Let’s talk about Tony’s soft spot for animals. I agree with what Glen said last week: Tony loves and grieves Pie-O-My, Cosette, and the absent ducks so deeply because he sees them as “pure” in the sense that they don’t operate from rampant, calculating self-interest, as do most of Tony’s cohorts. Moreover, unlike his nephew, his driver, or his daughter, these animals do not potentially threaten Tony’s self-esteem, his authority, or his precious self-illusions. This, I believe, is the key to Tony’s heartsickness, rather than a generalized pining over noble creatures that stand out in a world that is “flat, stale, and unprofitable.” I think Tony’s unconscious recognition of his own depravity and badness have left him grasping that no one who isn’t a saint—or an undiscriminating pet—could possibly love him unconditionally. (Notice how touchy he was about Melfi’s possibly finding him “obnoxious”?) Or, perhaps it is the history of a poisonous maternal love that leaves him with such a soft spot for subhuman species as love objects.
Either way, this is the psychic territory so ineptly explored by Melfi. How does she blow it? Through an intellectualized, detectivelike interrogation, in which she draws on historic “evidence” of Tony’s responses to loss (rageful? clownlike? cruel himself?) to find “the truth” about who this man is and what ails him. Had she worked from a more empathic, intuitive position, she would have had greater luck relaxing his defenses and getting to the vulnerable core. This could have been the basis for some—dare I say it?—actual change. But she herself is too anxious, too intellectualized, and at this point, too personally threatened by him to be able to retain her maximal analytic usefulness.
Then again, who wouldn’t be?