As the gangster epic nears its end, Tony’s soldiers confront the “Big Pussy Rule”: no one lives forever. Welcome to the ultimate whacking party.
by David Amsden
They come here to toast the dead. Ever since Big Pussy got clipped at the end of season two, the Sopranos cast has convened at Il Cortile, a little joint in Little Italy, to bid a proper farewell to members of the family who’ve been snuffed out and tossed into the purgatory of auditions and callbacks. Whacking parties, they call them. And here they are again, squeezed around a large table that feels suddenly tiny, jabbing their fleshy paws into the air and ordering up the usual.
“I’ll take some veal marsala!” bellows Steve Schirripa, a behemoth of a man better known to Sopranos scholars as Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri. “Actually, make that a few veals! And some penne arrabiata. Maybe a vodka rigatoni. And let’s get like three carafes of red wine. Oh, and some of that steak! The one that’s not on the menu. A few steaks!” He sighs contentedly before turning to his cast mates. “All right,” he asks, “what do you guys want?”
Tonight’s feast isn’t an overtly morbid affair; the wiseguys are showboating and wisecracking, same as ever. But the sixth and final season of The Sopranos premieres March 12, and something tells me I’m not alone in seeing our gathering for what it is: the ultimate whacking party, the last supper for the last men standing. These are the guys who play Tony’s soldiers, the ones doing the disappearing and racketeering, the other family competing for his love and loyalty. Individually, they may verge on cartoonish, but collectively they embody the show’s more sinister heart. After all, Tony is a surreal figure—an existential brute perpetually examining his actions—whereas his crew is much closer to the real thing: relentlessly amoral, immune to change, a band of sentimental sociopaths that grounds the Sopranos in legitimate mob culture. “They all know that world so well,” James Gandolfini tells me. “I ask for their opinions all the time and trust whatever they tell me about what I’m doing.” More than anything, they provide David Chase, the show’s creator, with a vehicle to express his compellingly bleak worldview: that evil often wins out over good, that the glitch of the human mind may be its insistence on believing otherwise.