Saturday, August 25, 2012

Villain Construction - Tano Caridda of "La Piovra"


I tried like heck to resist La Piovra, or The Octopus, a long running Italian television series from the late 80s and 90s that has been showing for on my local public television station. The multiyear series is a straight-up soap opera about the Sicilian Mafia. The first year's series made it easy for me, the central character was a cardboard cut-out detective who's incorruptible nature made him dull as dishwater to watch. The show set up a series of predictable obstacles to the central character; from the killing of his trusted assistant to corrupt policemen undermining him to the kidnapping of his daughter. His jaw clenched tighter and the detective moved onward.
 But a couple of weeks ago I tuned in out of boredom and was fascinated by a character whose presence had somehow escaped me in earlier viewings - Tano Caridda. In the episode I watched Tano explained how he had learned to live among madmen while confined in an insane asylum. Tano (and it is very telling that the series' writers emphasize this simple, memorable name) was a sort of Mafia financier in the early stages of the series and obviously modeled after Roberto Calvi. Now, as in the time La Piovra was originally on air, banking is a link between the Vatican, the Mafia and the Italian political establishment.
 In the television series, the laconic Tano stands at the center of byzantine plots and betrayals. He is ostensibly a Mafia member but is often in league with police and prosecutors when it suits his purposes. "Tano is for Tano," as the character explains in the clip above. The episode I watched showed Tano sitting in the middle of an ornate palazzo looking at a bank of computer screens mounted on a plain, white wall. The imagery reminded me of Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse - sitting in shadows and directing his elaborate schemes.
 I admit that the character Dr. MacKenzie Catalpa in Manny Tippitoes is modeled after Mabuse. He is, after all, a criminal mastermind fronting as a psychiatrist. As I've investigated La Piavra and Tano's role within the series, I've hit upon some curious aspects to the character. With each succeeding series Tano played more and more of a center role. The beginning of one year's episodes even flashed back to his youth to tell a back story - Tano is the illegitimate son of a Mafia chieftan. Thusly, he is driven both to climb his way through the criminal organization and avenge his raped mother. That's some motivation.
 What I've seen and discovered about Tano Caridda will be reflected in the portrayal of Dr. MacKenzie Catalpa in the next Manny Tippitoes book. The character's plots and ambitions will be developed, although I'm not quite certain how I can get Dr. Catalpa an abandoned castle headquarters on the slopes of Mt. Aetna.