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Highways and dead ends
The hunt for Xavier Ligonnès is enough to drive you crazy. It’s like looking for a lost object, a bank card for example, of which we can determine the exact moment of disappearance: we used it to pay, it was there, and the next moment it is not there anymore. Logic dictates that we look for it where we usually store it (a wallet, a handbag), then where it could be (a back pocket of pants, a hall cabinet), and the less we find it , the more we seem to see it everywhere. Faced with absence, the brain constructs images (the credit card in an office drawer, as a bookmark in a book, forgotten on the counter of the last store) but these are fictions or mirages; they encourage further research but they do not provide a solution. Xavier Ligonnès’s apparent volatilization follows the same logic and produces the same effects on the investigation. The more weeks and months go by, the more places to look get smaller. Emmanuel Teneur ends up leading the investigators to the Société Générale agency on Place Royale in Nantes, but the safe he holds there is simply empty. A request for information on Joven Soliman is sent to the security attaché for the French Embassy in the Philippines. He is a sedevacantist priest, a fringe of traditionalist Catholicism who considers the Pope to be an imposter. The attaché transmits the hours of mass where he officiates. A trip to the Philippines is being considered, but that would mean going to the other side of the world to look for a needle in the thousands of islands of the archipelago. If this track has never been closed, nothing has supported it to date.
Since we must push logic to the end, the investigators even contact the American authorities to corroborate or contradict the story of protected witnesses told by Ligonnès in his famous letter. The DEA has never heard of the individual, and the liaison officer based at the Miami consulate assures us that his last trip to the United States was in 2003: Ligonnès arrived in Florida on July 18 and left on August 22. The study of his entourage also did not highlight anyone capable of providing false papers to the fugitive, and if he had gone through a criminal network, the police believed that an informant would undoubtedly have warned them to protect himself.
Then there are the news reports: the portrait of Ligonnès goes around France, and even if he has undoubtedly changed his physical appearance, his hairstyle, perhaps had even resorted to cosmetic surgery, someone, somewhere, might recognize him one day. After all, that’s how John List, a New Jersey insurance salesman who killed his wife and mother in 1971, was arrested. He waited for two of his children to return from school to coldly shoot them, then attended his youngest son’s football game before shooting bullets through him at home. He evaded justice for 18 years until a co-worker recognized him from a report on America’s Most Wanted.
Rarely has a criminal case given rise to as many appeals as that of Ligonnès, because his stalking not only bewitches the police, it torments an entire country. More than 1000 reports, thousands of pages of depositions, letters, verifications. You have to imagine the miles of printed paper that this represents when they are stacked on a desk. The most recent: in July, after the broadcast of a Netflix documentary on the subject in the United States, the producers of the film claimed to have received an interesting lead in Chicago; but it’s just one more drop in the bucket. Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès has been seen in Annecy, Nancy, Cholet, Corsica (several times); on the side of a road, thumbs up, by a French tourist in Las Vegas; disguised as a chimney sweep in Nîmes; in a hotel in Cantal and in a pizzeria where he paid cash in a hurry; seen again in Germany, in Italy, and heard on the telephone by the reception of the psychiatric hospital of Troyes. Since he disappeared looking like the ordinary neighbor, since he was a representative and his profession has taken him to all corners of France, there is no less reason to see him in Mulhouse than in Roche-sur-Yon, and you can simply see him everywhere. Aire de Lançon-Provence in July 2020
Extracts: “It was the same look, except that he looked very sad, in the west, but he had the same glasses as in the photo you are showing me”; “He looked like a man like everyone else, but there was something odd in his eyes;” “Yesterday, around 1:00 pm, I was watching the news on television on the TFI channel. I saw a report where an individual killed his children and his wife before disappearing into the wild. (...) Seeing the gentleman in the photo, I made the connection with the person whom I had crossed Sunday afternoon because he had the same smile.” At the Vauvert tourist office: “I hardly look at the news, but Thursday evening I saw the photo of Mr. Ligonnès, I had the impression of having already seen him, my heart was racing.” Between Carpentras and Avignon, when he comes back from the bakery, the manager of one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s brothers crosses paths with a man with a beige bob, which he is certain is the fugitive. “I flashed,” he says. “For me, there is no doubt. This is him.” Still more letters are sent to the police to offer them help. An amateur astrologer requests a copy of the suspect’s birth certificate to establish a birth chart, a woman in child-like writing recommended a great medium who had helped her find her daughter who had become a junkie in Marseille. A prisoner asked in writing to be sent to Guinea to go hunt him down in the jungle, attaching to his letter a list of the necessary equipment, including infrared glasses and a “samurai sword.”
With each letter, with each phone call to report a suspicious individual, investigators attempt to cross-reference the information. They patiently collect the testimonies of the depositors to know where Xavier Ligonnès was seen, if he was accompanied or not, what was his size and his outfit. Inconsistent testimonies or those referring to individuals who are too young (Ligonnès would be 59 years old today) and too small (he measures a little over 1.80 meters) are discarded. For the others, investigators check the CCTV recordings, when they have not been erased and when the cameras have actually recorded on tape. If the person has been spotted pumping gasoline, in a Géant Casino, or in a Courtepaille, they trace the means of payment used and seize the duplicates of bank cards. They give priority to the restaurants, especially the Buffalo Grill, Ligonnès’ favorite establishment. And when the trail is still hot and the dishes haven’t been done yet, they collect DNA from the plates and cutlery. A few months after the start of the investigation, the investigating judge in charge of the case will even be forced to ask them to slow down, the seals starting to take on the appearance of a china cabinet in a large restaurant. The Total service station in Lançon-Provence, July 2020
The PJ of Nantes believed on several occasions to finally have in hand the winning ticket and to be on the point of intercepting Ligonnès. This was the case in Borgo, where a photo taken from the video surveillance of a supermarket in this small Corsican town was very similar. Upon verification, it was only a local. They believed in it even more in January 2018 when they were told that an individual with a strong resemblance to Xavier Ligonnès was at the Saint-Désert Notre-Dame de Pitié monastery near Roquebrune-sur-Argens. About twenty police officers raided and searched the premises until they came across Brother Jean-Marie Joseph, who certainly looked disturbingly like Ligonnès, but who was not him. In still other cases, the police were never able to “close the track,” and it is perhaps Ligonnès who was seen.
For example, in Lançon-Provence, April 26, 2011. That day, at 2:44 am, Mahjoub B., a handler by profession, parks his vehicle at the Total service station after the Lançon-Provence toll. He fills up, then goes to the store to pay. On his way, he passes a 45- to 50-year-old man, about six feet tall, who hangs out there between the gas pumps and the store. When he returns to his vehicle, his colleague asks him if he has seen the man, whom he is convinced is the one everyone is looking for, the one who killed his family in Nantes. Mahjoub then takes a new look at the individual, notices that he is wearing glasses, light jeans, that he has brown hair a little graying and a beard of a day. At his feet, four rigid shopping bags, one red, one white, one brown and one whose color he cannot distinguish. Inside the store, employees also noticed the individual. He’s been out for almost three hours. At one point, he walks in to ask for free coffee, as part of a promotion. Behind her cash register, Jocelyne H. notes a detail: he is missing a tooth. “The second on the left, I believe,” she says when heard by investigators. This is information that has never filtered out and yet, it’s true – a little detail, Xavier Ligonnès was missing a tooth. Little by little, the space has filled in, but you can always see it when he smiles. The images from the station’s surveillance cameras are confusing: if this man is not the one we are looking for, it must be his twin brother. At 3 a.m., the cameras show him hitchhiking by a Volkswagen Combi, which investigators quickly find. The driver’s name is Christophe B. He has not heard of the case, and he must be one of the only ones in the country; but Christophe is no longer listening to the news because, he says, “the news is bad all the time.” From the hitchhiker on the night of the 25th to the 26th, he remembers that he “did not smell very good” and that he had a growing beard. They didn’t discuss much. The man simply told him that he was coming from Paris where he had gone to see “his sick old father,” and that he wanted to take the train to Aix-en-Provence. Christophe dropped him off at a motorway exit, the 30 or the 31, between 4 a.m. and 4.15 a.m. The surveillance cameras at Aix train station allow you to get back on track. He is filmed on the forecourt at 6 am, he wears light pants, a dark jacket. He buys a ticket at 1.20 euro, free destination. Then we lose track.
Despite all the checks, despite all the cameras, it will be impossible to track this man perfectly resembling Dupont de Ligonnès, who could nevertheless have confirmed that he was, at least on this date, still alive.
