April 17, 2006

"Human frailty, it makes me sick sometimes."

Said Christopher somewhere near the beginning of last night's "Sopranos." I jotted down the quote and meant to do a substantial post last night, but I got tired of the episode, which was relentlessly about Vito's homosexuality. Okay, I get it! I don't think Vito was ever an interesting character, and now we're watching whole episodes full of his comic/tragic end? That is, I think it was the whole episode. I fell asleep halfway through, and now I'll have to start over again. Did it get better? Adam at Throwing Things says it was the worst episode this season.

Actually, I don't find Vito comic or tragic. It's as though they were planning endings for different characters, and they came to Vito, realized they'd never given him any interesting qualities, and quite apart from that, noticed that they'd never dealt with issues of homosexuality, so they just went ahead and made Vito gay so he'd have a final story as they wrapped up all the characters in the final season.

I woke up in time to watch the new episode of "Big Love." This was a well-written episode, with lots of characters and story lines, but a single theme: the problem the first wife -- the only legally married wife -- presents for the other wives. Grace Zabriskie got a lot of screen time, which I love. I could watch her fret and purse her lips for a whole hour. I love when she seems both very confused and sharply knowing. And I quite adore Chloe Sevigny -- so grim and conniving, but sad. Both Zabriskie and Sevigny play second wives on the show, and both are ravaged by their second-rate status. The hope they see lies in lording it over wives lower in the hierarchy. Sevigny's Nicki loves to oppress third wife Margene and is thrilled at the prospect of a fourth wife, as if having another dog to kick would really make life swell.


Robert said...

The Vito storyline seemed understated and powerful to me. This man is obviously in Hell, and is anguished, twisted and tortured inside. But all we see externally is a calm, slightly sad, fat Italian guy who looks like he's taking a vacation.

The storyline isn't tacked on; it's clearly there to show the increasing moral distance between Tony and his associates, but how he's unable to make meaningful change because it would threaten the acceptance he's found there, the loss of which would be intolerable to him.

Dave said...

Re: Sopranos. Yes, the issue of homosexuality was tiresome, but perhaps it's also a realistic portrayal of the extent to which the mob is bothered/intimidated by gays.

As for whether it was the worst episode of the season--I don't know.

Big Love: I didn't watch the whole thing, but it seems to me Margene has a thing for the oldest son (Tripplehorn's character's son, whose name I don't know.)

PatCA said...

"...it's clearly there to show the increasing moral distance between Tony and his associates."

I think you're right. I hope you're right. Is Vito going to end up in Vermont selling antiques?? But add to the Vito story Meadow's voicing the leftish talking points re Muslims and the Patriot Act and rounding people up and how they wouldn't do it to Jews, blah blah. I hope Chase is not indulging himself here and really has a story line. What a break of faith with those who so admire him! If he posed his beliefs in a dramatically effective fashion, we might be convinced. But these dull stump speeches? No.

As a constrast, see Inside Man, also somehwat political, particularly the scene where the Sikh is scolding Denzel for the cops' roughing him up after the robbery and all the hassles of being mistaken for Arab since 9/11. "Yeah, but I bet you can get a cab," Denzel counters, and they laugh. It lightens the whole scene and makes the point: life isn't easy for anybody in NY, so get over yourself, Dude.

David Boyd said...

I hope Chase is not indulging himself here and really has a story line.

If he was indulging himself, he'd use (or invent) a more sympathetic character than Meadow. What he's doing is contrasting young, liberal, idealistic Meadow dealing with non-personal injustices and pragmatic Meadow when it comes to the family business.

Joe said...

Chris's comment about human frailty came as he left his AA meeting to have a cigarette, somewhat ironic.
Minor quibbles: Vito is in NH, not VT. He entered the antique store and noticed the "Live free or die" licence plate, then the proprietor tells him he is a natural, has an eye for antiques. I think Vito is going to start a new life there. The comment about Jews came from the Muslim character talking to Meadow, not from Meadow herself.
As much as Tony would like to keep Vito on because he is his best earner, the troops will not stand for it, so Tony must reject him, much as he had to beat up his driver last week to reassert his power for the underlings.

PatCA said...

