The Chicago Syndicate: The Power of the 'Soprano' Women
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Power of the 'Soprano' Women

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

If you are going to have coffee at an Italian restaurant, who better to have it with than the women of "The Sopranos"?

At Fiamma, a chic Italian eatery in downtown New York City, I sat down with Carmela, Meadow and Dr. Melfi — or more specifically, Edie Falco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Lorraine Bracco.

I had coffee.

As for them? Well they had to listen to my questions. As the show wraps up its sixth and final epic season, I didn't just want to talk about whackings, I wanted to talk about the women of the show.

From the first seconds of the opening credits of every episode of "The Sopranos," we are told that this is a show about Tony. He's the mob boss. He is the one driving the car literally and figuratively. But scratch the surface of this epic drama, and you realize it's not just about Tony.

"Tony happens to be in the Mafia, but I think it's not really just about that," Sigler said. "It's about him balancing all these relationships in his life."

It's about Tony and his wife, Tony and his daughter, Tony and his psychiatrist.

It is the women in "The Sopranos" that give the show its texture and its depth.

"It has to be, you know, three or four or five of the, the better women characters written for television or movies today," Bracco said.

"We're not just the 'goomars' or whatever," Sigler said. "Did I say that correctly?"

Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano"That was perfect," Falco said.

It is safe to say that Falco's Carmela is not just the stereotypical mob moll. There is a certain depth and complexity to her character. "Carmela went through 10 years of a woman's life," Falco said, "as the kids are getting older, as you re-evaluate your marriage, and um, the way any woman would change and grow if they stay alive for a 10-year period, you know?"

Well, not quite any woman, as Bracco — ever the analyst — noted: "[Carmela] is married to someone who is doing despicable things. She's living a good life. She's trying to bring up children in a good way, give them an education, instills things that are important. She has her own family, and she deals with it in an unbelievably dysfunctional family that she's going to feed every Sunday, whether she likes it or not. Am I right?"

Oh, she is right, Carmela has dealt with dysfunction at a level most of us can't imagine — from infidelity to whackings. But she's made it so relatable. She added a touch of ordinary to the extraordinary.

"If you think about it, you find ways to get through every day, even though there are little pieces that just don't match up," Falco said. "And you have no choice but to put them in that little place in your brain where you say, 'I'll deal with that another time.'"

And the women of "The Sopranos" are far from powerless victims. They might not be mob bosses, but they pull the strings in their own ways.

Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi"My power with Tony Soprano is very simple," Bracco said. "I was smarter than him."

Bracco's Dr. Melfi is one of the off-kilter defining roles in this drama. The shrink who tells the mob boss what to do.

Bracco said, "I was a woman that he never met, really, before, or had anything to do with. And I think it was an intelligence game between Melfi and Tony."

But it wasn't just about brains, there is also the matter of the legs. I tried to ask without blushing, "How about the legs? Are the legs empowering?"

Bracco had something of an instant education for me: "I think legs on a girl are always empowering. Come on!"

At 25, Sigler is the youngest of the actresses, and her character, Meadow, is the young ingenue of the show. But even her character knows how to vie for power and work Tony.

"We all knew how to manipulate him," Sigler said. "He was a very simple character to us in that sense, that he was very easy to manipulate."

Even Dead, the Mother Reigns

The most powerful woman in "The Sopranos" was not with us at Fiamma: Livia, Tony's mother.

That character died along with actress Nancy Marchand after Season 2, but Tony's relationship with his mother is, in a way, the basis for the whole show.

"It's all about the mother," Bracco said.

"Oh yes. It is," Falco agreed.

She tried to control him. He tried to put her in a home. She tried to kill him. Ultimately, it drove him to therapy.

The women of "The Sopranos" have not been spared the one aspect that has made the show so controversial: violence, graphic violence. Still, these women defend its use.

"We're not kidding around," Falco said. "It's this really, genuinely bad stuff that they do to other people — illegal, bad, violent death things that in seeing them in your face, you have no choice but to experience the true badness of it."

In Season 3, Melfi is the victim of a rape.

"The whole Dr. Melfi rape episode … was absolutely horrifying," Bracco said.

"Despicable violence against another person, but meanwhile when you look at the statistics of women being raped in this, just to, this, it's hundreds and hundreds of thousands of women and young girls and women being raped every year. It's unbelievable, the violence against another human being. And it's, we, we just, God forbid we should really look at it for what it is," she said.

Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Meadow SopranoIt is just one of the aspects of the show some people will miss as it wraps up its last season.

In the hour or so at the restaurant, try as I might, I could not get the three women to tell me how the show would end.

But I did get one tidbit from Sigler. Could her goody-two-shoes character go the way of another famed goody-two-shoes-gone godfather Michael Corleone?

"I think so," she said. "I think so because her family does come first. She's capable of it. She's strong, but if she's anything like you know, her family and like Livia. … You know, she could definitely manipulate and handle these guys."

So is there a chance for a spinoff: "Meadow Soprano!!! Boss!!!"

"I love it. I love it!" Sigler said.

Thanks to John Berman

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