Top 5 Most Shocking Deaths: Part One.

I find that as I get older, my tolerance for violence and death on TV gets lower. I’ll skip the self-analysis and only say that regardless of your tolerance for scripted mortality, there were more than a few disturbing deaths on The Sopranos.

I had planned to limit this list to the first three seasons to keep it even, so I could do a separate list for 4-6, but I realized that wouldn’t work. So, without further ado…

The following contains talk of death and suicide. If this is a trigger for you, my next entry will be better.

  1. Vin Makazian (John Heard)Final words: “COME ON, GOD DAMMIT! LET’S GO, LET’S GO, LET’S GO!”

This one truly shocked me. Hard to say why. It’s far less brutal than Febby’s death in “College, which I don’t mind telling you made my cover my throat the entire time. Is it because it’s Kevin McAllister’s dad?

Vin is not our antihero. However familiar his gambling and propensity for sleeping around may be, we have far less emotional attachment to and history with him than we do Tony. There is just something about that stark wide shot of him falling easily to his death. It’s the all too brief moment of hesitation. He considers it the way one might consider a spontaneous trip to Vegas on a Wednesday night. “Fuck it, let’s do this, boys.” He tucks his badge in, securing it, erasing the hope that he might throw it into the water and go rogue. He’s already crooked, completely disgraced by his arrest. Why not trade in one powerful position for another? I kind of had an alternate universe mapped out for him in my head where he moves away, takes on a new identity, and continues to carve out a life of debauchery elsewhere.

I’ve said before that the writers have a knack for blending the mundane with the extraordinary. Not all of us are crooked cops or serial cheaters (if you are, get off my blog!), but we’ve all found ourselves in seemingly impossible situations.  Everyone alive right now has made difficult or split-second decisions that have come as a shock to ourselves and those around us. It’s just a little scary to watch someone wait in traffic, speak normally to a colleague, then suddenly be gone.

He lacks the calm that is characteristic of those who choose suicide, which leads me to wonder when Vin made his decision. Did he decide in jail, off screen? That day in the shower before his arrest, when he realized he was in over his head? Did the traffic jam push him over the edge; one more uncontrollable event in his already spiraling life? As the title says, nobody knows anything.

2. Matt Bevilaqua (Lillo Brancato, Jr.)

Final words: “Mommy! Please don’t, please!”

Oh, man. How did this end up on a list of the ten most badass Tony Soprano moments? The revenge kill for Christopher was one of his worst.

To be sure, Bevilaqua is not an innocent bystander: he’s a social climber who has stolen cars, beaten people up, and jumps at the chance to kill Chris, who is his superior. Huge opportunist. Bevilaqua is ambitious but misguided. He strikes me as the type who grew up watching The Godfather and Goodfellas and thinks that the life of a mafioso is all fast cars and even faster women, all enjoyed in a haze of cigars and expensive wine. If he could just get to the top, he knows he could be the best.

He is, however, not at his best when dealing with the top. He’s already been in trouble with Tony for talking about business casually, risking confidentiality. Cheese it, fucko, the feds!

The evocation of childhood has proved effective in garnering sympathy for Tony, so it comes as no surprise that Bevilaqua earns ours by turning into a five-year-old caught with his hand in the cookie jar. in front of Tony and Pussy in the snack shack. Tony reminds me of Livia here. Heartless. Cunning. He even has me convinced that he’s going to let Bev walk.  (I doubt that Livia could be that patient, though. She never hesitates.)

Sitting across from him, hands dangling easily between his legs (watch that cigar), he turns avuncular. C’mon, you know me. I’m your Uncle Tony and you can tell me anything, pal! B’s relief is clear: he wets himself out of sheer overwhelm, fueled by a different kind of adrenaline than the one that drove him to this place.

He’s thirsty. Tony tells Pussy to get him a drink; Tony feigns concern over the diet Fanta. “You sure you don’t want something with sugar in it?” To get his blood sugar up, right?! You’re going to need energy if you’re going to walk out of here, you lucky, one-shoed bastard! Bevilaqua is grateful. He’s looked death in the face, but he’s going to be okay. He’s so relieved, he doesn’t notice the change in Tony’s demeanor.

