The Sopranos: Season 4 Analyzed; Week 8
Two questions to kick off this week's discussion:
What's your diagnosis—psychological and narrative—of Ralphie? The character's been on for more than a season, but it's still hard to get a read on his combination of malevolence and foppishness. We know that he is the most irrationally brutal of Tony's crew—remember his savage beating of a young prostitute last season—and now we learn that his sexual tastes run to the hair-raisingly masochistic. But the intriguing part is that he puts himself on the receiving end of these painful romps. What do you know about masochists—beyond Melfi's boilerplate it's-about-Mom description—and how does Ralphie fit in? And why, do you think, was he put on the show?
He's certainly not The Sopranos's only sexual masochist. Tony gives Ralph a run for his money—not in the kinkiness department, but in Tony's decision to sleep with women who are sure to inflict severe suffering on him. Tony fully realizes how much Valentina, his new conquest, resembles the doomed Gloria, but he still can't stay away.
Second, what is the source of Carmela's attraction to Furio? There's the matter of his icky ponytail to explain. More important, Carmela surely knows that Furio is Tony's henchman—in other words, someone who kills as prolifically and remorselessly as Tony. It made sense, during the first season, when Carmela developed a crush on her priest—not only was he attentive and sympathetic, but he also seemed to be the moral opposite of her husband. Viewers weren't sure whether Carmela was infatuated with the priest or the absolution he offered. But Furio, despite his demeanor of sweet naivete, is just as much of a monster as Tony. Carmela—who looks particularly clever by the end of this episode—seems too eagle-eyed to miss this obvious point. But perhaps she's trying to get his husband where it hurts; maybe, by sleeping with one of his men, she could wound him as badly as he's wounded her. Maybe this crush isn't really about Furio, but about payback for Tony's infidelity.
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.