IN 1987, ON ASSIGNMENT FROM AN ITALIAN-AMERICAN MONTHLY newspaper, I had the chance to interview then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani in his Lower Manhattan offices. Giuliani's tenure there was distinguished in many ways by his aggressive efforts to prosecute organized crime. He also drew criticism from Italian Americans for using the term "Mafia" to describe the Italian mobs, which his own community felt unfairly stereotyped them.
In that interview, Giuliani predicted that predominantly Italian-American crime mobs would eventually fade away in a generation or two, though they might be replaced by organized crime groups of other, newer immigrant communities. I don't have my notes from then, so I can't quote him directly. But he said that as Italian-Americans moved farther from the immigrant experience and subscribed more to the importance of higher education and the professions (something that, many Italian Americans, even in 1987, would say was only just becoming the norm), the crime mobs would slowly be starved of the new blood they would need to sustain themselves from one generation to the next.
I have been thinking about Giuliani's prediction about the Mafia for much of the time I've been watching The Sopranos, and David Chase, the creator of the show, seemed to be agreeing with the former U.S. Attorney, New York Mayor, current candidate for President and longtime observer of organized crime.
Not that the Soprano family business is going under anytime soon. If anything, the show ended happily, at least for Tony, Paulie, Patsy and the other captains and their foot soldiers, who keep their New Jersey rackets running.
Tony's still alive. His chief opponent, Phil, who was not only trying to take over his livelihood but his life, too, is, in more ways than one, decapitated from running the operation on the New York side of the river. And Phil's second, Butch, made peace with Tony, so they appeared by the end of the show to be willing to live and work side by side peacefully with one another -- for now.
Not all of Tony's problems are gone. He's likely to face an indictment. He lost his closest inside allies and likely heirs apparent -- Silvio and Bobby. And he's stuck now with Paulie, who, despite his intense loyalty could drive a person crazy with all his mishegoss. Tony's facing purgatory going to work every day with this guy.
But perhaps his greatest dream, whether he realizes it or not, has come true. For most of the life of the series, and certainly for the last couple of seasons, Tony has seemed determined to keep his children from getting into the family business. And one of the great unknowns (at least to me), even leading up to the very last episode, was whether he would succeed in this quest.
Meadow, turning over to the dark side? Well, I always felt it could happen, and there's no saying that, once she becomes a lawyer, she may not actually take that step. She told Tony in the final episode about her desire to become an immigration lawyer, in large part because of how Italian-Americans were mistreated. "If I hadn't seen you dragged away all those times by the FBI, then I'd probably be a boring suburban doctor," she told him. Either she's become painfully naive, like her mother, about the real business of the family, or she has been charmed by it in some way.
Still, for now, she seems to be stepping away from Tony's path, and Tony seems relieved and proud of her choice, as well as of her romance with fellow lawyer Patrick Parisi, Patsy's son, who, too, has chosen a different path than his father. (Throughout this season, we learn of a number of mobster children who have gone to into law, medicine or other professions, making their parents proud, and Tony and Carmella a little jealous.)
Of course, the prospects that AJ might embrace the family business were always greater than they were for Meadow, as he couldn't get through school, a bad sign, according to Professor Giuliani. Even until the very end of the show, we really didn't know which way he was heading. He seemed repulsed by violence and never really showed any interest in joining his father, and he seemed as if he would be more of a liability to Tony than an asset: resented by the others as annointed only by birth and never trusted because of suspected mental instability.
The job he ended up with -- movie producer on the make -- might fit him and pull him out of his funk, and it may prove to be successful for him. And, who knows, it might also be enough to keep him far away from having to drop off stuffed envelopes of money at the back room of the Bing.
Tony's mob -- or crew, as it might be called now -- will survive, but it doesn't sound like it will thrive and grow. Like Junior Soprano, who is living in a dank state institution because, we learn in the final episode (in a brilliantly acted scene between him and Tony), Junior doesn't even realize that he has a hidden private stash of money somewhere, there seems to be no new source of nourishment for the Soprano crime enterprise either.
The crew will surely outlive Junior, whose mind and body are failing rapidly. But the crew, too, is aging, putting on weight, sagging at the biceps and even losing some of the vim it once had to muscle the others out of the way. (Christafuh would have been the only one from the younger generation to keep it aloft for awhile longer, but, even if he hadn't died, it's not clear he had the stuff to lead.) Another fight like the one they had with Phil Leotardo's crew -- or, worse yet, some younger, tougher Russian gang -- or with the federal prosecutor and that could be it for the Sopranos.
But, for now, they're just hanging on.