Self-Loathing, Popping Cherries, and Happy Wanderers

#1
I originally had this as part of a reply to gmcz's "Aftermath of Bobby's First Kill" thread but thought better of it. This post is really about Tony, not about the possible legal consequences of the hit and not about its effect on Bobby.

When Bobby confirms that he's never "popped his cherry", several things are notable about Tony's initial (pre-fight) reaction. He uttered his Italian "a salude"(sp?), a seemingly very genuine "good for you".

The wording was very reminiscent of The Happy Wanderer, when Tony was so angry at the world -- and particularly at people who were content or otherwise unburdened by the kind of crap that burdened him -- that he literally was driven batty at the sight of them. He reported wanting to pound Melfi's face with a brick until it was hamburger (ouch, LMAO!) and wanting to pummel to death anyone "with a clear head", anyone happy enough to whistle. He acknowledged that he SHOULD be glad for that person, "a salude", but that he "couldn't stop feeling like a fucking loser".

Obviously, self-loathing was the key to his jealous anger at the "happy wanderers" and has remained the key to his recurrent efforts over the years to sabotage anyone close to him that tried to improve him/herself, whether it was Chris and his sobriety, Tony B's efforts to go straight, or Janice and her anger management. He's been equally guilty of trying to corrupt people of comparitively good character, be it Melfi, Artie, or the black cop that he got reassigned and tried to bribe -- twice.

Right after offering his "a salude" to Bobby, Tony continues "it (murder) is a big fat pain in the balls." While Bobby, a virgin to this crime of crimes, immediately took the remark in the context of self-preservation and legal consequences ("especially with this DNA evidence"), Tony -- a pensive, remote, and pained expression on his face -- was unmistakably talking about the emotional/psychological/moral consequences of it. This is significant, I think, because it's the closest Tony has come to admitting that the murders he's committed, far from being dismissible as merely part of a "soldier's code" and the mutually agreeable price to be paid for mob involvement, weigh heavily on his conscience. And we see, through Bobby's struggle at the end of the episode, that once a trigger is pulled by anyone with a spark of decency, it changes the shooter forever.

If it turns out that the "therapy breakthrough" touted in HBO promotional material before this season is truly profound and amounts to a naked confession and moral self-examination in Melfi's office, I see this little remark as the precursor, the signal that it's coming.

And to wring out every last ounce of symbolism, in true Chase Lounge style:icon_wink:, I find it interesting that Tony used the expression "a big, fat pain in the balls." I won't recapitulate yet again the recurrent references to castration in the series or the implications of the name "Soprano" itself, but recall that Tony's tachichardia and flatlining in Mayham was accompanied (if not caused) by Paulie's relentlessly graphic account of a serious testicular injury and concurrent cursing of a mob rat. Recall also that most of the conflict last year between Tony and AJ involved Tony's demand that AJ grow up and become "a man" while AJ was and is frightened at what it means to be a "man" in the Soprano family. Tony tells Melfi that if he'd whipped the crap out of AJ like his father had him, AJ "might have grown up with some balls". It was only the most recent of a plethora of scenarios throughout the series linking manhood to the aptitude for physical brutality and violence.

It follows that if Tony is lamenting the toll his violent history is exacting on his conscience, his subconscious might well lead him to describe it as a pain owing to his "manhood", felt in the area that embodies it. It also follows that his nastiest, coldest act of revenge against a relatively "happy wanderer" like Bobby would be to subject him to the same burden under which he labors. Setting Bobby up for the Canadian hit doesn't just feel like vindictiveness or a test of Bobby's loyalty or fitness to lead a violent criminal enterprise, though it is certainly the former and possibly the latter. It also feels like the beginning of a confession.
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

Re: Self-Loathing, Popping Cherries, and Happy Wanderers

#2
FlyOnMelfisWall wrote: Right after offering his "a salude" to Bobby, Tony continues "it (murder) is a big fat pain in the balls." While Bobby, a virgin to this crime of crimes, immediately took the remark in the context of self-preservation and legal consequences ("especially with this DNA evidence"), Tony -- a pensive, remote, and pained expression on his face -- was unmistakably talking about the emotional/psychological/moral consequences of it. This is significant, I think, because it's the closest Tony has come to admitting that the murders he's committed, far from being dismissible as merely part of a "soldier's code" and the mutually agreeable price to be paid for mob involvement, weigh heavily on his conscience.


Unless I've turned the order around in my memory, Tony had been also discussing his 80% estimate of ending "in the can" and reflecting on his own fate and thinking about whether Bobby would be trusted to run things and provide for Tony's own family "God forbid... so I wouldn't paint it as Bobby misconstruing Tony's primary meaning of the "big, fat pain in the balls" comment but I would allow that for both men in the conversation, it's about both the legal and the emotional consequences, with the latter submerged. Since these mobsters interact through facades of strength they could never acknowledge even a slight reservation about killing. It would jeopardize their status too much. But you might be saying it's submerged all the way to Tony's subconscious.

