TV Club

Week 8: The Dr. Melfi in All of Us

Dear All,

Well, so much for psychiatry. And, for that matter, model-railroading. And the E Street Band! What will Bruce do, with Little Steven on life support?

There was so much gunplay­ and so much plot­ last night that I believe we just watched the climactic episode of what a network-news anchor (not Brian, of course) might describe as, “this, the best television series in the history of television.”

My prediction: Next week’s installment, quite possibly the last one ever, alas, will be more or less action-free and will not provide us with that familiar feeling of television satisfaction—you know the feeling, when the series finale, Casaubon-like, reveals the key to all mythologies.

I’m reasonably sure Phil Leotardo will die next week, and I’m reasonably sure Tony won’t (I’ve been known to be wrong, however. ­I believed Bobby and Janice would undo Tony, when the reverse, in fact, turned out to be true), but I predict that David Chase will, on the night of June 10, somehow leave us at loose ends.

The reason I predict this with some confidence is that I just reread the Slate dialogue Jerry Capeci and I had with Terry Winter, a Sopranos writer, three years ago. In that dialogue, Terry wrote, “As you know, to the never-ending frustration of some of our viewers, we often fail to pay off what happens in one episode in the next and sometimes don’t pay things off at all. (The next guy who asks me what happened to the Russian gets kicked in the nuts.) This is by design, for such is life, even if such is not network television, where everything is wrapped up in neat little bows.”

So, no little bows for us. Luckily, Terry is rejoining our dialogue this week, so he can refuse to comment on the series finale directly, rather than through a spokesman. Terry, for that rare reader who isn’t familiar with his work, has written many of the best episodes of The Sopranos (as well as several of the best episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess). Last year, in recognition of his work, Terry received the Nobel Prize in television writing, which is a special Nobel they give after the other ones have been handed out.

I imagine Terry is feeling somewhat bereft about the end of the series (Is this true Terry? Or are you just relieved?), because I’m feeling bereft. Not since Welcome Back, Kotter came to a similarly climactic close in 1979 (I didn’t even have to Google the date, because it’s branded onto my consciousness) have I felt so bereft. When I told Terry this last week, by the way, he expressed a similar love for the comic stylings of Gabe Kaplan and noted that the character of Paulie Walnuts was based on that of Arnold Horshack. Not that we didn’t know that already.

But enough weeping. Let me make two quick observations: One, according to the standards set by last night’s episode, I’m a sociopath, because I once ripped an article out my dermatologist’s People magazine. I felt bad, though. That absolves me, yes? Also, I’ve defaced several issues of Skymall. But that’s a patriotic act, I think.

Two: Dr. Melfi did not fire Tony as a patient because she suddenly, belatedly, realized that she was enabling—you should pardon the expression—a sociopath. She is not that thick. She knew all along what she was doing.

What she feels, I’m guessing, is shame at her vicarious thrill-seeking, which is the real reason she kept Tony on her rolls for so long. And which is the reason we’ve watched the show for so long, Dr. Melfi being, of course, the stand-in for every law-abiding member of The Sopranos’ audience, who shouldn’t derive delight from the actions of violent mobsters, but who do, anyway. Did you notice the collateral-damage subtheme last night? Not only did the incompetent Neopolitan hit men murder the wrong guy, but Phil Leotardo’s killers gunned down Bobby in front of two children, who screamed in terror at what they had witnessed. Not to make too much of this, but I think David Chase was delivering a message to us last night about the consequences of violence and about his—and our—obsession with it.

I know Tim has questions for Terry (as will Brian, undoubtedly—after all, we have a real, live Sopranos writer among us), but let me ask: Was The Sopranos delivering a message last night, a subtle condemnation of violence-obsessed American culture? Or am I just full of gas?

Terry, in two paragraphs, please provide us with the key to all mythologies. In exchange, we’ll mail you a Slate T-shirt.