The Winning Side?: Agent Harris and the FBI on HBO’s The Sopranos

Curator's Note

While the “closure junkies,” as Paul Levinson recently called them on his Infinite Regress blog, continue to analyze the last episode like the Zapruder film in search of a more definite ending, The Sopranos has generally resisted the attempt to offer the comfort of resolution and the suggestion of a moral outcome. Inasmuch as more traditional “law and order” dramas work toward punishing "the bad guys” and allowing people to turn off their sets safe in the belief that crime does not pay, the series, in refocusing on the criminals themselves, has typically portrayed the search for justice as absurd and turned the feds into bumbling, ridiculous caricatures who, ultimately, may have gotten more people killed than the mobsters themselves. This scene from the controversial final episode illustrates the height of this moral absurdity in the form of Tony’s longstanding FBI foil Agent Harris. Where Harris once futilely searched through Tony’s couch cushions for incriminating evidence and labored in vain to place a bug in his basement, since his reassignment to terrorism, he now only frequents Satriale’s for a taste of their veal parmesan hero. And as Harris and Tony exchange information, his similarities to the mob boss and his morally questionable agenda become all the more apparent. Not only is he shown fighting with his wife on the phone and having an affair with another officer, but, inasmuch as Tony and Harris have developed a rapport, he even passes on a tip about New York family head Phil Leotardo’s whereabouts. Ironically, after all the years of trying to arrest Tony, he perks up at the news of Phil’s death and comically reveals his allegiance to Tony and the New Jersey mob, a reaction that his fellow agent clearly questions. In the total scheme of things, is Tony, for all of his sociopathic tendencies and criminal activities, the lesser and more necessary evil, or has Harris, like so many viewers, essentially been seduced into believing that Tony is on the winning side? And, given Harris’s behavior and the portrayal of the FBI on the show, would another bloody restaurant rub-out or Tony behind bars, in the end, really make us believe that crime did not pay and that justice, along with the onion rings, was served?


Old Proverb: S/he who toucheth pitch is defiled. Or is it the Stockholm Syndrome: assigned to cover Tony, Harris shifts into identifying with him. The seed is planted in Season One when Harris brings his new partner around to Satriale's to intro him to T and they jaw basketball. The process was inexorable after that. My fave FBI scenes: Ade's upchuck; the plumber's son predicting T's tank blowout in 6 mos and it hits within a day; the honorable officers intermittent Horn Dog chat about Ade and her 'friend'. Of course Tony regards any FBI agent with a vowel-end name as a turncoat (Talk about Italian-American stereotypy!). So Harrisgoes t'other way. In the last episode Harris's conversion parallels Meadow's, AJ's, Patsy's. The theme is T's triumph over those who might have escaped his pitch. So we don't see the two who did: Melfi and the Buccos.

Here is an irony. While most other countries have already seen the last episodes of the Sopranos we in England are still waiting. Ireland will probably get these episodes before us - we heard last night that they are airing in Brazil. Why this long wait. Sorry to Douglas for using his column to rant about this but it would be nice if we could comment on this episode. Are we still in the dark ages in Britain? Is it money that dictates our screening schedules? Or, is it just plain mean of Channel 4 to hold onto these episodes as long as possible?

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