“You finished?” ‘Cause that sugarless motherfucker is the last fuckin’ drink you’re ever gonna have!”

WHOA WHOA WHOA HOLD ON

I don’t want to believe.

Remember when Bart told Lisa he could pinpoint the exact moment when Ralph’s heart broke when she told him she never wanted to go out with him in the first place? I had a Ralph moment. My heart broke a little.  Matt thought he was in the clear. WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!

Tony and Pussy draw their guns, pausing just long enough for Bevelacqua* to throw his arms out in supplication, before doing what they had intended to do all along. Effectively, this scene comes on the heels of Tony’s pizza party apology to AJ. Less than an hour ago, he was sitting in AJ’s room, apologizing for saying he wasn’t fit to be the next Soprano patriarch. Now he’s killing a kid young enough to be his son.

Oh, and since he left the pizza with AJ, he goes out to dinner with Pussy after. Buon appetito.

*I’m keeping that typo in because it makes more sense. Beve l’acqua! Now he can’t.

3. Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore)

poor pussFinal words: “Jesus Christ. I gotta sit down. I feel like I can’t stand. Is that okay, Tony, that I sit?”

Puss. Puss, Puss, Puss. Fitting that his last name is close to pensare (think), because he is never far from Tony’s mind. This one feels more tragic than shocking, although I was fairly shocked that not even Tony’s closest friend was off limits.

The Twin Peaks-y dream sequences return to build up to a revelation about Pussy’s status. Like Dale Cooper, Tony is given the answer to his questions in his dreams. Suspicions raised by Makazian are confirmed by the talking fish in his fever dream. “You know I’m workin’ for the government, right, Ton’?”

coop
There was a fish in the percolator.
Sopranos_ep213
What fuckin’ percolator?

Like Matt, he was not entirely innocent: Puss has been an informant since the 90s (as early as 1995, but likely by 1998), an absolute no-no in the mafia. but I think we all hoped that they could find a way to let him stay alive. Imagine having to kill your best friend?

Puss knows what happens to snitches. Cornered below deck by Paulie, Tony, and Sil, he asks that they not aim for his face. “Can you give me that?” He either expects a beating, or he’s in denial, since he seems stunned when they all pull out their guns. His last words are especially sad because he still refers to T. He has no hope of making it off the boat alive, yet he remains strangely loyal to the end.

Paulie scares me in this scene.

pauliew
The temperature just dropped ten degrees when I looked at him.

Just like on The X-Files, some people never really die on The Sopranos. Not known for dabbling in the unexplained, with the exception of portentous dreams and a religious vision or two, they couldn’t resist a good ghost sighting. His appearance in flashbacks and dreams are one thing. Whoever expected to see him reflected in the mirror in “Proshai, Livushka”?

There’s got to be a rational explanation.

One thing I know for sure, I will never hear Take Me To The River in quite the same way. Maybe Stevie Nicks can help.

4. Minn Matrone (Fran Anthony)

wal

Final words: “Oh no!”

In the words of Jennifer Melfi, “Jeeeeesus fuckin’ Christ!”

The first time I saw this, I wished I hadn’t. Some people (and by this, I mean youtube commenters) found it funny, but I still have a hard time watching it. I’ve got this thing against watching someone die a slow death. They argue that the scene was camped up for laughs; played as an homage to Goodfellas, which I partially agree with. Paulie is like Joe Pesci’s character: he might be the funniest, but he is also one of the scariest. If you cut Paulie G open, you’d get freezer burn. Even though he is devoted to his mother–this hit was for/about her–he’s still one icy son of a bitch. “I got feelings, too,” my ass!

As with Makazian, it’s the sudden switch that packs a punch. I don’t think Paulie went there with the intention to kill. Violence is always an option, but I don’t think his backup plan involved murder. Not until Minn reaches for her life alert and starts screaming loudly enough to wake the entire retirement home does he spring into action. Pinned against the wall, Minn gains enough courage to tell him that he was “always a little bastard.” This, coupled with the fact that she already called him a disgrace to his sainted mother (ohoho, how quickly the tide will turn), sends him into a rage. He makes a move to strangle her. She bites his palm, so he grabs a throw pillow, and starts to smother her.

