Losing Tony Soprano

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 11

Losing Tony Soprano

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 11

Losing Tony Soprano
Talking television.
Nov. 25 2002 8:13 AM

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 11

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I'm a little nervous joining this Sopranos therapeutic famiglia,owing to e-mail exchanges like the following, involving one of the regulars, whom I won't name because doing so might frighten his or her actual patients:

Welcome to the Slate Bada Bingers! Please post your questions immediately after the show Sunday night. I have to get up early on Monday, and I need my beauty sleep.

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To which crack of the whip I replied:

Jeez, what da fuck! You bustin' my balls awreddy.

The response to which from the beautiful sleeper was:

Let's put it dis way: If you don't post somethin' by 10:30, you may find your mudda is accident prone!

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I wonder why he or she is talking about my mother, and doesn't he or she know that there are no accidents?

In any case, tonight's episode was a veritable therapy feast, with Tony at the beginning of the show expressing impatience with dream interpretation after a hot and uncomfortable silence in Melfi's office, and at the end of the show terminating his treatment—a termination that was far less, er, severe, than most of his terminations are. In between, Uncle Junior is found competent to stand trial; Janice diagnoses Bobby's obsessive grief over his wife's death ("this dispute over the [undertaker's] bill—it's morbid clinging," she says); AJ tortures Bobby's two kids by pretending to contact their mother's spirit; Tony gets down to cases against Johnny and Carmine's efforts to muscle in on the appraisal/HUD scam; Paulie flirts even more seriously with defection; and Bobby buries a cake in his wife's grave.

In the first framing therapy session, Melfi begins to analyze Tony's dream (about riding in the back seat of a car with Carmela driving, Ralphie in the front with a green caterpillar on the back of his bald head, and Gloria and then Svetlana riding next to him) for him, after he ridicules the jargon of the trade by saying, "Yeah and the gehoksastagen is framed up by the framistan." Do you think she gives in to his impatience because she feels he is about to quit? Is she like us—beginning to sense that the end (of the season) is nigh? A friend of mine has said that people he knows are already suffering Sopranos withdrawal symptoms, and the closing credits tonight seemed to indicate that HBO is playing a little on our fears of losing this regular ritual in our lives. Even the music on the soundtrack, "Surfin' USA," by the Beach Boys, which Tony first hears on the balcony of his hotel room and which then grows into the credit music, indicates departure. Are we all about to suffer something akin to what Tony calls Ralphie's "change of status"? Is Paulie really going to defect? AJ's torturing Bobby's suddenly motherless children with the séance—more about the idea of departure.

At the end, Tony does quit Melfi, at least for now. A handshake, a kiss on the cheek, an "adios," a joke about giving her a diamond pin, as he has all the other women he has used and then left, and he's out the door. Her efforts to dissuade him seem more than professional responsibility, and later on she calls Dr. Kupferberg and says, "Guess who's no longer a patient of mine. Calling all cars."—as if she were the victim herself of a criminal abandonment. Tony had said, "I'm just a fat fucking crook from New Jersey" before he left her office, so why are so many of us bereft at the prospect of losing him and having the series conclude? What does it say about us that we spend entire dinner parties ranking the sanity of the various characters? Is it that the show gives us a chance to be you? Is it that the show simultaneously makes us feel superior and represented?

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Glen O. Gabbard, M.D., is a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and author of The Psychology of The Sopranos, inspired by this discussion. Philip A. Ringstrom, Ph.D., Psy.D., is a senior faculty member at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles. Joel Whitebook, Ph.D., is on the faculty of the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Margaret Crastnopol, Ph.D., is on the faculty of the Northwest Center for Psychoanalysis. All are practicing therapists as well. Daniel Menaker is the author of The Treatment, a novel about therapy, and is executive editor at HarperCollins. Judith Shulevitz writes the "Close Reader" column for the New York Times Book Review. Jodi Kantor is Slate's New York editor.