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Heartless hit

Sure, she should have seen it coming, but Adriana La Cerva deserved better than she got on 'The Sopranos.'

June 04, 2004|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Life isn't fair, and it's especially not fair in Tony Soprano's New Jersey. Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo), the original mall moll, met her maker two weeks ago on a lovely autumn day, on her hands and knees, in the woodsy middle of nowhere. It was a bucolic setting for a gangland execution, but it was no way for her to go.

Adriana was a willful innocent with a record and a dirty conscience, but she was the closest thing to a heart "The Sopranos" had left. Without her, after this season's finale on HBO Sunday, the family's moral center is gone.

Tough on the outside, pudding on the inside, Adriana was the show's anti-Carmela. (Especially this season's Carmela. Accused by her wimpy interim boyfriend of using Tony's reputation to manipulate people, she promptly recast the criticism as good advice.) Until Adriana was tricked by the FBI into becoming a reluctant informant, her unblinking loyalty rivaled that of a laboratory beagle. (How did the Feds snag her? They engineered a best friend for the lonely girl with none.) The guilt and the stress ate her up inside in the most embarrassing way possible: Torturous bouts of irritable bowel syndrome made her an imploding bombshell.

Which was just Adriana's luck.

Sexy and hapless, Adriana -- "Ade" in the more carefree moments, of which there were few toward the end -- was idealistic, trusting and naive to a fault. Over the last few seasons, after the FBI took to sticking her in cars but ignoring her soulful attempts at a personal connection, her loyalties became convoluted, a toy chemistry set potion of fear, love, denial and good-girl obedience. But, all else aside, Adriana's blind devotion to Tony's nephew Christopher (Michael Imperioli) was as heartbreaking as it was boneheaded, and boneheaded as it was heartbreaking.

Clipped shortly before their wedding, the mobster girlfriend equivalent of getting "made," Adriana never earned the protection of Mafia wifedom. Instead, she started out and remained the original slacker-gangster's girlfriend. Her delusions about Christopher and his prospects were legion. "You could go back to writing," she suggested to Chris in a recent episode. "Or you could be a male model." But she was the only "Sopranos" character -- or the only one left -- whose love was uncomplicated, uncompromised and unconditional.

Adriana's biggest flaw -- a straight shot to her downfall -- was the way she invested those around her with the same depth of feeling she experienced herself. She may have looked like a cartoon Josie of the Pussycats, but she suffered like Antigone. Possibly more. At least when Antigone's future father-in-law, the king of Thebes, had her buried in a cave, her fiance severed ties with his dad. Christopher, on the other hand, caught a glimpse of his feckless future in the form of a trashy family piling into their beat-up car at a gas station, and immediately ratted her out to his father figure, Tony.

For a brief moment, shortly before Silvio drags her out of the car, Adriana imagines what would have happened if she'd run away without Christopher and entered the witness protection program like she'd wanted to. She pictures herself in her car, with her red nylon suitcase in the back, driving toward the protective embrace of bumbling, bad daddy alternative No. 2, the FBI. The moment remains open to interpretation. But it at least hints at the idea that Adriana went to her death like a soldier. And wound up dead in an autumnal wonderland just like the one Carmela extorted from Tony in return for pretending their marriage wasn't over.

It's hard to imagine "The Sopranos" without Adriana. And though the big hair, cat-suits and Tri-State honk will live on (for a while, anyway) in NBC's "Friends" spinoff "Joey," it's even sadder to realize that Christopher's casual cruelty will no longer have the power to elicit that sublime utterance, the true legacy of Adriana, that "Christuffuuuuh!"

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