Revisiting Calling All Cars on the Eve of The Test Dream


Calling All Cars (CAC) was, IMO, the most underrated and misunderstood episode of the Sopranos' generally underrated fourth season. Tony's hilarious diatribes in therapy and his tender, awkward, bittersweet "goodbye" to Melfi alone make it memorable. But his dreams in the ep provide its most lasting narrative importance. On the eve of The Test Dream, which also promises riveting journeys through the terrain of Tony's troubled psyche, revisiting the CAC dreams seems especially appropriate.

As is always the case with dream interpretation, the waking context for the CAC dreams is very important in deciphering their meaning. Two episodes prior to CAC, Ralph goes through the tragedy with his son. Among other things, that tragedy causes Tony to soften a bit in his long standing hatred of Ralph, certainly enough to experience real compassion for him and to confide the affair with Valentina out of his own growing feeling that he was somehow betraying a friend.

Even more importantly, the accident significantly changes RALPH. Suddenly he is very fragile and extremely guilt-ridden (his "almost" confession to Father Phil and breakdown during the prayer, his tearful confession to Tony about how rotten a father he'd been to Justin, his equally tearful declaration that he was a "different man"). He is for once motivated to make money out of something nobler than the kind of a$$ or cocaine he can buy with it ("whatever it takes"; "he'll have the best care"; "I don't care if [providing for Justin] breaks me".) He also tries to atone as best he can for killing Jackie Jr. and for his callousness toward Roe when she was grieving him by establishing an expensive annual scholarship in Jackie's name and by asking Roe to marry him.

How illusory and temporary these changes would have proved had Ralph lived longer we will never know for certain. I'm betting they would have been very temporary, especially since Justin's plight improved substantially as the episode progressed. But Tony heard about and even personally witnessed the changes as they were occurring, and they left an obvious impression on him.

In the episode immediately before the dreams, Tony bangs Svetlana, largely because he becomes so fascinated with her pronounced lack of self pity, emotional resilience, independence, and utter ability to take all of life's lemons and make her own brand of lemonade with them. She was in these respects the anti-Gloria (and the anti-Livia as well), since Gloria was a black hole of self pity, neediness, and emotional instability, qualities which led to her suicide. We know through Tony's conversations both with Svetlana and with Melfi during this time that he feels (and that Svetlana feels) he is much more like Gloria than Svetlana. Still, it's a pretty new self-concept or realization that in itself causes Tony a lot of chagrin and frustration, especially towards Melfi for not having "cured" his personality defects despite 4 years of trying.

Also in the ep before CAC, Tony can barely hide his dismay when he sees that Carmela has cut her hair to a much different and shorter style without seeking his permission or approval first. It seems a very small thing, perhaps, but on closer examination speaks volumes about the degree to which Carmela had been theretofore dependent upon and deferential to Tony.

So with that context in mind, here are my interpretations of the CAC dreams.

Dream One: Inside Johnny's Cadillac

The Rosary and Mirror

The dream opens with a shot of a rosary on the rear view mirror. Carmela, as the driver, is the one using the mirror. So the rosary could represent the Catholic or Christian-inspired morality through which she judges or "sees" Tony, who sits in the back seat beside first one, then another of his goomars. Alternatively, since a mirror is often a way of looking at someone without them knowing, it could represent Tony's fear that God/Christ is "watching" him even though he doesn't consciously accept that. This could in turn reference Tony's own ambivalence about the existence of God or of some absolute morality. Whichever meaning is ascribed, it certainly suggests a fear of moral judgment on Tony's part.

The Car

The car is Johnny Soprano's old Cadillac, meaning that Tony is pursuing the era or lifestyle of his father, the era when mob husbands sat in front and had as many goomars as they wanted while wives sat submissively in back and never drove (as Tony enviously tells Melfi). The paradox is that Carmela has displaced him behind the wheel and is therefore ostensibly controlling where this outdated lifestyle is going to lead.

Ralph, the Radio, and the Map

The radio is first heard playing Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" through copious amounts of static, obviously echoing Tony's recurring description of himself to Melfi as a "sad clown". He'd just invoked the phrase in his previous therapy session as he cried over Pie-O-My's death, prompting Melfi's challenge that it was a false self-concept and that rage, not humor, is his response to sadness.

