Sopranos Final Season
Dear Jeff and Brian,
First, a hearty benvenuto to Brian. Now that you've established you aren't the troubled visionary behind Pet Sounds, I can let go of my resentment against your charging $75 for the 40th anniversary limited edition action figure. (And that's the unsigned edition!) I am mightily impressed that you've eaten at Pizzaland, but I wonder exactly what you mean when you say you've been to the Bing. It's my understanding that the Bada Bing! strip club is a fictional locale invented by David Chase. Please explain.
I note with mild embarrassment that I'm the only guy in this dialogue who has never reported on the M----. (After seeing what Chris-tuh-fuh did to his writer friend J.T. in Episode 82, there's noway I'm going to spell out that word.) I bet you guys have both eaten at Rao's on 114th Street, too. Me, I buy the sauce at Whole Foods. I do know somebody named Patsy, but it's short for Patricia, not Pasquale. She's my sister, not a mobster. She never complains about anything I write about her, as Jeff's Patsy Conte does, and her sons are too well brought up to pour sulfuric acid on the feet of deadbeats, as the son of TheSopranos' Patsy Parisi does. Not that I know about, anyway.
Chase's strategy for this final season should be clear by now. He is fixing things so that Tony's downfall could come from anybody, anywhere, at any time. Potential assassins, prosecution witnesses, and miscellaneous catalysts in his ruin now include Phil Leotardo, Paulie Walnuts, Hesh Rabkin, Tony's sister Janice (a favorite theory of Jeff's), Tony's pathetic and resentful son, A.J. (a favorite theory of mine), and now Chris-tuh-fuh. (Brian, you mentioned how Tony insulted Christopher's manhood by criticizing his grilling technique. You might also have mentioned the jealous look Christopher shot in the direction of Tony and Bobby Bacala as the two huddled in a corner of his yard. There was a time Tony's handpicked successor was sure to be Christopher, but now it's looking more like Tony's brother-in-law Bobby will get the job, even though he lacks much experience at icing people.) These days it seems the only friend Tony can really count on is Silvio Dante, whom we haven't seen much of lately. Will Silvio start to turn against Tony in next week's episode? Will he bring in Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons to help finish Tony off? (I still don't know who Southside Johnny played in that earlier episode, but he's lurking out there somewhere, and maybe he'll call in the Asbury Jukes.)
Then there are the Arabs. One theory I'm starting to toy with is that the Arabs really are undercover cops, and that agents Harris and Goddard are asking Christopher and Tony to pass information about them—lest Meadow or Carmela perish under the Hudson as terrorists blow up the Lincoln Tunnel—purely to divert any suspicion about their sting. Didn't Christopher sell the Arabs guns once already? Maybe the game isn't to prosecute Tony as the mobster he is but rather to frame him as a terrorist. That would be a way to end the show realistically (mob bosses never last long) without the Hays Office-style moralizing that Chase has said he deplores. I'm halfway serious about this. Brian, you have inside knowledge. Am I warm?
But now I'm completely contradicting my stern lecture from last week about the evils of trying to guess how The Sopranos will end.
Brian, you mentioned that Carmela was reading Fred Barnes. Specifically, it was a paperback of Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush. I haven't read the book, but apparently it's a paean to Bush's leadership skills that Barnes had the misfortune to publish in January 2006, just as the Iraq war was sending Bush's approval ratings into the Dumpster. Its inclusion in the episode strikes me as a fairly broad joke; though Carm probably votes Republican, I seriously doubt she'd be interested enough in politics to read Barnes' book, or any nonfiction book about public affairs. What's the joke? That Carmela could use a few tips, because the Tony Soprano administration is in an advance state of collapse, just like you-know-who's.
This leads me to propose that we play a little game: Bush-Soprano Mix 'n' Match! Name a past or present member of the Bush administration or family and find the corresponding figure from TheSopranos' cast of characters. None of what follows, of course, is meant to suggest that anyone connected with the Bush administration or family engages in criminal activities, or associates with anyone who does, except for Ken Lay. If you need to refresh your memory on Sopranos characters, click here. If you need to refresh your memory on Bush White House players, click here. (Both lists, sadly, are a little out of date, but they're better than nothing.)
I think we can all agree that Barbara Bush is Livia Soprano. ("People think she's a sweet, grandmotherly Aunt Bea type," Laura Bush quipped at the 2005 White House Correspondents' Dinner. "She's actually more like, mmm, Don Corleone." Reader, if you think she was kidding, read my late wife Marjorie Williams' chapter about the former first lady in The Woman at the Washington Zoo.) The president is, of course, Tony Soprano, but I don't think it would be accurate or fair to say that Laura is Carmela. Condoleezza Rice is Carmela. Just as Carmela decided that a spec house was worth reuniting with her unfaithful mobster husband, Condi decided that the State Department was worth never saying "you're wrong" to her tragically misguided work husband and commander in chief. Or maybe Condi is Dr. Melfi. Like Melfi, Rice is both confidante and enabler. Brent Scowcroft is Uncle Junior, minus the dementia. He may not be a blood relative, but he's the president's father's best friend (not to mention former national security adviser), he's short on hair, and he thinks the don is way too big for his britches.
Vice President Dick Cheney is Ralphie Cifaretto, i.e., the administration's least-controllable hothead. Doug Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy, is Richie Aprile, i.e., its second-least-controllable hothead.
George Tenet, memoirist and former Central Intelligence Agency chief, is Paulie Walnuts, a company man with a chip on his shoulder. Like Paulie, Tenet is wary of or outright hostile to rivals for the boss's affection, and like Paulie, he doesn't dare challenge the boss head-on. He's a little too excitable, slow to accept responsibility, and nowhere near slick enough to hide his many liabilities.
John Dilulio, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during Bush's first term, is "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero. He ratted out the White House for not taking policy seriously and got whacked (which in this context translates to "was silenced quickly").
Alberto Gonzales? Just to make things difficult, the president nicknamed the attorney general "Fredo," an unconscious allusion to the weakest and least-intelligent Corleone family member in The Godfather. (In the Bush administration, the price of loyalty is humiliation.) Gonzales is perhaps Bobby Bacala—unstintingly loyal and none too bright. Though catch me tomorrow and I may say that Andrew Card, the president's former chief of staff, is Bobby.
OK, guys, help me out. I'd love to find a Johnny Sack somewhere in the Bush administration, but it isn't coming to me. No one has Johnny's moral grandeur. Too bad Bob Dole is retired.
Inside the Beltway-ly,
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.