Monday, June 11, 2007

Tony Soprano's a Snitch, But It's the Fed Who Sings

Much has been made of the final scene in The Soprano's last episode where the family is eating at a restaurant and the screen unexpectedly, anticlimactically fades to black.

I was more interested, though, in the opening scene, where Tony wakes up in the middle of a snowy night to meet with his FBI handler Dwight Harris with whom he has a working, business-like relationship as an informant. Tony let him know he just happened to remember that his nephew knew the specifics about a bank account linked to two possible terrorist suspects.

The information between Tony Soprano and Harris, though, doesn't just flow one direction. In the previous episode the agent came to warn Tony that Phil Leotardo was out to murder him, and in this opening scene Tony tries to leverage his information on the Arabs' banking practices to get information about Leotardo's whereabouts, with the unstated subtext that Soprano would use the information to kill him.

"You're overreaching," said the fed. But later when Harris ran across the information he called Tony and told him where Leotardo was making his phone calls. When a colleague told him Leotardo had been assassinated, he slapped his hand on his desk and proclaimed in an awkward moment, "Damn, we're going to win this thing!"

Clearly by that point the agent's loyalties were muddy at best. He felt a more-than-collegial tie with Tony the same way Tony felt admiration for his work on the war on terror - from work strains to family problems, they probably had more in common with each other than most other people in their lives. Why else would a federal agent be celebrating when his informant committed a murder with the information he'd just given him?

But it's just a TV show, you might say, and so it is.

I couldn't help but think as I watched it, though, of the similar, spectacular case of Whitey Bulger in Boston (dramatized fictionally in the movie The Departed), the Irish mobster who spent more than two decades ratting out his rival Italian mafioso on his way to controlling most of the organized crime on Boston's South side. Even murders were tolerated. By the end, it was far from clear who was being "handled," Bulger or his FBI handler.

The Sopranos commemorized in art the same warning we may draw from the Bulger case, or even the revisionist Gospel of Judas: Though government likes to pretend it's using informants for its own purposes, as often as not the informant may be the one who's in charge.

At least, in this artistic rendition, I thought Tony Soprano got the better of the information exchange.

Let me know what you thought of the Soprano's final episode and of Tony's snitching arrangement?


Anonymous said...

We can conclude, as some bloggers have, that Tony and his family went into the Federal Witness Protection Program. We should extrapolate that Tony and his family, being warped and bent as they are, like some notorious real life families in the WPP, will prove unable to deny their basically bent personalities, and will go into some sort of criminal activity in the locale in which they are placed. Sounds like the plot line of a new series.

Anonymous said...

I read back over some of your posts about snitching. You were never bullied or teased mercilessly were you? I can't help but think about victims being told that complaining of a crime committed against them is wrong. I hope that's not what "snitching" is about. Human beings do awful things to each other and we're supposed to keep our mouths shut about it? I can't dig that. How do we right wrongs if we don't say anything? Or are you talking about professional snitches? I'm confused.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You are a little confused, Betsy. You're talking about witnesses. I've discussed that distinction before on Grits. When I talk about confidential informants or "snitches" I typically mean criminals cooperating to avoid punishment for their own crimes, or in the case of Soprano and Bulger, to further their own criminal ends. See also a good discussion from Prof. Alexandra Natapoff. best,

Anonymous said...

People snitch for two reasons called the two R's reward and revenge.

As there are no rewards paid because they are forbidden under 2002 proceeds of crime act and revenge is fraught with danger, intelligence gathering had fallen 90% in the last two years.

Police and law enforcement need snitches because of their own lack of skill at apprehending criminals.

The British Police have always been regarded as the Cream of British Society, they are White, Thick, and Rise to the top.

Most cops in the UK are the kids no-one liked at school, remember: "Teacher, teacher he did that, she did that, a sure sign the weasel featured little turd will go on to become a Policeman/woman.

Unknown said...

There are basically two types of snitches the ones who snitch on rule breakers and the ones who snitch on criminals who endanger others. And this distinction is often a matter of opinion. If the rule is considered minor, petty, random or even unjust it is considered one of rule breaker. If the rule is considered just and necessary for the good of citizenry it is considered criminal to break that rule.
The ones who snitch on victimless crimes regarding sex, drugs or gambling are bad snitches. Those who snitch on crimes regarding murder, police corruption [often involving snitches of the first order], toxic waste dumping, false intel to justify military interventions, or child molestation are considered good snitches. There are mostly gray areas on other infractions.

Anonymous said...

One technical point: it's a cut to black (the thing that convinced everybody that their cable had gone out), not a fade to black.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Good point, norbizness. You can tell I'm a writer, not a visual guy. best,

Steve-O said...

Within the context of the Sopranos, I think Agent Harris has been clear about his dislike for the New York crew. They tried to have a federal undercover agent raped and murdered. I think a dead Phil Leotardo is of no consequence to him.

Also, I think that years of working on counter-terrorism have worn him down. After chasing Islamic extremists all over the globe, Tony Soprano doesn't seem so bad. After all, this is a guy you can have a sandwich with a Satriale's.

However, if you want to riff on this theme, the moral ambiguity between criminals and law enforcement is the stuff of great film noir, LA Confidential for instance. You can't fight the dirt without getting a little dirty yourself.

You want to talk about real-life law enforcement? Well, I'm out of my league. I'll leave that to the professionals, such as you Scott.

Anonymous said...

The 'damn were going to win this thing' is a quote from a police guy or FBI guy in real life'

Anonymous said...

The US has a habit of pointing the finger at minorities and the weak. Timothy McVeigh was not a minority an everyone knows what he did but those pointing fingers don't like looking in the mirror lest the finger points back at them. Everyone with half a brain knows the ending to the Sopranos and all the cloak and dagger pinning tails on minorities entering the diner wont hide the facts. You think the bogeyman is scary if you cant trust the cops who can you trust.

Mafia Cops
Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa

Read what these fine upstanding American Citizens were up to while taxpayers were paying their salary.

Unknown said...

Tony was killed in holstens in the final scene by the man in the members only jacket.