Tragedy's New Ballast

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 12

Tragedy's New Ballast

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 12

Tragedy's New Ballast
Talking television.
Dec. 2 2002 7:53 AM

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 12

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Dear all,

Advertisement

I feel quite bereft without my Melfi fix, so I consider myself lucky to have been asked to kick off this session with her excellent peers. But, hey, we haven't been totally abandoned. We may have lost a Jennifer, but we have gained a Carmela. And, oh, what a Carmela! It can't be much fun for this sainted mother to burst out of her calcified chrysalis all of a sudden like this, but at long last she gets to be real, to have an inner life as sexual and operatic as Tony's: a desperate longing for an encounter that she knows full well could only end in her lover's or husband's death; a total refusal to let that fact impinge on her determination to gratify her lust (do you think that at some level she was hoping that Furio would in fact kill Tony?); and an unbearable depression when she's thwarted. This manifested itself as a jealous fury at her own daughter for having escaped their claustrophobic little world and gotten a chance to be all the things she, Carmela, never even tried to be. I was stunned at how mean Carmela was to Meadow at lunch at the Plaza, at how frail and obsolete she seemed in her white gloves, and at how deluded and incongruous their little tea ritual now seemed, given what the man in their family had to have been up to back when the wife first started taking the little daughter to nibble delicacies off a tea tray. Carmela has been trapped inside her fortitude and patience as thoroughly as she's been trapped in a marriage and a culture unworthy of her. While the brilliant Falco has never let Carmela's ironclad dignity mask her tremendous self-awareness or very human vulnerability or even her occasional moments of callow snobbery (like back a couple of seasons ago when she treated her old friend, Artie's wife, like the hired help), on the whole she's had her sensibilities blunted by having to be such a model of forbearance at all times. Well, she is not forbearing now, and it's a pleasure to have her humanity front and center. She's always been a tragic character, but now her tragedy has ballast. She can suffer and grow till the cows come home, but, like Tony, no matter how rich her inner life becomes, I don't see how she can ever do anything to change her circumstances.

Does psychoanalysis give us any insight into Paulie, or is he just the funniest psychopath ever written, so far gone as to be beyond the reach of psychology? With every episode this season he becomes ever more hilariously horrifying, as if the writers just want to see how far they can take a very sick joke. So, this time he kills his mother's friend (admittedly one of the most unpleasant old women to appear on television since Tony's mother died) to scrape under her mattress to steal a few bucks to give to Tony to win his love back after Paulie has repeatedly sold his boss out to the competition. I don't know. Maybe the way to understand Paulie is not as a character but as an homage to Scorsese and Joe Pesci, since they are past masters at making us laugh at this sort of exceedingly comical, gratuitously awful nut job.

Best,
Judith

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. Judith Shulevitz writes the "Close Reader" column for the New York Times Book Review. Jodi Kantor is Slate's New York editor.