A colleague raised an important question today about Meadow's dinner party as well as her seemingly overnight transformation from a defiant daughter into a loving one. Was this for real? Personally, I bought it completely because the lives of college undergrads I have worked with frequently undergo reincarnations every semester. In fact, the surprise introduction of Meadow's relationship with Finn demonstrates how wildly transforming this period of relationship development can be. The room full of people with whom we were watching The Sopranos all said, "Finn!?! Who's he!?!" Nevertheless, Meadow is finally "settling" into her identity as a young woman, perhaps in love enough to matriculate with Finn at Northwestern. In this context, she wants to reveal her domestic skills not only to her roommates and her beloved, but also to her folks.
At such transformative times, something interesting often happens. The young adult wants to reveal what she has preserved from her upbringing, e.g. some valued identification with her mother, as well as to introduce something of her burgeoning new self. Hence, her intellectual challenging of Carmela's interpretation of Billy Budd, along with the novelty of introducing her parents to her VERY co-ed living arrangement. Such living circumstances were of course unheard of during Tony and Carmela's youth, especially to those who did not attend college. The maturation of the child always exerts pressure on the family to mature as well. Success in doing so requires the parents' ability to value what their child has retained from them as well as what she now introduces on her own. As we see, Tony and even more so Carmela fail miserably. That is frequently the case in a highly narcissistic family, where the first offspring's launch from the nest represents a profound threat to the family unity and identity.
The undermining effect of her parents' reaction can become a kind of field, sucking the adult child back in and disallowing her to freely develop a mind of her own. For this reason, I am perhaps a little less hopeful about Meadow ever extricating herself from the family drama than Joel is. Indeed, I have sometimes wondered, if the show were to go on and on, if Meadow could become the next Michael Corleone. How far behind can the American Mafia be from its counterpart in Italy? Remember, during the second season, the family don in Naples was a stunning woman. Meadow may have taken in many of Carmela's good aspects, but I suspect she has internalized plenty of her darkness.