Strike When the Iron Is Cold

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 7

Strike When the Iron Is Cold

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 7

Strike When the Iron Is Cold
Talking television.
Oct. 28 2002 1:43 PM

The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 7

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Dear Gang,

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Jodi's take on the episode about "lying by omission" took the words out of my mouth. Personal truths were shuffled with the speed of a game of three card monte.

Why is this pattern so prevalent? The answer, I think, lies in fear and rage. Zellman waits to tell Tony about his love affair with Irina, Adriana waits to tell Christopher about her infertility, Jennifer waits to confront Tony's outrage. Each in their own way dreads what will follow from their revelations, and as we see, their fears are warranted.

This pattern reminded me of a conversation Glen and I had years ago about working with primitively organized patients (i.e., severely ill with very poor impulse control). We agreed that when working with explosive personalities, it's best to strike when the iron is cold—when the patient is calmest. Peggy, this may account for Jennifer's long-standing pattern to defer confrontations with Tony. As Joel says, it seems to be working in the sessions, though progress still stops pretty much at the door. We can only hope that Tony is in transition. Jennifer makes it safe for Tony to examine his rage in a more controlled, safer environment, one in which the therapist does not become defensively enraged herself. His actions with her suggest his progress is contingent upon his feeling safe enough with her, which for ample reasons he does not feel elsewhere.

At times the show's writers seem even more drawn to classical psychoanalytic thought than many of us on the contemporary scene. The conflict between civility and the demands of sexual and aggressive urges, especially when the latter are threatened, resurfaces again and again. This probably makes sense. As Freud said, "If you don't believe me, go ask the poets," i.e., fiction informed Freud, and Freud informed fiction. Ultimately, most fiction thrives on conflict. Hence, if Tony has convinced both Dr. M and some of the rest of us that his impulse control is getting better, he sure as hell felt the primitive caveman urge to reclaim his old love Irina from Zellman with nothing short of a horse whipping. Irina remains Tony's possession in his mind, and now that the councilman has pointed out that she is more of a thoroughbred than Tony realized, his loss of her is intolerable. Irina's own tortured pull between past and present lovers shows that this little filly's in conflict, too.

Phil

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.