Week 3: And What About Paulie Walnuts?

Sopranos Final Season

Week 3: And What About Paulie Walnuts?

Sopranos Final Season

Week 3: And What About Paulie Walnuts?
Talking television.
April 23 2007 6:10 PM

Sopranos Final Season


The Sopranos. Click image to expand.
Tony's dad and young Uncle Junior

Dear Jeff,

This is the first Sopranos season I'm experiencing in high definition. That means, among other things, that I got a really good look at what Phil's boys did to Doc Santoro's right eye. Much more disgusting than Moe Green's bullet through the eyeglasses in The Godfather, but I take your point. The Godfather references are coming fast and furious. These include not only Doc Santoro's obliterated eyeball and, as you mentioned, the tomato-patch foreshadowing of Tony's possible death, but also last week's christening of Christopher and Kelli's baby, with Tony standing godfather. This may foreshadow Christopher's death because in The Godfather, Michael Corleone stood godfather to the son of his sister Connie and brother-in-law Carlo, then almost immediately had Carlo garroted (for helping the Barzini family lure Michael's hot-blooded brother Sonny to his death at a toll plaza off the Long Island Expressway).


As you note, Uncle Junior resurfaced in last night's episode, and that, too, evoked the Corleone saga, for hard-core fans anyway. That's because three decades ago, the actor who plays Junior (Dominic Chianese) played Johnny Ola, Hyman Roth's No. 2, in The Godfather, Part II. It's Ola who tells Michael,

One by one, our old friends are gone. Death—natural or not—prison—deported. Hyman Roth is the only one left, because he always made money for his partners.

That evening, Ola and Roth try and fail to kill Michael inside the Lake Tahoe compound. " In my home," Michael fumes afterward. "Where my wife sleeps. Where my children come and play with their toys."*

But I digress.

In this latest episode, we get a glimpse of an old photograph of Junior and Tony's dad, Johnny Boy (buon' anima), posing in front of Satriale's pork store. What struck me about this photograph was that Junior didn't look like Johnny Ola (i.e., Dominic Chianese many years ago); he looked like what Junior (as distinct from the actor who plays him) would have looked like many years ago. Note the characteristic frown, the wrinkled brow, the hat to cover his thinning hair; everything about him says that this guy will never rate as a mob boss. (When his time comes, in Season 1, Tony will have to give Junior a gentle push to the side.)

I feel skeptical about your suggestion that Junior may pose a future threat to Tony. True, Junior has twice tried to kill his nephew, for whom he harbors sincere affection—Junior's a complex guy—and the third try is often the charm. And Junior, as you say, shows signs of life in this episode—telling dirty jokes to his fellow inmates in a hospital for the criminally insane; hosting illicit poker games; even beating up an inmate who gets on his nerves. But by the episode's end, Junior's looking pretty dazed from the meds he's taking to control his aggression and from a severe beating at the hands of his disillusioned nuthouse protégé Carter Chong, an angry young man from a wealthy family who has some father issues to work out. (It's strongly hinted that he killed his own.) I sense the lights are going out on Junior, just as they seem to be going out on Tony, Paulie Walnuts, and (possibly) Chris-tuh-fuh. (Don't you miss how Adriana, buon' anima, used to pronounce her beloved's name?)

The show's creator, David Chase, seems to want us to think that Tony will get whacked by the self-loathing Phil Leotardo (for whom the apparent last straw with Doc Santoro was when the new mob boss reached across a dinner table to eat from Phil's plate; another example of this show's beguiling subtlety). But of course the Leotardo menace could just be Chase distracting us from the true cause of Tony's demise, if demise there will be. I like your theory that Tony's sister Janice will do him in. She's fully capable of it, as we learned several seasons back when she plugged her fiance, Richie Aprile (Tony got rid of the body for her). And as you note, this is a show more about family life than about mob life. I continue to wonder whether Tony's fuckup son A.J. will bring this house of cards down, probably through some sort of malevolent blunder.

A more manageable question, I think, is what will happen to Paulie Walnuts. In last night's episode we learned that Tony has figured out that Paulie moonlighted for Santoro's predecessor, Johnny Sack, and we saw Tony do a slow burn as Paulie ran on at the mouth to some Miami prostitutes about mob business. " 'Remember when' is the lowest form of conversation," Tony finally growled. Memory is the enemy. In various ways, Chase has been sounding this theme throughout the series, but especially in this last season. To live as Tony does requires him to live in a constant state of amnesia; that's a big part of what sent Tony to his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi, at the very start of the series. The burden of memory, apart from its metaphysical and psychological dimensions, poses a practical problem: Reminiscence, when voiced out loud, can get you locked up in the pen. And so Tony is giving serious thought to whacking Paulie. Paulie knows it, and he does precisely what I'd do if I were in his very white shoes: He sends Tony an expensive espresso machine. Paulie dreams about Big Pussy, a fellow capo and intimate friend whom Tony and Paulie had to rub out because he was ratting to the feds. Big Pussy once haunted Tony's dreams, too. His murder spooks the characters in The Sopranos more than any other. Maybe that's because he was such a big friendly fella. I'm inclined to think it's because he had the best nickname.

Which brings me to our most urgent business of all. Did you know that in Italian there are at least nine very rude slang terms for pussy? There's fica, fregna, frigna, mona, patacca, piscella, pisciatella, pucchiacha, and quaglia.

Has Eve Ensler been alerted?


Correction, April 27, 2007: In an earlier version of this exchange, Timothy Noah inadvertently dropped the phrase "come and" from this quotation. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.