Everyday Savagery

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Last
week's episode of The Sopranos is to be commended for driving
home the essence of those who populate the series: savagery.

Beginning
and ending pregnantly with The Kinks's "Living on a Thin Line,"
Episode 32 explores the fate of a stripper named Tracee. Twenty
years old but temperamentally adolescent, Tracee is in an affair
with Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) and carrying his child. (Assuming
Cifaretto is Pantoliano's age, that makes him nearly thirty years
older than Tracee.)

Cifaretto
periodically quotes Gladiator
and critiques Spartacus,
but he doesn't know virility from veal parmagean. Tracee is a less
than stellar mother in debt to the manager of Bada Bing (the strip
club she works at) for three thousand dollars. (She borrowed the
money to get braces.)

After
being absent from Bada Bing for three days, Silvio Dante (the manager)
goes to Cifaretto's house and demands Tracee come with him. After
being lectured on the way to the car about how lucky she is to work
at Bada Bing, Tracee tells Dante she could get a job like that anywhere.
He delivers a right cross then issues a vulgar threat as he grabs
her by the hair. Cifaretto observes the battery with laughter from
a window.

Tracee
later insults Cifaretto at Bada Bing's VIP room in front of his
"associates" because he has ignored her for three days.
She goes outside to smoke a cigarette and he soon follows.

Cifaretto
slaps Tracee after an ensuing confrontation. "Does it make
you feel good? You feel like a man?" she asks. Stung by her
articulation of his puniness, Cifaretto beats Tracee to death (and
with her his unborn child).

When
Soprano-in-Chief Tony (who has committed adultery earlier in the
episode) learns of what happened and treats Cifaretto to a quintet
of punches, the murderous Russell Crowe wannabe bleats, "Are
you outta your f*ckin' mind layin' your hands on me? I'm a made
guy!" He is, of course, oblivious to the irony: Nearby lies
Tracee's broken body by his hands, and he takes umbrage at being
punched. Self-ownership for me, but not for thee!

Cifaretto
and his ilk may seem glamorous with their pinky rings, sharp lapels,
and purloined cars, but they're nothing more than small-time tyrants
with stylish wardrobes. While the Mafia is sometimes romanticized
as an honorable organization of family men, Episode 32 shows that
aggression and betrayal are these predators' stock-in-trade.

Episode
32 ends with Bada Bing dancers undulating to the ominous opening
chords of "Living on a Thin Line." The song and its reprise
form a fitting conclusion, underscoring the tenuous lives of those
in Silvio Dante and Ralph Cifaretto's world – and the terrible
mundaneness of its brutality.

April
6, 2001

Myles
Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.

Myles
Kantor Archives

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