Tony Soprano Looks for the Road Less Traveled
By JERRY CAPECI
March 23, 2007
The steady genius that David Chase and his crafty crew of co-conspirators have brought to "The Sopranos," their award winning HBO series, has been to blend the antics of genuine wiseguys with a whiff of whimsical fantasy, ranging from pesky ducks to dream sequences.
Given that extra pinch of oregano that Mr. Chase mixes in each week, it would be foolhardy to predict what he has in store for Tony Soprano and all the familiar characters as the show sets out for its homestretch on April 8.
This is television, after all, so Tony could become the first mob astronaut and fly solo to Mars to launch a new extraterrestrial Bada Bing (which could then be used for a spin-off series). But he could easily end up like any number of real New York or New Jersey Mafia bosses. The question is, after nearly a decade of watching this family life, of loving and hating this Jersey giant, how will we judge Tony Soprano in the end? In the real world of the Mafia, there are four ways out of the business:
There are good odds that Tony will end up like Paul " Big Paul" Castellano ? dead on the sidewalk with consigliare Silvio Dante sprawled alongside him on the street after arriving for a dinner meeting at Artie Bucco's joint. That's how Castellano and Tommy Billotti famously got theirs outside Manhattan's Sparks Steak House when four assassins dressed in trench coats and Cossack-style fur hats gunned them down a few days before Christmas, in 1985. Castellano, a cousin and brother-in-law of crime family patriarch Carlo Gambino, had been trained as a butcher (like Tony Soprano's old man) and became very successful in the meat and poultry business. A hand picked successor of Gambino's, Big Paul forgot that the rules gangsters live and die by are different from those governing most businessmen. Ambitious underling John Gotti reminded him.
Or Tony could end up like Carmine "Lilo" Galante, shot dead, an after-dinner cigar still clenched in his teeth, with Artie and Paulie Walnuts also blown away as collateral damage in the bloodletting.
Galante, a notorious heroin trafficker who had run the Bonanno family's drug importation business from Montreal in the 1950s, got his on the outdoor rear patio of Joe and Mary's Italian American Restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the summer of 1979. The cigar-chomping Galante was marked for death by the Commission, the mob's ruling body, for attempting to take control from the reigning Bonanno family boss, who was imprisoned at the time. He paid with his life. So did the restaurant owner and his son.
Like Gotti, Tony could be convicted of murder and sentenced to life, not for killing his boss, but for whacking any number of other victims, including his cousin, Tony Blundetto, or his nephew's fianc?e, Adriana La Cerva. Christopher could play the major turncoat role in a final act of betrayal.
We could imagine a last scene of a grim and time-ravaged Tony, sitting alone on a thin mattress in a gray cell muttering to himself, his only audience a metal toilet with no lid.
That's how Gotti spent his last years. After a brief reign, which began when the swashbuckling Dapper Don ordered the spectacular Midtown assassination of Castellano, Gotti died of cancer in a prison hospital at 60. In a Gottilike plot twist, Tony's son, A.J., could reluctantly take over the crime family and later beat a racketeering charge. Meadow could drop out of law school and become a best-selling author and star in a reality show about her life as the daughter of a Mafia don. Carmela could dabble in water colors, specializing in still-life landscape.
Or Tony could end up in the same boat as a real-life waste management expert, Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, the boss of the Luchese family who was sentenced to 100 years in prison and died therein at 88.
Corallo, who earned his nickname from an uncanny ability to "duck" under the long arm of the law (that is, until he was nailed along with the other four family leaders in the historic Commission case), was the last Mafia boss to do right by his crime family when he was convicted back in 1986. Unlike all the others since, he abdicated, giving the Lucheses the opportunity to shift for themselves rather than be guided by an egotistical, jailed-for-life boss more interested in himself than the welfare of the soldiers still on the street.
There are also the happily-ever-after possibilities. Like Joseph " Joe Bananas" Bonanno, who stepped down and retired to Tucson in the late 1960s to end family feuding and appease the Commission, Tony could give up the reins of the family entirely in a special new-age mob deal to avoid looming bloodshed.
Bonanno, who wrote a book about his life and enjoyed the royalties until the ripe old age of 97, lived the life of a millionaire while serving less than two years in prison. The youngest of 24 Mafia bosses to be sanctioned by the newly formed Mafia Commission in 1931, Bonanno drew the ire of the ruling body 33 years later for plotting to whack two of his rival bosses. Rather than be killed, he wisely accepted their offer to get out of town. He relocated to Tucson, where he became a self-described "venture capitalist."
Tony could also follow the lead of the boss of the so-called real Sopranos, the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family, whose boss, Simone "Sam the Plumber" DeCavalcante, retired to Florida, where he died in 1997.
Inducted into the mob by his wiseguy father in the 1940s, Sam the Plumber was family boss in the early 1960s when the FBI, which was involved in widespread illegal bugging of mobsters across the country, tapped a Kenilworth, N.J., plumbing company that served as his headquarters. Thousands of hours of conversations became public ? and the subject matter of two books ? when DeCavalcante's lawyer demanded that the feds turn over all illegally obtained conversations of his client, and the feds obliged by filing them in court.
Then there is the unthinkable, the ultimate insult. As burly Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino did three years ago, Tony could join Team America and confound Christopher, Uncle Junior, Bobby Bacala, and all the rest by becoming a turncoat. Massino, the so-called Last Don who was convicted of seven murders on the testimony of eight mob turncoats, including his brother-in-law, caved in and looked to cooperate right after the jury pronounced him guilty.
Tony might be so inclined. During a dream sequence in one Season 5 episode, he was seen clutching a copy of the "Valachi Papers," the story of the first mob turncoat. "I've done my homework," he told a bystander. Tony might see the light before he gets arrested and make a deal for himself to pursue the other American dream out in the Heartland, where he could become Kevin Finnerty, a solar-heating systems salesman from Arizona, the alter ego he became last season when he was shot and nearly died.
This suggests one last hybrid possibility, one that might appeal to Mr. Chase's mordant humor: Tony, now a workaday schmo picking up his morning coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts someplace in Middle America, gunned down by some petty criminal trying to steal a few lousy dollars from the cash register. Fadeout: Tony, blood mixing with spilled coffee, staring at the ceiling. Are those ducks flying overhead? Roll credits.