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'The Sopranos': Wistful memories for Tony, Uncle June

April 23, 2007 |  1:30 pm

Junior Sunday night’s episode of “The Sopranos” featured a captivating guest performance by Ken Leung, playing a protégé of “Junior” Soprano in the mental health facility where Junior is incarcerated.

Leung is Carter, the overachieving rich-kid son of a disgraced, tyrannical father. “The Sopranos” hasn’t focused on Uncle Junior’s world in a while; since being arrested for shooting Tony, he’s been more glimpsed than examined.

But last night he kind of got the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” treatment, Junior and Carter causing merriment and mayhem (and urination) at the Wycoff Therapeutic Center. The two of them run an illegal card game and they scheme so that Junior won’t have to take his meds. For Junior, it’s just like the old days-only with buttons as poker chips and orderlies needing to be bought off.

This storyline unfolds alongside Tony’s decision to take a quick trip to Florida while the Feds unearth the body of a bookie named Willie Overall, the first guy Tony whacked, 25 years ago.

Paulie was there that night, too, and so Tony takes him to Florida. If there was an overarching theme to Sunday night’s show, it was “guys looking for father figures in all the wrong places.”

Tony, wistful over the discovery of the dead bookie, wrestles between the impulse to re-examine the relationship with his father or bury it, so much as it can ever be buried. Unfortunately, he’s got Paulie Walnuts in the front seat, a man practically rotting in remembrance (and crumbs of pilfered Danish). You pretty much watched this half of the episode waiting for Tony to kill Paulie (he didn’t, though he spooked him enough that Paulie bought Carmela a $2,000 Williams-Sonoma cappuccino maker). Hey, would I make this stuff up?

But the real emotional stuff of the hour resided in the Uncle June story-a comic-tragic portrayal of a once-proud mob boss trying to feel his oats in a mental health facility.

In his creeping dementia, Uncle June dictates a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney, a letter that opens: “As a powerful man all-too familiar with accidental gunplay, I am writing in the hope that you will intervene in my case…”

Later he tells Carter they’d be better off writing Cheney “at his outfit, Halliburton,” but by then Carter has become disillusioned with him — and ready to take out the anger at his own father on Junior.

The climactic scene leaves Junior battered and medicated, sitting in a chair and petting a cat. It’s not exactly the Chief suffocating a lobotomized McMurphy with a pillow, but something like it.

(Photo courtesy HBO)