Through a Glass Darkly:
The Bad Guys of Wiseguy

View Sonny’s final speech
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Sonny Steelgrave: “This is it. What am I looking at ?... You a Federal or a Jersey cop ? I can't believe you’re a cop! Either way it's conspiracy. What am I looking at ? I can grow tomatoes with former Wall Street wizards. Me and Ivan Boesky. He did time, didn't he ? Yeah, he did time. I can make this work for me. I can make a much stronger case. I can plead down to a year, maybe eighteen months worse case. They’ll try to extract a price for me, but they’re too smart to take it to court. Jurors don’t believe liars. You're a liar, and, my pal, you’re a major league liar. You’ve been lying for years. You don’t even know what the thruth is anymore.”

Vinnie Terranova: “What about what you did to Patrice ?”

Sonny: “You're going to tell them about that ? What about all those feelings you said you had for me ?”

Vinnie: “Sonny, I feel for you deeply, but you can't run from this murder.”

Sonny: “Patrice is gone man. He’s gone forever. They got no corpse, they got no case.”

Vinnie: “They got videotape.”

By Melody Womack

Sex, greed, and crime...a volatile combination and one that, along with clever writing, helped make Wiseguy one of the most subversively entertaining dramas of the late 1980s. And although its setting is thoroughly contemporary, by virtue of its convoluted plots, corruption on both sides of the law, and omnipresent death and decay, in spirit WG is very much a modern day successor to the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s.

Filled with predatory females, corrupt cops, and protagonists who wriggle helplessly against the hostile fate that has seized them, noir is one of American films’ most distinctive genres. As though we were looking through ancient glass that was often cloudy and full of impurities noir characters are distorted by their greed, lust, or psychological weaknesses. In this upside down arena meek employees suddenly snap and devise intricate schemes to bilk their employers.

A simple walk home from a party turns into a nightmare plunging innocent bystanders into a circle of death. And in memorable fashion all those non-church approved, yet very enticing varieties of sexual activity abound in a bleak world where desire leads to paranoia, death and destruction. Even when it does appear, traditional marriage fares no better, becoming a symbol of oppressive entrapment that sucks the very life out of the protagonist. Seen through noir’s dark glass its villains are especially distorted, from the scarcely human Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity, to the refined but murderous Waldo Lydecker from Laura, and the deranged Cody Jarrett from White Heat. At first glance they may look like anyone else, but scratch the surface and there’s always something disturbing underneath.

During its first season, Wiseguy added a further ingredient to its dark elements by mixing in a heavy dose of noir’s predecessor, the early 1930’s gangster movies. In films like Little Caesar and Public Enemy, the badguys, Rico Bandello and Tom Powers, are larger than life centerpieces in movies that frankly admire their grit, vitality, and determination to succeed.

Of course both come to the violent ends required by the censors to prove that “crime doesn’t pay”, but as they claw their way to the top Prohibition weary audiences cheered them on. Next to these live wires the good guys are barely noticed.

Sonny Steelgrave

Sonny (Ray Sharkey) is WG’s first instance of a villain who turns out to be quite different from what we expected.
Sonny from the premier Steelgrave arc is a modern day version of these charismatic gangsters and essentially the star of the arc despite Ken Wahl’s billing. As WG’s first instance of a villain who turns out to be quite different from what we expected given his reputation, Sonny’s Mob boss is one of those bad/good guys we can understand and even root for in a dog-eat-dog world. Certainly as head of the essentially victimless crime of casino gambling in Atlantic City Sonny doesn’t arouse the disdain that a Grossett or Pinzolo would. Like Tom Powers supplying liquor to thirsty speakeasy customers Sonny is only providing what the suckers patronizing his casino are already wanting.

But catchy lines aside, the key to his character’s popularity and ultimate tragedy are the vulnerable, internal elements slowly exposed once the audience and Vinnie Terranova get past Sonny’s bravado. With no remaining family and a growing sense of isolation after his brother’s death it’s all too understandable when he accepts Vinnie as completely as he does.

And just as Little Caesar’s Rico remains devoted to his old partner, Joe Massara, even though Joe leaves him and his gang, Sonny stays intensely loyal to Vinnie despite evidence that he shouldn’t. His devotion extends to Vinnie’s mother as well so that when she’s hospitalized he spares no expense to make sure she has the best care.

