Guide to Wiseguy

for those who (like Judith) have never actually seen the series.

by Tashery Shannon

Wiseguy is set in the late 1980's, mostly in the vicinity of New York City. Vinnie Terranova works under deep cover for the Organized Crime Bureau (OCB), a (fictional) branch of the FBI. His cover involved building up convictions to make him look like a young hood, followed by 18 months in jail. Upon his release, he's assigned his first case, to win the trust of Mafia boss Sonny Steelgrave and take him down. Vinnie gets himself hired as a waiter at Sonny's favorite restaurant and picks a fight with him, causing Sonny to challenge him to a fistfight. Both used to be fighters in the Amateurs, so Vinnie impresses Sonny with his slugging skill. They're evenly matched, but Vinnie lets Sonny win. For some reason most fans can't understand, this makes Sonny decide Vinnie's a good prospect, and hires him as his driver, muscle, whatever. Sonny's brother and partner Dave is killed by a gun runner and Vinnie frames his only other rival for Sonny's trust, leaving Sonny vulnerable to the big, big Mafia boss, Paul Patrice (nicknamed Pat the Cat, a coldblooded, sleazy psycho with knife sharp creases in his $2,000 trousers), with Vinnie as his right hand man. The two become very close, very fast. Wiseguy is known for the amount of affectionate touching that goes on between Sonny and Vinnie (press critics called it homoerotic when the series first ran, and the actors do have a very lovely chemistry together). Frank is Vinnie's superior in the OCB. During this first case, Frank and Vinnie dislike each other. Over time, they come to depend on one another, and grow very close (so Vinnie/Frank tends to be set later in the series than Sonny/Vinnie, and many fans see Vinnie as never having got over his love for Sonny, but later finding some degree of happiness with Frank.

'The Last Lie' and 'Twisted Outside In' are both AUs of the forking paths variety. That is, both follow the series up to a point, then depart from it. In the series, Vinnie is Sonny's right hand for a year. Sonny's turf is Atlantic City, New Jersy, which is just across the river from New York City, Pat the Cat's turf. Sonny's on his way up in the Mafia, with an alliance to the Philadelphia mob boss Mahoney (a fat, vaguely amusing slob), and is nominally tributary to Pat the Cat. Pat the Cat sees Sonny as a dangerous rival and plots to murder Sonny on Sonny's wedding morning (its a gangland political marriage that would give Sonny more power, and Sonny is also insecure about his mortality since his brother's death and wants sons). Sonny sets Vinnie to pretend to betray him and go with Pat the Cat Patrice so Vinnie can spy on Patrice, but also sets his future brother-in-law to the same task, telling neither about the other. When Vinnie finds out Patrice plans to kill Sonny, Frank plans to set up a bust of all 3 bosses, Sonny, Patrice and Mahoney, and orders Vinnie not to warn Sonny about the plans for the murder. Vinnie protests, but reluctantly obeys on the condition that the cavalry will arrive in time to keep Sonny from being killed. Frank has been worried for some time about Vinnie's genuine caring for Sonny, but agrees. Unknown to Vinnie, however, Sonny's future brother-in-law Aldo tells Sonny about the planned hit. At the bachelor party the night before the wedding, there's a formal dinner. Sonny climaxes it by garotting Pat the Cat at the table. The other Mafiosi at the table accept Sonny as the new leader. But when they leave Sonny and Vinnie alone in the room, Sonny confronts Vinnie with his betrayal. He thinks Vinnie really did go over to Patrice. He is deciding whether or not to kill Vinnie when the OCB arrive. Sonny escapes, and Vinnie goes after him. The chase ends when the two get trapped together (accidentally locked in by a janitor who doesn't know they're there - no escape and it's just a matter of time until the cops show up) in an old movie theater, where they confront one another, first boy-style with fists, then with the bitterness and love they actually feel. By this time, Sonny knows Vinnie was an OCB plant and has betrayed him from the first. This is where the Nights In White Satin scene so often posted about on lists and newsgroups occurs. Sonny plays the song on a jukebox in the theater, and the two sit facing one another across the room, both with the shit beat out of them and looking like hell, for 3 minutes of no dialogue, just one long, steady exhange of telling looks. Incredibly slashy. The OCB show up and start breaking down the theater door. Sonny looks at Vinnie, says "I loved you, man." and grabs a high voltage switch. He is electrocuted and dies. For the rest of the series (4 seasons), Vinnie slowly deteriorates under the pressure of his constant lies and betrayals, and guilt over Sonny, who he truly did care about, is foremost. He still sees his place in the OCB as good fighting evil, but this idealism is now tarnished by shades of self-hatred, and he's never the same after committing this betrayal of a man he loved.

What makes it all work is that Sonny really is a crook and murderer, but is also charming, vulnerable, admirably brave, loyal and generous to his friends, and affectionate. He also does funny little dances like Mick Jagger as part of his vast repertoire of odd, Sonnyesque communication. So like B7, things are ambiguous. The bad guy isn't all bad, and the good guy does some pretty reprehensible stuff.

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