The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 13
I think Ron is entirely too critical of the writers. I think the problem lies more in our expectations. We expect the characters to follow "arcs" that are programmed in our brains from years of television, film, and theater, and the writers repeatedly defy these expectations. In a New York Times interview, David Chase made the point that he attempted to create an atmosphere that resembled the way people actually interact: They talk past each other; they don't listen to one another; conflicts are not resolved; forces of inertia and entropy triumph over our desire to tie up loose plot ends. The fourth season has been stellar, for the most part, far better than anything else we have seen or probably ever will see on television. The marriage held together, like many marriages, through a concerted effort at self-deception on the part of both spouses. The final episode was about the ultimate fate of that form of self-deception.
Ron asks if the therapy has helped. I find myself resonating with much of what Peggy and Phil say. It was a heroic effort, to be sure, and it is difficult to say what would have happened without it. I thought Tony was improving after the end of the third season. Now I think we are seeing a version of a "negative therapeutic reaction"—the patient gets worse with increasing insight. Tony must destroy the therapy in the same way that he must destroy the marriage. Jennifer and Carmela represent the original bête noire of the female gender, i.e., Livia. He is motivated more by revenge against his internalized mother than by any rational forces. If he destroys the marriage and the therapy, he is triumphant. Defeat is victory. Carmela is on to him when she says, "I know you better than anyone. That's why you hate me."
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. Ron Rosenbaum is the author of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil and the recent nonfiction collection The Secret Parts of Fortune.