Dear Tim and Brian,
Man, do I know how A.J. feels: I too have felt the urge to drown myself after spending too much time on the Al Jazeera Web site. Did you know that Al Jazeera has a section called "Conspiracy Theories"? Such a service to humankind, that network! On the other hand, maybe there's something to A.J.'s meat-based paranoia.
The question I'm left with after watching last night's stellar episode, which was written by my favorite Sopranos writer, Terry Winter (who will be joining our dialogue next episode, and I'm not praising him because I fear he'll back out, because when Terry Winter makes a promise, Terry Winter keeps his promise), is whether or not Tony Soprano qualifies as a bona-fide sociopath. On matters pathological, I'm out of my depth: Tim, some of your best friends are shrinks, and Brian, you work in the television-news industry, so you must know a lot of whack jobs—can a man who feels what seems to be genuine, infinite love for his shipwreck of a son ("My little boy," Tony cries as he cradles A.J. in his arms, in a scene that reminds us, as if we need reminding, that James Gandolfini is the Brando of premium cable) also be a sociopath, as Elliot Kupferberg, between sips from his missile silo of a water bottle, insinuates he is?
I've just grabbed my copy of the DSM-IV, and Tony's behavior certainly scans sociopathic, but he also has the ability to build and maintain long-lasting relationships, most notably with his children but also, in his deeply imperfect way, with his wife, as well as with some of his lieutenants—Christopher, of course, not being one of them. Sociopaths, in my superficial reading, are supposed to be incapable of any sort of relationship maintenance.
Let's return to this later, but allow me to address the scene in last night's show that many of you HBO subscribers out there had nightmares about last night (and don't deny it): Tony's curbing of Coco, which may or may not have been sociopathic (I have daughters, if you get what I'm saying) but was certainly monstrous. This is only the second time I've ever seen a cinematic curbing. The first came in American History X, an exceedingly gripping and simultaneously nonsense-filled film from 1998 about a California neo-Nazi, who was played by Edward Norton with a big rub-on swastika on his chest. In that movie, the curbing was lethal, but in last night's episode, it was evidently not. It seems unlikely that someone could survive a curbing.
Newsflash: According to a reporter friend of mine who just e-mailed in, and who once covered the Russian mafia, curbing, or curb-stomping, is also known as the "Brighton Beach Special" and the "Russian Mouthwash," and it is generally meant to wound, not to kill. For those of you trying out for "Jackass Four," it all depends, apparently, on where the foot comes down: If it strikes the back of the neck, the patient dies; if the foot strikes the head, the jaw is separated from the skull, but death does not necessarily follow.
Did you see that look on Tony's face when he made the decision to break Coco's jaw? Pure satisfaction. What rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem, indeed?
For those of you keeping score, this was, if memory serves, the second time The Sopranos has made reference to the Yeats poem "The Second Coming" (I remember Dr. Melfi reading it to Tony a few season ago). We could spend all week unpacking this. Some thoughts:
1) How can you not love the way The Sopranos fears no cliché, and "The Second Coming" is such a cliché—a flabbergastingly beautiful, dread-filled poem, but one that is cited to death (apparently, it's a metaphor for, among other things, the fall of the Romanovs, the Iraq war, and everything in between);
2) Have you read much Yeats? There was a guy who was definitely tripping on peyote;
3) Who's the rough beast? Phil Leotardo? Tony? Satan, manifest as Tony? Or Tony's "putrid" genes, which are, ultimately, the subject of last night's episode? We're returning to core themes now: meat and Livia. She was nearly the death of A.J. last night. Mother of mercy, will she somehow be the end of Tony?