How can one suddenly evaporate in plain sight, and how could a man who has collected chess all his life accomplish this feat? The XDDL mystery makes it possible to scaffold all the theories. These flourish in books, in docudramas and, of course, on the Internet. We imagine Ligonnès protected by the secrecy of a monastery, flown to the United States, where he can go unnoticed thanks to his English without an accent, or even on the escape alongside a woman he would have manipulated. The police officers in charge of the case do not work on theories or psychological profiles, but according to a scientific approach: they always start from a fact, which opens a track, which they then explore until the end, close, and move on to another. This method is also a way to protect yourself from endless guesswork, or insanity, but it doesn’t always work. Several times, the track looks like a highway towards the fugitive, and the police are convinced that they will finally close this investigation. But they end up stumbling upon the worst thing ever, as was the case with the allusion to Emmanuel Teneur’s sailboat: coincidences.
Coincidence number 1. When the Ligonnès C5 was discovered in the Formula 1 car park in Roquebrune, the night watchman informed them that two reservations had been made in the name of Dupont Xavier, one on April 5 and the another on April 14. The hotel manager then specifies that the first reservation was actually made for April 6. That day, however, XDDL was in Nantes, probably digging the grave of Thomas, murdered the day before. Had he thought of accomplishing his crimes earlier or had he reserved a room for an accomplice, who might have been hiding something for him? The videos of April 5 and 6 are no longer available, but payment for the room was made with a Crédit Agricole credit card. The number gives a name, Faiçal E., and an address. Could it be an accomplice? The checks are launched immediately lead to a man who simply used “Dupont Xavier” as an assumed name - like Ligonnès - to book a night in the same hotel, the same year, the same month, within ten days.
Coincidence number 2. The liaison officer in Miami launches research around the various aliases used by XDDL, for operations of “mystery shopper” or to stay in hotels. In the FBI file, he finds a certain Xavier Laurent, one of Ligonnès’s favorite nicknames, installed in Jacksonville, north of Florida. Jacksonville is not just any city. This is where Hugues, the cousin of XDDL lived, and it is also this locality that Ligonnès and his friend Michel Rétif declared to customs in 1990 during their trip to the United States. At the very end of the personalized letter sent to Michel on April 8, Xavier Ligonnès seemed to allude to it: “I will think about you there. (Not the right to tell you where, but you went there with me...in November 90…a clue to dig. LOL).
” But this Xavier Laurent is another twist of fate: the police come across a certain Evan Shaffer, a petty criminal who has chosen this alias to commit crimes.
Coincidence number 3. Ten days before the crimes, XDDL reconnects with a childhood sweetheart, Catherine K., whom he met in Versailles in the 1980s. Between March 22 and 24, they exchange text messages and try to find a date to meet the week of April 12, in Chamonix. These messages intrigue the investigators, some answers seem surprising, almost illogical, and they suspect Ligonnès of having wanted to ensure a logistical relay in his escape. A little later, a certain Patrick O. reports having seen XDDL in the queue of a Sixt car rental agency at Nice airport on April 17, 2011. By peeling the names of dozens of people having rented a car that day, the police officers miss the infarction: in capital letters, white on black, appears the surname of Catherine, who would have rented a vehicle at 1:30 am. A few hours later, their heart rate drops again: it was only a perfect disambiguation.
Each coincidence causes the same chain of reactions. First a eureka!, the certainty of having finally found the tiny detail from which to trace everything. The police then cast their nets like fishermen on the high seas, telephone or banking requisitions, requests for listings, identity checks. Then they wait. It can last from a few hours to several weeks, and inevitably it is a burning, nagging wait, tense by the fear that the track will fly away. Finally, there is the immense disappointment and the obligation to face reality again: Xavier Ligonnès is still nowhere to be found, a track has flown again, and we have to hoist the rock up the mountain again. Those who have worked or are still working on the affair strive to maintain a cold, rational, police facade. But little by little, by dint of chasing a shadow - not even a shadow, a ghost - obsession lurks. One of them, a police officer with a professional Protestant pastor, now out of the investigation, still returned until recently to consult the investigation file every week, saying he simply wanted to put the 12,000 pages of documents in order. For a year, a criminal analyst has also been mobilized. He enters all the elements of the file in a software which digests them and spits out, perhaps, new threads to draw. In the meantime, the two police officers who are still following the investigation - one at the PJ in Nantes, one at the OCRVP, in Paris - “live” the case, as their colleagues say. Among these thousands of pages there is no doubt a clue that has gone unnoticed or, better, a lead that has not yet been explored.
Track number 1. Who typed “fraternité saint-thomas becket” on Google on April 3 at 11:34 pm, before clicking on a link in the Cité-Catholique forum? Is it the same person who, the same night at 2:01 am, from an iPhone, did the search for “communion state mortal sin,” bringing it to the same forum? On April 8, the user of this phone will in any case send the search engine the request “hello Chacou”, which will lead him (her) again to the Cité-Catholique forum. Chacou was one of the pseudonyms of Xavier Ligonnès. Investigators saw crazier coincidences, but still: can it really be someone other than Xavier Ligonnès, who himself connected to Cité-Catholique almost every day of his escape? The last article published on the site about Saint-Thomas Becket, an ultra-traditionalist fraternity which practices mass in Latin, dates from January 2009. It indicates the name of its founder, Father Jean-Pierre Gac, and specifies this: “Born in the diocese of Blois where there are two communities (…), the fraternity has also extended in the diocese of Toulon - a parish is also entrusted to them in Ollioules.” Ollioules is located six kilometers from La Seyne-on-Mer, where XDDL spent its penultimate known night, and 94 kilometers from Roquebrune. Jean-Pierre Gac was questioned by the police but claimed to have never been in contact with the fugitive. Investigators have always believed in the possibility that Ligonnès took refuge in a monastery in the Var. They considered to search them one by one, before understanding that there are dozens and dozens of brotherhoods and fraternities, that they are not always castles of the Purple Rivers but sometimes simple farms, lost in the hinterland. To mount a search, it would be necessary to ensure that they do not communicate with each other, and therefore to visit them all at the same time. The examining magistrate quickly tempered the fervor of the police and declared the operation impossible.
Track number 2. Xavier Ligonnès had two secret Facebook accounts. The first is named after his favorite country singer, Waylon Jennings. One of his nieces had also found him a month before the crimes, sending him a message, “but who is behind this nickname?,” to which XDDL had immediately replied “How did you manage to arrive on the Waylon Jennings Facebook profile? Too clever! Microsoft Advantage??? Kiss.” The second account concerns a certain “George Town” residing in Nantes and is linked to one of Ligonnès’ many email addresses, [email protected]
. The police send a requisition to the management of Facebook in Palo Alto to obtain the creation and connection logs of the two profiles. The answer comes in days: the first was created in February 2010, the second in December 2007, when France had barely discovered the social network. Above all, the response indicates that Ligonnès connected to the two accounts on the night of April 4 to 5, between the first assassinations and that of Thomas. The profiles have since been deleted but suggest he could have used them to communicate with a third party. Catherine K., the youthful lover that XDDL contacted a few days before the tragedy, also reported to the police that she had been approached by a certain Philippe Steiner, whom she did not know, around May 20. He sent her a strange message, suggesting that they might have had a relationship in the past. When she went to respond, the profile had already been deleted. Today there are almost 100 Facebook accounts on behalf of Waylon Jennings, some are created and deleted every day.
Track number 3. When the Ligonnès family is having their last meal on April 3, 2011, around 9 pm, a young woman walks through the glass doors of the police station on Place Waldeck-Rousseau in Nantes. Originally from a small village near Vannes, Julie is a BTS student and comes to file a complaint: the Twingo that her father lets her drive has been broken into, probably during the night. There was not much inside, but Julie reported the theft of her car radio as well as the vehicle’s logbook, which she normally stored in a small Renault gray faux leather pouch. This same pouch was found on April 22 in the dresser of the Ligonnès living room where Xavier used to store his papers, during the investigation the day after the discovery of the bodies. The police did not follow this track: they put the break-in of Julie’s car on the account of one of the Ligonnès sons, Arthur, who had already been arrested for theft of a bicycle and driving under the influence of cannabis. But why would Arthur have taken the vehicle papers with the car stereo, and why would he put them in the middle of his father’s papers? And if the theft was committed by Xavier Ligonnès a few hours before killing his family, how can this be explained? Was he able to steal other identity papers to facilitate his escape?
In this case, it is always about cars. Those imported by XDDL from the United States, the Citroën C5 from the escape, the vehicles he claimed had been stolen over the years: the first at the Brest police station in 1998, while living in Pornic, a second at the same time at the Saint-Nazaire police station, and then again, in Nantes, on May 17, 2006, a Golf convertible finally found then sold a few months later to a mechanic, a friend of Cédric M.