The definitive Tony self-loathing episode for me was "Everybody Hurts". I can't remember the show quote the title refers to but it certainly evokes the most basic axiom of empathy. Finding out about Gloria's suicide, Tony is throw in a spiral of guilt and self-rage. Soon he finds himself on a goodwill rampage being generous to Carmela, Carm's cousin, Janice, Artie Buco. Each one if I remember specifically rewards him by telling him what he desperately craves to hear in the wake of his guilt over Gloria: that he is a "good guy." But Tony's conscience is bought off cheaply enough that he's appeased by other people seeing him as a good guy even when he's not; each "favor" is actually shrewdly calculated to benefit himself. The most vicious is Artie Buco who Tony loans money to so Artie can himself be the loan shark to his hostess's brother. When Artie's attempt to play tough guy ends embarrassingly and he attempts suicide, Tony expresses worry about what people will think [of him], not how Artie really is. He takes over the loan and in the process makes the profit and gets his restaurant tab wiped clean.

So that's his response to feeling self-hatred and guilt for being complicit in the death of a woman he was close to and exploited: Exploiting someone new, now an old friend, for profit even though that too led his subject to despair to the point of trying to end his own life.

The following episode ends when he belt whips Assemblyman Zellman now dating Tony's own ex, Irina. I read that also as Tony projecting his self-hatred onto another man for exploiting a woman, who has threatened suicide before, and also visually similar to Gloria. It's hard to see what if anything could ever make any guilt stick for a character so ingeniously adept at deflecting it onto others as Tony is. Presumably a catastrophe unlike any he has experienced before. Which brings us to...

FlyOnMelfisWall wrote:And to wring out every last ounce of symbolism, in true Chase Lounge style:icon_wink:, I find it interesting that Tony used the expression "a big, fat pain in the balls." ...

Recall also that most of the conflict last year between Tony and AJ involved Tony's demand that AJ grow up and become "a man" while AJ was and is frightened at what it means to be a "man" in the Soprano family. Tony tells Melfi that if he'd whipped the crap out of AJ like his father had him, AJ "might have grown up with some balls". It was only the most recent of a plethora of scenarios throughout the series linking manhood to the aptitude for physical brutality and violence.


The murder thing being "the giant pain in the balls" has possible AJ meaning another way too since that is literally where AJ came from: Tony's balls, and probably the crass way Tony sees it. I think Tony, on the boat, is terrified about AJ commiting murder and what would happen.

Like you, I expect AJ, driven by Blanca, to make another botched attempt at being a gangster with catastrophic consequence. My own prediction is that he finds himself facing murder charges carrying a life sentence at some point near the end. Perhaps Tony could even be guided to comprehend in a small way that the experience of his victims' survivors that Tony has created for years mirror his own grief. But because every other criminal in the show has failed to overcome their own delusion and greed and has met a tragic end, I fully expect it for Tony too. It would feel too incongrous for me if his fate was in a different key. It's conceivable to me that he'll process the horror of who he is and what he does but I definitely think it will be too late and it will be more an experience of misery than of relief. He might realize as Carm said in the Pilot that he's going to go to Hell when he dies or something like that but he won't be saved I suspect.

Does thinking about the idea of murder make Tony worry about AJ getting into the family business? Hell yeah. That was his first reaction after learning his guys killed Fat Dom and a response would very likely be forthcoming: to run away and make a phone call to get AJ a construction job (to teach him the value of instead doing real work for a living). That intense father-son confrontation was the next scene. I think fears about AJ were what weighed heavily on Tony's subconscious on the boat, bringing his mood to what it was and, knowing Bobby's dad was "the Terminator", prompting Tony to drift to the subject of murder and explore the idea that Bobby is different from hs own murderous father. The conversation touches on Bobby's dad not wanting the same life for his son- the same quiet wish Tony is having for his own son. Yet by the end of the episode, Tony consummates the destruction of Bobby's father wish. I think that will be a significant irony of that conversation. That Tony who doesn't want it for AJ in also, by being the example for his son of how to be a man, destroying his own wish for AJ. There's name significance surely in Anthony Soprano Junior trying to kill Junior (and leave the Anthony Soprano part) i.e. just become his father and a man. He's also sleeping and fucking in dad's bed in Home Movies.

I also have some suspicion that the DNA evidence mention on that boat, coupled with "Army of One" where AJ got expelled from school after the principal's bluff that they got a DNA match might be there to foreshadow DNA playing a role in nailing AJ with another sloppy attempt like the one on Uncle Junior. In "Army of One", when Carm gets the phone call that Jackie Jr, the son and namesake of Tony's predecessor has been killed because of "drugs", Tony tells AJ "You see?" [about drugs and general fucking up]. But what is also there for AJ to see is not just that Jackie Jr.'s behavior was self-destructive but that the same behavior from his father is well-rewarded by the love of a woman among other things.

