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Sopranoswatch: Money's Tight

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For a show that’s all about money, The Sopranos has never given us that clear a sense of what exactly Tony is (or isn’t) worth. So it jumped out at me when Hesh gave us his estimate of Tony’s assets: a mere $6 mil, give or take. It turns out Tony, like a good suburbanite, has been spending money as fast as he can get it–“In one hand and out the other,” Hesh says. Which is creating problems, mostly for other people.

I’m not entirely sure what the writers are getting at, theme- or character-wise, with Tony’s suddenly-full-blown gambling problem. (Self-destructive impulse? Midlife crisis?) But as Tony has gone from owning a racehorse to being owned by the ponies, the storyline seems to be continuing a pattern of straining or alienating Tony’s closest relationships. Last night it was Hesh, Tony’s old confidant, fearing for his life when Tony gets 200K in debt to him and, running the cost-benefit analysis on the debt vs. Tony’s net worth, and figuring that it may become worth Tony’s while to off him.

Actually, maybe it’s not quite right to say that Hesh–and before him, Chris, Paulie and Bobby–are becoming estranged from Tony through his actions: with Hesh, definitely, you got the sense that he was simply finally revealing what he always thought about Tony deep down. Beneath Tony’s jokes and ball-busting, he says, is an “animal” who’ll come out when cornered (actually, he says that about all Italians, countering Tony’s bitter grousing about the Jews). Likewise, we see, Hesh’s smiles and counsel-giving to Tony hides his basic contempt and fear for him. Maybe these strains and divisions were always there with every character (as hinted at in that long-ago episode when Tony realizes that people only laugh at his jokes because he’s Boss), but are just coming out into the open in these last episodes. As Hesh puts it: “Lonely at the top, boychik?”

Ultimately, Tony has set up a mercenary relationship with everyone in his life: he’s worth to other people what they can get out of him, which is how he’s treated other people as well. This keeps him from forming genuine relationships, and it may have indirectly had the same effect on A.J.; Blanca breaks up with him, perhaps partly because she realizes that A.J. really intends to go straight, and that she would be marrying not a privileged mob scion but a pizzeria manager.

Tony, of course, is oblivious to the ramifications of his choices on those around him, an old theme on The Sopranos but poignantly illustrated in the subplot about Vito’s troubled son, who ends up being abducted to get his butt beaten at a “tough love” camp in Idaho because bet and lost the $100K he was going to give Vito’s widow to relocate to Maine. That’s business: when Tony Soprano catches a cold, you get pneumonia. No wonder Carm is so worried about becoming a mob widow.

Oh, and one more thing, which I’m just going to leave hanging out there, since the episode itself did: what’s going on with the two Middle Eastern guys from the Bing? Are they just a red herring, as they’ve seemed to be before? Or will Chris’ past dealings with them be the thing that gets Tony brought down (since, as the series has been intimating, the Feds are pulling resources off the Mafia to cover terrorism anyway)? Only five weeks left to find out: one of those shoes has to drop, right?