Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#71
I’m very late to this thread, wanting to save the best for last.:icon_wink:

Most every point I’m inclined to make has already been made several times over. But I’ll offer these random comments now and hope to respond to a few particularly provocative posts later.

Did the Melfi/Tony breakup remind anyone of the beautiful Stephen Sondheim song “Send in the Clowns”? First, for those unfamiliar with it, your ears will thank you if you give it a listen, as the music is sublime. Second, though the lyrics apparently concern the final breakup of a tumultuous romantic relationship, they just as aptly describe the tumultuous dance of Tony’s therapy:

Isn't it rich, are we a pair
Me here at last on the ground
You in mid-air
Send in the clowns

Isn't it bliss, don't you approve
One who keeps tearing around
One who can't move
Where are the clowns
Send in the clowns

Just when I'd stopped opening doors
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours
Making my entrance again with my usual flair
Sure of my lines
No one is there

Don't you love farce,
My fault I fear,
I thought that you'd want what I want
Sorry my dear!
But where are the clowns
There ought to be clowns
Quick send in the clowns

What a surprise, who could foresee?
I'd come to feel about you what you felt about me?
Why only now when I see that you've drifted away?
What a surprise...
What a cliche...

Isn't it rich, isn't it queer
Losing my timing this late in my career
And where are the clowns
Quick send in the clowns
Don't bother, they're here


Has Tony ever been less sociopathic in her office? More genuine? More appreciative for whatever psychiatry has to offer? More reasonable? More measured, righteous, and subdued in responding to a legitimate, hostile attack?

Has Melfi ever been less empathic, less professional, more oblivious to and indulgent of her own psychological baggage?

There are some similarities to that great scene in the coffee shop at the start of season 2. But Melfi’s anger there was entirely righteous, having just lost one patient to suicide and having had to treat others from a motel room because of looming death threats associated with Tony’s mob wars. And Tony wasn’t anywhere near as sympathetic in that scene, diminishing his “I don’t deserve your help” with “I hate your fucking system”.

In re-watching the “Send in the Clowns” session from Blue Comet several times, I was struck by how particularly well-dressed Tony was. (I read the Slate article last night, and Brian Williams was suitably impressed that Tony was wearing a “Zegna camel-hair blazer”, which I suspect confirms my very uneducated guess that Tony was particularly spiffy that day.) That in turn reminded me of an admission from Tony in Cold Cuts that I’ve always found very touching. When Melfi brings up Johnny Boy and the chopped off finger, Tony was ashamed and regretful that he’d revealed that story to her, implying that he “dresses nice” for their appointments because he wants her to think well of him. And keep in mind this is not long after he pushed and pushed to date her, ultimately forcing her to admit that she could never do that because of the immoral life he led.

Season 5 brought home to me that, the further into therapy he moved, the more he seemed to be using it as some kind of place to find mainstream acceptance, respectability in the eyes of a respectable woman. Or, to paraphrase David Chase from a 2002 interview, Tony’s ultimately trying to re-mother himself in that room (a room where, in the most significant moments, Melfi says something akin to childbirth takes place).

Just 3 episodes ago, Melfi sensed Tony was on the verge of a very important breakthrough. It was the moment when Tony teared up and mercilessly indicted himself and his “genes” for poisoning AJ’s mind and even his “soul”: “I know this is hard, but I’m very glad we’re having this conversation.” Her measured, earnest, soft tone was almost identical to the soft tone she’d used in Army of One when, at a similarly critical juncture, she sat forward and pleaded with him, “Anthony? Make me understand.”

But Melfi is human and sometimes quite emotional and volatile in her personal life. And putting 7 years into Tony against the counsel of colleagues and family and her own doubts has given her a particularly personal stake in the outcome of his therapy, a stake that has at times clouded her judgment. It certainly obscured her professionalism in the termination scene of Blue Comet.

Contrary to some of the comments in this thread, I think she had been steadily losing patience -- and hope -- since shortly after the shooting when he not only refused to speak about Junior but gradually eroded his “every day is a gift” motto to wish that the gift be more than a pair of socks. The look on her face in The Ride after he spoke that line spoke volumes. If nearly dying can’t bring him around . . .