This is where I feel a little unwell.

Look, Minn might be a tough ol’ broad, but she is no physical match for her attacker. This one is particularly painful because it’s drawn out. Another victim could have attempted to throw him off, forcing him into faster action. Or, if he had shot her, it would have been over in the blink of an eye. Not here. It takes an agonizing half minute to avenge his little Ma.

5. Gloria Trillo (Annabella Sciorra)

glFinal words: Technically unknown, but her last words to Tony  are, “Kill me, you cocksucker. Kill me. Kill me.”

Gloria is definitely in exelcis, but she probably could have used a few extra prayers when dealing with Tony. Gloria is my #1 favourite girlfriend, and the only woman of his I could relate to. I never fucked a capo at the zoo or threw a steak at anyone’s head; not saying the desire never arose. But she is the most interesting and human goomar Tony has had. The rest of them want the wealth, the status, the thrill. Gloria has all of that. She wants peace. She wants love.

This is not to say that she is not excited by Tony’s identity. She is drawn to him for the same reasons most  women are. Why is he drawn to her? She offers him just as much in return. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, Gloria is funny, successful, spontaneous. She makes him feel alive for the first time in years. No other woman stirred his passions the way that she did. She was a welcome distraction from his long-crumbling marriage. Until he began to see the other side of her, Tony might have even considered seeing her long-term.

Something that I liked about Gloria was that Melfi knew her. It made things more interesting. It was almost like a love triangle, given his affection for Melfi. Melfi is usually a few connected dots away from the full picture. She tries to help him as much as possible, but is often frustrated by the code of silence that his profession demands. Gloria is someone she has intimate knowledge of, beyond what Tony thinks he knows. (“I didn’t just meet you. I’ve known you my whole fuckin’ life.”)  She knows Gloria in a way that she will never know anyone else in his life, even Carmela.

Another cute little murderer…. of seven relationships.

A common theme of love triangles is the presence of a too-good-to-be-true person, “who is often revealed to have a significant flaw, such as hidden insensitivity or lecherousness, causing the other person to become the more desirable partner.” I don’t know that they make Carm more desirable, but Gloria’s flaws–lack of trust and need for control, which manifest as insensitivity and disregard for Tony’s personal life–put the relationship in jeopardy before he ever finds out about the car ride with Carm.

Like Pussy, Gloria never really dies. She returns as a discussion topic with Melfi and Janice, and in dreams. In “The Test Dream,” she reminisces with Tony about their time together. They laugh warmly, until he brings up childbirth. “I don’t have any children,” she says, turning serious.”I died too young.”

WHAM.

So, why is it disturbing that Gloria committed suicide? Shouldn’t we have seen it coming? That’s a question that Tony grapples with in “Everybody Hurts.” “Why the fuck didn’t you help her?” For me, this death was surprising and sad because she was not a one-off, one-dimensional character. Even though we never saw her in therapy as often as we did Tony, we could guess that she bared her soul in the same way that Tony did. She was, at least, in search of herself.

HAHAHAAHA Oh wait… Something’s twisting my heart…

While she was a financially stable career woman, Gloria was emotionally vulnerable in a way that his other women were not. Even her boss knew she had a lot of personal troubles. Tracee might be the only one who comes close, since it is obvious that she wants Tony’s validation and advice. But they were never together. Valentina threatens to kill herself after Tony breaks it off with her, only because she blames him for causing the accident that might rob her of her looks. Gloria was a woman who wanted to be lucky in love, and thought she might have found The One in Tony. That he may be to blame for her demise without having pulled a knife or trigger is one of the heaviest burdens he must bear.

Loose ends are usually never praised (just look at the finale), but I like that Vin and Gloria do not have clear resolutions. Suicide is rarely the result of a single problem. Sometimes, there is no confessional note left for those who remain. Gloria’s and Vin’s deaths retain a certain amount of mystery that haunt those who knew them, and those who watched them.

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