Don't underestimate the power of these women -- Just wait to see who's still standing when things fall apart, says Alynda Wheat

By Alynda Wheat
Updated January 13, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Sopranos: Barry Wetcher

Don’t underestimate these women

At first blush, Episode 3 seems a disappointment. A turgid downer with way too much Uncle Junior and family turmoil, too little legitimate action and Family turmoil (not a single whacking!). But there is much below the surface, and it’s the women who are stirring the pot.

Since we mentioned the family’s constitutional monarch, let’s discuss. We can all be satisfied that Uncle Junior is not laying the groundwork for an insanity defense. He really is deteriorating — as confirmed by his doctor — and sadly, only Bobby Bacala seems to really care. Not that we should be surprised. Tony was ridiculously hypersensitive about the varsity football issue, declaring Uncle June ”dead to” him. But he did make overtures of forgiveness to the old man, asking ”Don’t you love me?” just before the closing credits. All Corrado can do is cry silently.

This is Tony’s Ozymandias moment: a vision of the future unfolding before him in which he is old, alone, and not only unloved but incapable of the sentiment. And that’s if he’s lucky. There’s always prison. Or not making it to old age.

But let’s get to what was truly interesting about this episode: the ladies. Specifically, Lady Shylock and Lady Macbeth. Lorraine, Lady Shylock, is an intriguing character study in feminist pathology. She’s quick to make threats when she feels she’s being shafted (pardon the term) out of money. But when Johnny Sack’s crew tosses her in the chair and whips out the gun, her first defense is to offer sexual favors (after all, we learn, she did sleep with Tony). She simply doesn’t get the kind of respect male capos do.

If Lorraine is the whore, though, Janice, oddly enough, is the twisted Madonna of the old paradigm. She’s married herself straight into Livia’s role — which she essentially admits — scaring the bejeesus out of her stepchildren to the point where one wets the bed and can’t stand being left with her. Meanwhile, doing her bit as Lady Macbeth, she encourages her husband to ”earn.” Until now, Bobby Bacala was one of the few commendable characters on the show, caring for Uncle Junior, always remaining respectful. What becomes of such a man when a slow poison enters his system?

It is a hallmark of ”The Sopranos”’ gender equality that its women are every bit as reprehensible, complicated, and treacherous as its men. Lorraine racks up a body count, if Johnny Sack is to be believed, while Janice works her evil from a more traditional vantage point — from the inside. It would be a mistake to do as the men of ”The Sopranos” do — that is, underestimate their importance.

We began this show with the most fundamental of relationships: mother and child. Livia and Tony. So much of Tony’s wrath — the entire purpose of Dr. Melfi in the show — is thanks to his mother. Now we’re at a point where the women are once again playing pivotal roles: Carmela dismantling the family (according to Tony), Janice planting discord, Lorraine causing power struggles, and Adriana ready to take the whole enterprise down if she can hold on long enough.

When it all goes down — for down it must certainly go — notice who’s still standing.