The Sopranos & the Rainy Season

The only upside of this endless fucking rain we’ve been having is that it’s prompted me to finally get serious about The Sopranos, which I’ve been holding in reserve for just such an occasion. It’s all good, but the show really hits a peak in the fourth season, where I am now. Each episode is a little universe unto itself. I’ve watched several times now one where Johnny Sack, underboss of the New York family, goes insane with rage over a joke Joe Pantoliano’s character makes about his refrigerator-sized wife.

Spoiler alert: I’m not going to hold anything back, so if you haven’t seen this yet, by all means go rent it right now, then come back and finish reading after you’ve watched it.

Vince Curatola gives an incredible performance as Johnny. There’s no crack in the illusion whatsoever; only much later does it occur to you that it’s someone acting, pretending to feel and say and do those things. The contrast between the sweetness of Johnny’s love for his wife and the violent anger it inspires in him is an amazing thing to behold. You watch with horror as he undoes himself over this insult, insisting that the Pantoliano character, Ralphie, be killed. Everyone around him, including his boss, Carmine, views this as a gross overreaction, but Johnny can’t let it go. He hires an assassin to take out Ralphie despite Carmine’s disapproval, a major violation of the rules. Meanwhile, a plot has been set in motion to whack Johnny, who is now considered bad for business.

For a while it really looks like two guys are going to die over a fat joke. Then the whole thing just evaporates. Johnny leaves his house on his way to Rhode Island, where he’s going to disappear, just as a psycho-looking Asian guy walks into Ralphie’s hotel with a gun. Then Johnny remembers something he meant to bring along on his trip and returns home, where he finds his wife in the basement digging into her secret stash of candy bars. In that moment, the veil is lifted from his eyes, and he calls off the hit on Ralphie, which in turn allows him to go on living. I’m in awe of the way this whole thing is orchestrated; it’s totally crazy and totally convincing. Enough to make me forget the rain, for a while at least.

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