If Dr. Melfi were here, she might inquire whether your parents hurried you through toilet training. I am not a psychiatrist, but I play one in TV Club. Yes, Little Vito (Emo son of Vito Spatafore, the wiseguy whacked by Phil Leotardo for being a fanook) pinched a loaf in the school locker-room shower and then stepped in it. Yes, it was disgusting. But was it really more disgusting than an eye being shot off, or a decapitated head being placed in a bowling bag, or a corpse being carved up with an electric knife? (For Wikipedia's handy list of Sopranos deaths, complete through last week's episode, click here.) Compared with these much bloodier indignities to the human body, a person smearing himself with feces in a public place strikes me as mild stuff. The fact that this particular desecration was self-imposed doesn't really change things; after all, The Sopranos has included at least four suicides. We saw Eugene Pontecorvo, the wiseguy Tony wouldn't allow to retire to Florida, swinging from a rope. Was that a less horrific sight than Little Vito wallowing in ordure?
(The only criticism I'm inclined to level against this scene is that Chase may have been narrowcasting to an audience of one, the celebrated and anal-expulsive literary lion Norman Mailer. On publication of the excrementally focused Ancient Eveningsin 1983, Anthony Burgess reputedly quipped that only now did he realize Mailer had meant it as a compliment when he'd told Burgess that his latest novel was shit. More recently, Mailer has said that The Sopranos comes closer to being the Great American Novel than any work of contemporary fiction. It doesn't strike me as far-fetched that Chase would choose to return the favor by weaving Little Vito's coprophlic moment into the narrative as a tribute to the Master.)
Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?
A strict Freudian would say that your heightened aversion to scatology makes you tidy in other dimensions of your life—say, in your anxiety about whether The Sopranos will tie up its various plot threads and themes before the final season is complete? I've observed your growing agitation as Chase introduces new minor characters. I would answer that these new characters—in addition to Little Vito, we've had Sydney Pollack * as the prison-hospital orderly and former oncologist Warren Feldman, who was busted for killing his wife, and Carter Chong, the rich kid who idolizes and then beats up Uncle Junior—enrich the series. The show's writers have a knack for drawing interesting characters in quick strokes, and I see no reason for them to stop just because the show is coming to a close. Little Vito's sad rebellion against his dead father provided an occasion for Tony to cloak stinginess in self-righteousness. Rather than give the boy's mother $100,000 so they can begin a new life in Maine, Tony says he'll pay to send the boy to reform school. What he doesn't mention is that he's piling up some scary debt.
You were dead-on last week when you said the most important development was Tony's asking Hesh for a $200,000 bridge loan. The unifying theme of last night's episode was that the noose is tightening: Tony's attempts to gamble his way out of a financial hole are not working, and people are starting to take notice. It's tearing Tony and Carmela's marriage apart. Even Melfi is finally threatening to drop Tony for showing up infrequently for therapy (or, as Tony calls it, "terapy"). The ax is getting ready to fall. We don't know where, or how, or whether the whole thing is a feint. We aren't going to know. Why not just sit back and let the story unfold?
This week's best moments, as you note, involved the tense conversations between Hesh and Tony about when Tony would pay him back the $200,000. Tony demonstrated his genius at making himself the victim of any situation in which he's at fault, and Hesh's concerns that Tony would whack Hesh to avoid paying him back were not off-base. Hesh, incidentally, is at the top of my list of underutilized Sopranos characters. He's an even-tempered mensch on the surface and a bitter, angry fellow just beneath.
I'd love to get your thoughts on last night's two celebrity cameos. Nancy Sinatra was introduced, possibly as a recurring character, serenading Phil as he celebrated his promotion to New York boss. What do you think Nancy's father, Ol' Blue Eyes (buon' anima), would say about his own flesh and blood making an implicit gag out of daddy's Mob connections? I think Frank would be hopping mad. (The Chairman was reportedly furious when Mario Puzo wrote Johnny Fontaine, a thinly disguised Sinatra character, into The Godfather.) I suspect the deciding factor for Nancy was when the Sopranos producers promised she wouldn't have to sing "These Boots Are Made for Walking."
The other celebrity cameo I managed to miss entirely. The final credits said that Southside Johnny (of the Asbury Jukes, a band whose most memorable albums were produced by Steve Van Zandt, who of course plays Silvio Dante) made an appearance as himself. Where? I missed it. My friend Bill Barol, in whose company I've seen Southside Johnny perform at least twice, e-mailed me to say he missed it too. Did you catch Southside?
Overall, it sounds as though I enjoyed last night's episode much more than you did. But we can probably agree that having Hesh's girlfriend Renata drop dead at the very end (of a stroke, apparently, but I know that only because it says so on HBO's Sopranos Web site), was contrived and lame.