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Filtering by Tag: The Sopranos

Blind in Depths: The Delusions of Carmela Soprano

Jayne English

altar-cross-16611 I thought therapy was going to clear up the fucking freak show in his head.”      —Carmela Soprano

In The Sopranos, Tony Soprano and his wife, Carmela, spar over differences, but they’re largely united in their delusions about Tony’s line of work. Tony believes he is a “soldier” carrying out orders—sordid, illegal, it doesn’t matter—for the good of the mob Family. And he does. Not always unflinchingly, but unfailingly.

Carmela’s delusions center on the home front. She convinces herself that her place is at Tony’s side. Usually Tony’s business rarely troubles the waters of Carmela and their children’s lives (Meadow and A.J.). But when mafia blood seeps under the door, Carmela is reminded of the high stakes she gambles to ignore. She sometimes wrestles about staying with Tony, but in spite of the dubious origins of the guns and piles of money hidden in the ceiling tiles; despite increasing number of Family disappearances, she stays.

In fact, for a while she is church sanctioned to remain in the marriage. When Carmela seeks the counsel of the well-meaning family priest, he encourages her to help Tony be a better person.

Carmela overlooks Tony’s philandering, telling herself the women mean nothing to him. But when one calls their home looking for Tony and A.J. answers the phone, Carmela is incensed. Only as it crosses her threshold does she feel the threat of Tony’s infidelity.

This breaching of her walled fortress spikes internal turmoil, and she seeks out a therapist. He catches on quickly to the delicate way she frames her husband’s work, and knows instantly what it says about her.

Carmela: His crimes … they are … organized crime. Dr. Krakower: The mafia. Carmela: (Gasps) Oh Jesus. Oh, so what. So what. He betrays me, every week with these whores. Dr. Krakower: Probably the least of his misdeeds.

Carmela becomes defensive when the therapist labels her an accomplice to her husband’s crimes, telling him, “All I do is make sure he’s got clean clothes in his closet and dinner on his table.”

Her love of money competes with her love of family. She doesn’t see how being an accomplice to Tony has created blindness in her children. Meadow becomes a high salaried attorney defending white collar criminals. Tony seems set to help A.J. reach his dream of opening his own nightclub, which could easily be the next mob front like Bada Bing.

Carmela’s denial is haunting. Haunting like the crosses that are all around her, on her necklace, on the walls of her home, in the church she frequents. They are everywhere as in Flannery O’Connor’s “Christ haunted South,” where Jesus is invoked but not followed.

She has moments of spiritual clarity, like when Christopher nearly dies and she intercedes for him and her family. “Tonight I ask you take my sins and the sins of my family into your merciful heart. We have chosen this life in full awareness of the consequences of our sins.” But her vision clouds again, and later she asks Tony to put extra pressure on the building inspector so she can move forward on her spec house, knowing full well what that type of pressure implies.

Carmela whitewashes Tony’s career because of what she gains from it. In his poem “Moby Dick,” Dan Beachy-Quick writes:

You beat your head against the jagged rocks. Blind in depths so dark light itself is blind, You knock your head against the rocks to see And scratch the god-itch from your thoughts.

We can hope Tony’s gestures of forgiveness and compassion at the end of the show signal a new direction for the Sopranos. But if they don’t, the last scene, when they gather at their favorite restaurant, is chilling if it marks only the perpetuating of a mafia family status quo.

Gracious Unfairness

Jayne English

A Bigger Splash, by David Hockney)

“Every day is a gift. It's just, does it have to be a pair of socks?”      —Anthony Soprano

After nearly dying from a gunshot wound inflicted by his uncle, Tony Soprano discovered a new vibrancy to life. He was deeply moved by his wife, Carmela’s, watchfulness and care through his ordeal, and was overjoyed to have more time to spend with his daughter and son. But as his strength and health returned, Tony morosely quipped the line about socks when explaining to his therapist, Dr. Melfi, how his pursuit of other women was being strangled by his newfound gratefulness for Carmela.

In the first season of The Sopranos, I had hope for this complicated character. Tony was a murderous, blackhearted thug but he was also warmhearted and generous. I could not tell if his love for family would conquer his love for so many other things. But I thought something promising might be stirring when he became captivated by paintings. He assumed the one outside Melfi’s office was a “psychological picture” to trick him. Melfi asks, “What does that picture say to you?” Tony responds, “It says, ‘Hey asshole, we’re from Harvard, and what do you think of this spooky, drepressin’ barn and this rotted out tree we put here?’” Melfi helps Tony see that the painting is reflecting his turmoil over losing his good friend and mob boss, Jackie Aprile, to cancer. We know this by the way Tony shouts his favorite expletive at Melfi and slams her door as he leaves. Another painting that mystified Tony was in his cumare’s apartment. “What’s that paintin’ mean to you?” he asked Irina, scrutinizing it as he dressed. “Nothing,” she says through her Russian accent. “It just reminds me of David Hockey [sic].”

I think if Tony had pursued these shadows of that indefinable something that speaks to ussometimes shakes usfrom paintings and poems and literature, maybe he could have extracted himself from the gangster quagmire. Maybe that’s biting off more sfogliatella than we can chew.

But isn’t it true that art, in all its forms, is sometimes how God, the one who speaks through images and metaphor, draws our attention to him? Isn’t this a bounty that we, blackhearted as we are, really have no claim to? Why is there art in the first place? Why has it been saved throughout history? So much of the art we love would have been lost if not for the sometimes quixotic, sometimes manic rescue by those who felt called to preserve it. Van Gogh’s paintings rose to prominence after his death because his sister-in-law, Johanna Bonger, carefully sold and curated them; more than a thousand works of art that could have been destroyed in WWII were saved because Cornelius Gurlitt hid them and hermited himself with them in his Munich apartment for fifty years; Emily Dickinson’s family saved for us the 1,800 poems found in her room in tidy bundles after her death. Isn’t art a hint of God’s rescue? Just one example of the gracious unfairness he extends to us to point us to what lies beyond us, and within us?

I love how the ending of The Sopranos is left to our imaginations. I like to think that Tony began to accompany Carmella on her trips to museums, and engaged A.J. in the existential questions that were chasing him. I like to think his pursuit of questions and art woke him to this new sense of unfairness. Maybe it would have made a difference. Maybe he would have found that life’s gifts are far grander than socks.