Are Mobsters Really Returned to the Streets?

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 1

Are Mobsters Really Returned to the Streets?

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 1

Are Mobsters Really Returned to the Streets?
Talking television.
March 8 2004 12:58 PM

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 1

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Dear Jerry,

Todt Hill. That's the name I was looking for. It was a huge house, right? With big Greek columns and a lot of FBI-planted bugs picking up all sorts of unflattering information about Big Paulie's inability to function in the masculine manner? Did you ever meet Castellano? Not the best mobster in the world; he kind of believed his own press, don't you think?

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I agree with you: Paulie and Christopher are inevitably heading for a terrific showdown. (I'll be upset if they don't have one.) Paulie, in a way, strikes me as an utterly typical mobster: petty, sociopathic, and cheap beyond words. That was a brilliant, horrifying bit of business in the parking lot—they would have killed each other had they not found a human sacrifice to satiate their mutual need for spilled blood. But I think it's true to say that, in real life mobdom, very few so-called civilians wind up dead like that. It's terrible for business.

On the subject of Melfi, I will admit at the outset that she's not my favorite character. But she was used wisely last night. After so many years, and so many useless therapy sessions, she finally violated the ethics of psychiatry by casting moral judgment on Tony, who of course pushed her to it. I can't imagine that this relationship is going to end well, either; Tony Soprano, like many intelligent, real-life mobsters, doesn't like to be reminded that he's a sh-t of a man, violating six or seven of the Ten Commandments and living 10 or 15 lies simultaneously. (I don't know about you, but I spend more time than I should trying to deduce who is going to be left alive at the end of the next and putatively final season. Maybe we can engage in idle speculation next week.)

The most promising new development in the series is the release into society of what the show calls "The Class of '04,"—mobsters who went to jail in the halcyon Giuliani days of organized crime prosecutions and who have now served their sentences. Robert Loggia's Feech La Manna seems especially rage-filled and interesting; one can hear echoes in his self-aggrandizing speechifying of Richie Aprile, so you have to assume he and Tony will soon be brawling. The insertion of these new characters raises an interesting question, related to this issue of truth and accuracy in mob fiction. Obviously, the makers of The Sopranos, to keep their product fresh, need to return new mobsters to the streets, but is this actually a real phenomenon? If I recall correctly, sentences in the late '80s, early '90s RICO—Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations—cases were extraordinarily harsh, which led to two things: the flipping of large numbers of made men who were more committed to the idea of not dying in prison than they were to notions of what has come to be known as omerta (the code of silence); and, consequently, to the crippling of whole crime families. Which brings to mind an interesting question: Is the North Jersey mob healthier on TV than it is in reality?

Jeff

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.