I agree entirely that her motives for keeping Tony have been multi-faceted. The excitement of getting that close to “high voltage”, without much risk of lethal shock, was certainly alluring. But I feel her dominant and unquestionably genuine motive for keeping him so long was that she believed him to be enough of a human being to warrant extension. She believed that his pronounced sensitivity to/love for ducks was symbolic of his sensitivity to/love for his own family. She believed that the very fact of his persistent depression and anxiety spoke of the presence of a conscience, however primitive, and of an internal struggle that went far deeper than worries over guys flipping. She sensed that his extreme grief over the death of a horse was somehow a displaced grief over the fear of losing a person.

Despite the Yochelson study indicating “sentimentality for pets and babies" as evidence of sociopathic conniving in therapy, online psychiatric literature provides ample contradiction on this and many other “symptoms” of antisocial/sociopathic personalities. Numerous studies indicate a specific link between sociopathic/psychopathic personalities and cruelty to animals, particular animal cruelty committed in childhood. Serial killers and other conscienceless criminals frequently start out on animals because they are relatively “safe” targets for indulgence of homicidal urges. The kind of genuine and extreme compassion Tony has for animals, which extends beyond “pets” to even raccoons in the road, contradicts the conscienceless, compassionless feature of sociopaths. Ditto for a similar identification with babies.

What these sensitivities, in combination with Tony’s genuine sociopathic traits, suggest above all to me is that Tony harbors a deep identification with “innocent” life and a concomitant deep blame for those that heartlessly rob innocents of their innocence. It’s precisely why the smashed car seat and admissions of drug abuse seemed to me adequate triggers for the insatiable impulse in Tony to murder Chris.

Whatever this juxtaposition makes Tony, a vigilante acting on his own parental grudges or just a garden variety sociopath, the one thing of which I am certain is that he has not in any way affected or put on these sensitivities nor has he employed them, consciously or otherwise, to garner favor from others for himself. They are completely genuine emotions, and that fact alone is enough reason for Melfi to disregard the implications of the Yochelson study, something she still seemed able to do in first reaction to the collegial ambush Elliot set up for her: “What’s a true sociopath, anyway?”

IMO this question was at the crux of her anger and her unethically executed, extremely cold dismissal of Tony. She was barely containing her hostility at the start of the session but increasingly degenerated thereafter with every sign of sadness or emotion from Tony. Just weeks ago, she actually SMILED when she observed “you’re hurt” in response to Tony’s outpouring about Christopher in Stage 5, smiled not in pleasure at his pain but in confirmation that he could not feel that kind of hurt in the absence of love, in the absence of humanity. After reading the Yochelson article and being sufficiently bullied by people who know absolutely nothing about Tony Soprano, her ear was tuned to hear every expression of disappointment as a ploy, her eye to see every tear as a contrivance in a larger con job. The emotion that once convinced her of his humanity was now convincing her of the opposite, and she could not contain her shame and anger at the perceived fraud.

What’s interesting to me is that almost everyone in this thread assumes this is the end of Melfi. I do not, cannot. Just as she softened, felt guilt, and eventually asked Tony to come back to therapy in season 2, she will soften, feel guilt, and eventually, call or try to talk to Tony after this breakup. He may not be willing to take her call, but I would be shocked if she doesn’t reach out in some way, especially after she hears on the news what’s going on in his life. She is too smart and too principled to completely discount 7 years of instinct and experience with this man, let alone that she much more closely resembled a sociopath in their last encounter than he did. She may well conclude that she can’t continue to treat him, either because of her ethical breach, his unwillingness to continue, or the belief that he is in fact beyond the reach of whatever help she can give. But IMO she will also recognize her own ethical violations in hindsight and will at least attempt an apology if not a referral to another doctor.
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#72
Wonderful suggestion to use Sondheim's "Send In The Clowns" as a thinking point, Fly. Especially considering Tony's thought of himself as "the sad clown." No doubt Melfi acted impulsively and I too am convinced we will see her in some capacity before it is all said and done. After all - it started with the two of them. It should end that way - some how.

