[Queen of the Desert Winds] Chapter 10
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| Reddit PMs using Butler Bot - see directions in comments Last chapter, Caroline and Disraine raced into the woods to track down and kill the Etesian Spider that spawned from the eye Caroline had taken when she killed the original one. Rather than track it through the underbrush, they correctly predicted it would return to the clearing the original Spider was in. The Spider wasn’t the only thing waiting in the clearing though. A dark force, speaking through Caroline’s old friend Sebastian, was there waiting, and revived the original Etesian Spider. The girls each fought a Spider, eventually dispatching both. Rather than risking more Spiders spawning and overrunning the woods, they elected to burn the corpses, hoping and praying that that would prevent them from being revived again.
Caroline’s grandmother was waiting in the yard when the girls got home.
“Did you take care of it?” the old woman asked.
“We did,” Caroline said. “Do you have an idea of when we might expect letters back from Oliver?”
Caroline’s grandmother smiled and pulled out an envelope from behind her back. “But after dinner,” she said. “You two need to get cleaned up before Mary notices anything is amiss.”
“Is Mom making dinner tonight?” Caroline asked.
“She is,” Caroline’s grandmother said with a nod. Then she looked over the girls again. “I’ll distract her while you two run upstairs. The uniforms are your responsibility, but I’ll keep your mother from asking questions while you get into the house.”
“Thank you, auntie,” Disraine said. She hesitated on the auntie, but Caroline’s grandmother had insisted on it, to help sell the story that Disraine was a distant relative.
Caroline’s grandmother smiled at Disraine's use of the familiar term. “I do much prefer the house with more young ones around.”
Caroline and Disraine waited in the yard for a moment, stowing the garden shears back in the toolshed before they ran upstairs.
“What do we do now?” Disraine asked once they had changed clothes.
“Wait up here until we’re called for dinner,” Caroline said. “Do some homework, clean the room. Something that we can tell my parents we’ve been doing all afternoon, even though we were busy with the Spiders.”
Caroline pulled out her planner and looked over her homework. Nothing was due tomorrow, so they had time to look over the letters after dinner. Put in the same situation, Lynne would have taken having nothing due as an opportunity to read, and then spent the later part of the evening poring over Oliver’s response and writing her own response back. Caroline was more sensible than her past self and thought about what assignment needed prolonged attention and settled on her math homework. Disraine decided to work on her biology packet, since she had work that she needed to get caught up on from the first few weeks of the quarter.
The dinner call came sooner than either girl thought it would. They left their notebooks scattered on the desk, thinking that they’d return to the assignments sometime in the evening.
Dinner went the same as it had the previous few nights. Caroline’s parents made small talk and commented on the news. Caroline’s grandmother tried to get all of them to take seconds, while avoiding them herself. Caroline and Disraine described their day at school, especially Disraine’s choir placement.
“It’ll be nice to hear both parts at the same time,” Caroline’s mother commented. “The choir director always does such a nice job picking the repertoire for the concerts. You really should try to pick piano back up, Caroline. Then you could play the accompaniment as well.”
“That might be a bit of a stretch,” Caroline said. She hadn’t made it past the beginner level at piano before quitting those lessons.
“I’m sure you could do it with enough practice,” Caroline’s mother said. “How about you Disraine, do you play any instruments?”
“No, I don’t,” Disraine said. “I used to play with pots and jars when I was younger, but don’t all kids?”
Caroline’s mother laughed. “That’s why we initially had Lynne take piano lessons,” she said. “She was always crawling up onto the piano bench and hitting the keys, so we thought that she wanted to learn to play.”
“It was worth a try at least,” Caroline’s father said. “At least she still uses the piano to practice for choir.”
Caroline knew that her reluctance to play piano has been a disappointment to her parents. She didn't play an instrument, and hadn't picked up a sport either. While she has basically led the alto section for the last two years, choir was barely considered good enough.