Unlike Patrice who made the same offer, it’s clear that Sonny is truly concerned about Carlotta’s well being as he fills her room with flowers and visits her. This last action in particular makes an strong impression on Vinnie and from that point his friendship with Sonny moves from something faked for the job to the real thing.With its story of friendship, conflicting loyalty, and betrayal the ultimate twist of Steelgrave is this time the “badguy” turns out to be the open, trusting one and the “goodguy” is the deceiver. And like Vinnie, somehow, we want Sonny to get away.

Mel Profitt

Profitt in the guise of Mel Profitt and Roger Lococco gives us two of the most baroque badguys to ever hit the screen. Mel, a supergenius arms dealer with a yen for his sister à la Scarface, is nuttier than a fruitcake. And for all his coiled snake routine there’s something about Roger that makes us suspect he’s more than Mel’s “angel of death.”

Mel Profitt (Kevin Spacey), one of the the most baroque badguys to ever hit the screen
Described by first season story editor Eric Blakeney as a James Bond-type villain, Mel Profitt has a world wide munitions and drug empire that brings in 50 million dollars a day. With that kind of income and a live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse philosophy Mel and his sister Susan live a opulent lifestyle, spending money like there is no tomorrow.

But while the siblings obviously enjoy their piles of money there’s more to Mel than simple greed. Somewhere along the way he became a devotee of Malthusian economic theory. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) was an Englishman who gained fame for his Essay on the Principle of Population. In it he expressed his belief that the world could only support population expansion in relationship to the growth of food production. Simply put he said that while agricultural production only expanded at an arithmetic rate (1, 2, 3, 4,...) population increased at a geometric rate (1, 2, 4, 8,...).

Since people weren’t going to stop having children, at some point the population would completely surpass the amount of food needed to feed them. The only things that would hold this potential imbalance in check are wars, pestilence, and famine. Needless to say, this isn’t a popular theory today, but in pre-Industrial Revolution England it did have some credence. And in the Third World countries who form most of Mel’s customers, Malthusian economics still apply to some degree.

Another later idea of Malthus that Mel seems to have adopted as well was that excessive saving can be a bad thing. For if a man has too much money put away he has no real incentive to make more. Certainly Mel and Susan’s beyond lavish life aboard the Hotei and their hotels helps keep his nose to the grindstone.

Mel also has an unusual sense of humour, operating his legitimate businesses under the name, S&M Profitt Enterprises. And saying that the idle rich are hard to entertain, he plays Russian roulette with supposed hitman Vinnie while daring Vinnie to stop him. But he’s also manic-depressive, so when he gets too down Susan injects him with “elixir”. These toe scenes often verge on the erotic as Mel and Susan have been sleeping with each other since they were kids.

Roger Lococco (William Russ) is even more paranoid than the always-paranoid Mel.
Roger Lococco is their head of security, all purpose enforcer, and a handy man with ball bearings. A cool customer he tends to leave a trail of corpses behind him and is even more paranoid than the always-paranoid Mel. He’s also unusually erudite for a hired gun and a sculptor to boot. All in all Roger’s a complex, puzzling individual and never more so than after he meets with the mysterious Herb Ketcher.

Soon thereafter we find out that Vinnie isn’t the only mole in the Profitt’s organization. For as it turns out, hitman Roger is a CIA assassin charged with getting Mel to take over a small Caribbean island, Isle Pavot. The CIA wants to use the island as a convenient base to launch Central American black ops from and if Mel moves in, then there’ll be no connection to them. Since Roger is now known to be a CIA agent he’s technically a good guy, but in the fifteen years or so he’s been working for them he’s got quite a lot of blood on his hands. And he serves as a cautionary tale to Vinnie as to the long term hazards of the kind of work they do.

Neo-Nazis

After the charismatic Sonny, Mel, and Roger of the first season, Executive Producer David Burke felt that Vinnie Terranova had become completely overshadowed by his more flamboyant costars. Certainly they were popular with the audience and most of the magazine articles at the time talked extensively about WG’s villains instead of its erstwhile star. While part of this resulted from the nature of undercover work which requires agents to simply observe, it also reflected the fact that Ray Sharkey, Kevin Spacey, and William Russ were more accomplished actors than Ken Wahl.

White Supremacy marked a serious shift in direction for Wiseguy, with shorter arcs, Vinnie now initiating investigations, and far less time spent on the villains themselves. From then on the badguys became two-dimensional figures with almost no mitigating aspects. And when we do see sympathetic qualities in the villains they’re later exposed as merely manipulative ploys instead of being the genuine article.

