Word war: `Marital' becomes `martial'

Susan Reimer

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MY HUSBAND and I lead the split-shift, tag-team, crisis-du-jour lives so common among couples with teen-age children, and our paths are guaranteed to cross at only one moment: Sunday night at 9 o'clock for the latest installment of The Sopranos.

Sunday was the finale of the 13-week penultimate season, and we settled into our his-and-hers comfy spots, prepared to see a major character go out in a hail of bullets and a spray of blood.

Befitting the build-up accorded the most popular series on television, Sunday's episode of The Sopranos was the most violent yet.

And not one major character got whacked.

Instead, the 20-year marriage of Tony and Carmela ended in a convulsive display of verbal violence that only veterans of the marriage wars can comprehend. We could feel every word between these two as if it were a blow to the body.

The flash point was Tony's philandering, which Carmela had accepted as the price for her domestic tranquillity. That bubble burst for her when an angry ex-mistress called the house to taunt her but first got her son on the phone instead.

This breach of her sacred hearth triggered in Carmela a torrent of anger and resentment that had long percolated dangerously close to the surface.

That flood was fed by the unruly hormones in her changing body - which her clueless husband believed could be neutralized by asking their children to be nice to their mother - and by her truly physical grief over the departure of Furio, the virile henchman who won her shriveled heart by simply treating her like she mattered.

She erupted like a volcano dormant for 20 years, and the ferocity of her words caused the series' trademark mob murders to pale into insignificance.

From my spot on the sofa, I watched the proverbial train wreck unfold. Carmela literally spat at Tony every drop of venom she had collected during his years of indifference. I knew she would not stop until the last unsayable thing had been said, and I waited for Tony's frustration and jealousy to flare into his trademark murderous rage.

From across the room, I could hear a moan of revulsion escape my husband's throat.

Their split became irrevocable when Carmela taunted Tony with her fantasies about Furio. This is the kind of cuckolding husbands never comprehend and to which wives are always vulnerable.

Tony retaliated by saying that he found a struggling one-legged Russian immigrant more interesting than his pampered wife - a confession more hurtful to her than all the lipstick on all the collars of their married life.

Not every scene between them was a verbal bloodbath. Their poolside bickering was laughably familiar to us veterans of the marriage wars. She wanted him to take the chairs inside now so she could turn on the sprinkler. He thought she was just out to hassle him because she saw him at rest.

I confess I slept like a baby after the murder and dismemberment of Ralph, Tony's right-hand bad guy. But I wrestled with the blankets and my near-to-consciousness dreams on Sunday night. Writer-director David Chase will win an Emmy for that script, but it has been written by the veteran married couples of America.

We have a frightening arsenal of word/weapons, and we know how to use each to its best effect. All that holds us in check is the domestic dream that Carmela purchased with her compromises and Tony paid for in cash.

But when the spell of marriage is broken, couples can unleash upon each other a Niagara of anger, resentment and dark secrets that can never be taken back.

The Sopranos ended with the cliffhanger that is the required element for all season finales. But the question left unanswered until next season is not the fate of Tony and Carmela's marriage.

That was answered.
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