If Gangsters Can Kill, Why Can't They Cuckold?

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 5

If Gangsters Can Kill, Why Can't They Cuckold?

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 5

If Gangsters Can Kill, Why Can't They Cuckold?
Talking television.
April 5 2004 11:30 AM

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 5

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Dear Jerry and Jerry,

OK, I was going to open my opus of an e-mail by noting what a magnificent episode we all just saw. If nothing else, it should win the Emmy for Most Comprehensive Discussion of Shit in a Prime-Time Drama. The corporeality of this show is stunning sometimes: The last taboo on television is the toilet, I think. (Even in movies bathroom scenes are rare: Remember Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut? It's the only thing I remember about that movie, except for the tortuous piano-pinging and Sydney Pollack.)

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But instead of focusing on irritable bowel syndrome and irritable Christopher syndrome, let me cut right past the (David) chase—sorry—to something momentous just imparted by Jerry Shargel. For those of you reading this who are not mob reporters, you should know that Jerry Shargel is the best mob lawyer in America. (I don't cover the mob anymore, so I derive no benefit from praising him.) By the way, Jerry, is "mob lawyer" OK? Or do you prefer "lawyer who happens to represent alleged mobsters"? (The larger question, for another time, is "Does the mob really even exist?")

So what we have this morning is Jerry Shargel telling us that Tony Soprano is a fake. He's too mook-like to run a family (we'll need a precise definition of that word, gentlemen, before the day is up). In other words, the very heart of the show is artificial, unreal, made-for-TV. I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I object.

Jerry S., please explain further. A real boss doesn't see a shrink? Do you know this for sure? And a real boss, in the privacy of a doctor's office, doesn't ask for general anesthesia?

I'll admit Tony is becoming more unsympathetic as time goes on—and not because of his cruelty, but because of his weaknesses. But I can't believe you're telling us that there's never been a mob boss with Tony's history of anxiety and fear. And I certainly don't believe that there's never been a boss who made a move on a made man's wife. These guys break rules, that's what they do. If they can kill their friends, why can't they cuckold them? Of course, Jerry Capeci, the human encyclopedia of mob sin, will correct me if I'm wrong.

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Since we have you this week, Jerry S., could you tell us who you consider to be the model of a great mob boss? (I mean "great," of course, within the moral universe of gangsters, not in the moral universe of actual humans.) And don't say Carlo Gambino. Everyone says Carlo Gambino.

A couple of more points, on the general brilliance of last night's episode: There's a great David Chase moment when Tony's Cadillac Escalade flips on its side, which leads Tony to arrive at exactly the wrong conclusion about SUVs, which is that they save lives, not that they roll over and play dead as soon as they're faced with a raccoon in the road. Chase told Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times not long ago that, in the regular television world, "the function of an hour drama is to reassure the American people that it's O.K. to go out and buy stuff." Boy, is Chase mocking us. And we love it.

Another point: I have to admit that Leon Wieseltier, in last week's exchange, was right when he wrote of Carmela: "She is no different from the rest of them; and her ostentatious truthfulness toward Tony is just a paradoxical form of hypocrisy, since she will not act on what she knows about him in any way that would deprive her of the blandishments of his crimes. She is offended by adultery, not by robbery and murder." At the end of last night's episode, Carmela shows up with Tony and Christopher and Adriana at Artie's restaurant to help Tony save face. A horrible cave on her part. I suppose she doesn't want to lose the house.

One final thing: Did anyone notice the resurrection of "Disrespecting the Bing"? (For a full explanation of "Disrespecting the Bing," see Tim Noah's exegesis on Slate. As Tim wrote, "When you say you disrespected the Bing, you are pleading guilty to the lesser offense.") Last night, Christopher shot up a mob boss's car, waved a gun in a mob boss's club, and threatened to kill the mob boss himself. I agree with Jerry S., by the way, that Christopher, in real life, would be dead. But last night, he survived. Tony decided to sweep his sins away, all of them except for one: Throwing food at Vito. Tony demanded that Christopher make that right. A great management trick from a clever mob boss. No, Jerry (S.)?

Best,

Jeff

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