TV Club

In an Elevator With John Gotti Jr.

Dear Jerry and Terry,

I can’t believe Terry has trouble getting a table at Rao’s. I’m sure Capeci just glides right in. By the way, and before I forget, I must compliment Terry on that perfectly inside Jewish joke embedded in the script. As a frequent flyer to Israel, I was laughing my head off when Fran Felstein announced that her son was a food-service manager for El Al. The idea of El Al having a food service manager—or at least a non-sadistic, non-taste-impaired, food service manager—is absurd. What’s he in charge of? Boiling all the flavor out of chicken? Hardening the bagels?

I’ve got to pick a nit with Jerry about the aging-mistress subplot—I found it fascinating, in that skin-crawling Sopranos sort of way. I’ve never seen a portrayal of a mob moll gone to seed before, and Polly Bergen did it wonderfully, balancing desperation and creepiness and manipulation. I learned last night that the only thing on television more disturbing than the sexualization of pre-pubescents is the sexualization of senior citizens. Steve Buscemi, who directed the episode, must have a way with actors (and by the way—here’s another free plug for him—the last scene, in which Tony sits contemplating his misery—is an echo of the final scene of Buscemi’s great film TreesLounge).

You know, since you brought up the Russian, Terry, I’ve always assumed he’s coming back in the last episode to kill Tony. You can give David Chase the idea for free if you want. (God, people must harass the hell out of you with their theories and plot improvements.)

This debate, ongoing, about whether Tony is too much the mook to be a mob boss (this is Jerry Shargel’s opinion, Terry) is kind of beside the point. The frustration of covering mob bosses is that you almost never get a clean view into their souls, should they actually have them. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they say things that are inadvertently revealing. I remember once, in a stuck elevator in the Westchester federal courthouse, I had a fascinating, though brief, talk with John Gotti Jr. about his obsession with American Indians. He’s a real autodidact, and he blossomed as we talked. Then the elevator doors opened, his boys were waiting for him, and the scowl came back across his face. You just don’t know what’s going on inside—look at Johnny Sack’s tender feelings for his obese wife.

I couldn’t tell from your e-mail if you understood this, but I actually got the fact that you write an entire episode yourself. But I’ve always wondered how deep into a script David Chase inserts his paws. There are obviously tremendous continuity issues from episode to episode, but beyond that, does Chase get into the thick of each script?

Leon Wieseltier told us a couple of weeks ago that, from his limited vantage point, he would not like to get to know Gandolfini. Care to comment?

By the way, I wouldn’t look to Capeci’s books for knowledge about the mob, if I were you. This is a little-known fact, but he makes all of it up. He actually never covered the mob; in real life, he writes about mutual funds for Institutional Investor.


P.S. There is actually an initiation ceremony for the Sopranos TV Club on Slate. It involves pricking your finger and holding the burning picture of a Catholic saint in your hands. Or maybe I’m confusing this with something else.