When I was reading your post, I was struck by a thought in considering Tony's love for "innocents." I certainly don't disagree with you that he has some emotion towards such creatures, but what struck me was the number of "innocents" that have suffered due to his command. Just in this last episode, consider that not just the comare died as collateral damage, but so too her father as the "case of mistaken identity." If that's not an innocent, I don't know what is (and one cannot deny that Chase did all he could to remind us of the innocents role in organized crime during this episode.)

Looking over the criteria for a sociopath, I find this:

Diagnostic Criteria (DSM-IV)

1. Since the age of fifteen there has been a disregard for and violation of the right's of others, those right's considered normal by the local culture, as indicated by at least three of the following:
A. Repeated acts that could lead to arrest.
B. Conning for pleasure or profit, repeated lying, or the use of aliases.
C. Failure to plan ahead or being impulsive.
D. Repeated assaults on others.
E. Reckless when it comes to their or others safety.
F. Poor work behavior or failure to honor financial obligations.
G. Rationalizing the pain they inflict on others.

2. At least eighteen years in age.

3. Evidence of a Conduct Disorder, with its onset before the age of fifteen.

4. Symptoms not due to another mental disorder.
And Conduct Disorder is defined by:
A repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated, as manifested by the presence of three (or more) of the following criteria in the past 12 months, with at least one criterion present in the past 6_months: Aggression to people and animals
  • often bullies, threatens, or intimidates others
  • often initiates physical fights
  • has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)
  • has been physically cruel to people
  • has been physically cruel to animals
  • has stolen while confronting a victim (e.g., mugging, purse snatching, extortion, armed robbery)
  • has forced someone into sexual activity
Destruction of property
  • has deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention of causing serious damage
  • has deliberately destroyed others' property (other than by fire setting)
Deceitfulness or theft
  • has broken into someone else's house, building, or car
  • often lies to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations (i.e., "cons" others)
  • has stolen items of nontrivial value without confronting a victim (e.g., shoplifting, but without breaking and entering; forgery)
Serious violations of rules
  • often stays out at night despite parental prohibitions, beginning before age 13 years
  • has run away from home overnight at least twice while living in parental or parental surrogate home (or once without returning for a lengthy period)
  • is often truant from school, beginning before age 13 years
The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.
If the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Obviously, we cannot know what Tony was like prior to the age of 18 with the limited information Chase has allowed us, so it's difficult to know how well he fits this last portion, but all other criteria for a sociopath's behavior seems to fit. Of course, a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist could assist in helping to fully define the behavior and how Tony fits it.

But I have been somewhat curious at Melfi's question - "who's a true sociopath?" Again, someone in the field or familiar with it might help us to determine - is this a general question asked and believed? Are "true sociopaths" that hard to determine? And finally (and perhaps more important) to what extent was Melfi (and ourselves, to be sure) "conned" by this character of Tony Soprano?
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Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#73
But I have been somewhat curious at Melfi's question - "who's a true sociopath?" Again, someone in the field or familiar with it might help us to determine - is this a general question asked and believed? Are "true sociopaths" that hard to determine? And finally (and perhaps more important) to what extent was Melfi (and ourselves, to be sure) "conned" by this character of Tony Soprano?


Honestly, I get the impression that the term "sociopath" is extremely fluid and unstandardized within the field. Some use it interchangeably with "psychopath". Some differentiate between the two based on cause: environmental conditioning for sociopathy and genetics/biology for psychopathy.

IIRC, "sociopath" is not an actual term used in the DSM-IV. That document opts for the broader category of Antisocial Personality Disorder. I came across publications just today that consider the terms loosely synonymous and others that definitely consider sociopaths to be a subset of APDs.

I read the book "The Psychology of the Sopranos" by Dr. Glen Gabbard, head of the psychiatry department at Baylor College of Medicine (http://www.bcm.edu/psychiatry/?PMID=1944). The book was written after season 3 and before season 4. He spends quite a lot of time on the issue of whether or not Tony is a "psychopath" and what that term means anyway. Here are some edited excerpts:

Tony Soprano has the good fortune to be referred to a psychoanalytically-trained psychiatrist, who knows that the symptomatic tip of the iceberg may herald the presence of deeper layers of conflict. . . .