Once dinner was cleaned up, the girls met Caroline’s grandmother in the sunroom, where she distributed the letters from Oliver’s envelope. Caroline carefully opened her letter, wondering where Oliver's wax seal had come from. Your Majesty,
Oliver wrote. It is an honor to write to someone who held such a high station in another world. I know you do not have any such titles here, but once a queen, always a queen. If there is ever anything you need, I would be more than willing to do my best to aid you. To your first question, yes, there are more people who have fallen into this world from other worlds. There have been for centuries, and there likely will be for as long as time goes on. I do not know if it is as common the other way, or if your situation is unique. I cannot recall if I have met anyone who was from Sirocco, but if you had neighboring kingdoms, it is possible I know someone from one of those lands. I can ask my acquaintances if they know anything of Sirocco to try to gauge how many Siroccans may be in this world. I cannot guarantee that I will know anyone. Most of my acquaintances have been here for a number of years, and if Siroccans have only recently begun slipping into this world, they may still be learning the basics. None of us are experts on how or why we have fallen out of our own worlds into this one, but it seems that there is always an instigating event, where a number of us fall through in a short period of time.
Caroline wondered which world's timeline this was relative to. Sebastian and Disraine had entered this world fairly close together. But this disappearance from Sirocco was separated by decades. As to your second question, I am unfortunately too old to do much more than advise you on how to recognize others who have fallen through the cracks. As you’ve already found, there is the rare possibility that someone you knew has fallen into this world. Additionally, because you were a public figure, others may recognize you based on parades, images, and the like. I would be curious to learn more about this Siroccan magic you said helped you to find Disraine and free her from the creek in the woods. As I’m sure you’ve found, magic is weak here, and in short supply. As best as I can tell from those that I have met, there are any number of worlds that individuals can fall out of. The magic that transports them varies every time, but there is always something that seems different about them. Your grandmother recognized it in me, despite being of this world, and I helped her to recognize it in a few others that I knew. If that magic you used to find Disraine is reliable, however, I would trust it, because it can take time to learn to identify those of us who have slipped between worlds. Listen to your gut when you find more of these lost souls. And lost these souls will be. They may have made new lives, but a part of them will always long for home.
Caroline paused here before continuing with the rest of the paragraph. Had she
missed home when she was in Sirocco? She supposed she had, initially, when she was living on the streets and then learning her magic. But once she came back with Buran’s head and was crowned Queen of Sirocco, everything became a whirlwind. She had a country to run, and suitors practically breaking down her door for a chance at her hand. Eventually, she had a family anchoring her to Sirocco. We all make a home here eventually. It’s probably harder now than when I was a child, with all the paperwork that’s needed these days. If more Siroccans are like Disraine and Sebastian, and hide in more natural, uninhabited areas, I would be more than happy to assist in the process of getting them paperwork, though I don’t think it would be wise to continue using courier services to deliver those papers to your grandmother. Once you have found other Siroccans, we can discuss how to acquire paperwork for them in more efficient manners. Finally, I unfortunately do not know of any sources of magic in this world. I wish I could offer more assistance here, but I fear you and Disraine are well and truly on your own in that regard. I never was bound to a source, so it was easier for me than it may be for others. Though it pains me to suggest doing so, you may need to scrape magic from the last natural areas if more of your people are bound to the forests, streams, and the like. Sincerely yours, Oliver Nightingale
Caroline unpacked what she had read. Nothing in the letter was unexpected. Knowing that Oliver would help her with the legal side of transitioning former Siroccans to this world was a small comfort, but it left her just as confused about what her next steps should be. Besides thanking Oliver for his help with Disraine’s paperwork, there wasn’t much more to do than exchange pleasantries until she found more Siroccans. Caroline got the impression that he wasn’t going to be much help with the Dark force in the woods, or freeing Sebastian, even in an advisory capacity. Sebastian,
Caroline thought. What happened to you?
Caroline was snapped out of her thoughts about how Sebastian had succumbed to the Darkness when she heard the rustling of Disraine folding up her letter.
“So biology?” Disraine asked.
“Yeah, we probably should get back to work,” Caroline said, folding up her own letter. She knew she was going to be distracted by trying to come up with ways to find her people, but moved her math homework back to the center of her part of the desk. “Let me know if you have any questions about it.”
Both girls tried to work but were distracted by their letters. They could both tell that Oliver had so much potential to be a helpful ally, but his age and distance hampered him from being as useful as they would have liked.
As the night dragged on and she got some work done on her other assignments, Caroline started thinking about her reply to Oliver. Nothing in his letter had been particularly time sensitive, but her training in royal protocol meant that she felt compelled to write a letter back, to keep communication open with him. He wasn’t of much use now, but once she and Disraine started to find others he would be invaluable. Oliver is right about not relying on Grandmother as a point of contact,
Caroline thought. She can help with some stuff, but it really should be mostly on me.