Cédric M. is never far away when it comes to cars. He is also a mechanic, that’s how Ligonnès met him in Vannes a few years earlier. He is one of the recipients of the departure letter, therefore a close friend. He was even the first employee of the RDC. Ligonnès regularly went to visit him in Locmalo in the heart of Morbihan, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Nantes. With Cédric and his partner, Renaud, they went to the local creperie. They had lunch there together on March 31, 2011, four days before the crimes. In the village, it is said that Ligonnès took care of the dark accounts of the “guys,” who have quite a reputation. Could he have built up a slush fund there that no one would have found until now? Cédric and Renaud’s garage is not indicated by any sign. It is at the end of a road. In the yard, wrecks of American cars and a goat on a leash. Inside, Renaud is working on a shiny yellow Cadillac. His attitude is confusing. He is angry with the police who have never come to question him when he is, according to him, “the last to have seen [Xavier] alive. But I will not tell you when, because that the date is important,” he adds before returning to his Cadillac, wrench in hand.
To date, Renaud has still not been heard by investigators.
At the same time, reports continue to flow.
Ligonnès seen in Mulhouse, on the four lanes between Saint-Brieuc and Rennes in a Peugeot 308 and overtaking on the right, Ligonnès seen again in Tunis and Toulouse.
Ligonnès seen, but never caught.
Next Section-Part 2D
After 26 seasons, we are reintroducing a twist used in the early days of King's Survivor: the Champions Vs Contenders twist. This time, it will be referred to as the David Vs Goliath twist, and it will feature 20 new contestants: 10 people who are underdogs, and 10 who are overachievers. We will soon find out whether overachievers or underdogs do better under the circumstances in King's Survivor. Vuku (Davids) Tribe:
Celine Mayer, 26, Receptionist, u/ClayTAnderson
Even though Celine is your typical quiet girl, she welcomes everybody that she meets with a great smile. Everyone has skills and is good in doing something - and with Celine, by being a good listener. They enjoy talking to her and she can immediately identify their needs and help to satisfy them. But behind this angelic façade, is a girl who's already two steps ahead, planning her next move.
Christa Mason, 34, Unemployed
Douglas Chance, 29, ER Nurse, u/TDSwaggyBoy
Ever since he was born, Douglas' family taught him how to be a ''gentleman''. Be the kind of person that people are proud to call their friend. Always help others when they need your help, always be there for people. He decided to become a nurse, wanting to help in the medical field as he always had a knack for it. Douglas has dedicated his life to helping others, and hopes to come on SURVIVOR and use this platform in order to shine a light on big and important matters. He doesn't necessarily care about winning, but he'll give it his all. Douglas has overcome a lot of challenges in his life, and he's ready to face this one head on.
Eric Carter, 23, Professional Rock Climber, u/UltDragon
Eric has always enjoyed traveling and the outdoors even more. The first chance he was allowed to he moved out of his town in Ohio to see the world. He manages to scrap buy as a professional rock climber thanks to gas stations and the bed in the back of his van. Eric tried out for the show for the same reason he choose to do most things in life, because it sounded like fun.
Jennifer "Jenn" Greene, 46, Fast Food Employee
Ji-Hyun "Jean" Choi, 23, Analytical Student, u/FabColette
Jean does not want to become that typical Asian girl, who's dubbed as just smart and hardworking. She wants to live up to that unfair standards and prove everyone wrong about their race.
Michael Krumptone, 47, Band Director, u/swoldow
Michael had dreams of being a musician since he was a kid, and had the drive to learn his craft to the best of his ability.... however the eighties weren't really the most popular time period for French horn players, so he could never get that big break he always thought he'd have, despite getting a music degree. As a result, he grew old and bitter, resenting modern genres of music like rock and rap, as they are what took his career away from him. He does marching band at a few high schools and basically treats it like it's prison camp due to how bitter he is, and he eventually grew to love his job; torturing kids like him into giving up on their dreams. However, he still hates his life, as he recently had to pick up another school to teach to pay for his ungrateful wife's Netflix, so he needs money somehow.
Michael "Mike" Phillips, 26, Unemployed, u/acegamer1337
Michael was always a David he was always on the bottom he had lost his job and his girlfriend left him he was at the lowest part of his life and decided to go on this show to show that anything is possible.
Michelle Carters, 29, Rocket Scientist, u/AngolanDesert
Michelle is a woman who has built herself up from the ground. She comes from a family where nobody even finished high school, so she has had to make sure to work extremely hard from day 1. She is here to win to provide for her family.
Zen Atame, 24, Unemployed, u/asiansurvivorfan
Zen is an odd dude. Not much is known about him and it seems like it will probably stay that way. He never really talks and he likes to keep to himself most of the time. Despite seeming pretty useless, he is fairly smart so that may be his saving grace. Jabeni (Goliath) Tribe:
Brett Herman, 28, Professional Poker Player, u/Twig7665
Brett was born into wealth on a mansion in Texas, and lived through most of his childhood in that wealth, until his father was caught up in a huge scandal that left him without money, so at age seventeen Brett ran away to Las Vegas where he could begin a new life. He started playing poker in the streets, and when he was old enough to gamble, he went to a casino, and stunned his opponents by winning the first time he played for money. Soon, people began to realize his talent, and he played in his first professional poker game at the age of 22. Once again, he won, and he became one of the most successful professional poker players in history. This fame caused him to grow arrogant and become a huge jerk, even to his manager. Now rich again, he isn't playing the game for money, he's playing the game to try something new and to gain another title.
Cattleya Peralta, 29, Fashion Agent, u/FabColette
As a fashion agent, Cattleya has mastered the art of persuasion and that helped her a lot during showrooms and fashion weeks. She is socially aware and use her charm to sway people on her side. She may not be the most physically active person, but she's got a badass persona.
Georgia "Gigi" Seedrow, 21, Unemployed, u/AngolanDesert
There’s always that one girl in high school who was the most popular but was also the most mean. This was Gigi in high school. Her parents are millionaires and made sure that she was set for life. Her only worry is what shoes to pick out the next day. She wanted to play survivor because she loves to manipulate people. Maybe her insecurities will be shown this season.
Jeremiah Barak, 38, Drummer, u/zohnster
Barak is a very confident man in his strategy and in his power of persuasion. In addition to training physically every day, he works hard on his brain to be the best version of himself every day. Arrogant sometimes? YES, but you have a good heart of loyalty and trust.
Lukasz "Luk" Zabolcki, 50, Professional Triathlete, u/zohnster
Lukasz is a Polish man who came to the United States in the 1980s looking for a better life for his newly created family. With a wife and a newborn baby, he finds happiness in the adrenaline of the sport. A great triathlete, he gained notoriety about 5 years ago, when he competed in the Ironman Triathlon. Soon after, he opened a gym where he trained young people for marathons in all sports.
Even at the age of 50, Lukasz has the strength and determination of a young man and sees Survivor as another challenge that he will do with all his strength.
Neveah Nwosu, 50, CEO, u/TDSwaggyBoy
Ever since a young age, Nevaeh always knew how to get what she wanted. And not with the help of others, no no. She always managed to get what she wanted and get it herself. Nevaeh HATES counting on other people to do what she can do, after all.
Becoming a CEO at a rather young age, Nevaeh is very proud of herself and her career. Although, admittedly, she was quite busy her entire life and never really found time for her family. That's why, at age 50, Nevaeh is still single and she doesn't plan on getting married anytime soon. It's sad, but it's true.
Nevaeh doesn't care about the prize. She cares about the competition and about going down as one of the greats. So you all better mark it down in your diaries boys, because NEVAEH NWOSU is going to be the winner of Survivor: David Vs Goliath.
Rita Maureira, 43, Data Analyst, u/ghetra
Rita is a very successful data analyst. She has always been very smart and analytical, so she worked very hard to become as successful as she is now. At 43, she has reached a point in her life where she is very happy where she is at, and rather well off. Because of this, she doesn't bother biting her tongue much anymore and is very blunt with people. She has a great sense of humor which attracts many people to her, but she can be quite polarizing due to her bluntness and tendency to provoke people for no reason. She is not very open about her personal life and is able to deceive others quite well.
River Goulding, 47, Family Physician, u/FabColette
Even if River grew up in an elite neighborhood, he didn't let the money get into his head. He worked hard to achieve where he is right now and he's ready to take on a new challenge in his life. Despite his age, he plans to be everyone's friend with the help of his good sense of humor.
Siddhi Sanjay, 28, Bollywood Actress, u/Thisaccountishaunted
Siddhi was born in Mumbai, India but moved to the States as a child. She has dual Indian and American citizenship. She moved back to India in her early twenties to take care of her grandparents, and acted in Bollywood films to help earn them money. She has two homes in each of her countries and is used to traveling. She has a busy life and chooses not to marry, despite the traditions of arranged marriage, and turns down any insistence from her parents to get married. She wants to get on Survivor because she wants more outdoor adventure in her life and wants to join this season because she wants to find herself and who she can really be as a Goliath in tough situations.
