A classic Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) moment where he insults an FBI agent in fluent Italian potentially creates an accidental The Sopranos plot hole. It was established during The Sopranos season 2, episode 4, “Commendatori” that Tony doesn’t speak a word of Italian. This is due to the Soprano family being second or third generation Italian immigrants who settled in America, meaning that Tony and many of his fellow mobsters were raised in the USA. “Commendatori” is an episode that plays on Tony’s crew’s nostalgia for Italy, despite the fact they were born in America. In one memorable scene, Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) orders Italian-American style spaghetti while they dine in a traditional restaurant.
Ironically, Tony Soprano actor James Gandolfini was from a family who owned land in Italy and his parents spoke fluent Italian. Talking to James Lipton on an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio broadcast in 2004, Gandolfini mentioned that his parents only spoke Italian “when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about“. The Gandolfini family is a sharp contrast to the Soprano family, who barely speak a word of Italian throughout the show, barring some exceptions. One of these exceptions is when Tony uses an Italian insult against an FBI agent, but this isn’t necessarily a plot hole.
Tony Insults The FBI In Italian, Despite Being Unable To Speak It
In The Sopranos season 1, episode 8, “The Legend of Tennesse Moltisanti”, Tony’s home is raided by the FBI. The episode marks the first appearance of Matt Servitto as Agent Harris, who would continue to be a help and hindrance to Tony throughout all six seasons of The Sopranos. Harris was accompanied by Agent Frank Grasso (Frank Pando) who was on the receiving end of Tony’s anger when he broke a plate owned by Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco). Tony turned on the FBI agent and said to him, in fluent Italian, complete with inappropriate hand gesture: “Ti faccio il culo cosi!”
In the original Italian, Tony’s insult and hand gesture roughly translates to “I’ll make you an ass this big“, and serves as a crude way to threaten to beat someone up. Agent Grasso clearly understands some Italian, as he and Tony almost come to blows before Agent Harris intervenes. Tony also uses the insult again a few episodes later in The Sopranos‘ season 1 finale. However, Tony apparently doesn’t speak any Italian, which makes his knowledge of this particular insult slightly puzzling. That is, until further analysis of Tony Soprano’s character reveals the answer to the question of his patchy understanding of the Italian language.
Why Tony’s FBI Insult Might Actually Make Sense
Tony’s later inability to speak fluent Italian when visiting Sicily in The Sopranos season 2 likely isn’t a true plot hole, because only knowing the insults perfectly fits Tony Soprano’s character. One of the most enduring elements of The Sopranos is how it portrayed toxic masculinity, and within that world of heightened machismo, men are more comfortable throwing insults than compliments. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that the only bits of Italian that a young Tony Soprano would retain are the curses.
In invoking their shared ancestral background, Tony is also putting Grasso in his place – he may be an FBI agent, but he’s on Tony’s home turf. The romanticization of Italy and its language is a recurring theme of David Chase’s drama, and it’s telling that the only man who properly turns Carmela’s head is Furio in The Sopranos season 4. Unlike Tony, Furio can speak fluent Italian, and doesn’t reduce the language to its most base and vulgar insults. As such, Tony’s immature grasp of the language of his heritage is another aspect of what makes The Sopranos such a compelling story.