Ralph is in the front passenger seat as a large caterpillar crawls on his bald head. His baldness throughout this dream (and the later one) signifies that this is post death or post "change" Ralph, the Ralph AFTER Justin's accident. While holding a map open, he leans over and tunes the radio to "the news", which comes through loud and clear (no static from self deception) and consists of a cacophony of gunshots, screams, and sirens. He then turns and says something to Carmela, prompting her to nod in agreement.

Clearly this symbolizes Ralph's willingness after Justin's accident to introspect and look at the truth of himself (the news being reality or truth). The map and his apparent instruction to Carmela, received with pleasant agreement, shows that though Carmela is the one driving, Ralph is ultimately in control of their destiny because he is TELLING her where to go.

The Flurry of Metamorphoses

Gloria appears next to Tony in the back seat asking if he wants to take "it" for a test drive. Then she suddenly morphs into Svetlana. Concurrently, the caterpillar on Ralph's head turns into a butterfly, and Carmela turns around and looks squarely at Tony as her hair goes from long to short.

The synchrony and symmetry of all these changes show that Tony's unconscious is crying out for character reformation and that the "it" Tony is asked to test drive is change. His unconscious is prodding him to become less his mother's son, less like narcissistic, bitter, self-pitying Gloria, and more like self-sufficient, resilient Svetlana, the REAL "strong silent type" Tony so admires. He is to honestly introspect and take stock of the suffering he has caused other people. If he changes, he gets Ralph's place in the front seat, where "adults" ride, instead of the back seat, where adulterers or "children" (those with stunted emotional or moral maturity) ride. He also gets to be "with" Carmela and help shape their destiny (the map) instead of fearing how her increasing control, move toward independence, and moral scrutiny of him will influence her response to his philandering.

The Heat in the Car

Tony reports to Melfi that the car is hot and stuffy, and within the dream he exhales rather harshly once or twice, indicating difficulty breathing. This suggests his discomfort and sense of deprivation at the prospect of having to profoundly change.

Dream Two: The Old Country House

The Country House and the Leg

The second dream is a continuation of the first, only instead of "going nowhere", as Tony reports to Melfi regarding the first dream, the car pulls up to an old ante bellum-looking country house with a large porch formed by wood floors, posts, and rails. Interestingly, this house resembles Uncle Pat's farm, the setting in last week's Cold Cuts when Tony turned contemplative about the peace and contentment he might find living a "retired" life like Uncle Pat.

As the car comes to a stop in front of the house, a single, left female leg exits the car. The one-leggedness suggests Svetlana. However, in the non-dream world, it's Svetlana's left leg that's missing.

Does this suggest that the leg grew back or merely that she is blissfully unaware of her disability? I'm not sure, but what seems clear is that there is a correlation between her unwillingness to dwell on misfortune and positive character or lifestyle change. That's because in this dream, the car has actually reached its destination. Tony in this dream HAS changed or is on his way to changing.

We see that as he is following Ralph toward the house. Tony's clothes change from "Tony" clothes -- clean, well-pressed, button-front shirt -- to the soiled old pants, dirty undershirt, suspenders, and mud-caked, beat up shoes of a stone mason. Tony in this dream has become a man like his grandfather, someone whose honest work and humble lifestyle always inspired Tony with something just short of awe.

As Tony knocks on the front door, Ralph has disappeared, leaving Tony alone to face the ghostly empty house. He can't speak English, suggesting that, like his immigrant grandfather, there are things about this new "land" of his life that he cannot understand or navigate.

The Woman on the Stairs

Then the ominous, mysterious female figure appears on the stairs. She is dressed in black and her face cannot be seen because she is shrouded by an intense "tunnel" of light from the windows behind her. Visually the aura of death in this scene is quite strong.

Who or what is represented by the woman on the stairs? Is it Livia, who is dead but continues to haunt Tony as much as she ever did in life? Is it just Tony's fear that no matter how much he may want to change, he will always be troubled, to the point of private obsession, that he didn't have a loving mother? Is it Tony's subconscious telling him he must come to terms with or "forgive" Livia, as Melfi put it, before he will be able to really change his life or "move on"?

Or is the woman merely symbolic of death itself? Is this scene conveying that, in order to change, Tony will have to face the death of someone close to him? Was it a sign that he would lose an important woman in his life as the price for change?

On the latter point, I think it's important to note that personal tragedy or loss was the catalyst for the pre-death change in Ralph. And Svetlana's personal tragedy seems in some ways to have fueled her resilience and strength in that it helped shape her values and expectations as well as her confidence in her ability to overcome adversity. I'm also reminded of the animal rangers reporting in Two Tonys that they couldn't remove the bear unless and until it hurt someone, prompting Tony's retort, "So, when somebody's leg is gone . . ."

