Love and Destructiveness

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 6

Love and Destructiveness

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 6

Love and Destructiveness
Talking television.
Oct. 21 2002 2:34 PM

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 6

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Dear Peggy, Phil, and Glen,

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The show came back to life tonight. After having spent too much time meandering in the details of peripheral subplots, we've returned to its dramatic center: the complicated character of Tony Soprano. At an important point in his life and therapy, Tony realized the connection between Gloria and Livia. Despite her hot Italian get-ups and apparent vivacity, Gloria was infected with the same blackness—and inability to be satisfied—as Livia. There was, however, a major difference between the two women. Livia directed all her destructiveness outward and didn't feel an ounce of responsibility for the pain and misery she inflicted on others. Virtually devoid of any conscience, she was guilt-free. On the other hand, Gloria—for reasons we don't know—apparently directed a lethal amount of destructiveness at herself. She'd made a previous suicide attempt, almost got Tony to strangle her, and finally succeeded in killing herself.

Tony's rediscovery of his mother's darkness in Gloria seemed to have freed him from the latter's seductive spell. But the news of her suicide throws him into paroxysms of guilt. He first turns his rage on Jennifer and attacks her for her incompetence. He then redirects the attack back on himself, pointing out that Gloria hanged herself after their affair ended. But the guilt that results is too painful to bear, and Tony tries to rid himself of it. After all, he argues, he'd always been "up front" and never concealed his marriage from Gloria. He protests, moreover, that he'd tried "to reach out" to the tormented woman. But Jennifer undercuts his futile attempts at self-justification and asks the right question: "Why are you so quick to blame yourself?"

As Peggy points out, the proximity of love and destructiveness in Tony's psyche is apparent in the dream sequence. When Gloria pulls up her skirt to offer herself to him, Tony isn't sure whether he's more drawn to her vagina, the seat of pleasure and life, or her neck, the anatomical sight of her suicide. This scene also points to the danger that women represent for Tony—a danger he both embraces and tries to escape from in the arms of his gorgeous goomahs.

Artie's revelation about Tony's strategic cunning touches a sore spot in the Mafioso. All Tony's warmth and sympathy disappear, and he flies into a rage. And later, in Jennifer's office, we see Tony still smarting from the criticisms. Melfi senses an opening and comes up with one of her most direct interventions to date. She reminds Tony that his work involves usury; she implicitly suggests that much of the sense of guilt results from his criminal activities. He brushes Jennifer's intervention aside: "One suicide is bad enough," he tells her, "But two? They can go fuck themselves. I made a donation to the suicide hotline in her name. That's it." Let's see if she's more successful in a later hour.

Peggy, I see the situation with Meadow differently than you do. Sure, she's going through the typical college experience of rejecting her parents' values and working for the disadvantaged. But along with this, I think she's making an authentic effort at reparation for her family's murderous legacy and separating from them. In fact, while it is difficult—if not absurd—to envision a successful therapeutic outcome for Tony, Meadow still stands a chance. Let's see to what extent future episodes focus on her struggle to free herself.

Joel

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.