Vaughn Barton, 22, College Athlete, u/TDSwaggyBoy
Vaughn never had it easy. His parents died in a fire when he were young, and he spent the majority of his childhood in an orphanage. But at age 11, he was adopted by a successful lawyer who tried giving the poor boy the best life she could. In the next 11 years, Vaughn managed to make a name for himself, now playing football at his university as a quarterback. Why? Because someone gave him a chance. And now, Vaughn pleads you, the production team, to give him a chance. He'll prove he's got what it takes to win. Link to Season
Episode 1: Two boats, containing the two tribes, dock at a larger ship where the host awaits them. The two tribes size each other up, and then the host announces the twist. The Goliath tribe would pick who they thought was the strongest members of their tribe, and the weakest of the other tribe. The Goliaths pick Brett and Neveah to represent them, and Douglas and Michelle to represent the David tribe. The David representatives get to pick the obstacles they have to go through. In the end, the Goliath tribe narrowly beats out the Davids. The two tribes go to their camps, and at the David camp, Christa and Celine, and Douglas and Michael get into a disagreement about the former two being lazy. Christa then forms an all female alliance with Celine, Michelle, and Jenn. At the Goliath camp, Barak and Neveah bond, and Cattleya and Luk bond a lot. Siddhi, pitching in on the shelter a little too much, causes everyone to see her as a threat. Two overlapping alliances form on the Goliath beach. One with Brett, Cattleya, Luk, Nevaeh, and Rita, and one with Brett, Cattleya, Gigi, Barak, Nevaeh, Rita, River, and Vaughn, leaving Siddhi as the only outsider. Siddhi does not have to worry, as the Goliath tribe wins immunity. Figuring out that there is a female alliance happening right under his nose, Douglas tries to round up the guys to oust Jenn, who he believes is the head of the female alliance and the most dangerous of them. He relays the information to Mike, Zen, Michael, Eric, and Jean, who was on the outer of the female alliance, and they decide to join his side. At tribal council, the women vote for Zen, thinking the others will vote him too due to how introverted he is, and in the end, Jenn becomes the first blindside in a 6-4 vote.
Episode 2: After being blindsided at the first vote, Celine decides to flip from her side over to the majority, much to Michael and Douglas's glee. Mike starts to flirt with Michelle, and that causes Eric to pull him aside and let him know that flipping is a bad idea. This causes them to get in a bit of an argument, leading to a bit of a schism in the majority alliance. Zen sneaks off and finds the immunity idol on his tribe beach, and keeps it to himself. At the Goliath tribe, Brett and Barak start to bond, and Vaughn gets into an argument with Nevaeh. The Goliaths win immunity again, and Christa starts to get on everyone's nerves at the David tribe for telling everyone that they need to be more physical, while not pulling her weight in challenges, and in the end, it was her who got voted out in a 7-2 vote over Douglas.
Episode 3: Wanting to have a sub alliance within the alliance in case they lose again, Michael forms an alliance with Jean, Mike, and Zen, and he plans for it to be the final four. Eric has a bit of a fight with Jean, and Michael and Zen grow very close. At the Goliath tribe, Cattleya and Luk bond a bit, but not much else worthy of mention happens. After losing three challenges, it is the David tribe's turn to win immunity, and they are thrilled at the prospect of winning a challenge. Vaughn starts to insist that Siddhi needs to be the first to go from their tribe, and most of his alliance agrees with that, and they decide to split the vote between Luk and Siddhi in case one of them has an idol. Siddhi herself targets River, seeing him as slimy. Brett, Rita, River, and Vaughn pin votes on Luk, and the rest of the tribe votes out Siddhi, and she goes out without an idol in a 5-4-1 vote.
Episode 4: At the Goliath camp, Barak and Vaughn get into a large argument over something small, and Luk is able to get them to stop fighting, causing the others to respect him a lot more. Barak and River bond and form an alliance after Barak's fight with Vaughn in hopes of getting him out. At the David camp, Eric continues to be a nuisance around camp, as he has a fight with Jean for no reason. Michael finds Zen's idol, and he is furious about how he kept it a secret from him all this time. This causes Zen to be kicked out of the alliance, so he decides to flip from his side to Douglas's side. The Goliath tribe wins immunity yet again, and the David tribe is very demoralized after suffering four losses to one win. Michael, Mike, and Jean decide to target Eric for being too much of a loose cannon, while Douglas's majority targets Jean for being a liability in challenges, since both Michael and Mike were great providers, and Jean was doing nothing. At tribal council, Jean is blindsided in a 5-3 vote.
Episode 5: A tribe swap is announced, and the two tribes become three. Zen is exiled and will join the losing tribe after tribal council. The Vuku tribe consists of Douglas, Barak, Luk, Rita, and River, while on the Jabeni tribe is Eric, Gigi, Mike, Michelle, and Nevaeh. Finally the brand new Tiva tribe has Brett, Cattleya, Celine, Michael, and Vaughn. At Vuku, not much happens when they build their shelter, and at Jabeni, Nevaeh tries to form a bond with Gigi, which works. The Vuku and Jabeni tribes both win immunity, and at Tiva tribe, Brett tries to vote out Celine for being the least close to him, and for being less of a provider than Michael. Brett gets Cattleya and Vaughn on board, and unsuccessfully talks to Michael, who decides to put aside his differences with Celine and works with her to try and eliminate Cattleya, and at tribal council, Celine becomes the fifth person voted out in a 3-2 vote. Zen then joins Tiva.
Episode 6: Brett, Cattleya, Michael, and Vaughn welcome Zen to their camp, but see him as the biggest threat on their tribe, thinking that Zen got an advantage at Exile, which he did not. Brett looks for and finds the idol, so Zen wouldn't have it, and for future safekeeping. Brett decides to go rogue from his five person alliance and forms a bond with Michael, promising to keep him safe in subsequent tribal councils. At the second reward challenge of the season, Vuku and Jabeni win reward, increasing Tiva's losing streak. At Vuku, Barak's strength in challenges impresses the rest of his tribe, and also makes them see him as a threat. Barak also leaves the alliance he's in. Mike impresses his tribe on Jabeni, making Nevaeh want to blindside him next. Gigi and Michelle bond, and Nevaeh pulls them into an alliance with Eric to vote off Mike if they lose, and the Jabeni tribe indeed loses the immunity challenge. Unfortunately, Nevaeh has to be evacuated due to a medical emergency in her family, and she emotionally leaves the game, leaving her four tribemates to fend for themselves.
Episode 7: The day after Nevaeh leaves the game, the remaining contestants compete in a reward challenge, and Vuku loses their first challenge as a new tribe. After losing the reward, Douglas blames the loss on Rita, and asks the others on his tribe to vote her off. This outburst causes him to be seen as threatening to the other tribe members. Rita leaves her alliance of six, not wanting to be associated with them anymore. Not much happens on the Tiva and Jabeni beach, but the Jabenis lose immunity yet again, and back at camp, Eric and Mike get into a huge fight, and the two begin to target one another. Eric wins the support of Gigi and Michelle, and Mike gets voted out 3-1, becoming the first man to be voted out of this season.
Episode 8: The tribes merge into the Kalokalo tribe, with buffs of light blue. Still in the game is Brett, Cattleya, Douglas, Eric, Gigi, Barak, Luk, Michael, Michelle, Rita, River, Vaughn, and Zen. Michael is angered to see Mike be voted out over Eric, and he makes his thoughts very clear to the other tribe members. Luk, knowing that he'll be targeted for his physical strength, sneaks off and finds the idol. River, knowing that Barak is a sinking ship, flips on him and starts to target him. Barak himself targets Vaughn, who sees the young man as troubled, after Vaughn had an outburst earlier that day. River bonds with Zen and convinces him to join his side. Luk wins immunity, cementing his status as a physical threat, and making the other tribemates want to go after him even more. At tribal council, Eric, Barak, Michelle, and Zen vote off Vaughn, while the rest vote for Barak, and Barak becomes the first juror in a 9-4 vote.
Episode 9: The final 12 compete in the first post merge immunity challenge of the season, which is won by a group consisting of Cattleya, Douglas, Michael, Michelle, Rita, and Zen. Michael and Zen reconcile, as Michael, being on the bottom, needs as many allies as he can get. Michael goes on to win the immunity challenge. Back at camp, Rita leaves her alliance with Cattleya and Luk, and they decide to target her. They get Douglas on board, and Brett calls him out for it, calling him a traitor. In the end, they decide to stick with the original plan to vote out Luk, and Luk plays his idol, sending Rita home in a 3-0 vote.
Episode 10: After the biggest blindside of the season so far, the remaining contestants compete in another reward challenge, minus Luk, who sits out for rice. The group of Cattleya, Gigi, Michelle, Vaughn, and Zen win the reward, and they get to enjoy a burger bar and get their minds out of the game for a bit. When they get back to camp, Gigi and Douglas get into an argument, as Douglas feels like Gigi had never had to work for anything in her life. Brett forms a deal with Michael, and Luk tries to get Michelle to work with him, which fails. Eric wins immunity, and the majority decides that Luk is their best bet to vote out. Douglas and Cattleya vote alongside Luk, but it is not enough, and Luk goes in a 8-3 vote.