David: I guess if Meadow becomes the Michael Corleone of the family and gets "pulled back in" that would reinforce your theory. Right now, to me, Meadow is still the idealist. So I guess we will just have to see where the story goes.

I know the Muslim made the comment, but it was presented as sympathetic in the scene, as opposed to the one in Inside Man.

AFter seeing gratuitous (not supporting the story) political swipes in Criminal Intent, ER, Cold Case and of course West Wing, I just hope Chase is not doing the same. If anybody can make good drama and politics, it would be him. Remember, DAvid, if you want to send a message, call Western Union!

Robert R. said...

I suspect that the running theme for the season is going to be the impossibility of leaving the mafia. We had a suicide in the opening episode over that conflict and I suspect that this is just another drawn out example. Tony has blithely commented before that the only way out for him is death or jail and he's certainly had his brush with the former already this season.

Joe Hogan said...

One interesting note in last night's episode was the insertion of a scene between Tony and Chris in the back room of Satriale's. Chris references the riots over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. Since previous reports were that the current episodes were shot last summer, this scene must have been an add-on following the world-wide riots in January and February. Was it added to possibly balance the scene of the poor oppresed Afghanis in Meadows office and her subsequent attack on the Patriot Act?

Perhaps this also explains the presence in the credits of four writers for this episode.

Steve said...

It's as though they were planning endings for different characters, and they came to Vito, realized they'd never given him any interesting qualities, and quite apart from that, noticed that they'd never dealt with issues of homosexuality, so they just went ahead and made Vito gay so he'd have a final story as they wrapped up all the characters in the final season.

I read somewhere, I forget now, that Joe Gannascoli, the actor who plays Vito Spatafore, came up with the idea of his character being a homosexual and went to the writers of the show with it. His primarily motive was to get more of a role on the show.

So while it is interesting story-line to some extent, it indeed does feel tacked on, and overly drawn out.

SippicanCottage said...
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grumpyTA said...

These are such interesting comments.

I think a theme for the season - or at least the last few episodes - has been that masculinity, or rather, a dying masculinity. Johnny Sack cried at his daughter's wedding. Tony beat up his hyper-masculine cousin to prove that he is still a man, or so I think. Vito was finally outted. Paulie discovered that he's a bastard. Silvio found out that he doesn't have what it takes to be a boss.

As for the episode being terrible - I don't think it was bad at all. The Vito story line was a bit played out, though, and some of the puns were a little over the top. It seems to me that Vito is going to die, one way or another, very, very soon. Tony's session with Dr. Melfi was great - I just love Dr. Melfi - and Meadow's contradictory politics will, I think, come back to bite her in the ass. We'll see.

PatCA said...

Well said, grumpy. Maybe that's why he had the scene about the riots--another example of pathology. Tony, also, seems worried about terrorism. Perhaps he will become an informant re Christopher's friends if he should need a bargaining chip and thus deal the decisive blow in the GWOT? The last scene would be Tony getting a medal...LOL!

Re that pathology, and Big Love, I saw some academic talking heads on 60 Minutes who have studied societies with a shortage of marriageable women, and too many undomesticated males, and they say it always leads to social and political trouble. Not a good advert for alternative lifestyles.

Bad Penny said...

The show has always been about the conflict between two moral systems. The mob's system is amoral familialism, that is, whatever is good for the family, is good. Society at large has a different moral system, which says that there are absolutes of wrong and right and that no man is above the law.

Vito's homosexuality highlights the difference between the two systems, and shows how the larger system affects the mob system. Tony wants to say live and let live, but his society urges him to kill Vito.

Also in last night's show the role of women in the mob was highlighted. Angie runs a business and is loan sharking. I think that next week Carmella will end up dealing with the building inspector all by herself and will be successful at intimidating him into doing what she wants.

Remember at the wedding how, when Meadow heard that the gov't made Johnny Sack pay for the metal detectors and security, she said loudly "The Government did that?"

I think she will transfer her concern for the downtrodden to the mob and become a mob lawyer defending her family from the government.

So all in all, I think we are seeing the birth of a kinder gentler big-tent mob that lets gays and women earn money and kick up to the big guy.

Michael Farris said...

