan's bag. Later, Christopher is seen clumsily trying to light a fire using sticks. When Christopher, standing outside the van urinating, blames Paulie for the predicament and accuses him of trying to save himself at Christopher's expense, the two have an angry confrontation. Christopher claims Paulie was planning to choke him to death when he slept. Paulie then attacks Christopher and begins choking him, so Christopher pulls a gun on Paulie, saying he thinks Paulie was conjuring up a plan to murder him. He had overheard Paulie blaming the whole fiasco on Christopher when speaking to Tony over the phone. Christopher then angrily says he'll leave Paulie out in the woods. After a few moments of tension, Christopher breaks down in laughter. Paulie tells Christopher to promise not to leave him, and also says he would never kill Christopher.
Tony asks Bobby "Bacala", a skilled outdoorsman, to help him find Paulie and Christopher. He shows up dressed far too appropriately, wearing over-the-top outdoor/hunting gear and resents Tony's ensuing ridicule. Driving to the Pine Barrens, the two share their first friendly moment when Tony apologizes for making fun of Bobby, and expresses gratitude for his taking care of Uncle Junior. Bobby tries to make a joke but it is embarrassingly juvenile and stale, to the point where Tony can't even begin to feign amusement. Arriving at the woods, they park in the same spot where Paulie and Christopher parked — Paulie's car is gone. Tony and Bobby holler for a response, but realize that they will have to wait until dawn.
In the daylight, Tony and Bobby are out searching for Paulie and Christopher, who have left the van and continue to struggle some distance away. Paulie's makeshift shoe falls off and he shoots it in a fit of crazed frustration. Tony and Bobby hear the shots and head toward their source, calling for Paulie and Christopher. They respond and soon meet up with one another. Paulie and Christopher are grateful they have been found and climb into Tony's Chevrolet Suburban, where there are food and drinks, but Tony is clearly irritated with Paulie for getting him into such a predicament with Slava and for losing the original target of their mission: Silvio's $5,000, which was in Paulie's car.
The four men wonder whether Valery took Paulie's car. When Paulie gives a false version of what caused the fight with Valery, Christopher backs him up. Tony tells Paulie to take responsibility for any trouble created by Valery's disappearance or potential re-emergence, and to make an executive decision about whether or not to further pursue Valery, as Paulie holds the position of caporegime. Paulie decides to give up and head back home to North Jersey.
During sessions with Dr. Melfi, Tony confesses he's seeing Gloria Trillo and tells her of his problems with her. Melfi tries to connect the dots and tells him that his new comare is not the only one who was "impossible to please", "difficult", and "depressive". She then asks, "Does this remind you of any other woman in your life?". After a thoughtful pause, Tony shakes his head slightly and shrugs.
One of the most speculated-upon topics by fans and reviewers alike has to do with the fate of the Russian gangster Valery. Shortly after his escape from Paulie and Christopher in the Pine Barrens, Paulie manages to hit Valery with a bullet at the very last moment of their pursuit, seemingly in the head. However they are unable to locate him afterward in the forest, and the camera shifts away from Paulie and Christopher, showing a viewpoint looking down from above the two gangsters, suggesting that Valery was watching them from high up in a tree. In addition, Paulie's car is missing when they return. The character was never seen again. Series creator David Chase has stated that he never intended to return the character of Valery, claiming that the story is richer and more realistic with some mystery to the plot. HBO listed Valery as "Deceased?" in promotional materials.
On the fate of the Russian, Terence Winter said:
|“||That's the question I get asked more than any other. It drives people crazy: "Where's the Russian? What happened to the Russian?" We could say, "Well, he got out and there's a big mob war with the Russians," or "He crawled off and died." But we wanted to keep it ambiguous. You know, not everything gets answered in life.||”|
David Chase said:
|“||They shot a guy. Who knows where he went? Who cares about some Russian? This is what Hollywood has done to America. Do you have to have closure on every little thing? Isn't there any mystery in the world? It's a murky world out there. It's a murky life these guys lead. And by the way, I do know where the Russian is. But I'll never say because so many people got so pissy about it.||”|
Later, Chase would say in an interview at the Actors Guild:
|“||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. Then Slava sent him back to Russia.||”|
In an interview Sam Roberts, he stated:
|“||You mean the Russian? People came to me...He never went up a tree...He collapsed and he was found by some boy scouts. And they got in touch with his...somehow he was carrying a piece of I.D., which led them back to his boss. Slava the Russian guy. He was put in a hospital, and, ummm...you know, like he was completely, is, massive brain trauma. And he was sent back to Russia.||”|
Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico discussed the episode in a June 10, 2007 New York Times article titled "One Final Whack at That HBO Mob".
|“||"That episode was like a little one-act play," Mr. Imperioli said. "Like a different version of Waiting for Godot." Ever since, viewers have been waiting for the mobster to return, ready for revenge. But he has never reappeared. "This show was never what people expected," Mr. Imperioli said.||”|
In the same article:
|“||Mr. Sirico said a tease had been in the works. "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."|
- The Pine Barrens is a protected wilderness area by the New Jersey Pinelands Commission in Southern New Jersey where Christopher and Paulie try to "dispose" of Valery's remains. The Pine Barrens make up approximately 25% of New Jersey's land area, one of the largest wilderness areas in the most densely populated state in the U.S.
- The idea of the episode's premise of Christopher and Paulie getting lost in the woods was reportedly dreamt one night by Tim Van Patten who then told it to Terence Winter and they presented it to David Chase.
- The forest scenes for the episode were filmed at Harriman State Park in New York after, at the last moment, the production team was denied a permit to film in New Jersey (at the South Mountain Reservation) by the Essex County commissioner who called The Sopranos a "disgrace to Italians." The same commissioner was later incarcerated for corruption. The actual New Jersey Pine Barrens have a significantly different landscape than the area where the show was filmed. The barrens are vastly more forested with pine trees (hence the name) and flat, while the woods depicted in the episode were with hills and covered less with any kind of trees.
- The snow fell out on the forest location unexpectedly, just before the actual shoot. Both the cast and the crew agree it was very fortunate, as the snow wound up strengthening the episode's impact.
- The interior of the truck was shot on a sound stage. The actors' freezing "breath" was added in CGI.
- Director Steve Buscemi was the one who successfully threw the steak at James Gandolfini's head in the scene of Tony's argument with Gloria Trillo after neither Annabella Sciorra nor the prop handlers were able to hit Gandolfini with it properly.
- "Pine Barrens" took 12 days to be shot, setting a record for the longest episode shoot in The Sopranos at the time.
- There is a notable factual error early in the episode where Paulie is seen pumping his own gas. All gas stations in New Jersey are "full-serve," meaning that only gas station attendants are permitted to pump gas.
- The song played during the opening scene where Gloria Trillo arrives at the docks is, appropriately enough, Them's "Gloria".
- The music video A.J. is watching on the living room television is "Coffee & TV" by Blur.
- The song played during the final montage/closing credits is the aria "Sposa son disprezzata" ("I am wife and I am scorned") from the opera Bajazet by Antonio Vivaldi, sung by Cecilia Bartoli. This is the same music that opens the next episode, "Amour Fou".
- Widely regarded as one of the best episodes in The Sopranos series, mostly due to the offbeat and dark comedy between Paulie and Christopher.
- Former Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, lists this episode as his favorite in an interview with the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.
- In his acceptance speech for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards, Alan Taylor thanks Steve Buscemi for his work on "Pine Barrens".
- Terence Winter and Tim Van Patten received an award from the Writers Guild of America for their work on this episode.