Very apropos thread, DH. (And I can't help but note that the title of it reminds me of one of all time favorite films, Sophie's Choice
I agree that Melfi has unwitthingly, perhaps negligently, served as a valuable consiglieri to Tony on several occasions, most notably the Tony B thing and the power struggle in season one with Junior. And as far as I can recall at the moment, she was a factor in his forbearance to engage in violence on only one occasion, with the soccer coach.
On the whole, her efforts have not produced any significant or sustained amelioration of the immorality of Tony's behavior in any aspect. But, then, as her ex told her in season 1, that was inevitable and was never even the goal of her treatment. He belittled psychotherpay for its "cheesy moral relativism" and aversion to any behavioral judgment in the therapy room and warned that someday it would come to a matter of "good and evil, and [Tony's] evil."
Perhaps the most pivotal episode on this whole question was Two Tonys
when Melfi dared to render an unfavorable, if very gentle, moral judgment about why she would never want a personal relationship with him. When she told him that he wasn't respectful of people and used force to take from them what he wanted, he responded, "I don't love people?" It was the hardest part of her judgment to hear. She replied, "Maybe you love them, I don't know."
Tony has always given just enough signs to suggest that, while he's commitedly antisocial, he is not truly sociopathic as the term is used within the psychiatric field. And, IMO, the biggest sign of this is that he has genuine loving attachments to his immediate family, attachments that produce a whole different set of behavioral limits than those that govern the rest of his life. The violent impulses, the rage and hurt that would motivate him to break someone else's jaw at the drop of a hat have never trumped his inhibitions and forbearance with his immediate family.
Despite how often he has threatened to punch AJ to "toughen him up" or to try to instill in him some kind of respect for authority, his one and only real action in this regard was the face slap of season 3 (which Carmela reports Tony felt "horrible" about for days afterward). Despite the emotional violence that's errupted within his marriage at times, despite Carm throwing objects at him on several occasions (most recently a watch to the face last night), and despite his one towering impulse to strike her in Whitecaps
, Tony has always quelled those impulses or converted them to relatively harmless physical acts like grabbing her jacket or shoving her to the couch. And despite Meadow's unspoken accusation that Tony murdered Jackie, Jr. in No Show
, Tony did not act upon what appeared to be a violent impulse towards her. I might add that Tony also stopped short of serious violent impulses toward Melfi herself on three occasions, which might signal that she is the only "outsider" he places on a footing approaching that of his family. And, of course, Chase once stated that therapy is, for Tony, in part, an effort to remother himself.
Melfi is unaware of most of these incidents. But through symbols like the ducks and Pie-O-My, she has some reason to believe that he has a real capacity for loving attachments, which distinquishes him from the class of sociopaths. So even though the excitement and novelty and pure "tabloid curiosity" of treating a ganster has fed her motives for keeping him, I think she's always been able to rationalize, too, that he might not be the completely hopeless criminal and conman others have labeled him.
I suspect Elliot's statement to her, regardless of what he believes or intended with it, has moved her closer to a point of cutting off Tony's therapy and concluding that he is beyond reach. The ultimatum about missing sessions seemed to portend this. Tony's "bus" metaphor, which caught her completely offguard, may have only temporarily delayed the inevitable.
I've just sensed this season that Melfi is tiring of it all. She gets no sustained reward of any kind. Witness last night when Tony was almost 180 degrees opposite where he looked to be on AJ just two episodes ago. In between, she had to hear how he feels no real grief for the death of his surrogate son. It's to the point where any little glimmer of real humanity and personal responsibility he shows he then throws out with both hands. It's got to be wearing thin by now, and that feeling has permeated most of their sessions this year.
It invites again the question CIG posed about her safety if and when she does cut it off. Will it produce only anger, a feeling of betrayal, and even a violent impulse in Tony, or will it somehow force him to a place of unprecedented candor? If HE has remained in therapy these years because he has subconsciously installed her as a surrogate mother, will the threat of losing that acceptance, that "oasis", motivate rage or a combination of sadness and truth? Knowing this show, it will probably be some combination of the two.