Monday, May 15, 2006


I am not happy with the current Sopranos season, which has become moralistic. On yesterday's episode, Vito leaves his lover and heads back to New Jersey, shooting an innocent bystander along the way. The parallel is with Chris who cannot face the prospect of living like family he sees at the gas station. Running out of money, Vito cannot cope with the tedium of an honest handyman job and cuts out. The moral is that Mafiosi can get out but will not.

Meanwhile however Johnny Sack who cannot get out takes on a 15 year prison sentence to see to it that his fat wife is provided for. How does all this fly for Tony? I don't know--nothing has gelled yet. As for Carmella with her dumb little "spec house," I have no sympathy.

Big Love is doing a little better. After teasing us with the idea that polygamy isn't such a good thing--Nicki's bad behavior and Margene's childlishness--the family comes together. Nicki beats up on Barbara's bad big sister and Margene breaks up with the neighbor who is tempting her to pull out of the family. Unlike The Sopranos, Big Love isn't pandering to viewers' desires to get the moralistic story that a social arrangement of which we disapprove is bad, and will yield bad consequences for all concerned. At least not yet.


Scott said...

I don't think the moral shown by Vito's sub-plot is that Mafiosi can get out but won't. The moral is that people from New Jersey can get out but won't.

I think it was C.P. Snow who said that patriotism is merely our love of the food that we ate as children. It's the tastes and smells of home that call Vito back as much as anything else. Vito may like a johnny cake from time to time—but it's the Italian food that makes him misty. Yes, there could be a kind of freedom for him up in New England, but I don't think he wants to spend the rest of his life feeling like a foreigner.

Which most likely means that come Sunday night, he's going to get whacked.

H. E. said...

Scott, I'm from New Jersey, got out, and now watch The Sopranos largely so that I can gloat about being 3000 miles away and never, never having to go back.

I don't think Vito will get whacked next Sunday--maybe later. His sins are strictly venial. He isn't reporting to the FBI and hasn't committed any serious breech of the Code. The Mob is also getting up to date on some of these social issues: Tony is in therapy, Chris took the cure and attends AA occasionally, etc. Vito may have some gay action on the side but he's a responsible family man with a wife, kids and a gumma.

There's a literary cue though that Vito's case will create difficulties--the parallel to Tony B. who looks to be going straight but ends up killing the Korean guy who finances his massage business. It's the same story with Vito--the possibility of a straight, i.e. gay, life and then a pointless, senseless murder of a civilian. Vito however is a more sympathetic character than Tony B. and may get away with it. Tony will defend him and there will be an interest in preserving him because he's, after all, Phil's cousin-in-law. However this won't sit well with Chris and certainly not with Pauly who we know is, as they used to say, "latent."

The thing I wonder about though is why is it always cooking and then something goes bad. Ralphie cooks before Tony murders him in his kitchen; Tony's gumma cooks and sets fire to herself; Livia cooks, sets fire to the kitchen and that initiates the whole train of events that ends in her attempt to get Tony whacked; Artie cooks a lot and things are always going wrong for him. Carmella, by contrast, spends lots of time in the kitchen, serving food and entertaining but never actually cooks--she chops vegetables, puts away groceries, and takes people her signature lasagnas (layer of basil leaves under the riccotta) and manicotti but I have never seen her at the stove cooking.

But why cooking? The only cooking scene I remember in Literature is in one of James Baldwin's books. A white guy has a black girlfriend. He gets sodomized and on the morning after his girlfriend cooks and the message "Now you know what it's like to be screwed, to be on the bottom; now the barrier between us is gone--you're one of us." But why cooking? Can it be the idea of being trapped in the body, and in the circle of birth and death--sickness, age, death. failure, frustration, all the features of the human condition we can't escape? Someone is probably writing an English thesis on this even as we speak.

I predict though that Vito won't get whacked immediately--he'll be the occasion for a re-alignment of Mob alliances and renewed hostilities. I'm also interested in Bobby and Janice and still predict that they'll get out--like the young couple in the Seventh Seal, except old, fat and essentially silly.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

I don't think that the moral was that mobsters can get out but choose not to. It think the moral is that people will make desperate tradeoffs to escape the drudgery of a day job.

The mobsters have a terrific lifestyle, compared to other guys with their backgrounds and qualifications. They are free from the drudgery of ordinary blue collar jobs.

Vito is going back because he can't deal with the constraints of day-to-day working class life. He loves Johnny and their idyllic North Eastern town. But he can't adjust to the idea of working a day job.

The scene in the bar after the volunteer fire call was good--Vito wants to hang out and drink, but all his buddies on the squad have to go home at midnight because they've got to get up for work the next day. Vito says "Where I come from, the night is just getting started."

The episode wasn't very well-written. I can't believe they stooped to a voiceover to convey Vito's inner monologue at work. (The first VO in Soprano's history, right?)

H. E. said...

Yes and no: on the first episode, before the series hit its stride, we got voice-overs for various vignettes in the form of Tony describing the events to Melfi in highly euphemistic terms. Crude humor that didn't quite come off.

Compare with the scene in the gas station when Chris decides to sacrifice Adrianna and stick with the mob. One look at the family through his eyes--the crumby car, the crumby clothes, the whiney kids and we know exactly what Chris is thinking. It isn't just the job though for Vito but again the whole business of life--working, going home to bed at a reasonable hour, no Bada Bing, no big bucks. It isn't such a bad job after all, anymore than the family Chris sees as his future if he escapes with Adrianna represents such a bad life: they're going on vacation. If the moral was desperation to escape a really awful job, or a really bad life, you would have seen Vito working food service in a paper cap, sweating in the kitchen, or Vito bashing car bodies on an assembly line. It's actually a rather nice job--out in the clean snow, puttering around with handyman work.

That's why I think the message is that these Mafiosi do have viable alternatives and then screw up because they have expensive tastes, won't commit, can't control themselves, can't cope with the ordinary business of life. Compare it to Tony B.--the prospect of his own massage parlor, the owner's gorgeous daughter as a silent partner, and an exit-visa from the Mob--but he kills his patron for no reason at all.

This season has been a disappointment though, even apart from the cheesy voice over--after the high drama of Tony's near death experience it's all anti-climactic and there's nowhere to go. The gratuitous introduction of the fundamentalists arguing about evolution in Tony's hospital room for starts was completely unmotivated. I do predict Tony will get whacked sooner or later--possibly trying to save Vito--he's living on borrowed time. Could be as early as tomorrow--Adrianna was whacked on the next-to-the-last episode of last season. Tony's also become less interesting as a character and may be expendable.

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