Episode 11: After Luk's vote off, Cattleya and Douglas are on the bottom, with really nowhere to go. Brett forms a new alliance, with Gigi, Cattleya, and Vaughn, and soon enough, Michael figures out that alliance. He talks to the outsiders, which all turn against Brett, and their first target is the one who they think is the most likely to go on an immunity streak- Vaughn. When Brett, Douglas, Eric, Michelle, and Zen win reward, Brett tries to get Eric and Michelle to join his alliance, and it fails, since both of them were pro-Michael. Brett saves himself from being tenth by winning immunity, and the majority of the tribe is ready to vote Vaughn out. Thinking he has the majority to take out Douglas, he chooses not to play his idol on Vaughn, and Vaughn becomes the fourth member of the jury in a 6-4 vote. Back at camp, Cattleya confronts her tribe about who flipped, and takes out her anger on Eric, but forms a bond with Michelle, for some odd reason. Michelle looks for and finds the idol that Luk used a couple episodes before, and keeps it to herself. Cattleya wins immunity, and Michael decides to cut the head off the snake, so Brett becomes the next big target. Luckily for him, he has the idol, so at tribal council, he plays said idol, and takes out Eric in a 3-0 vote.
Episode 12: Brett goes off and looks for an idol, unable to trust his tribemates, but is unsuccessful. The remaining contestants get a visit from their loved ones, and the group of River and Zen win reward, and they bring Gigi and Michelle along. Michelle bonds with River, and Cattleya and Zen also bond, but nobody decides to flip. The majority decide to target Brett again, but Douglas goes rogue and tries to vote for Cattleya, seeing her as more physical than Brett. Michael wins immunity, and at tribal council, Gigi plays her idol for Brett, and Douglas gets voted out 3-1 and becomes the sixth jury member.
Episode 13: During the last reward challenge of the season, Gigi pulls out a tremendous effort and wins the reward, and brings her close allies Cattleya and Brett along. They plot to get rid of Zen, due to how closed off he is, but the majority four, still in power, target Brett for being an all-around threat, and after Michael wins immunity, the final nail in Brett's coffin has been hammered in. He makes a desperate plea to stay in the game at tribal council, but it is to no avail, and he gets voted out in a 4-3 vote and becomes the seventh member of the jury.
Finale: Six players remain: Cattleya, Gigi, Michael, Michelle, River, and Zen. Michelle impresses the rest of the team, but some also start to see her as a goat, since she played a very safe game. Gigi wins immunity and shares the reward with Cattleya and Michael, thinking the latter would flip. He doesn't. Gigi and Cattleya target Zen again, while Michael targets Cattleya as the only person in the minority that he still hasn't vote off. At tribal council, Cattleya is voted off in a 4-2 vote. Michael wins his fourth immunity of the game, if he were to win one more, he would tie the record for most immunity wins with Jerry and Deef. Everyone in the majority, knowing what to do, all vote off Gigi, but Michelle and Zen both play their idols to be safe, and in total negate only one vote, and Gigi becomes the ninth jury member. After almost three hours, Zen beats out comp beast Michael in the final immunity challenge, but feeling indebted towards him, and the fact that River and Michelle hadn't done much to prove themselves, he puts Michelle and River in the fire making challenge, and River is able to win, making Michelle the ninth and final jury member. In the first all male final tribal council since Arabia, the final three consists of Michael, River, and Zen. River is called out for making big moves over good moves, Zen got flack for having no social game while having decent everything else, and Michael is considered the best all-arounder, even though he relied on challenges, he never got a single vote throughout the game, and the jury decides that it's good enough, and so Michael wins in a 6-4-0 vote, losing Erik, Gigi, Barak, and Luk's votes, as they vote Zen instead of him. Barak is announced as the fan favorite for being the most relatable person on the Goliath tribe, and for getting voted out in a way that did him dirty.
Winner: Michael Krumptone, u/swoldow
Fan Favorite: Jeremiah Barak, u/zohnster
Next season, we will see the introduction of a new twist called the Edge of Extinction, and four returnees will come back to the game to face off against the 14 newbies. Will a new player win, or will a returning favorite claim the prize? Find out in King's Survivor: Edge of Extinction!
Kennedy and Heidi: Vicarious Patricide as Tony’s Decompensation
At the risk of needless redundancy, I think it’s helpful to summarize Tony’s state of mind going into the episode Kennedy and Heidi. His consciousness is teeming with ancient but recently-agitated memories showcasing his father’s violence and toxic influence, like Johnny shooting a hole through Livia’s hairdo and baptizing him in the act of murder. He’s unable to shake stories of parental neglect leading to tragic outcomes for children. He’s painfully aware of Christopher’s hatred of him and desire for murderous revenge, feelings ultimately rooted in the fact that Tony guided him into the same corrupt existence into which he himself had been led by Johnny, Junior, and company, suggesting a reciprocal, if unconscious, rage by Tony towards those men. His subconscious mind is under constant assault from hats and movie posters and coffee mugs bearing the image of a bloody meat cleaver, an emblem of his own lost childhood innocence and inculcation by his father into his brutal, ugly vocation. He is racked with acute but intense guilt over the role he thinks his life’s example has played in shaping his son’s values and poor sense of self-worth. And he is still repressing a mountain of hurt over the fact that his uncle and second father tried not once but twice to kill him, a repression Melfi warned would someday result in a total collapse of his defense mechanisms, that is, a collapse of his paternal hero-worship and related quest for the macho validation that has prevented him from critically examining his father, uncle, and the men upon whom he modeled his life.
Now consider the circumstances immediately before the crash. Tony and Chris are on a routine drive back from business in Christopher’s new black Cadillac SUV (the first Cadillac Chris has ever owned, incidentally.) The conversation turns to life priorities. Chris, conspicuously clad in a Cleaver hat, specifically mentions how Kaitlyn has changed his priorities, and Tony mentions the “shit with Junior”. So the context is immediately pregnant with the fact that Junior shot and nearly killed Tony within the past year and with the fact that Chris is in a new place of responsibility, a position where he is, for the first time, truly the custodian and trustee for another life.
In a perfectly-timed illustration of just how ill-equipped Chris is to live up to those responsibilities, he nervously and repeatedly fiddles with the car stereo, fidgets, and widens his eyes, telegraphing to Tony that he is high as a kite on drugs. “Comfortably Numb” swells on the sound system as Tony stares at him, the lyrics underscoring that, in that moment, he does not see Chris as a youngster, as the “adorable kid” he once road around in the basket of his bicycle, but as a grown man: When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse Out of the corner of my eye I turned to look but it was gone I cannot put my finger on it now The child is grown, the dream is gone
Chris swerves, and the crash happens seconds later.
Tony as the Child in the Carseat
It’s critical to note that Tony initially manifests every intention of helping Chris, even as he’s fighting his own injuries. “I’m comin’,” he says as Chris asks for help. His expression and demeanor only change when he realizes what Chris means by “help”. “I’ll never pass a drug test,” Chris moans. “What?” Tony asks incredulously as Chris is inhaling his own blood. Almost simultaneously, Tony turns towards the back and sees that a tree limb has penetrated the passenger compartment, lodging in Kaitlyn’s car seat like a spear. While Tony would somewhat exaggerate the size of the branch in later narrations of the event, there’s no question that it was large enough to have impaled or seriously injured an infant.
Even after this warning shot over the bow, Tony apparently intends to help Chris, coming over to the driver’s side and breaking the window when he couldn’t get the door open. He draws his cell phone to call for help but stops when Chris again mentions being doped up, which suggests that Chris is more concerned about the legal consequences of his intoxication than about the fact that he is drowning in his own blood, completely belying his claim to a life newly ordered around the lofty priority of fatherhood.
That’s the moment when Tony forms a genuine murderous intent, an intent that has little to do with Christopher’s animosity towards him or the danger that he might flip. Those are conscious, background motives that help Tony rationalize and make sense of his actions later. But the factor impelling him to end Christopher’s life is his own, fundamental identification with the child who might just as easily have been killed or seriously harmed in that carseat.
To objectify this point, there is a slow pan of the limb sticking through the seat as Tony performs the suffocation, clearly not a shot representing Tony’s vision or gaze at that moment but objectively corroborating the earlier angle when Tony glances back and we see the seat from his point of view. The juxtaposition of these shots – subjective and objective – tells me the carseat is not just a convenient excuse for Tony. This is what he’s really feeling. In this moment, he is the phantom child in that carseat, a child whose safety and well-being come second to his father’s corrupt values and reckless self-indulgence, a child whose soul and humanity are metaphorically impaled by riding in and being taught to drive his father’s black Cadillac.