Anxiety and depression are syndromes or symptomatic disorders as opposed to disorders of personality. Many psychiatrists feel this distinction is Jesuitical hair-splitting, but clinicians typically think about the patient's character as separate from the symptoms the patient is complaining about, and many choose to ignore personality traits or character altogether while aggressively treating the symptoms with medication.

Jennifer Melfi, however, is a psychoanalyst (we frequently see the analyst's couch strategically place in one corner of her office), and she rushes in where all too many biological psychiatrists fear to tread. Even in the first session, knowing of his notoriety, she asks Tony if he's comfortable with the way he makes his living. In other words, she challenges his very essence because she senses that his symptoms of anxiety and depression cannot be entirely divorced from who he is. Personality is the soil from which symptoms emerge.

This consideration of Tony Soprano's underlying character structure brings us to a controversy that has hovered over the series since its inception: Is Tony a psychopath? . . .

The term "psychopath" is not part of psychiatry's official diagnostic manual. It was originally used to describe people who totally disregard the law and are completely unable to empathize with the feelings or concerns of others. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the term "psychopath" fell out of favor. "Antisocial personality disorder" became the preferred diagnostic label for corrupt people who had no regard for the laws of civilization. This terminology has been widely criticized, however, because it casts too broad a net.

Because of these criticisms, the term "psychopath" is currently making a comeback. It now refers to a person prone to criminal behavior who has a sadomasochistic style of interacting with others based on power and a total absence of remorse for the harm he does. In fact, a psychopath enjoys the suffering he inflicts. He is not capable of loyalty and loving emotional attachments. . . .

[Psychopaths] are profoundly detached from all human relationships and from emotional experience in general. They cannot learn values from their parents in the way that most of us do, so their behavior is not subject to pangs of conscience. A psychopath would not do well in Tony Soprano's Mob family. Loyalty to others and a deep bond of attachment are absolutely necessary to survive in that family. [I would certainly quibble with this!]

When psychopaths do find their way into Mob families, they are regarded as troublemakers who disrupt business operations. In The Sopranos, Richie Aprile and Ralph Ciforetto are probably psychopaths. Both are scheming and ruthless manipulators. Neither shows the slightest loyalty in the way they move within the Mob. They are so self-absorbed they remind us of one definition of narcissism -- a person who shouts his own name during orgasm. In Martin Scorcese's Goodfellas, the unforgettable character played by Joe Pesci is a quintessential psychopath, creating major problems for his fellow gangsters by shooting people for sport and otherwise indulging in reptilian pleasures.

Our current understanding of psychopathy leads us to an unequivocal conclusion: Tony Soprano may not be New Jersey's version of Mother Teresa, but he is clearly not a true psychopath.
He goes on to cite numerous examples of Tony manifesting love and loyalty towards others in both families. And he also acknowledges that Tony is a "thug". He ultimately concludes that Tony is "split down the middle."

The concept of "splitting," first described by Freud, explains how a person can harbor contradictory attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, keeping them safely separate from one another with a healthy does of denial. The separation is not as extreme as the division in multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder), because the disparate halves are consciously aware of each other. (By contrast, the primary "personality" in true dissociative identity disorder is generally not aware of the other "personalities.") The term "vertical split" has been coined to describe this type of defense. The result is that the person is not terribly conflicted by the incompatibility of different sectors of the personality. When others point out the contradictions, he may react with bland indifference -- "What's the big deal?" In fact, the reason for the defensive splitting is to keep these contradictory parts unintegrated so they do not create conflict, anxiety and psychic pain.


Anyway, offered for what it's worth. I tend to agree with Melfi in that putting a label on any of this stuff is not particularly easy or helpful. I have to think some part of her still trusts that Tony is not a "thing, devoid of feelings". When she cools off and takes time to brood about it, I think she will come to feel shame for the way she dumped him and will attempt to atone for it.
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#74
Fly, thanks for the excellent post.

I was curious what you thought of my earlier post (top of page 3 of this thread) suggesting specific ways Melfi could have been more empathetic with Tony throughout the therapy.

In my practice, I have found this kind of empathy very helpful to people like Tony, but it also results in LESS acting out and less criminal behavior, not more, and this would not make for a very entertaining dramatic program.

