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'Sopranos' first whack job this season

Dismembers only

By Bruce Fretts
Entertainment Weekly

Making the cut: Though Ralphie tried to redeem himself, he still became the first character whacked this season.

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(Entertainment Weekly) -- Memo to all those ''Sopranos'' fans who complained that there hadn't been enough violence on the show this season: Be careful what you wish for. Now pardon me while I go throw up.

I've usually got a strong stomach, but did we really need to see Ralphie's severed head? It seemed obvious to me what Tony was going to put in the bowling bag. I've gotta admit, though, I did crack up when Christopher grabbed Ralphie by the hair, and his wig slipped off.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First things first: Who knew Ralphie had a son? Not that we had much time to get to know him; in his first scene, poor Justin got impaled in a freak archery mishap and ended up as a ''vegetable'' (to quote Rosalie Aprile, who lost her boy, Jackie Jr., when her ex-beau Ralphie had him whacked).

Because this tragic accident occurred on his watch, the absentee dad suffered a spiritual crisis and met with Father Intintola, who advised him to confess his sins. Ralphie needed a little more time to prepare a complete list of evil deeds, but he seemed determined to change his ways, setting up a Rutgers scholarship fund in Jackie Jr.'s name and proposing to Ro (who smartly turned him down).

Tony takes him

So naturally, Ralphie had to be punished. The surprise was, it came at the hands of Tony, who had just warned Paulie not to seek revenge against Ralphie for making an obscene phone call to Mama Walnuts at the nursing home. (The crank-yanker was in retaliation for Paulie telling Johnny Sack about the infamous ass-mole joke.)

Tony became convinced that Ralphie was the culprit behind a stable fire that killed the mobsters' prize-winning racehorse, Pie-O-My. As we know, Tony's a real animal lover (remember the ducks in his swimming pool?), so he took it out on Ralphie by beating him to death in his own kitchen. Ralphie inflicted a little damage, spraying Tony in the eyes with Raid, but it was all for naught. Smackhead Christopher was interrupted mid-injection by a call from Tony asking him to help clean up the crime scene, and the dismemberment began. Which brings us back to the head.

It was more than just the gore that made Ralphie's murder so shocking. From the moment of his death, the episode's tone turned jarringly stark. Background music vanished, and the rest of the hour depicted Tony and Chris' disposal of Ralphie's remains (they tossed the torso in a river and hot-wired a construction vehicle to bury the extremity-packed bowling bag in an unsuspecting old man's backyard).

And so we bid farewell to Joe Pantoliano's Ralphie Cifaretto, who goes down in ''Sopranos'' history as one of the show's all-time scariest psychos, alongside Richie Aprile (David Proval). Joey Pants tried to throw off spoilsports by swearing he'd survive the season during interviews to promote his fab autobiography, ''Who's Sorry Now.'' Now I'm the one who's sorry -- I'll miss the crazy bastard.

Speaking of crazy bastards, Uncle Junior's pretending to be one in an attempt to derail his racketeering trial. Taking a page out of the defense book of real-life mob boss Vincent ''Chin'' Gigante, (who'd wander the streets in his bathrobe), Junior's trying to milk a head injury inflicted by a TV reporter's boom mike. The old guy should consider himself lucky: At least his noggin's still attached.

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