Last man standing
If any character on “The Sopranos” comes close to being lovable—or even likeable—it would have to be Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri. Ever since he first waddled across our television screens, we’ve been left to wonder how this teddy bear of a man could possibly be a cold-blooded gangster like Tony. It was impossible to imagine the man who buried a birthday cake at his wife’s grave, or stood in his garage over his model railroad while wearing a train conductor’s hat, firing a couple of bullets into someone’s brain. Tony thought so little of Bobby that he didn’t bother killing him when he wiped out the rest of his Uncle Junior’s crew, and he gave his future brother-in-law the unenviable task of caring for Junior. Bobby took to the job with his usual fidelity.
The show addressed this mystery with this week’s episode, in which it was revealed that Bobby had never killed anyone. The topic came up while Bobby and Tony sat on a boat on the lake near Bobby’s cottage, where he, Tony, Carmella and Janice were celebrating Tony’s 47th birthday. Tony alluded to his displeasure with Christopher—who he did not name—and suggested that he may give Christopher's priviliged position to Bobby. Tony has rarely treated Bobby with respect but he has occasionally shown him affection, and Tony no doubt knows that Bobby is unfailingly loyal—whether to his first wife, or to Junior, or now to Tony’s sister.
It seemed a particularly cruel twist, even for “The Sopranos”, that Bobby should have ended up falling victim to Janice’s machinations. Janice's first relationship with one of Tony's associates, Richie Aprile, ended when she shot him to death after he hit her across the face. Knowing what we know about Janice, it’s hard not to think that Richie was better off being put out of his misery right then and there. (Never mind that he faced the same fate at the hands of Tony.)
Bobby, of course, would never hit Janice. Instead, he hit Tony, in what has to be one of the show’s most stunning moments. I can’t recall anyone ever assaulting Tony unprovoked. The fact that Bobby would do it was shocking; that it was done to defend Janice’s honor was pathetic. The drunken brawl that ensued provided some of the show’s most charged moments since the bloody melee between Tony and Ralph in season four. (And we all know how that ended.) I was hoping that Tony would come out on top, because I feared the consequences should Bobby get the best of him. No doubt Carmela and Janice had the same fears when they watched, with apprehension, the two men drive off to do business with a pair of Canadians under the guise of going to play golf.
But one can think of any number of reasons why Tony wouldn’t kill Bobby. Besides, Tony is adept at identifying a person’s weaknesses, and understands full well there are plenty of ways to inflict injury short of physical violence. When Tony agrees to have a man killed on behalf of the Canadians, he quickly passes the job off to Bobby, knowing that it will sit heavy on Bobby's conscience. What makes the hit even more odious is that the victim did nothing more than get involved in a child-custody dispute with the sister of one of the Canadians.
When Bobby tracks the young man down in an apartment complex laundry room, he hesitates long enough that I found myself hoping that he wouldn’t be able to do it. Alas, Bobby once again proved himself the good soldier. He returns to the lakefront cottage, where he is warmly greeted by his wife and young daughter, who leaps into his arms. Bobby holds the girl tightly to his chest, staring over the placid water of the lake, the joy extinguished from his eyes.
Thinking back over this episode, I recalled an episode in which Tony and his lieutenants are discussing what to do with the outed Vito. While debate rages over whether to whack the gay mobster, Bobby blurts out “We can’t let him hang out in our clubhouse anymore.” It was a comical remark, but it makes me wonder if Bobby, despite being raised in the Mafia, failed to appreciate the depravity that surrounds him.
If that was the case, then perhaps Bobby—though certainly not his victim—is now better off. It may just be that in the world of “The Sopranos”, naivety is the biggest sin of all.