And never again, with the exception of Rudy Aiuppo during Garbage Wars, would Vinnie get even remotely involved with his prey. This change wasn’t surprising given the emergence of Burke and Wahl as powers on Wiseguy when Stephen Cannell moved on to other things. But it still destroyed the very edginess that gave first season its unique qualities.

Because of these Burke/Wahl changes, the badguys of White Supremacy, Knox Pooley and Calvin Hollis, are little more than cardboard cutouts. As director Robert Iscove said, “It got harder to do the show, because he (Vinnie) was so involved with Sharkey, and he had this dichotomy in their relationship. Proffitt was so crazy that he couldn’t relate to him at all, but he did have a relationship with Lococco so that there was a give and take about how he was feeling about the job.

Then you get to the white supremacist arc, but because the Tim Guinne character (Richie Stamm) wasn’t realized or wasn’t an equal, it’s very hard to play anything other than these guys are totally stupid and he has to bring them down. His relationship with Vinnie never really changed, and as a consequence he became this whiny kid. There was no real jeopardy. They wanted to avoid traditional jeopardy on the show, but you never felt as though there was any real threat.”

When White Supremacy begins Vinnie has gone back to his old neighborhood having resigned from the OCB in disgust when he finally realized that his bosses and government were often no different and sometimes worse than the criminals he was supposed to put away. But instead finding of the same old neighborhood he left he discovers things have changed. While Vinnie adopts a laissez-faire attitude to the evolving demographics many longtime residents feel personally threatened by the new faces moving in. As though they had forgotten that not too long ago their own ethnic groups were considered undesirables by the previous residents and had suffered for it then.

To Knox Pooley (Fred Thompson), sales are sales, no matter if they’re ladies underwear, tires, fish, or $400 racist audiotapes.
By the time we first meet “Doctor” Knox Pooley at a rally in Vinnie's neighborhood he finds a ready audience for his racist diatribes. But this Pooley isn’t just the stereotypical, barely literate redneck. He’s a man who understands human nature all too well. Instead of immediately spouting some blatant racist malarkey that might turn off a portion of his audience Pooley verbally seduces them.

With a carefully balanced mix of racism and self help Pooley appeals to their victim mentality while pushing them to take charge of their lives. As Pooley holds up a mirror to his audience, “Who’s to blame? We’re the blame. Don’t blame the Jews for doing it, blame yourselves for letting them,” he soon has his audience on their feet. But it’s not long before we discover that Pooley is nothing more than a con man, a huckster who’s found a scheme that brings in money by the bushels. Like Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley, the amoral Pooley is ready to fleece any sucker who comes along. To him sales are sales, no matter if they’re ladies underwear, tires, fish, or $400 racist audiotapes.

Calvin Hollis, on the other hand, is a true believer. A frustrated, pathetic little man he is ready to do anything for “the cause.” Robbery, murder, mayhem, nothing is too much to do for his idol to whom he’d once given a treasured autographed copy of Mein Kampf.

Rick Pinzolo

Pinzolo (Stanley Tucci) is elegant, cosmopolitan, seemingly in control – and unmistakably malevolent.
Garment Trade, the story of the dysfunctional Sternberg family, offers Rick Pinzolo as the Mob boss in control of the garment district, Eli Sternberg as father dearest, and his vengeful niece Carole Goldman. Like Sidney Greenstreet’s character in The Maltese Falcon, Pinzolo is elegant, cosmopolitan, seemingly in control – and unmistakably malevolent. With his pleasant yuppie manner and everpresent juicer it’s all too easy to forget just how dangerous he is.

Eli Sternberg’s nightmare father squeezes the life out of his son and anyone else who crosses him. But after a series of seemingly chance occurrences his life is soon spiraling out of control in true noir fashion. There the protagonist’s actions only serve to make his predicament worse and blinded by his ego Eli falls into the same trap.

Seeking vengeance, Carole Goldman is a modern day femme fatale using whatever means she has her disposal to destroy her uncle. And as sex is noir’s method of choice for manipulating men Carole beds Pinzolo to recruit him to her cause. She’s successful in gaining Rick’s cooperation, but in an almost Greek tragedy her deal with the devil winds up causing the death of her beloved cousin David. As is often the case with noir lovers Carole and Rick ultimately turn on each other. A spider woman to the end she tries to catch him in her web once more for the OCB, but this fly fights back.