Gabbard, in my opinion, is limited in his capacity to see Tony's humanity and progress over these last years (see yesterday's piece in the NY Times), because he is a traditional psychoanalyst, and these guys just don't do well with people like Tony because they are unwilling or unable to empathize in the deeper way I am suggesting in my earlier post.

Thanks again.

Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#75
FlyOnMelfisWall wrote:

Anyway, offered for what it's worth. I tend to agree with Melfi in that putting a label on any of this stuff is not particularly easy or helpful. I have to think some part of her still trusts that Tony is not a "thing, devoid of feelings". When she cools off and takes time to brood about it, I think she will come to feel shame for the way she dumped him and will attempt to atone for it.


The show has had so many turns and reversals from episode to subsequent episode (sometimes within one episode even!) that I think it's a major probability that T and Melfi will be talking again for the last episode. All character and plot analysis aside, to speak about Chase as a storyteller, leaving us hanging with the biggest loose end - namely Melfi ditching T - would be a great disservice not only to his audience but to the narrative as a whole.

EDIT: then again, this is Chase we're talking about.

Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#76
Hi, levinpsy, and let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the forum. We lost two of our mental health professionals that were posting with us last year (where are you jtod and observing ego??), so it's great to have another here to help the rest of us out.:icon_wink:

I'm happy to respond to your earlier post, but I must remind that I know nothing about appropriate psychotherapy techniques or the various schools of thought or methodologies associated with them. So my opinions derive (hopefully) from common sense and personal philosophy and from what I have read about Chase's thoughts in the same areas.

levinpsy wrote:Yes, I agree, Krakower, Tony is still lacking in empathy and he has not progressed in this area with Melfi. But the 'study' would have us believe this is because Tony's a criminal or a sociopath and he would not make progress no matter who his therapist was.

I think this is false and Chase on some level knows it.


If a sociopath is defined as a person completely lacking in conscience, compassion, and the capacity for loving attachments, I think Chase would agree that Tony is not a sociopath. If a sociopath is defined as a person with serious impairments in the above areas, then Chase (like most of us) would agree that Tony is a sociopath.

On this continuous scale, I’m not sure how much conscience or sense of compassion must be present -- or, more saliently, how many people must be objects of that conscience or compassion -- in order to conclude that there are raw materials for character reformation. Though the Tony of season 5 was unquestionably darker than the Tony of previous seasons, he recovered and even gained some ground in season 6A. Up until Kennedy and Heidi, I still had hope he might achieve a meaningful breakthrough in terms of evaluating how he’s lived his life and what he wants to do with the rest of it, mainly for the benefit of his son.

I still hope/expect for something significant from him in the finale but obviously nothing as grand as what I dared hope for after Mayham.

There’s an interesting dichotomy between myself and Chase in this area. His interviews demonstrate that he is a confirmed believer in free will and behavioral choice. Just before this season, he commented (paraphrasing), “Tony and Carmela are intelligent adults that made choices in life and, like all of us, will have to live with the consequences of those choices.”

I agree that at least a fiction of autonomy is absolutely necessary to a civilized society and to criminal and other codes of conduct. It is also a fundamental assumption of therapy or of any effort to reform behavior or character. But I have my doubts about how “free” anyone’s will is or how much real choice they have in how they behave.

The irony is that I wish for the triumph of autonomy and character reformation in the Sopranos while Chase has consistently portrayed, with character after character, that people simply do not change, not volitionally and certainly not with any degree of self control. They are what they are or, at least, what circumstances make them. So Chase and I both seem to value dramatically what is almost diametrically opposite our personal philosophies.

With that background, I’ll address a few of your specific proposals:

"Of course you feel trapped...what an impossible spot you are in."
"Of course you're involved in criminal activity...this is not because you're bad or a criminal, it's because it was the only choice offered to you by your parents, and once you got in, you couldn't leave...it's not your fault."
I don't think Chase believes this. He really seems to buy into personal responsibility and rejects the notion that parental failings are the cause of the failures of adult "children" to ultimately seize and control their own destinies.

No matter how much I might agree with you that behavioral choice is mostly illusory, I can't subscribe to any therapeutic technique that attempts to purvey that view. It offers little to no counter incentive or environmental force for behavioral change in the patient and helps condition him to believe (and act as if) he lacks the power to do anything about his conduct himself. That doesn't seem like a combination likely to produce change IMO. In other words, you can't make someone exercise autonomy by teaching them that it doesn't exist.

