TV Club

Week 7: Is the End of The Sopranos the End of the Mob Drama?

James Gandolfini as Tony

Dear all,

I must disagree with the assertion that message-making isn’t David Chase’s style, and, you’ll pardon me, Mr. Terry Winter, but I think I know a little bit more about The Sopranos than you do. Perhaps you haven’t watched each episode of The Sopranos five times, sacrificing both work and valuable child-interaction time in the process, but I have, and I see messages everywhere. For instance: Adultery is overrated; so is horse ownership; don’t date development girls; don’t get on a boat with a mob chief if you are now, or have recently been, wearing a wire; don’t put mayonnaise on a pastrami sandwich. Sorry, that’s Annie Hall, not The Sopranos (I constantly confuse the two).

Terry’s point is well-taken, although I would argue that The Sopranos has, on occasion, and in particular on the sensitive issue of Italian-American stereotyping, strayed into Message Land—you recall the episode several years back in which Silvio, Joe Colombo-style, led a protest against Columbus Day revisionism, an episode that felt like one big, predictable, self-defensive false move.

The genius of The Sopranos, of course, is that very little is pat or predictable, and that very few messages are actually sent—for example, the nuclear family isn’t condemned or, in the manner of most network television shows, exalted. It just is.

In a roundabout way, this is why I think Tony survives next week; to kill him would be to send a message that crime doesn’t pay, and my guess is that David Chase believes that, in this corrupt world, crime does, in fact, sometimes pay, and to telegraph otherwise would be dishonest. This is not to say that I think Tony will get off without consequence: His travails this season suggest that the series will end on some sort of ambivalent note, something that underscores the tension and the physical and emotional dangers in the life Tony has chosen for himself.

And Tim (and Brian, who actually worries about Meadow, which is really quite touching), I have never believed that Meadow would die, for the simple reason—and Terry’s post buttresses this notion—that there’s simply no way filmmakers of such enormous talent as David Chase and Terry Winter would steal a theme from Godfather III, which was one of the worst things to ever happen to the movies.

Tim, that was a great catch on Sitting Bull, and it allows me, in a self-serving but ultimately educational way, to bring up John J. Gotti’s Indian obsession. I didn’t have many conversations with Junior when I was writing about the Gambino family (although we did exchange letters, and he once sent me a photo of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, which I, of course, have framed), but once, while we were both trapped in an elevator at the federal courthouse in White Plains, he explained this to me: “If you look at the history of the Indians, you see that they were oppressed by the government. It’s just the same with Italian-Americans. We’re oppressed just like the Indians. It’s history repeating itself.”

The mob, of course, is disintegrating—this was an idea introduced in the very first episode of The Sopranos—and it’s not just Junior Gotti who told me he feels this (inappropriate) kinship with the American Indian. Which brings me to a question of true importance—does the end of The Sopranos mean that the mob drama will go into permanent eclipse? While the collapse of the actual mob would be a cause for civic joy, the death of the mob drama would be a tragedy.

Terry, is Brooklyn Rules the salvation of the mob movie? Or is this the end of Rico?