Winston Newquay (Tim Curry) is in the grand tradition of hissable villains
Winston Newquay

Dead Dog Records’ Winston Newquay aka Sammy Fishbine is in the grand tradition of hissable villains like Darth Vader and Cigarette Smoking Man. As owner of industry giant Radiance Records, Newquay is the picture of naked greed disguised by a glossy veneer of English gentility. Such is his vindictive glee as he crushes his opponents that when his chickens finally come home to roost we’re tempted to toss a few eggs ourselves.

It’s not too surprising either that his marriage is little more than an ongoing S&M game with Claudia as simpering victim. Indeed he treats her with such unalloyed contempt that after her death it’s hard to believe that his “grief” is much more than a ploy to gain sympathy as he does seem to recover fairly quickly from the loss of his playmate.

The Mob

After the outrageousness of Dead Dog Records the first arc of Season Three marked a return to the dark Mob roots of WG. Set amid the highly lucrative waste hauling business, Garbage Wars is the story of battling Mob bosses. It also gives us a full gamut of villains, from the not so bad Don Rudy Aiuppo to the lethal Grossetts.

We first met Rudy Aiuppo in Profitt and again during Aria for Don Aiuppo when he courted and married Vinnie’s mother Carlotta. Bearing a striking resemblance to real life mobster Carlo Gambino who was longtime head of the Gambino Family and Boss of Bosses, Rudy falls into the well established WG pattern of giving us villains who aren’t quite what we initially expected. Aiuppo clearly represents the old school of Mafiosi to whom personal honor and integrity are paramount.

Garbage Wars centers around Aiuppo who has retired from the Business for Carlotta’s sake. In a scene reminiscent of The Godfather, Rudy takes Vinnie to his old social club.

From the instant respect and deference Rudy receives from Obviously Dangerous Men we see that this little old guy whom we have grown to like tremendously is still a very powerful man. And it seems that even Vinnie is impressed.

Although Rudy is quick to hide it, from his hesitation as he opens the door to the main room we can see that he truly regrets having to go back to his old life, even though it’s for the best of reasons. For by this point Rudy and Vinnie have formed a genuine father/son relationship and it’s only to protect Vinnie that Rudy is willing to break his promise to Carlotta about never associating with “those evil men” again. Taking a seat, Don Aiuppo carefully explains that although he has returned to New York he isn’t trying to reclaim his power. And while he now considers Vinnie his son, Vinnie is not in the Business and should be left alone. But Aiuppo is smart enough to realize that his word alone won’t be good enough for some people. In a chilling bit of dialogue he threatens that if anything should happen to Vinnie “accidentally” or otherwise then he will come back and that’s something they don’t want. Clearly Aiuppo isn’t someone to be crossed lightly.

Albert Cerrico (Robert Davi) doesn’t hesitate for a second to use the most extreme measures.
When we first meet him almost immediately after the hit on Aiuppo, Albert Cerrico is trying to gain Vinnie’s support as the Don’s supposed heir. A complex character, Albert doesn’t hesitate for a second to use the most extreme measures. He’s also a devoted husband who fills his house with roses to welcome his wife, a loving father, and dedicated opera fan. But while his scenes with his son are truly touching Albert never really grabs Vinnie’s and our emotions the way Sonny Steelgrave did.

A large part of that is probably due to the fact that Sonny’s involvement with Vinnie was based on genuine friendship, whereas Albert is only using Vinnie to gain power. And once he starts talking about how his heroin will aid Darwinian evolution by ridding the world of undesirables the full extent of his evil is exposed.

The Grossetts, Joey and Gina, are a truly lethal duo. Cursed with a hot temper and more ambition than is good for him, Joey Grossett gained power by marrying the boss’ daughter. Gina Grossett has a low flashpoint as well, but is obviously the brains of the two. A tough cookie, she uses sex to keep her husband wrapped around her little finger. Her viciousness aside, Gina gains our sympathy to some degree since she has been denied her rightful place in the Mob hierarchy purely because of her gender. For with her innate cunning, sharp business sense, and strong will she would have made a formidable Mob boss.

True, she does have some degree of power via Joey, but it can only be frustrating that she has to go through a second person. So it’s hard not to applaud when she forces her way onto the Commission based on her control of the billion dollars worth of heroin.

