My Sopranos re-watch has rolled on into Season 3. We’re past the incredibly awkward way they dealt with Nancy Marchand’s death — really, was that one last scene worth the dodgy CGI and clumsy looped dialogue? — Meadow and Jackie Jr. are circling each other, and Christopher’s now a made guy. But the thing provoking the biggest reaction is me remembering how damn much I hated Ralph Cifaretto.
I’m sure Joe Pantoliano is a perfectly nice guy in real life, but boy can he pick the asshole in a script. First he damn near gets all of humanity wiped out in The Matrix, and then he waltzes over to The Sopranos and is even worse, if that’s possible. He’s rude, disrespectful, violent, and oh yeah, he beats to death his pregnant stripper girlfriend. All around nice guy. So whenever Tony wants to punch the crap out of him, I’m completely on board.
Which is part of the sneaky magic of this show. By this point in the story, we’ve seen Tony hunt down and strangle someone in cold blood while visiting colleges with his daughter, and yet we’re totally on his side when Ralph shows up and starts smarming his way around New Jersey. We’re constantly resetting and questioning our moral compass. In a lot of ways, we’re Dr. Melfi in the episode where she is raped, on the one hand knowing Tony is a terrible person, on the other wanting to unleash his wrath on someone who truly deserves it. We have a willingness in us to accept evil when it’s opposing a greater evil. Just as we have a blindness to the consequences of that acceptance. And a complicity in those consequences.
And so we allow ourselves to cast Tony as hero and villain, and the show expertly walks that line right to the very end. It’s like a roller coaster, strapped in while we dive way down, danger and safety all rolled into one.
I’ll have to wait for Season 4 to see Ralph finally get what’s coming to him. And to see if I feel the same way about who gives it to him.