TV Club

The Colicky Baby

Dear Glen, Joel, and Phil,

As we re-enter the Sopranos’ lives, father-son relationships—in concrete and symbolic form—are held up to intense scrutiny. Establishing the “right” filial bond will be the Answer (with a capital “A”) to the trials besetting the family at large. As Philip and Joel say, Tony explicitly tells Dr. Melfi that he plans to retain and protect his power by using Christopher as his conduit. His rationale is based on the theory (or more accurately, his fantasy) that blood can depend on blood. When Tony harangues his “made men” to bring in the bucks, he shames them by calling on the devotion that they should feel toward him, and he invokes their supposed devotion to the nominal head of the clan, Uncle Junior.

Perhaps most portentously, we get the sense that the next generation of males is not being well-served by their parents’ values, choices, or actions. The behavior of the colicky (male) baby of the federal agent, Bobby’s restless little boy, and of course A.J. Soprano, all suggest that the children are not getting what they need in terms of appropriate and/or sufficient emotional “supplies” from their parents. As a result, this next generation is likely to be bankrupt, not only economically as Carmela fears, but also in terms of necessary character strengths. Christopher’s addiction demonstrates this in spades.

As is so often true in treatment, especially after a hiatus, Jennifer’s cupboard is not fully stocked for her “son,” Tony. Like Christopher’s mom, she may have the bread and marshmallow spread, but not the peanut butter. By which I mean that she loses track of his idiom several times—the “family” is not his wife and kids, it’s the Family. “Depression” is not about internal self-states, it’s about being bugged by your wife and having money troubles. And most fundamentally, Tony’s “job” is one that cannot be quit, contrary to her outburst.

So, what does the therapist’s vacation mean for the treatment? For one thing, it disrupts the therapist’s experience of and closeness with the patient, and vice versa. Yet in this case, the patient has sustained enough trust (even if it’s only “a little”) to be able to forgive the therapist her gaffes and put her back on an empathic track with him. (In fact, Tony’s experience of missing Jennifer may have solidified his recognition of her as someone in whom he can confide his new “game plan.”) Once the therapeutic relationship has been well established, a premeditated gap in the therapy can constructively free each member of the pair to return with a broadened perspective on the other and on their bond. So, I hailed Jennifer’s “why not give it up?” reaction to Tony, even as I groaned at her saying it aloud. The therapist MUST free herself from the relational embrace to envision different potential versions of her patient’s “self,” if the patient is ever to do the same.