Profound Struggle for Self-Worth

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 11

Profound Struggle for Self-Worth

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 11

Profound Struggle for Self-Worth
Talking television.
Nov. 26 2002 11:59 AM

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 11

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

I find I must beg to differ with Judith and Glen on this one. I don't think Tony quits treatment to forestall a confession—in fact, I don't think he gets much closer to a confession in this therapy session than in any other. He has always spoken elliptically about his darker activities, always flirted with saying more than he should to Jennifer. I think his decision to terminate derives directly from a) his frustration with his own overly impulsive functioning; b) his shame at recognizing Svetlana's insight, that he's a high maintenance crybaby ("sad clown") rather than someone willing to pilot his own ship; and c) that he's re-enacting Svetlana's rejection of him by rejecting the female he respects most, his therapist (see prior seasons for evidence of the latter). Underneath this layer, I think Tony has gotten more deeply in touch with the wastefulness of his existence (if not bemoaning its depravity), and that he is in existential despair, as his dreams suggest.

As for being guilt-driven, I again demur. I believe Tony's guilt is fleeting and of minor proportions. I think instead he's driven by a profound narcissistic struggle for self-worth—which by the way has its own perverse nobility. Moreover, in this episode we find Tony taking on a major life question—the nature of courage, fortitude, or psychic strength. Svetlana defines it one way, Jennifer another, and Tony is trying to carve out his own definition. Against my softer sensibilities (and contrary to my zeal to have him remain in treatment), I have to admire him for that.

Peggy

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.