OK, I admit it: I'm obsessed with Episode 11. Everytime I watch it, it seems to be saying something else. So please bear (no pun intended) with me as I attempt to explain my current, and unforgivably lengthy, interpretation.
David Chase has said he explores an aspect of Tony Soprano each season -- Tony as son, Tony as husband, Tony as father, etc. This season, I believe, we are witnessing the exploration of Tony as man.
Consider what's happened this year leading up to Test Dream: Carmine has died; Uncle Junior seems to be losing it mentally; Hugh has celebrated his 75th birthday; and Angelo has been whacked. Everywhere Tony looks, the adults when he was a child are falling away or facing their mortality. He's the next in line. It's time to grow up.
Except he can't. He's still stuck in some sort of perpetual adolescence. When he complains, "I'm just a robot to my own pussy-ass weaknesses," he's really saying, "I'm still a child."
And he's confronted by this every day, in the form of Tony B. How can Tony Soprano ever forge an identity of his own when relatives refer to him as "Tony Uncle Johnny" to distinguish him from his cousin? All his life, as we've seen repeatedly, Tony S. grows up in the shadow of his father, a man he fears but also loves. That's fine with Tony -- he simply casts his father as a hero and his mother as a villain. "Don't you love me?" he asks Uncle Junior, but he could just as easily be addressing his father.
Yet, of course, all this is not fine with Tony. His subconscious has a different view of his hero father. Tony has watched his father chop off another man's finger. He has watched his father treat his mother horribly, and even supported his father's lies. He has met his father's goomara, Fran Felstein (hmmm...sounds like Frankenstein, and explains why Tony can't get any joy when he has sex with his own goomara). Although Tony is initially impressed with Fran ("you're classy"), he is eventually repulsed. For the first time, in a session with Dr. Melfi, Tony shows the ability to sympathize with his mother.
Tony's subconscious is crying out: You have to symbolically kill your hero father to grow up and become a man. I'm no psychologist, but I think that's a fairly common theme among teenage boys and in literature. When the young protagonist in a book slays a dragon, isn't that a symbol for his father?
But Tony can't pull the trigger. He knows he must deal with Feech, a man old enough to be his father, but instead of killing him he sends him away. He knows he should get rid of Chris, who has pulled a gun on him (he's a man, by God!), but Chris is Tony's surrogate son. He can't harm him.
Tony's impotence is magnified by the actions of his peers. Johnny Sack has shown that he is man enough to deal with the killing of his own surrogate son, Joey Peeps, by having Angelo killed. Tony B. has shown that he is man enough to avenge the killing of his surrogate father, Angelo, by killing Billy Leotardo.
(To hammer the father-son theme even harder, Angelo shows up at Tony B's casino with his own son, and Tony B has to deal with his misbehaving twins when Tony S arrives).
What does Tony S do when faced with the demand that he grow up? He flees his mother's house (the adolescent leaving home, the bird leaving its nest) and heads to the Plaza Hotel. Some great posts have been written comparing the Plaza to heaven/hell. I want to jump off the deep end of the unfilled pool and suggest something else...that the hotel represents the opportunity for Tony to be reborn.
Follow me here. He passes the wedding party (marriage), then calls the hooker (sex), then we hear the hooker calling him "baby" twice. He wakes up and sees Carmine, another father figure, and is horrified. He crawls on the floor, in his white T-shirt and undershorts, looking as infantile as we've ever seen him. The phone rings. Who is it? "The man upstairs," says Carmine.
"They want me to kill a guy," Tony S says.
"Are you ready for what you have to do," Carmine asks.
"I've done my homework."
That's something a child would say. The task is to kill his father, the hero. Tony will never be his own man otherwise.
We switch to the car. Tony looks like a little boy in the back seat, with his father driving. He declines an opportunity to sit up front -- to be a man. The car is filled with men that Tony has killed, but his father isn't one of them.
Inside the house, Tony's tooth falls out. Many others have commented on the symbolism; I suggest that this is Tony losing his baby teeth, or childhood. Look how proud he is showing it off at the restaurant, but he's also anxious when another one pops out. He doesn't want to grow up too soon.
There are many things going on in this dream, but it's clear that the gun, or lack of it, refers to Tony's manhood. It's not there in the bathroom. He pulls out a copy of The Valachi Papers. If I remember correctly, at least from the movie, the book includes a scene where a man is castrated.
Tony's gun/manhood is still missing when he heads outside to watch Tony B. killing Phil. The crowd chases Tony S., like a scene from Frankenstein, where the monster attacks its creator, or father. The monster in this case can't fight back. A man (looks like Johnny S.) fires a shot at Tony S. that misses.
Artie, representing another path of adult life throughout the dream, leads Tony to the school, down the darkened hallway (the birthing canal?) where he confronts the coach, or his conscience, or the Ghost of Christmas Past. Tony has his gun now -- he even showed it off proudly to Carmela, like a little boy. He has extended the gun/penis by adding the silencer at the trophy case.
The coach is unimpressed and mocks him. "What's that you got there -- a bigger dingus than the one God gave you?"
"I'm not a kid anymore," Tony says.
"No," the coach replies.
Tony takes aim, but the bullets turn to sh!t. "You're not prepared," the coach says. "You'll never shut me up."
What he's really saying: You never had the makings of a varsity athlete. You could never kill your father or go in a different direction from him. You will always be Tony Uncle Johnny. You will always take the easy way. You will never be a man.
It's High Noon, and Tony is doomed. He had his chance to be reborn but couldn't take advantage. Johnny Soprano lives.
The result of this? I think the first victim will be Chris, the surrogate son who shows up at the hotel and offers his childlike support, "I'm with you -- whatever." Tony is neither man enough to harm Chris or to protect him.
As for AJ, Carmela put it best: The die has been cast.
"We're all f*****d," Tony tells Chris. Those of us who think Chase foreshadows what will happen next should believe him.
I'm still left wondering about the song. "Three Times a Lady" is sung in the restaurant (two choruses!) and played during the credits, so it's obviously important. I agree that it refers to a happier time between Tony and Carmela, but I also think it has something to do with Tony's masculinity, or lack thereof. Annette Bening says, "There's something Bugsy about him." Weren't there questions about Bugsy Siegel's sexuality? Again, I might be all wet, even standing in the middle of an empty pool.
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