The exclamation point on the symbolism is provided by Christopher’s hat. Incredibly, it remains on his head throughout the crash and suffocation, its bloody cleaver logo pointing towards Tony when the car comes to rest. As Tony acts consciously on behalf of an innocent child, the symbol of his own lost childhood innocence is directly before him. And, for good measure, the cap and logo stare back at him in the hospital from the gurney laden with Christopher’s bloody clothing and the black bag containing his dead body. (The logo antagonizes Tony a final time from his coffee mug the next morning before he angrily tosses the mug into his backyard woods.)
Several points about the suffocation itself are remarkable. First was the look of absolute depravity on Tony’s face as he watched Christopher struggle to breathe. This look was unlike any ever seen on Tony’s face at any other moment in the series. Even when committing other personal and deadly acts of violence, his face and demeanor had always betrayed a commensurate level of animus, an active, passionate intent. In contrast, he reached through the window and pinched Christopher’s nose – and maintained that hold – with remarkable calm. His face and eyes throughout the suffocation were paradoxically both incredibly intense and completely devoid of human emotion, a look far more disturbing than any look of mere rage he’d ever worn before.
Second, although this act was, in my judgment, clearly about the release of Tony’s pent up rage towards his father figures, the method of killing evokes Livia. Besides her conspiracy with Junior to kill Tony (which she rationalized was for his own good) and general obsession with stories of child deaths, she had once threatened to “smother [her children] with a pillow” to save them from a fate she deemed even worse. Tony grabbed a pillow intending to smother her in the season one finale before nursing home personnel intervened. In Members Only, Tony spoke of being smothered with a pillow as a suitable form of euthanasia. Its functional equivalent at the scene of the crash had a definite vibe of putting Chris out of his own – and everyone’s – misery. So, in killing his “father”, Tony was also paradoxically suffocating his “son”, thereby channeling Livia’s filicidal urges and concept of mercy killing.
The most spine-tingling resonance with the scene comes from two season four episodes where Tony’s deep identification with “innocents” – be they children or animals – once again comes to the fore, as does his appreciation for the consequences of Chris continuing to use drugs. In Whoever Did This, Tony warns Christopher that he “can’t be high on heroine and raise kids.” And in The Strong, Silent Type, after learning that a doped-up Chris accidentally smothered and suffocated Adriana’s dog, Tony ominously snaps, “You suffocated little Cossette? I oughta suffocate you, you prick!” It’s such perfect foreshadowing that the earlier episodes seem to have been written with the outcome of Kennedy and Heidi in mind.
Righteous Retribution as the Explanation for Tony’s Lack of Sorrow
As previously noted, the most troubling aspect of the episode from the standpoint of character consistency and plausibility was not the fact that Tony murdered Chris. It was his vacuous expression during the killing and the fact that he never betrayed a moment’s genuine sorrow or regret afterwards. He remained, in fact, defiantly happy and unconflicted about it, especially to Melfi, and was sincerely troubled that neither she nor anyone else could see how Christopher’s death rescued Kaitlyn from a lifetime of risks and harm that she would naturally suffer as the daughter of a drug addict (and mob captain).
In his therapy scenes with Melfi, real and dream, Tony even makes the very contrast I raise, noting that he’s never felt this way after murdering any other person close to him. He alludes to his sorrow over Pussy and specifically allows that murdering Tony B left him “prostate [sic] with grief.” In effect, Tony himself is revealing that this killing feels righteous and justified to him on an instinctive level and is therefore not one about which he can feel guilt or sorrow.
That sentiment makes no sense if his dominant motives were those he talked about in therapy: Christopher’s animosity and resentment towards him after the Adriana hit and his drug-use and consequent risk to flip. Whatever weight those factors carry in justifying murder in the corrupt “ethics” of the mob (which, in any case, is less than the weight of the transgressions by Pussy and Tony B), they carry absolutely no legitimate moral weight outside it and could not sustain in Tony the sense of just triumph that he felt in response to Christopher’s death. What could inspire that sense of triumph is the perceived liberation of a child from a dangerous and toxic father, experienced subconsciously as vicarious retribution for the abuse and harm he himself suffered at the hands of his own father and uncle.
Significance of the Names “Kennedy” and “Heidi”
“Kennedy” and “Heidi” are the names of the young passenger and driver, respectively, in the car that sideswipes Christopher’s SUV before the fateful crash. The girls are barely onscreen a few seconds, just long enough to (somewhat artificially) learn their names in the following exchange: Kennedy: Maybe we should go back, Heidi! Heidi: Kennedy, I’m on my learner’s permit after dark!
Much forum debate after the first airing of the episode centered around the significance, if any, of these names. I propose a related but even more basic question: why are the girls present in the scene at all?
Tony’s windfall opportunity to murder Chris and pass it off as death from accidental injury was entirely dependent upon being unobserved by others after the crash. Given Christopher’s intoxicated state and inattention to the curvy road while he fiddled with radio controls, a mere swerve and over-correction or swerve to avoid an animal (Tony’s crash with Adriana, anyone?) would have easily sufficed to trigger the accident but without the problematic involvement of another car, the driver of which would have to be made to flee the scene illegally and in contravention of the ethics and instincts of at least 95% of the motorists on the road. So the very fact that another car is involved, complicating both the story and the filming, suggests some symbolic or subtextual design to the involvement related specifically to the momentous event occurring right after the crash.
One aspect of that design is revealed and amplified when a grieving Kelly shows up at Christopher’s wake with dark hair framing her face and large, dark sunglasses covering her eyes. A member of the crew remarks, “Look at her. Like a movie star.” An odd look immediately crosses Tony’s face as he spontaneously responds, “Jackie Kennedy”, noting Kelly’s resemblance to the widow of John F. Kennedy.
In my mind, this striking moment in the episode can have only one purpose, and that’s to evoke Johnny Boy in relation to Christopher via a kind of symbolic math. If Kelly = Jackie Kennedy, then Chris = JFK = Johnny Boy since JFK was the explicit parallel figure for Johnny in In Camelot, the first episode of the series depicting cracks in the foundation of Tony’s paternal hero worship. When that foundation completely crumbles inside Tony’s subconscious a season and a half later, it’s entirely fitting that the JFK/Johnny parallel is renewed.
As for the name “Heidi”, most folks around these parts felt it was meant to evoke the idea of “orphan” because of the famous Swiss orphan tale of the same name and because Kaitlyn (and Paulie) both lost parents in the episode. That’s an entirely plausible analysis that requires no expansion, although I’m inclined to think there’s more to it than that, starting with the analogy of Tony himself to “Heidi”. No, Tony was never technically orphaned, though he arguably suffered more as the son of Johnny and Livia than if he had been. He was certainly deprived of real parental love and guidance, on both sides, and that roughly equates to the definition of “orphan”.
Before discussing this episode for the first time, I never knew that Heidi was the story of an orphan, only that it was some kind of tale for children. And I knew that only because of the epic 1968 football game between Joe Namath’s Jets and the Oakland Raiders, the climactic ending of which (an improbable comeback by the Raiders) was cut off abruptly for television viewers at the end of its scheduled broadcast slot so that a movie version of Heidi could begin airing on time. I was only four at the time of this debacle but recall my parents talking about it – and the considerable chaos it caused at NBC and at telephone switchboards around the country – for years afterwards. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidi_Game
It wouldn’t become clear until the end of Made In America, but there’s an obvious parallel to the Heidi phenomenon in the wind-up of The Sopranos. Consider that, like the Heidi Game broadcast, Made in America featured an abrupt, unexpected termination of excruciatingly tense action at a penultimate moment, pre-empting audience experience of what appeared to be an imminent and momentous climax. The Sopranos ending may not have disabled an entire telephone network, but it certainly generated an enormous amount of controversy that, for better or worse, persists to this day.
Beyond that, there were enough other football references in the final Sopranos episodes, and especially Jets references, to warrant further consideration of this football connotation for “Heidi”. In Remember When, Tony’s betting losses on Jets football games prompt his call to Hesh for a bridge loan. Later that same episode, Paulie annoys Tony and company with yet another old tale, this one relating how, after witnessing Joe Namath stagger drunk into a bar the night before a game, he bet a load of cash the following day on the Jets’ opponent. In Chasing It, Tony gets inside information on a Jets football game and is irate when Carmela refuses to bet money on it. The episode features a closeup of a large newspaper headline, “Jets Bomb Chargers”.
In Blue Comet, then-current coach of the Jets, Eric Mangini, makes a cameo appearance in Vesuvio, with Artie informing a suitably-impressed Tony so the two can go over and shake hands. News articles at the time clarified that the cameo wasn’t Mangini’s idea but the idea of Sopranos producers, who contacted him months in advance and made accommodations in the shooting schedule around his availability. So this seemed more than a casual desire to have some generic celebrity show up.