Tony fixating on the drowned kid in the pool is more evidence of the emotional weight of what might happen to AJ being on his mind that episode.

Re: Self-Loathing, Popping Cherries, and Happy Wanderers

#3
Somehow I missed replying to this post but am glad I came back to it.

Krakower Thing wrote:The definitive Tony self-loathing episode for me was "Everybody Hurts". I can't remember the show quote the title refers to but it certainly evokes the most basic axiom of empathy. Finding out about Gloria's suicide, Tony is throw in a spiral of guilt and self-rage. Soon he finds himself on a goodwill rampage being generous to Carmela, Carm's cousin, Janice, Artie Buco. Each one if I remember specifically rewards him by telling him what he desperately craves to hear in the wake of his guilt over Gloria: that he is a "good guy." But Tony's conscience is bought off cheaply enough that he's appeased by other people seeing him as a good guy even when he's not; each "favor" is actually shrewdly calculated to benefit himself. The most vicious is Artie Buco who Tony loans money to so Artie can himself be the loan shark to his hostess's brother. When Artie's attempt to play tough guy ends embarrassingly and he attempts suicide, Tony expresses worry about what people will think [of him], not how Artie really is. He takes over the loan and in the process makes the profit and gets his restaurant tab wiped clean.

So that's his response to feeling self-hatred and guilt for being complicit in the death of a woman he was close to and exploited: Exploiting someone new, now an old friend, for profit even though that too led his subject to despair to the point of trying to end his own life.


Excellent points all around. My only disagreement is with the characterization that he in any way "exploited" Gloria, which implies a knowing or intentional using. He didn't exploit her any more than she exploited him. There was a complex pull on both sides, and their relationship was obviously toxic. Which was kind of the whole point, the inexplicable pull that some people feel for destructive relationships.

The following episode ends when he belt whips Assemblyman Zellman now dating Tony's own ex, Irina. I read that also as Tony projecting his self-hatred onto another man for exploiting a woman, who has threatened suicide before, and also visually similar to Gloria. It's hard to see what if anything could ever make any guilt stick for a character so ingeniously adept at deflecting it onto others as Tony is.


That's an interesting interpretation and would have fit well in this thread. Again, though, I don't agree that he really had any reason to feel guilty for what Gloria did. HE felt guilt, but I presume it was not unlike the guilt that anyone close to a suicide victim feels. As Melfi tried to tell him, her problems long predated Tony and had very little to do with him. As much as he might have been unconsciously trying to "win his mother's love" through Gloria, she was unconsciously looking for someone volatile and dangerous enough to kill her when provoked. And she did her masterful best to provoke him.

The murder thing being "the giant pain in the balls" has possible AJ meaning another way too since that is literally where AJ came from: Tony's balls, and probably the crass way Tony sees it. I think Tony, on the boat, is terrified about AJ commiting murder and what would happen.

Like you, I expect AJ, driven by Blanca, to make another botched attempt at being a gangster with catastrophic consequence. My own prediction is that he finds himself facing murder charges carrying a life sentence at some point near the end.


That's indeed something to ponder. I can't recall ever espousing any prediction that AJ would kill, and, if I did, I certainly revoke it now, although I agree there's still some chance that he will gravitate toward other aspects of a gangster lifestyle or lesser crime. I don't think murder is within his capabilities as a person, as demonstrated with the botched hit on Junior. And I think Tony's intervention that night, in the 180 degree opposite way his own father behaved with him, may ultimately be the difference maker in whether AJ could ever have become a killer. While there were a couple of mixed signals ("What did you do? Nothing, a big fat zero!"), the great bulk of what he communicated was gratitude that AJ was essentially above murder, that he's a "good guy" who didn't have it "in his nature" to cold bloodedly kill someone and that murder in any case was "wrong".

While he himself has killed, his willingness to condemn it, and himself in the process, was important for AJ. Kind of like my mother, who smoked all the way up until the day that she was diagnosed with lung cancer, used herself as a negative example to her children, labelling it a "nasty habit" that ravages the body and condemning those who took it up as weak and terribly misguided for thinking it was in any way "cool". Though her habit cost her her life, my siblings and I never went near a cigarette and internalized her condemnations to the point that even dating a smoker was beyond comprehension.

Does thinking about the idea of murder make Tony worry about AJ getting into the family business? Hell yeah. That was his first reaction after learning his guys killed Fat Dom and a response would very likely be forthcoming: to run away and make a phone call to get AJ a construction job (to teach him the value of instead doing real work for a living). That intense father-son confrontation was the next scene.


That's an excellent analysis. I, however, took the connection in Tony's mind to be less of imagining AJ as the perpetrator than as the victim. He believes AJ doesn't have the killing instinct or reflex, if you will, and that that would spell his certain doom in the Mafia. It's been his fear all along, telling Melfi in Army of One, "AJ, in my business? He'd never make it."
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"
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