Thus, the price of real character change (removal of the bear that is the darkness in Tony) is loss. The prospect of profound loss is what frightened Tony so much about the dreams in CAC and motivated his remark to Melfi that same episode that he was "no longer interested in changing".

Carmela, however, forced the issue in Whitecaps last year. She made it clear that she would no longer tolerate the status quo from him. And this whole season has been about Tony floundering around, toying with, yearning for, and yet still resisting the idea of change, to the point of envying or sabotaging the efforts at change of those close to him. I have a strong suspicion that The Test Dream will bring this internal dissonance to a boiling point within Tony and that we will know by the end of this season whether he is in fact willing to pay the price for change or is going to close the door on it forever.

Re: Revisiting Calling All Cars on the Eve of The Test Dream

Here is my interpretation of the Dark Woman on the stairs dream:

Before I go i just would like to say for the record that I pretty much hate all of these dreams. to me they don't make any sense and just unnesseccary weird and complicated in context of such show. the only one dream I like is this mistirious woman dream, i really liked it and only this dream made any sense to me that's why I will try my take on it.

I think dark woman figure represents death, because tony is on the verge of war with new york at that time and trying his best to decide whether it's worth it to go at it or not to and dream helps him to realise that death is not that far away and can reach even allmighty him and he better appreciate his life. When he wakes up in sweat and goes to the balkony the beautifull view opens up, which represents life.
The reason he's shown as simple laborer that doesn't even speak english is to show that though in real life he is all powerfull and mighty mob boss in reality we all are just a peasants and small people in front of the death's face. It goes to show that he didn't get that far off from his poor ancestors, and all his wealth and power is totally irrelevant when one faces death.
Two and a half men advice

Re: Revisiting Calling All Cars on the Eve of The Test Dream

FOMW, that´s another great post. This forum is
a gold mine.

Let me add some thoughts.

Carme driving is a significant sign of Tony´s want to change. The
transition of the caterpillar another symbol for change and transition
and growth.

Do things different than his father. Tony as boss of both families
is "driving" both families. He´s in charge. Wouldn´t it be nice
to just sit in the back and let other do the driving? There was
a scene in another dream, the test dream, where Tony sits in the
back and is happy with it. He passed out behind the wheel because
of his panic attacks. Sometimes it is just too much for him.

Now, the country house I always saw as Patsie´s farm since
it was introduced earlier in the season. In "Mayhem" the house
where the family reunion of the Finnertys takes place reminded
me also of Patsie´s farm.

In CAC and Mayhem we see a mysterious female figure and from my
understanding it is in both cases Livia though the context is very different.
In Mayhem the house is the home of the dead family members of Tony´s.
In CAC, knowing of the retirement of Uncle Patsie, the house symbolizes
leaving the mob. A whole different world.

I don´t see necessarily Tony´s fear of loss as the main reason in his fading interest in change. If I remember correctly he is very unhappy with therapy in season 4, complaining to Melfi that he has been coming to therapy for quiet a time without great results. Didn´t he say his anger
is having negative effects for his business and that something needed to be done about it?

Assuming the woman in the house is Livia what does it tell us?
I think she stands above Tony. He mumbles some italian
words. So here´s Tony, speaking a different language, doesn´t
speak the same language as his mother, hence they both can´t
communicate with each other, he is a differnt person in his dream,
prob how he imagines his honest, hardworking and happy grandfather
and despite everything he still runs into his mother. There´s no way
to escape her even in his dream after she has been long
dead and he has been in therapy for a few years. So he
leaves therapy, it doesn´t work, it is a wate of time for Tony
on the surface. On a deeper level it´s Tony fault. He´s not able
to make the decisive step. Something strongly illustrated later
in season six.

To pick up your thought about loss. Tony has lost a lot of people.
His father must have died pretty young, Jackie Aprile who was
a close friend died early, Dickie Moltesanti died who must have
been very close to Tony from what we hear, he almost lost Chris
and of course at this point he has lost his mother. Loss is something
what Tony is used to.

So, why doesn´t Tony change? I can´t provide a simple answer.
Part of it is very likely Chase´s conviction that people want to change,
but just don´t. It is pretty hard to decide if they can´t or just don´t want
to. But that´s for another post:icon_wink:
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