That especially seems true considering Mangini was given no dialog and that his meeting with Tony and Artie was only depicted in the silent background of a conversation between Charmaine and Carmela. Mangini’s only purpose on set was apparently to show his face briefly and to have the fact of his identity (Tony has to tell a bewildered Carm that Mangini is the head coach of the Jets) permeate the minds of the audience and the subtext of the scene, which is ultimately about chickens coming home to roost on Tony and Carmela because of the lives they chose.
As alter egos for Tony and Carmela throughout the series, folks who took the proverbial “other path” in life, Artie and (especially) Charmaine engage in subtle gloating in the scene. Football coaching was firmly established as Tony’s “road not taken” in Test Dream, so having an actual football coach present in the episode where the unsavory and downright deadly consequences of his chosen vocation are crashing in all around him provides dramatic ballast. All the better to have the coach in the scene be the coach of the team involved in the Heidi game in view of the ending planned for the following episode.
And speaking again of that ending, the wall behind Tony in Holsten’s is consumed with four large murals specifically brought in by the production crew for the shoot. The largest and most centered depicts a huge, light-colored building with lots of windows, somewhat reminiscent of the Inn at the Oaks in Tony’s coma dream. It’s apparently a high school, however, as it is flanked on either side by images of football players in full uniform with what appear to be names and year of graduation engraved at the bottom. To the side and extreme left is a mural of a tiger and the caption “Class of 1973” at the bottom. The tiger is presumably the mascot for the team and school represented in the other murals. So there is a strong symbolic presence of “football” in the last scene of the series, particularly of high school football from roughly the era when Tony would have entered high school.
Finally, though it may be completely insignificant, when Tony tells Carm about the accident from his hospital stretcher in Kennedy and Heidi, he mentions that he re-injured his knee, “the one from high school.” That certainly sounds like a reference to an old high school football injury.
If these loose strands from multiple episodes are indeed intended to connote football in relation to the name “Heidi”, what does that actually mean in the context of the episode Kennedy and Heidi? What does football have to do with Tony killing Chris or, more precisely, with him killing his father in the guise of Chris?
The linchpin in that symbolism, it seems to me, is Tony’s old high school football coach, the guy who would have been his coach when he originally injured his knee, the guy Tony dreamt repeatedly of trying to silence or kill, the guy whose puzzling duality in Test Dream suddenly makes sense when he’s viewed as a classic, Freudian composite of opposites, specifically a composite of Tony’s opposing father figures with Johnny dressed in the physiognomy of Coach Molinaro by Tony’s subconscious in order to render acceptable imagery of his latent, patricidal feelings.
If you further allow, as I do, that the Johnny look-alike shooting at Tony with a scoped rifle (ala Oswald/”Kennedy”) in that same dream is yet another Freudian “reversal into the opposite” by Tony’s subconscious to disguise his repressed paternal rage, then the Kennedy/Heidi connection is pretty clear. The names are presented proximate to the crash to connote that, in killing Chris, Tony has finally acted out the Test Dream imagery that haunted him for years: he has (symbolically) killed his father, the “Kennedy” and “Heidi” of his dream.
In my judgment, this explains Tony’s otherwise puzzling, peyote-induced insight when he proclaims, “He’s dead,” after winning at roulette on 3 successive spins, prompting him to fall to the floor in spectacular and uncontrollable laughter. What other, real death could have inspired such a euphoric and epiphanic reaction? What real death could Tony only have appreciated while in a drug-induced, altered state of consciousness?
Many felt the line referred to Christopher because he’d just died, obviously, and because Tony’s gambling luck suddenly changed afterward. That analysis never made sense to me.
First, Tony plays roulette at the casino while sober when he first arrives in Vegas and loses every round. Chris was already dead at that time, as Tony well knew and accepted. Indeed, Tony was never in any state of denial about Christopher’s death (or about having killed him.) He embraced it, both consciously and in his dream therapy session with Melfi after the crash.
The “he’s dead” insight occurs only after Tony takes peyote and notices a sudden and complete about-face in gambling luck. Why would he need psychedelic drugs to suddenly realize what he already knew and accepted about Chris? And why would Christopher’s death be tied in his mind to his own gambling luck anyway? No prior connection between those two things had ever been suggested.
On the other hand, Tony’s sudden escalation in gambling, which coincided with the agitation and intensification of his latent rage towards his father(s), could easily be seen as a subconscious rebellion against the stern, anti-gambling lecture Johnny imparted the night Tony witnessed the cleaver incident. To the extent that the rebellion results in huge financial losses and self destruction, it obviously fails. His father retains ultimate power and authority. To the extent the rebellion results in huge winnings, it succeeds, and Tony vanquishes his father.
That conquest was the ineffable and elusive “high” that Tony was subconsciously pursuing in Chasing It but which he could not articulate to Melfi. Thus the sudden change in gambling fortune on his Vegas trip is easily tied in Tony’s drug-altered psyche to a euphoric realization that he has conquered or symbolically killed his father, none of which Tony could appreciate without a vastly altered state of consciousness.
And that leads to why he went to Vegas in the first place. He asks that question out loud to the Vegas prostitute, Sonia, immediately before admitting that Christopher once mentioned taking peyote with her. Tony then confesses to having always wanted to try the drug.
Clearly, then, he didn’t just happen to pick Vegas and didn’t just happen to make contact with this girl. His subconscious was pushing him to that venue because he craved the enlightenment of a peyote experience. So while Tony’s real motives for the murder, and for his otherwise inexplicable jubilance afterward, were completely closed off to his conscious mind, somehow he sensed their existence and yearned to unlock and understand them. However his peyote revelations didn’t stop with simply understanding why he killed Chris.
“I Get It. I Get It!”
Tony’s desert epiphany is a bookend to his near-death coma experience and, I believe, can only be fully understood in relation to it. Yet exploring that relationship is a journey all unto itself, calling not only for consideration of the coma episodes and Kennedy and Heidi but the meaning of the cut to black that ends the series. While exploring the religious and spiritual underpinnings of those episodes is of even more weight and interest to me personally than the issue of Tony’s motives in killing Christopher, it deserves and demands its own, dedicated discussion. For now, I’d simply like to posit what I strongly believe Tony’s epiphany to have been with only minimal argumentation as to why I hold that belief.
The epiphany is presaged when Tony enters the casino on his peyote trip and notes that the roulette wheel is built on the same principle as the solar system. The ball spins round and round the center or “sun” of the wheel because of two delicately-balanced but largely opposing phenomena: the momentum of the ball (which, without the wheel, would carry the ball away in a straight line) and the centripetal force of the wheel (applied by the rim, which continuously pulls the ball towards the center even as the ball’s momentum continuously pulls it on a path perpendicular to the centripetal force.) The antagonism (or cooperation, if you prefer) of the forces gives rise to a unified system: an orbit.
If this sounds a bit like the Bell Labs scientist’s explanation of how two tornadoes are in fact just facets of one, unified system of wind, it’s likely no mere coincidence. As Hal Holbrook’s character argued, separateness is a mirage. The universe, and everything in it, is one big soup of molecules interacting in cause/effect fashion according to laws, making it one whole, not a bunch of discrete parts. “Everything is everything,” as the black rapper reduced it.
That was the philosophy that really made an impression on Tony in the days and weeks following his coma. The principles of quantum physics articulated by Holbrook’s character are likely as close as you can get to a scientific codification of Bhuddism and therefore reinforced much of what the Bhuddist monks conveyed to Tony in his coma. The monks laughed when Tony claimed he wasn’t Finnerty and explained that there really is no “you” and “me, that death would bring an obliteration of individuality. Separate consciousness – and the consciousness of separateness – is an illusion of the living.
So all this laid the philosophical groundwork for Tony’s Las Vegas trip. In that trip, Tony seeks out a girl with whom Chris had slept, then sleeps with her himself. He mentions having refrained from a longstanding desire to try peyote because he always felt the weight of his responsibilities, an implied contrast to Christopher, who always indulged in drugs despite his responsibilities. The idea that Tony was seeking to almost live life in Christopher’s skin in the Las Vegas portion of the episode was something several posters mentioned in first discussions after Kennedy and Heidi aired. Even the girl, Sonia, remarks how similar Tony and Chris are, a somewhat dubious observation that somehow offends Tony but which also helps define his impending epiphany.
That epiphany is spurred when the rising sun flares at him over the desert mountain vista. This recalls Tony’s earlier comparison of the roulette wheel to the solar system. It also resonates completely with the fact that Kevin Finnerty was a solar heating salesman from Kingman, Arizona, a town which, not coincidentally, lies 95 miles southeast of Las Vegas and shares the same desert landscape. Also not coincidental, IMO, is the fact that in the prior episode, Christopher spoke of the perks of joining witness protection and of “living large” in Arizona.
