TV Club

The Ghosts of Mistresses Past

Jeff, Terry,

I guess one big difference between Jeff and me is that he’s a broadsheet (New York Times-style) kind of television viewer and I’m more a tabloid (New York Post/Daily News-style) viewer, even though I now write for the broadsheet New York Sun. I enjoyed Tony meeting the aging mistress at his father’s grave, and some of their back and forth, but thought it could have been condensed a bit. As usual, the writers use clever devices to illustrate historical events when they explain Sopranos Family history. I laughed out loud at some of the JFK references about the Bay of Pigs, and at the JFK Naval Officer’s cap that Tony bought at an auction. If you don’t mind, let me digress for a moment to mention a great historical example from a few weeks ago that I failed to mention in a timely fashion. (It’s so much easier for me to remember all the great lines and scenes AFTER I sign off.) I refer to the wake scene in which the wiseguys reminisced about the old New York mob boss who had just croaked, and his invention of point shaving circa 1950, when CCNY’s great college hoop stars were said to have taken cash from gamblers to bring their margins of victory within the betting lines.

This episode was also full of dark comedy. I got a kick out of the way Tony blamed his mother for his father giving away his dog to his mistress’s son. Poor Tony realizes that Tippy wasn’t sent out to “live in the country.” But even when we think Tony starts to feel some sympathy for his mother, he returns to blaming her for everything. Dad cheated with countless women but this was because mom was manipulative and cold. Dad wasn’t there for her when she miscarried but … not even Tony can rationalize that one, especially his lie to protect his old man. Still, it seems that Tony has to hate his mother; if he begins to see his dad’s faults, especially his infidelities, then Tony has to own up to his own. The whole mistress storyline was like a psychological exercise where the ghosts of the past begin to haunt the present. One minute Tony seemed charmed by the mistress and the next he looks disgusted. She played him a bit (for the money) but he obviously didn’t care.

Terry, regarding the writing of individual episodes, I’m curious how much leeway the screenwriter has for the specific show. Is he or she given a specific assignment, with exact parameters to be achieved, or does Chase, or do you—when you’re wearing your executive producer hat—give the writers a broad plan to follow and then participate in editing and rewriting, etc.?

There’s no question in my mind that it’s important for Tony to have many sympathetic characteristics and “real person” type problems and emotions that viewers can identify with. Do you or Chase decide what these will be, or do the other writers?

And it seems that more and more, each weekly episode has at least one self-contained story—last night’s was Christopher playing J.T. for the sucker—than I recall in the early seasons. (Another great line Chris uttered last night was telling J.T. to remember that there was no “chemical solution to a spiritual problem.”)

And Terry, WHEW, am I glad I didn’t bring up Paulie Walnuts and the Russian. Especially since Terry was a young man in the ‘80s and I was a young man in the ‘60s—and I threw away my steel cup after I decided early on that high-school football was not the extracurricular sport of choice for me.

Last night, by the way, I finally realized that the story-so-far recap before every show is designed specifically to confuse and surprise the viewer about what’s to come. Seems to me that everything highlighted in the pre-show clips was ignored in the show. But I’m looking forward to some of the action in next week’s show that was previewed last night. … On this subject, I know that sometimes those come-ons can also be misleading. The best one so far is the preview of Christopher emptying his gun at an unseen target and finding out the following week it was Tony’s car he was shooting.

Great having you aboard this week Terry.