"The show has always been about the conflict between two moral systems. The mob's system is amoral familialism, that is, whatever is good for the family, is good."

I've never seen the show, but this 'amoral familialism' is the day to day social system for a very large chunk of the planet's population (everywhere but parts of Europe and European-based cultures). It's sort of the default human social model.

It's not entirely amoral, but the ethics break down to a question of simple (and absolute) group loyalties. There are often strict rules of ethics for members of the group/family/clan toward each other, but what you do to non-members doesn't matter as long as you're not disloyal to the family/clan/tribe, this is the ultimate sin.

Joan said...

I think the writers dropped the ball with Vito last night. The issue wasn't so much Vito's homosexuality as the fact that Vito has been leading this whole other secret life that none of them knew about. This could have effectively echoed back to Phil's comments last week after Johnny Sac broke down, "If they can make him cry, what else can they make him do?"

Anyone who has a secret is vulnerable, and Vito's big secret makes him especially vulnerable. Obviously all of these guys are great at duplicity, having their public lives and their Family lives. But Vito added another layer on top of that, and to me, that should have been the big issue. How can Tony or anyone trust Vito, knowing he has been sneaking around on them all this time? What else is he doing?

I think as soon as it's established that Vito is never to return, Finn will break up with Meadow, or Finn will provoke Meadow into dumping him (probably a better route to take.) For all his weaknesses, Finn can still see what's going on with the Family much better than Meadow can. She's wilfully refusing to see. I'm not sure Finn can get over that. I am sure he shouldn't. I have never particularly liked Finn, but he never earned the stranglehold that Meadow has had on him every since he saw Vito that early morning.

Bad Penny said...

grumpyta, I hadn't noticed that theme, but now that you mention it, yeah, that was definitely there. Hmmm. How will Tony take it when Carm strong arms the building inspector?

loner said...

Since we're speculating...

I think "Live Free or Die" might be the last we see of Vito (who chose(?) to live free) unless Chase does the same sort of thing Ball did to conclude Six Feet Under and then I wouldn't be surprised to see him running a Bed & Breakfast with his partner.

This season is about whether it's possible to (once involved even if it's at a generational remove)leave the life without being killed. From the previews, it looks like next week it'll be Chris who looks at his options. The answer, in The Sopranos anyway, is yes—and no.

My last speculation for today is that when it comes to Tony the answer is going to be: No. He'll die by or in his pool and the last thing he'll see will be geese.

Seven Machos said...

I would simply like to say that I live abroad right now and I can't see The Sopranos. These threads on this blog are really great for me to vicariously follow what is going on.

AJ Lynch said...

Didn't see the episode and am surprised to learn Christopher even was aware of the Muslim cartoons. Cause he is really stunod!

Elizabeth said...


Just speculating, but there's maybe there's a difference between what the mob tolerates outside its own organization, and how it reacts to its own. I googled "cosa nostra homosexuality" and got a news report on a 2003 trial of a mob guy accused of killing his boss for having gay sex: "'Nobody's gonna respect us if we have a gay homosexual boss sitting down discussing La Cosa Nostra business,' Capo told jurors in Manhattan federal court."

On the other hand, gay bars have a history of being in buildings owned by the mob; this wasn't out of enlightenment on the mafia's part, but simply a good business deal. Gay bar operators, especially pre-gay rights era, had a hard time finding other landlords willing to rent to them.

PatCA said...

Well, we know Chase is planting a lot of things that will need a payoff later. Should be quite a ride.

I can't remember which famouse director said this, but it's true here--if you show a gun in act one, you better shoot it later.

paul a'barge said...

Vito drops out of the Mafia, hides out in New Hampshire, hangs out with the gay guys who run the antique business and tries to hide when the Soprano family tries to track him down. Coolness.

How about that phone in the asphalt! LOL, right?

somross said...

Maybe Vito - last seen handling a valuable vase - will figure out an antiques angle for the Mafia he can bring back to Tony. Small-town, antiquey New Hampshire - complete with the trusting Yankee B & B proprietor and the friendly, muscled johnnycake purveyor - looked like paradise compared to Satriale's and the Bada Bing (especially for Vito). Virgin territory?

Samuelwilliam said...
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