“Money, Shame and Reparation: A Moment from The Sopranos”
by Jason Jacobs — University of Queensland
June 28, 2007 – 03:01
Season three, ‘Another Toothpick’ and Tony and Carmela are driving home after a joint session with Melfi. It didn’t go well: Carmela is crying, Tony is speeding and a traffic cop, Leon Wilmore (Charles S. Dutton), pulls them over. Tony’s bribes are considered with contempt by Leon who threatens to call backup. Later Tony gets his political partner, the corrupt Assemblyman Zellman, to get the fine quashed.
This moment takes place midway through the episode as Tony discovers that, as a result of Zellman’s actions on his behalf, Leon is now working at Fountains of Wayne, a garden/nursery store.
Notice the contrast between the movement of character and camera at the beginning of the scene and at its end. Tony’s exuberant confidence in the space he walks through is underscored by his tapping on several ornaments with his birdbath pipe. By the end of the scene the camera is still and surveys Tony’s discomfort as the same pipe is handed back to him by Leon, a gesture that punctuates the end of their conversation.
Notice also the garden statues in female form, which are prominent at the beginning and in subsequent shots. Perhaps they lead us back to the first image of show as Tony sits under the gaze of the statue in Melfi’s waiting room. What function do these mute forms have in the show as a whole – the sculptures, paintings, and other images (such as the twenty dollar bill that concludes ‘All Debts, Public and Private’)? What kinds of scrutiny do they suggest?
As a racist mobster Tony’s high spirits continue with his mocking of Leon’s menial status which is so far from the authority and power he could muster earlier when he issued Tony the speeding ticket. Gandolfini gives Tony his best grotesque schoolboy grin as he enjoys how the tables have turned, that now it is Leon the shop assistant who must do his bidding. And Dutton’s superb cameo performance forcefully reminds us of the shame and resentment that is a product of enforced servility to the careless nonchalance of the wealthy.
Leon’s boss, a ‘manager’ who looks barely twenty, interrupts Leon’s recounting of his demotion in order to tell him when he is allowed to take a break. The sting of the humiliation is palpable to Tony who is prompted to explain that he was not responsible for the severity of Leon’s demise; by the end of the episode he even offers him money, which is again refused. Does Tony do these things because he feels bad about them? Why does Leon refuse the money? What is the price of dignity?
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