So I believe that, in that desert sunrise on the cusp of Arizona, in fulfillment of his identity as Kevin Finnerty, solar heating salesman, Tony saw his “son” – Christopher – “rise” and realized that, in murdering him days before, he (Tony) was really “rising” as a “son” against Johnny Boy. And in that linkage, he suddenly realized that “everything is [indeed] everything.” He is both Chris and Johnny Boy, both abused and misguided son and abusing, misguiding father. He is murdering uncle and would-be murdered nephew. He is both the mother that sees suffocation as mercy killing and the son who is suffocated. Christopher is both his son and his father. Johnny Boy is Coach Molinaro. “Kennedy” is “Heidi”. Opposites are really two sides of the same coin. In that fleeting moment of insight, Tony was truly feeling “one” with the universe.
The Second Coming
The episode following Kennedy and Heidi is titled The Second Coming after the Yeats poem that grips AJ in the English lit class he’s auditing. While the poem speaks to the bleakness of his depression and outlook on life at that particular time, there’s little doubt that – like everything of substantial weight in the Sopranos universe – it ultimately relates, first and foremost, to Tony. First referenced in the Cold Cuts therapy session dealing with pent-up rage where Tony’s deep shame from the cleaver incident is finally revealed, the poem seems the veritable inspiration for the storyline (as interpreted in this article) that culminates in Christopher’s murder: The Second Coming By William Butler Yeats Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight; somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The widening gyre, the orbit that breaks down when the center can no longer hold, is clearly a parallel to the decompensation of which Melfi warned, the point at which Tony’s defenses after Junior’s second murder attempt could no longer hold and the underlying pathological rage at his fathers would take over. True to the poem, a “blood-dimmed tide was loosed”, inspired by a perverse compassion for the “innocent”. While “the best” all mourned Christopher and thought his death a tragedy, Tony, “the worst”, was full of passionate intensity and could not understand why no one else saw the greater good in Christopher’s death.
The “revelation” occurs in a “waste of desert sand”, imagery easily compatible with Tony’s “I get it” moment in the Nevada/Arizona desert. The uniquely depraved look on his face as he suffocated Christopher is evoked by the line describing a “gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun”. “Twenty years of stony sleep” refers to the decades of denial Tony maintained, the defense mechanisms that kept him all his life from confronting and admitting that, in some very real ways, he hated his father. It’s a figurative sleep that was suggested literally in the noted fact that so many episodes in season 6B started with Tony in a deep sleep. Somnolence was suggested even in the choice of the song “Comfortably Numb” as soundtrack in the moments immediately preceding the crash, the moments right before the hour of the “rough beast” finally arrived. Even the incidentals are perfect allusions, as with the image of “stony sleep” being turned into a nightmare by a “rocking cradle”, or, in this case, by a car seat with a branch sticking through it.
I’m intrigued by the line describing the emerging beast as having “lion body”. It may mean absolutely nothing. But among the story points worth considering in relation to it are the tiger on the wall in Holsten’s and the enigmatic cat in Made In America.
More obscure is the fact that in Remember When, the single episode most explicitly dealing with the violent release of stifled paternal rage, Carter Chong described his grandfather as a “lion” and noted that his father owned “Grumman” stock. (Grumman manufactured a number of high-profile fighter military aircraft, most of them named for some kind of cat, e.g., Panther, Jaguar, Tomcat, Tigercat.) Carter was reviewing these facts to himself in the scene immediately preceding his vicious attack on Junior, suggesting that, in acting out on his stifled paternal hatred, he was adopting the predatory, aggressive characteristics of a wild cat. Notably, when Junior, the paternal surrogate who modeled this kind of aggressive behavior to Carter, was seen at the end of that episode bruised and literally defanged, his sunken mouth void of false teeth, he was stroking a harmless little housecat on his lap. Once a lion, the former mob boss was a lion no more.
Asbestos Dumping as a Metaphor for Tony’s Toxic Spill of Rage
Kennedy and Heidi opens with a controversy between Tony and Phil Leotardo over asbestos disposal. One of Tony’s contractors was removing asbestos from old buildings, while following none of the strict (and expensive) asbestos-handling laws regulating worker and public safety, and was seeking to dump completely uncontained truck-fulls at waste stations controlled by Phil. Phil’s guys were denying the trucks the right to dump. As a consequence, huge, openly-smoking asbestos mounds were building up at job sites.
After Christopher’s death, Tony was doing little to find a solution, skipping town to gamble, get laid, and get high and leaving the contractor high and dry. Finally, near the very end of the episode, the contractor dumps heaps of asbestos at dawn in an open marsh area resembling the New Jersey Meadowlands.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that gained widespread use in the 19th and 20th centuries as an ingredient in various building industry materials – including wall compounds, insulation, and roofing materials – primarily because of its extreme insulative properties and resistance to heat and fire. In the last 40 years, it’s become better-known for its cancer-causing and toxic effects on those mining and working with it in manufacturing, demolition/remodeling, or other “raw” environments.
Both the heat resistance and toxicity of asbestos make the shoddy removal/dumping storyline a compelling metaphor for Tony’s equally shoddy “dumping” in Kennedy and Heidi. The smoldering heat and flames from his hatred towards his father and uncle were contained beneath his consciousness by an insulating firewall of denial and repression. In essence, this denial and repression was Tony’s psychological asbestos, and it (more or less) contained the heat and fire within him for 47 years.
But it finally broke down, allowing the flames to rage and do damage and necessitating a messy disposal. Unfortunately the breakdown didn’t happen where it should have, in his therapist’s office as the result of honest introspection and dialog about little things like his uncle trying to kill him twice and his father indoctrinating him to murder at 22. That would have been the equivalent of careful, legally-compliant asbestos removal. Instead the breakdown occurred in a roadside ravine and the resulting “waste [in the] desert sand” was every bit as toxic as the smoking piles illegally dumped in the Meadowlands immediately before the desert epiphany and which we saw reprised in the very first shot of the following episode.
Think about that for a moment. Tony’s “I get it” moment was literally sandwiched between shots of noxious mounds of asbestos blowing in the New Jersey wind, a significant clue that some other kind of perversely cathartic disposal was in the middle of that sandwich.
The Orbit of the ‘Blue Comet’: Long Journey to Nowhere
It’s fair to ask: if the broad strokes of my interpretation are valid, what impact did the epiphany have on Tony going forward? After the drugs wore off, did he actually retain any specific understanding of his subconscious motives for killing Chris? Was he left only with the impression that he had enjoyed a very brief moment of enlightenment but without intellectual distillation of the enlightenment itself?
Because the insight was founded upon the secret that he had murdered Chris, even if Tony had retained it, he couldn’t overtly share it with anyone. Still, I lean toward the interpretation that the specifics (at least the ones I proffered) were lost to him when the altered state of consciousness ceased. When he tried to describe the magic of what he experienced in the desert to his crew, he could only come up with the most mundane, inadequate words: “The sun . . . came up.” They all looked at him like he was half retarded.
He was slightly more specific with Melfi, offering that he saw “for pretty certain” that this reality is not all there is. He couldn’t define the alternative but was still convinced there was “something else”.
He did speak in therapy of appreciating a balance and unity in opposites that he hadn’t appreciated before, a “ying” [sic] and “yang”. And he offered that “mothers are like buses . . . the vehicle that gets us here,” but that, once here, we are all on our own, individual journeys (mothers included.) So, to the extent his epiphany comported with what he revealed in therapy, it seems to have had little to do with fathers and with Christopher’s murder and more to do with letting go (finally) of some of his issues with his mother.
But perhaps the best clue to his residual state of understanding came when he indicated that some of what he thought he had grasped in the desert now eluded him. “You think you know, you think you learn something . . . like when I got shot,” he begins. Then, speaking specifically about the peyote experience, he reports that the insight gained is “kinda hard to describe. . . . You know, you have these thoughts, and you almost grab it . . . and then . . . ftt.” He flicks his fingers away from his chin as if to indicate “nothing”. So, to paraphrase Edna St. Vincent Millay, a fragment of what he knew remains, but, apparently, the best is lost.
It wouldn’t take long for all of it to be lost. By the time Tony sits with AJ’s female therapist in Made In America, “going about in pity” for himself because of who his mother was, he has come full circle, essentially back to where he was to start the series. Like a “blue comet”, his orbit was highly elliptical, if not erratic, and carried with it the potential of veering off into deep space or crashing into the sun. But despite killing his own nephew, having a near-death experience himself, and saving his son from an act of suicide, the orbit held. The sober breakthrough never came. The repudiation of his father and of his way of life never took hold in his consciousness. And so, by series’ end, we, like Tony, were exhausted from a long journey that ultimately took us nowhere. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
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