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:
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?
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 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.