NEW YORK – Even for a show as violent as The Sopranos, the scene was a shocker.
About midway through this week's episode, a pregnant 20-year-old stripper is brutally beaten to death in the parking lot of the Bada Bing strip club. The scene had even the most experienced Sopranos fans squeamishly averting their eyes.
As disturbing as that scene was, some viewers were just as uncomfortable watching the scenes inside the strip joint, where nude dancers twirled on platform shoes in the showroom and administered to the sexual needs of the mobsters in the VIP room.
The beating, topless dancing and prostitution came across as unusually sleazy and gratuitous, and made for an especially ugly episode, despite the prevalence of similar such scenes in previous Sopranos episodes.
Among those most turned off were some women viewers, who are beginning to complain about what they perceive as the show's pervasive misogyny.
This week's episode featured alternating plotlines meant to contrast the spoiled, sheltered college life of Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), Tony Soprano's daughter who's a freshman at Columbia this season, and that of a troubled single mother around the same age who is eking out a living as a stripper and prostitute.
It's the hapless stripper, Tracee (acted remarkably by Ariel Kiley), who meets her bloody end at the hands of the combustible Ralphie Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), who has emerged as this season's psycho-in-residence, replacing the late Richie Aprile (David Proval).
Last season, Richie rolled his SUV back and forth across the unfortunate Beanzie, rendering him paralyzed.
Tough as that scene was to watch, it was nothing compared to the sight of Ralphie laying into Tracee like she was a human punching bag.
I counted a total of 13 blows, starting with one facial slap followed by one punch square in the face, then two vicious upper cuts to the stomach followed by five punches to the head while Tracee lay unconscious on the pavement.
He then smashed her head three times into a reinforced steel guardrail and gave her one last punch to the face for good measure.
Moments later, viewers got a good look at her pulverized corpse.
Strange to say, but the beating was even more vicious than the scene a week earlier in which Bobby "Bacala" Baccalieri Sr. (Burt Young) dispatched long-haired Mustang Sally with a bullet point-blank to his head, much of which was seen splattering across the walls and ceiling.
Taken together, though, the two scenes are giving viewers the feeling that the show's producers have upped the violence quotient this season.
And as they look forward to Episode 7 of Season 3 this Sunday, more than a few fans are wondering if they'll have the intestinal fortitude to tune in.