The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 4

The Sopranos' Military Code
Talking television.
Oct. 7 2002 12:03 PM

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 4


Dear Gang,


Well. I think that we are playing left, right, and center with last night's episode. Though, the writing was alive with the tragedy, farce, and wit that you mention, Glen, I see Peggy's point that it was also taxed by too many coincidents. But there is another theme that came through more clearly than ever tonight and that is that with the mob, we are dealing with the psychology of the military and its ambiguous relationship with morality. 

Johnnie's Sack's wife Jenny was dishonored, a morally reprehensible offense for sure. Under different times and circumstances this might have called for nothing short of Ralphie's execution. But when Godfather Carmine refuses to give his permission for Captain Johnnie to whack Ralphie, Johnnie risks his own extinction through insubordination. Finding himself in an equally unsavory position to Carmine's, Tony has to actually protect his Captain Ralphie, a cretin for whom he has no trust! This is the military for you. It's all rank and file with nothing short of blind obedience lest you risk "court-martial" on the one hand, with loyalty to scumbag subordinates, so long as they follow orders, on the other. Morality always plays a disquieting role in relation to the military, which more often defines its mission by the pragmatics of the politics that surround it. It is simply too costly for Carmine to allow Johnnie to eliminate Ralphie. "End of story!"

This captured for me what has always been the Sopranos' raison d'être, which is the ambiguous relationship between institutions and the moral orders that presumably define them. Allow me to note once again that the only institution the show has spared this indictment is Italian cuisine. Of equal note in last night's episode is Dr. Elliot being revealed as the consummate ethical rule bender blabbing with abandon about his patient's son to his utterly gender-ambiguous offspring. Whatever Elliot's benevolent justification for his severe breach of confidentiality, it remained nothing short of outrageous. Yet in another sense it parallels the pragmatics of the military code just mentioned, where ethics take a back seat to what seems to suit the campaign. I think the Sopranos writers are ingenious in constantly "rediscovering" this burr in the saddle of our moralistic high-mindedness. When push comes to shove, human beings seldom practice what they preach. If there is a morality lesson to be learned from all of this, I prefer the Sopranos' method of dishing it out.


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.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 12:43 PM Watch Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey Do a Second City Sketch in 1997
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.