The Greening of Tony Soprano

Even mobsters feel the pain of ecological alienation

| May / June 2003

Dimpled chads, crashing stocks, anthrax, smallpox, and Saddam. All that and we’re still wondering what’s wrong with Tony Soprano. As the fans of the hit HBO series will tell you, The Sopranos began in 1999 when Tony, a mob boss, blacked out beside his swimming pool in suburban New Jersey. He promptly hired a therapist to help him deal with a set of psychological issues, including the panic attacks that now and then dropped him like a stone. Four years and 52 episodes later, Dr. Jennifer Melfi has dredged up all there is to know about her thuggish but complicated client, his wife and kids, and his dealings in what he likes to call “waste management.” The only mystery left is what’s ailing him.

Melfi’s real-life peers have called her sessions with Tony the best portrayal of psychotherapy ever seen in the popular media, and the show has apparently led a lot of men to try it. Among therapists, there’s been no end to the discussion about the series, in print and online. When they bring up Melfi’s failure to get at the root of Tony’s problems, they blame everything from her short skirts to her various missteps (which nicely complicate the story) to the chance that her client is a psychopath who can’t be cured. Very few have suggested that the problem may be a blind spot shared by her entire profession.