November 14, 2002
The Sopranos

TalkLeft points me to this piece by Jay Caruso about the most recent episode of The Sopranos. I'm going to put this post under the More link, since it's got a major spoiler if you haven't seen the show yet (I just finished watching the tape from Sunday). Don't go to Jay's link if you haven't seen the show yet, either.

Jay writes about Tony killing Ralphie:

It's a risk to kill off such a central figure in the middle of the season. It's even more ironic that it happened not long after Tony admonished Paulie for wanting to kill Ralph for playing that practical joke on Paulies Mom. "This is a business!", Tony said. So what does he do? He goes and kills Ralph over a horse.

It also gave us insight into Ralph's mind. Here his son is in the hospital with an injury that may keep him in a vegative state for the rest of his life, yet he's vindictive enough to go and kill a horse because Tony was banging Ralph's ex-girlfriend.

I disagree that Ralphie killed the horse out of spite because Tony took up with Valentina. It seemed pretty clear to me that he did it for the insurance money. The horse had health problems and its upkeep was costing Ralphie a lot of money, which he needed to pay for his kid's medical care.

Given that, I found Ralphie's action to be coldly logical. However beautiful the horse was, who wouldn't put their kid's welfare first? Not that his arson was justified - even if no other horses had been hurt, he should have sold her instead of killing her. Ralphie sees his action as logical, too - "It was a fucking animal!" he yells at Tony, reminding Tony that he's not exactly a vegetarian.

What I find fascinating about this show is how the characters make moral distinctions. There are accepted rules for when you can and cannot kill a business associate, and you'd better not break them, as Johnny Sack nearly found out.

In season 2, in the episode where Christopher is in the hospital after being shot and he has a vision of hell, Tony is asked by Dr. Melfi about whether or not he thinks he's going to hell:

Tony tells Melfi how Christopher thinks he had a near-death experience. He says that it was some bullshit dream from the morphine, but now Christopher thinks he’s going to Hell. Melfi asks if he thinks Christopher will go to Hell. Tony says that Christopher doesn’t deserve Hell. Melfi asks who does. "The worst people," Tony says. "The twisted and demented psychos who kill people for pleasure." Child molesters. "The Hitlers." Not his nephew.

Melfi asks Tony if he thinks he’s going to hell. "You been listening to me?" Tony asks. "No. For the same reasons. We’re soldiers. Soldiers don’t go to hell. It’s war. Soldiers, they kill other soldiers. We’re in a situation where everybody involved knows the stakes. And if you’re gonna accept those stakes, you’ve got to do certain things. It’s business. Soldiers. We follow codes. Orders."

Melfi asks if that justifies everything he does. Tony says that Americans didn’t let the Italians in to help them. They needed subways built and worker bees to help the economy. He says that some of them weren’t happy just being workers; they wanted to stay Italian and keep things that were sacred to them, like honor and family. Tony’s leaning forward, squinting and sweating, carefully choosing his words. "And some of us wanted a piece of the action. We weren’t educated like the Americans, but we had the balls to take what we wanted. And those other fucks, those other, the, the, the, the JP Morgans, they were crooks and killers too, but that was the business, right? The American Way."

If there's one bit of consistency in the way these men act, and the way they react, it's that you're not supposed to kill someone who's innocent. (Not intentionally, anyway; things do happen, after all.) You don't go after a man's family unless you warn him about it first, so that way it becomes his fault if they end up suffering. Ralphie made the mistake of killing an innocent, and he paid for it.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out. Just as Paulie had no cause for killing Ralphie, neither did Tony. Killing him will be judged harshly, not only because of the lack of justification but because Ralphie was a big earner (another reason why Johnny Sack was ordered to leave him alone). You definitely don't mess with these guys' livelihoods.

I'd been a bit ambivalent about the season so far, but the story arcs are really cooking now - will Furio be dumb enough to make a pass at Carmela? - and I think we'll be at full speed for the climax. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 14, 2002 to TV and movies | TrackBack

But is it gonna boil just in time to go off the air for a year? That's when they lost me -- the endless wait. I lost track and interest, and am not even up to speed on what's going on today.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on November 15, 2002 2:32 PM