At the end Aiuppo is revealed as the mastermind behind the setup and arrest of the entire Commission. But while Rudy was only doing the best he could to save his family and himself, Vinnie who likes to call the shots by this point see things differently. In a painful scene that can only be described as a case of the pot calling the kettle black Vinnie turns on his stepfather and completely rejects him.

General Leland Masters

General Leland Masters (Norman Lloyd) represents the kind of insidious evil that affects everyone.
In a reprise of McCarthyism and the tendency of power to corrupt, the Washington, DC, arc gives us one of WG’s more memorable villains. Unlike the Pinzolos, Grossetts, or Newquays whose influence is relatively limited, General Leland Masters represents the kind of insidious evil that affects everyone, whether they realize it or not. With a carefully-nurtured, saintly image as war hero, friend to Winston Churchill, and defender of the American way of life for over 50 years, Masters has become almost an Western icon.

Certainly much of the deference he receives is probably based on genuine admiration. However when we see him in private conversations with his toady Admiral Strichen, it’s becomes obvious that his current, benign public image is a complete sham. For that same determination that served him well on the battlefields of Europe has become distorted into a Machiavellian will to win at all costs.

As an example of patriotism mutated into extremism Masters isn’t that far removed from White Supremacy’s neo-Nazi Calvin Hollis. Whether their foci are Jews or the Japanese both are ready to take extreme measures to defend America from “its enemies”. But while Hollis is strictly small time Masters has the power of the US government behind him and isn’t afraid to use it. He expertly manipulates key members of Congress and as a trusted advisor to the President he can influence national policy to a surprising degree. And in a typical WG incorporation of actual events there are a number of references throughout this arc to the real life anti-Japanese mood spreading across America. A sentiment that Masters has taken undoubtedly taken advantage of as part of his plan.

As head of the National Security Commission, the amoral Masters is in a villainy class by himself. Even international munitions dealer Mel Profitt deals almost entirely with Third World countries. But while Mel’s actions often verge on caricature Masters welds global power with the delicate skill of a laser surgeon. So when you finally find out that he plans to financially destroy Japan by flooding it with counterfeit money there’s little doubt he can pull it off.

For despite its being dismissed as ridiculous, throughout history wars have often been fought using economic measures such as blockades and bribes. One has only to take a look at the depressed economies of Cuba and Iraq to see the havoc severe cash and resource shortages can cause. Nor is Masters’ plan to deluge Japan with bogus yen that far fetched either. There have been documented cases of counterfeit US currency being produced in bulk by foreign governments. While this money was probably intended for use in purchasing supplies it does illustrate that certain nations are not only capable of but willing to go into the funny money business.

Ethical issues of overturning governments aside, in his zeal to finally crush his old World War II enemy Masters has apparently decided to ignore the larger consequences of his coup d’etat. Instead of being confined to one country the sudden collapse of superpowers can have far reaching effects For an example one only has to take a look at famine-ravaged North Korea after it lost its financial support from the old Soviet Union.

While the destruction of the Japanese economy might have relatively small effects on the US, it would be devastating to much of Asia where Japan has more direct influence. Perhaps this is the reason economists dismissed the very concept of non-genuine destabilization of an entire country. In addition to massive logistical problems the successful end result of such a policy could be catastrophic and therefore would be unthinkable in their book. But to a soldier like Masters who matured in the days of all out war against the enemy, this would merely be the effective deployment of a powerful weapon. Not to mention an easy way to punish Vinnie for derailing his takeover of Isle Pavot.

Stemkowski, Kousakis, Harriet

Although often dismissed because of its overlying parody structure the Lynchboro/Seattle arc contains some of the most monstrous villains in WG. Unlike the Profitts or Mob bosses whose actions were motivated by business concerns, the crimes in this arc result from highly personal reasons, from perverted sexual thrills to actual hatred of the victim. Not to mention that the murders themselves are often truly sadistic, as though the person committing them wanted to cause as much suffering as possible.

Sheriff Stemkowski (David Straithairn) is the only man in Lynchboro who doesn’t patronize the local brothel.
Lynchboro’s sheriff-cum-serial killer is WG’s ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. Certainly nothing about Sheriff Stemkowski suggests anything more than a likable, fairly honest guy browbeaten by an overbearing boss. Later when we find out he’s the only man in town who doesn’t patronize the local brothel that doesn’t arouse any undue suspicion at the time. Instead, the probable thought that comes to mind is perhaps Stem doesn’t go because his personal tastes don’t exactly run towards women. A natural assumption since his obvious grief at the discovery of his deputies’ bodies suggests that he may have been involved with one or both of them.

