Everyday Savagery

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.

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