"Of course you feel like you can't have empathy or compassion for yourself or others...this kind of feeling was not permitted by your parents or by your current business...the penalty for feeling empathy for a mob boss is often death."
I agree with this and think it would have been an excellent tact for Melfi to take. At times she came close to things like this ("your parents made it impossible for you to experience joy"; "tell me about the happy, warm, loving memories" (met with a story of Livia laughing because Johnny fell down some stairs)). But she never hit that particular nail on the head.

For psychologists to have abandoned 'sociopaths' as unworkable is folly, and my hope (guess?) is that Chase feels the same way. IMHO, we just haven't tried TRULY empathizing with the Tony Sopranos of the world yet, and until we do, we will all be that much worse off.


I get the impression that Chase isn't particularly sympathetic to the Tony Sopranos of the world, which is odd to say since he wrote this incredible character study that has made so many people sympathetic towards just such a person. He remarked, for example, that therapy is overused in our American society, lots of suburban people with their contrived, self-pitying, middle class problems. He said the people who really need therapy are in places like Bosnia. (Svetlana's speech in The Strong Silent Type is pure Chase.)

But I think that's more a relative observation than an absolute one. He couldn't have written this show if he didn't fundamentally feel for the characters, and he's commented that certain scenes have made him emotional (e.g., Melfi telling Tony that feelings of self-loathing, haunting since childhood, are behind the motivations of many antisocial personalities). So he sympathizes with Tony, but I don't think he'd put him top of the list of people upon whom psychiatry should confer more empathy.:icon_wink:
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#77
Fly, I hope this doesn't cross the boundaries of real life vs. the show, but despite all the mob related stuff, all of the neurosis or special cases related to the mob, it's difficult to love, to be compassionate and tolerant of people in our everyday lives. There's always challenges, and especially to Tony. I mean, I think one of the great things about the show is that despite the unusual circumstances Tony finds himself in (especially in regards to mob life), there's a universality. Sure, I don't have to worry about my nephew fucking up and affecting the 'life', but we almost all have family who are falling back on old patterns, hurting their loved ones, and basically propagating old behaviours that are potentially circular and part of a pattern.

It's easy for me, any of us, to judge Tony, but the things is, all the mob stuff just throws into greater relief how difficult ALL of our lives are, including choices and moral dilemnas, even outside of his special case. Sure, we all don't deal with murder and betrayal to such an exaggerated mode, but it's a TV show. It's supposed to do that, if only to put more significance and place more effect on our supposedly 'mundane' lives. The asbestos thing and all the middle east stuff and even the mundane qualities of his family (lower case f), which make a lot of this stuff accessible, also accesses the parts of our lives that are non-mob related. How many of us hear about asbestos? Who of us do not know that the Middle East is there, despite our attempts to disavow it's affect on our lives? It's all universal.

Impairments regarding our capacity for empathy and compassion, Fly? How many of us on this board can actually say we are healthy and can confidently deal with these issues not only regarding our loved ones but also ourselves? There's this great line from Se7en, and since I don't know the exact quote, I will not put it in quotes. But Morgan Freeman basically says, It's easier to give into drugs than it is to cope with life. It's easier to beat a child than it is to raise it. I sympathize.

Okay, and sure, we don't change. We are subject to our natures, our fate in being born to our parents who, even without mob ties, have damaged/nurtured all of us in specific ways. Part of the challenge in Tony's character and actions over the course of the show and perhaps a suggestion to all of our character's - politically, nationally, personally, familial - is how, despite all of that, do we strive for what is noble, good, fair, and admirable? How do we do what is right despite the costs to our egos, our desires, our flawed and incomplete individual perceptions of the ethical scale? It's never a one for one. Life is often unfair. There are no mathematical formulas for our moral dilemnas or everyday emotions in this world, just like in the world of T. Soprano. When he kills Tony B., the killing is a major red flag to our everyday sensiblities of what is wrong and right, but in the world of the Sopranos, which is in now way to denigrate the effect on our own real world, it's justified. It saves Tony B. from a torturous death, but also saves the crew by doing what is right by their code. It's very Spock almost: sacrificing the life of the individual for the life of the many. \But it's that challenge, the challenge of the will, to do it's best to set it right, to find that balance in this multitude of individuals, attitudes, opinions, events, and rules, traditions, etc. that is what has been captivating for the audience. Even though there is all this B.S. out in the world - our crew, the political climate, our children even - how do we hold ourselves and act with our free will in a way that is at least striving for what is true and good for the many? The image of Tony in the grouping of his families comes to mind: one man amongst many, trying to hold his 'society' in order.

