TV Club

Autumn Leaves

Dear Peggy, Phil, and Glen:

There is often an incongruity between what’s going on in patients’ lives and in their therapies. This can make it hard to figure out where a person is actually at. When we meet Tony for the new season, his life appears to be spiraling downward on many fronts, and he seems even more depressed and irritable than usual. In his first therapy session, however, something new and important happens. But before we get to the session—which doesn’t occur until late in the episode—we are presented with an extensive catalogue of Tony’s tsoris.

Tony’s difficulties revolve around aging and trust. The decline and passing of the older generation of Mafiosi, his mother’s death, and especially Uncle Junior’s cancer have started him thinking about what his remaining years have in store for him. And the fact that he has money worries—aggravated by Carmela’s post-bubble anxiety disorder—only makes the problem worse. The Mafia is supposed to be a “depression-proof” industry. References to Enron and terrorism, however, suggest that this may be a new world. No one—neither Tony nor your average citizen—can feel safe in the face of recent historical developments.

This episode presents a relentlessly dark picture of the mob’s dog-eat-dog world—lacking the usual displays of affection and solidarity between the wise guys. Everyone is a potential adversary, to be manipulated in the constant jockeying for power. Who can Tony trust to take care of him when he’s in Junior’s shoes or succeed him as boss of the family?

Tony constantly extols the virtues of family and loyalty. But he coldly refuses to help ailing Junior with his legal fees, despite the fact that he had set his uncle up to protect himself. Furthermore, when he later offers assistance, it is really to screw the old man out of a piece of property that, as Tony secretly knows, is about to skyrocket in value. And in an unfettered exercise of patriarchal power and Machiavellian cunning, Tony subjects Christopher to a sadistic series of ordeals, meant to tie his nephew to him as a submissive and dependable underling. (Christopher, who is developing a serious drug problem, may be too independent and rebellious for this strategy to work.)

Turning to his psyche, Tony’s difficulties with trust go much deeper than the savage realities of his chosen profession. Let’s not forget who he had for a mother. The ability to trust—better yet, the basic sense of trust—requires the dependability, sensitivity, and tenderness of a “good enough” mother-infant relationship in order to develop. But not only was Livia self-centered, cold, and angry, she turned out to be murderous as well. She actually tried to have her own child whacked.

It is, therefore, that much more remarkable that Tony has gotten as far as he has in his therapy. At the beginning of the session, he cites Dr. Melfi’s vacation as a cause of his current depression, a tacit acknowledgment of how much she has come to mean to him. Though this may seem like a minor point—or worse, a predictable therapeutic cliché—this is in fact an almost unimaginable achievement for a man as brutalized and brutal as Tony. Even more significantly, when Jennifer asks why he is suddenly expressing his worries and fears so candidly, Tony answers, “I trust you … a little.” His answer tells us how much Tony’s tie to Jennifer—who is offering him an utterly new and unique type of relationship—is deepening.

Three years have passed, and Tony is still hoping that, with the arrival of autumn, his family of ducks will return. This yearning for love, tenderness, and connection is apparently strong enough in this hardened killer to keep this unlikely and tumultuous therapy alive.

Welcome back,