In the words of the great American poet Britney Spears, Karen Hill is not that innocent. Sure, she may start out all naïve, easily impressed by Henry's ability to dish out $20 bills left and right, but it's not long before she's completely consumed by her darling hubby's criminal activities.
Those Blinders Really Complement Her Pantsuit
So, how does a nice girl like Karen get caught up in a life of crime? In a word, money. Karen is willing to turn a blind eye to Henry and his crew's shady dealings because it pays for her comfy lifestyle. When she wants to go shopping, she doesn't use her own money. She doesn't even ask Henry for a specific dollar amount, like 50 bucks to buy a new Bass-O-Matic. Instead, she holds up her fingers with a smile, indicating how fat a stack she wants.
Karen isn't all about the Benjamins, though. By her own admission, she's equally turned on by Henry's power:
KAREN: I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn't. I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.
Being Henry's girl, Karen feels above it all. She's powerful by association. Pretty soon, the life of a mob wife starts to seem routine:
KAREN: After a while, it got to be all normal. […] We were all so very close. I mean, there were never any outsiders around. Absolutely never. And being together all the time made everything seem all the more normal.
We'd call that losing perspective.
Stand by Your Man
Forget Jimmy and Tommy. Karen is the most loyal member of Henry's posse. She may be on the payroll, but—first and foremost—she's his wife. She's the one who serves coffee when the cops come a-knockin' with search warrants. She's the one who takes care of their daughters. She's the one who sneaks contraband into prison in a puffy coat. She's the one who flushes the evidence. She's the one who agrees to never see her parents again and move to Nowhere, USA, with her man.
In short, Karen is Henry's backbone. She's proud of her husband's ambition:
KAREN: None of it seemed like crime. It was more like Henry was enterprising, and that he and the guys were making a few bucks hustling, while the other guys were sitting on their asses, waiting for handouts. Our husbands weren't brain surgeons; they were blue-collar guys. The only way they could make extra money, real extra money, was to go out and cut a few corners.
Is she rationalizing away Henry's law-breaking line of work here? You betcha. But, ultimately, Karen loves Henry in a way that Paulie, Jimmy, and Tommy never approach.
She's Not Going to Be Ignored, Janice
It's fitting, then, that Karen is more willing to overlook Henry's violent criminal activities than his infidelities. When she gets wind of Janice, that's when Karen's feistiness—that same nerve that initially captivated Henry—hits its peak. She goes to Janice's apartment and scares the crap out of her. Hijacked trucks and murdered mobsters are one thing, but when Karen's heart and pride are on the line, things get personal:
KAREN: Something's going on! ... I look in your face, and I know that you're lying ... Get out of my life! ... You're a lousy bastard ... Go to your ready-made whores. That's all you're good for. Get out of my life. I can't stand you.
But, even as she's holding a gun in his face, she knows she can't leave him. She doesn't want to.
Karen vs. the Mob
Here's the thing, though: Janice, and even Sandy, aren't Karen's major competition. Henry isn't kidding when he tells Karen—and the gun she's holding in his face—that she's the only gal for him. The problem, for Karen, is that Henry's number-one honey is the indulgent mafia lifestyle. He digs it even more than she does, and he loves it even more than he loves her. She may see herself as Henry's ride-or-die, literally, but Henry's real marriage is to the mob. 'Til death do they part.