In the end, despite all the mistakes and horrible misdeeds we percieve from our protaganist, that makes him our champion. He's trying, willing and able, to at least evaluate his own actions in light of all this. Sure there's denial and ignorance and a certain lacking in our attempts to try and 'balance' things out ('Lately I feel like my life's out of balance), but it's the unwillingness to give in to depression and the harshness of the outside world that makes Tony not only our main guide through the story, but also our hero.

It's that idea that makes me unwilling to give up on him. That understanding of him that pulls him out of the realm of fiction and into the higher realm of tranformative art.

Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#78
Thanks Fly

Actually, I know it seems counterintuitive, but that IS how autonomy is learned, that is; by empathizing with a person about the impossible spot they are in. When we make the common mistake of thinking people have more agency and freedom than they actually do (like Chase and Melfi are doing with Tony), it only makes a person feel less capable and more trapped. Only by empathizing with a person's truly impossible situation does that person come to feel understood, less bad, less crazy, and therefore less compelled. It's ironic, but that's what's beautiful about a deep therapy, the chance to feel truly understood, to know one is not crazy for acting out when faced with an impossible situation.

To take just one example, If someone said to me and my wife right now, "You're in a terrible spot with the Sopranos ending, there's absolutely nothing you can do about your grief, you are at Chase's mercy, he made you love the show and you do, you have every right to be miserable right now, it's not your fault you feel this way, and you're not an addict just because you imagine you can't live without the show", I guarantee I wouldn't collapse into a state of self pity, further television dependency, and endless grief. Instead, I'd feel understood, not so crazy, and the grieving would go quicker, not slower. It's feeling crazy and bad that makes people do crazy and bad things. When we make people feel less crazy by understanding and empathizing with them, they become better in every way.

Re: Tony's last words to Melfi/Yochelson, Elliot, Melfi and

#80
Thanks, Levinpsy, for the kind words.

I guess my post and your response to it were the only ones in this string that characterized our moment in history by using the now curiously forbidden (or at least discouraged) name of the president. While I'm disappointed to see such a politically inflected relationship as Melfi's and Tony's denied a gloss along those lines here by fiat, I'm more struck by the fact that the mere mention of the president's name as a conventional way of citing a time in cultural history through which we're living and in the legible contexts of which the Sopranos is deeply involved (e.g. the inclusion of the news footage of Iraq during the scenes with A.J. following Melfi's expulsion of Tony) prompts the closing of another (this time virtual) door.

Putting aside the obvious ways in which their mismatched powerplays exemplify the conduct of politics, Tony *obliges* Melfi (and I'd think us) to politicize her conception of her own practice, making her think uncomfortably about what her duties are not just as a medical doctor but as a citizen. Those roles of hers have been in tension a lot over the series, and it's one of the beautiful aspects of the character that comes to a climactic quandary in the Blue Comet episode. If both law-abiding citizenship and medical practice are ethical estates, what does it mean for one to conflict with the other? Does that make one kind of ethics more important than the other? And if so, on what bases do we decide? A single journal article? The withering murmuring of our professional cohort? The satisfaction that comes from unloading one's metaphorical clip in the face of a foe? And if it's citizenship that trumps doctoring, why are the rules of right conduct less clear for how to be a good citizen? When Melfi opts to stop being Tony's doctor at the border of her sanctum, where are the needful conventions of proper action?

Given the richness and thoughtfulness of the commentaries here, it's ironic that we've been asked to forego thinking through how Melfi's precipitous behaviour emulates or contends with her character's political/cultural surround, because politics -- the very matrix by which such action is conceived and carried out -- is just as precipitously deemed off topic.

(FYI, American).

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