TV Club

Why Doesn’t Tony Soprano Behave Like a Mafia Boss?

Dear Terry, Jeff,

I’m thrilled to be back at work after some spectacular free time in the Caribbean—I’ll let our readers guess which of those statements is a joke—and glad to have Terry Winter joining us for this week’s rap session about America’s favorite gangsters. (The people in Ireland seem to like The Sopranos, too, since Matt Cooper of National Irish Radio has asked me to chat with him on his show today.)

Since Jeff has already asked Terry a barrel of questions, I’ll hold off for now. I’ll try to squeeze in one or two the next time. I am familiar with Terry’s bona fides, though, and happy that three guys from Brooklyn are comparing notes, so to speak. But for now, though, I’ll get to my favorite story-within-the-story from last night’s episode, what I’ll call the Mafia Drug Rehab Method, as exemplified by Christopher’s treatment of the loser-TV-writer character, J.T. Great stuff. Chris takes advantage of a guy he knows has a compulsive personality simply by inserting another potentially devastating vice/addiction into his life while supposedly trying to help J.T. battle his drug problems.

He hooks J.T. for $60K, beats him to a pulp when he doesn’t pay up, and then, in the best scene in the episode, when a battered and bruised J.T. tells Chris that he could not reach his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor and went back to using heroin because of all his money problems—basically because of everything that Chris has caused and enabled—Chris asks him, “Why didn’t you call me?” And he said it with a straight face, like a true gangster. Finally, with his victim going off to rehab, the benevolent Chris gives J.T. book value for his sports car and tells him not to worry, they’ll work out a repayment schedule when he cleans himself up. That should really give him something good to look forward to, make him want to get straight again. Priceless.

As Chris behaves more and more like a gangster, the entire hierarchy of the family seems to be cracking up, with Junior becoming depressed and Tony now not sure if he loves/hates his father as much or less than he love/hates his mother.

The Tony-also-hates-his-father segments made for some interesting interactions between Tony and Dr. Melfi, and between Tony and his crew—as usual, Tony lies and/or exaggerates everything that he learns about his father’s relationship with his former comare, Fran Felstein All of this goes to the point that Jerry Shargel made a few weeks ago: Tony is appearing less and less like a Mafia boss. On that note, by the way, I thought that Tony giving Fran the entire $150,000 that came from his father’s scam was not something that any Mafia boss in real life would have done.

Tony’s saving grace, from the gangster perspective, was the way he handled Frank Leotardo and his efforts to avoid him after Tony gave Leotardo five days to come up with the $40,000 he owed him. It was unbefitting a Mafia boss to be careening through the streets in a wild chase scene, but Tony’s actions after Leotardo crashed—and was in agony, stuck in the front seat of his car with an expanded airbag in his stomach—befit a tough-guy gangster. He reached into the car, grabbed Leotardo, and told him to come up with the money he owed, or else.

In terms of so-called critical feedback, Terry, I thought there were too many scenes with Tony and the Fran character, played by Polly Bergen. They seemed to drag along and slow things down—at least to me. Throughout a few of Tony’s sessions with Fran, I found myself wondering: Where were the FBI agents and Adriana? What happened to the Korean businessman that Tony B. bludgeoned? When will the shooting start in the budding New York mob war?