Narcissism and Its Vicissitudes, Redux

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 6

Narcissism and Its Vicissitudes, Redux

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 6

Narcissism and Its Vicissitudes, Redux
Talking television.
Oct. 21 2002 8:19 AM

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 6

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Dear Glen, Joel, and Phil,

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Last night's episode once again treats us to a theme and variations on the many faces of narcissism. Meadow unthinkingly drags her wet-behind-the-ears brother to the South Bronx (quite a potential danger zone for someone like A.J.) in order to showcase her personal political do-good-ism. A.J. himself preens in front of peers and girlfriend, yet can't deliver the goods of satisfying their desire to be vicarious "bad boys and girls" through association with a sufficiently showy "baby don." And Artie too experiments with a pseudo-identity as powerful mafioso, only to find he can't cut it (literally and figuratively).

In contrast, Tony's struggle to resurrect himself in his own eyes after learning of Gloria's suicide seems somewhat more genuinely based, if not exactly noble. It is satisfying to see him pricked with a guilty conscience and even a soupçon of shame (though he no doubt overvalues his role in Gloria's demise) for more than a single scene. He courts Artie, Janice, Carmela, and even Brian, as he tries to establish his "goodness" against all evidence to the contrary.

A relevant counterpoint to Tony's desire to be "good" for friends and family is his longing for the love of a good mother, as symbolized by the dreamed-of (and later embodied) woman-in-a-blue-dress. That "good woman" symbol echoes the voluptuous mother of Tony's fantasy in earlier episodes and stands in bold contrast to this episode's woman-in-black dream figure. The Gloria of Tony's nightmares seems to offer a choice between sex and death, only to make it death by the removal of her neck scarf. And of course the therapist, as in most deep-enough psychodynamic psychotherapies, epitomizes "mother" in both her incarnations as a death-dealing and life-affirming force of nature. If Tony could settle in to the therapeutic experience (looks like he'd been truant for some time, till he got the news about Gloria), he'd have the chance to get back to exploring and perhaps healing that bad-mother/bad-me linkage so amply laid down by the sadistic ministrations of his actual mother, Livia.

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.