Of course later on we discover that Stem had killed them himself so he may been putting on a show at the riverbank. Still, as he sits in his truck with his deputies he does seem to be actually sad about their deaths so perhaps he has completely disassociated the predator within from his normal, everyday personality.

In a surrealistic scene typical of Wiseguy, after Volchek has narrowed down the list of possible suspects to a handful, Stem’s reserve finally cracks. Sitting at his desk he calmly describes his 43 murders in excruciating detail to the rest of the stunned room. In fact his monotone delivery makes it sound as though he’s reading a crime report. That is until he gets to the actual act of killing his victims and then an unmistakable thrill creeps into his voice. And all the while he is preparing for and then commits electrosuicide.

Unlike the vibrant ’30s film gangsters who often embodied widely admired American traits, John Kousakis with his mercury-addled brain recalls the diseased gun happy maniacs of film noir. Certainly Richard Widmark’s psychotic laughter in Kiss of Death as he pushes a wheelchair-bound woman down a steep flight of stairs suggests he actually enjoys killing people. And in his Oedipal desire to keep his mother’s attention in White Heat, James Cagney suffers from intense self-induced headaches that verge on epileptic fits.

In John Kousakis (Vincent Gustaferro), high levels of mercury in hospital waste cause bizarre behavior.
When we first meet him Kousakis is an average, garden variety thug working the waste carting business. Soon things start to spiral out of control as Vinnie reports EMS’s illegal dumping. But when Kousakis reacts violently to this threat it doesn’t necessarily seem excessive until Harriet Weiss mentions how much he’s changed lately. Considering what a hard case she is herself this should be a tip off something is seriously amiss with Johnny. Although it’s not likely he’d be exposed to high levels of mercury in hospital waste it does essentially rot the brain and cause bizarre behavior.

With her calculating nature and fondness for bowling pins, Harriet Weiss falls squarely into the noir definition of castrating femme fatales. Money and the power that comes with it are their only loves and like Velma Grayle from both versions of Farewell My Lovely, it’s reasonable to suspect that Harriet wouldn’t hesitate to use sex to attain her goals.

Certainly Charlie Boden’s devotion and willingness to commit murder for her suggests a stronger interest than mutual greed. And although she likes to pretend otherwise, it’s obvious from the withering look she gives Kousakis when he talks about her husband that her marriage was hardly the idyllic love match she claims. Like many of noir’s spider women Harriet turns on her own “son” when she says he’ll have to be busted up. Sweet talk coming from a woman who often mentions how she had helped raise Kousakis from a baby. To satisfy the censors noir bad girls are always punished for their sins.

And in similar fashion Wiseguy’s Harriet has a particularly nasty end at the hands of her “son."

Guzman

A Cuban emigré, Amado Guzman (Maximillian Schell) seems to be the all-American success story.
The debut of Season Four marked a major sea change in Wiseguy. After having left his show in the hands of Executive Producer David Burke for two seasons, creator Stephen Cannell reasserted his control and took over the reins. In effort to bolster WG’s ratings Cannell wanted to move away from long arcs and focus more on criminals themselves, instead of dwelling at length on the travails of Vinnie. Not agreeing with Cannell’s rebooting, Ken Wahl left, followed closely by Burke. Cannell wrote out Vinnie’s character by having him kidnapped by a death squad, La Mana Blanca, and replaced him with a new operative, Michael Santana.

Often overlooked in all the uproar over Cannell’s revamping, Guzman presents a cynical look at raw power, territorial squabbling between government branches, and the thirst for vengeance. After Santana is identified as the last person known to have contacted Vinnie before his disappearance, Frank soon locates the disbarred Federal prosecutor in Miami. Shaming Santana into helping him, the trail soon leads to Amado Guzman, an old friend of Michael’s father and past subject of Michael’s professional interest as a prosecutor.

A Cuban emigré, Guzman, seems to be the all-American success story. Arriving in Miami in 1961 virtually penniless but with an intense drive to succeed, he soon began rebuilding his fortune. Years later Guzman has become a respected pillar of the Cuban-American community, owner of various businesses including the powerful Banco de la Nueva Habana and apparently, current lover of Michael’s old girlfriend, Hillary Stein. Playing on his reputation for murky ethical standards, Santana visits Guzman and tells him of his desire to make some real money after several years of living in a virtual dump following his disbarment.

Although he has known Michael since he was 10 years old Guzman is not easily convinced. Finally after a series of tests he decides he has “found one man he can trust.” And as he relates a story about Michael playing baseball as a boy and his pride in him, it becomes clear that Guzman views Michael as a surrogate son, an idea which is further emphasized when he gives Michael a shotgun that had been passed from his father and grandfather.

Publicly known for his anti-Castro views and having a wide variety of contacts throughout Central and South America, Guzman has also been a silent facilitator for many CIA operations in that area over the years. In return, the CIA overlooks Guzman’s less savory activities and often takes strong action to protect their ally, something which Frank and Michael discover when they look under the wrong rocks. For while the majority of Guzman’s interests are entirely legitimate he is heavily involved in money laundering for South American drug interests. And of consuming interest to Frank, Guzman often provides his Bravo Air and Aero Lib planes, no questions asked, to various military groups.

This latter ties in to Vinnie’s disappearance since it was Salvadoran soldiers who grabbed Vinnie in Brooklyn.

As with so many of WG’s villains it is their trust placed in the wrong person that ultimately leads to their downfall. Likewise, Guzman’s fate is sealed when he brings Michael in on his money laundering operations. Knowing the kind of people Guzman worked with over the years, when he is finally killed by assassins it begs the question as to who really sent them. Was it simply Salvadorans seeking payback, the Colombian drug lords taking vengeance, or more ominously, a CIA-arranged operation to remove a potential source of damaging information? Certainly a cagey guy like Guzman would know where too many of their skeletons are buried. And as we’ve seen he wouldn’t hesitate to use them.

Although not an individual as such, throughout Wiseguy the CIA has been depicted as a villain of sorts with its “ends justify the means” philosophy. From their attempted takeover of Isle Pavot to their constant black ops in Central America, we have seen them directly involved in a number of illegal activities. Obviously murder is part of their standard operating procedure as well since Roger Lococco was one of their most experienced assassins. And though they never say as much, during Guzman you definitely get the feeling that if Frank hadn’t finally been backed up by his FBI superiors, he might have a little accident along the way. As Michael colorfully puts it, “you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” And this CIA is infested with those bloodsuckers.

Wiseguy abruptly ended with the arrival of Jeff Sagansky, new president of CBS. As is too often the case when the heads of companies change, Sagansky decided that his predecessor didn’t know what he was doing and so he arbitrarily canceled many established CBS programs. In WG’s case, its so-so ratings weren’t really an issue as its cancellation had more to do with Sagansky’s desire to mark his territory as soon as possible. If this had happened a couple of years later there’s a good chance that Cannell could have shopped WG around to ABC or NBC. In several instances, programs that were canceled by their original network have been picked up by one of the other two who felt that the shows were still viable. Certainly it seems that ABC felt there was still life in WG since they were interested in possibly three or four more. Unfortunately, they decided to run it opposite NBC’s powerhouse, ER, so it’s not surprising that the telefilm’s ratings weren’t exactly stellar.

Although Guzman was the last arc actually broadcast, there were three more episodes produced and these can be seen in the syndicated version of the show. These were transitional episodes in which Cannell moved Wiseguy away from the hothouse of Miami and back to New York where it belonged. During the original incarnation of Wiseguy, many people felt that it was never made very clear just why Vinnie would willingly spend 18 months of his life in prison with all that it entailed just to catch criminals. Or why he would continue to stay with undercover work when it exacted such a terrible personal cost. With Santana, Cannell made his motivation for joining the OCB clear right from the start. Lured by the offer of a $7,000 cash advance Santana signs with the OCB on condition that the money is forwarded to the mortgage company about to foreclose on his sister’s house.

And in the most fundamental change of all, the OCB is disbanded almost immediately with Frank and Michael assigned to the Federal Attorney General’s office in New York. Hillary Stein moves up from Miami as well and it seems likely that the plan was to distribute future storylines between her and Santana. The last episode produced introduced Jesse Hains as a no nonsense principal who takes over a local high school overrun by violence. We do meet one major drug dealer who probably would have been the primary villain of this uncompleted arc as well as the corrupt mayor of NYC.