She started thinking about renting a post office box for her Siroccan business. Her grandmother would naturally have to help, since Caroline was pretty sure you needed to be an adult to rent one, but it would at least mean that her grandmother wouldn’t have to handle all of the mail.
“Can you focus at all?” Disraine asked.
“Nope,” Caroline said, closing the book she was attempting to read for English. “I just want to start finding others, to figure out the scope of whatever is happening. But everything has to go through adults
because of all of the rules in this world.”
“Do you think it’s worth trying to search for other Siroccans?” Disraine asked.
The question caught Caroline by surprise. The Goddess had charged her with that duty, and it was her intent to carry it out. “What do you mean?”
“If there’s some Darkness in the woods, who’s to say it’s only there?” Disraine asked. “It’s more powerful than you or I, at least without the Light of the Goddess helping us. It might be better to try to deal with it first.”
Caroline paused to think. Disraine was right. The extent of the Darkness was something that Caroline worried about, but she chose to focus on the part of her mission that she thought she had more control over. How hard could finding Siroccans be?
she had thought.
Oliver’s letter made her rethink that. He had made a life, and knew how to get paperwork so that others like him could easily melt into this world and go undetected. Even Disraine was adapting quickly to her new life. For that matter, Sebastian seemed like he had been getting by alright despite being bound to the woods.
Being powerless was a terrifying prospect to Caroline. Controlling the winds had become so normal
in Sirocco, even if she didn’t use it all the time. People knew that she could, and she was feared and respected for it. Trying to face down whatever had overtaken Sebastian without that power was unfathomable.
“How?” Caroline asked, suddenly gripped by fear and indecision.
“I don’t know,” Disraine said.
“I suppose we could try to find the heart of the Darkness in the woods,” Caroline said. “But if it was able to overpower Sebastian, I don’t want to know what it could do to us. How it might twist and pervert us to serve its purposes.”
Caroline shuddered at the thought.
“Yeah, it’s probably not wise until we have more magic,” Disraine said.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t go into the woods trying to find out more about it," Caroline said. A plan was starting to crystallize in her mind. "We can’t come up with a plan if we don’t know what we’re dealing with. Since it’s just the two of us for now, we’re all at once general, scout, and soldier.”
“And right now we need to scout, so that we can come up with a plan for the fight,” Disraine said, catching onto where Caroline was going. “That actually works well with our lack of weapons.”
“Exactly,” Caroline said. “Hopefully Oliver will find other Siroccans amongst his contacts, and some of them will be willing to fight if needed. Either way though, this is something to do that moves us in the right direction, but won’t be so distracting from our schoolwork.”
“And there’s six more years of school in this world?” Disraine asked.
“Usually,” Caroline said. “I’m not as thrilled about them as I used to be, but it’s how this world works.”
Now that she and Disraine had more of a plan worked out, Caroline knew what she was going to write back to Oliver. Besides the royal pleasantries, she would ask him to continue to keep whatever information channels he might have open. Caroline had a feeling that he had more informants than he had let on in his letter, and she knew that having access to even some of them might be valuable. A few compliments here, an offer of a title there. The titles wouldn’t mean anything in this world, but if Oliver was as well versed in protocol as his letter made him seem, Caroline was willing to be that he would still be intrigued by her offer.
“You two going to sleep soon?” Caroline’s mother called down the hall around the time Caroline usually turned her lights off. Caroline was nearly done with the letter, but was trying to put the right touches on the conclusion to ensure that Oliver would play the cards she wanted him to.
“Sorry Mom!” Caroline called back, hastily trying to think of a half-truth. “We were both trying to work ahead on some of our homework that’s due on Monday.”
“Well don’t be up too late, girls,” Caroline’s mother replied.
“We really should try to get some extra work done in the next few days,” Caroline said to Disraine. “That way we can spend Saturday or Sunday in the woods, scouting. I don’t know if we can really get away with both, especially if we want to go to the store to get some more clothes besides what Grandmother ordered online.”
But with it getting late, Caroline knew there wasn’t much else they could do that evening. If the lights weren’t out within an hour, she might get grounded for not working on her homework as quickly as she should have been.
Going to sleep with the seeds of a plan made her feel a hope she hadn’t felt since returning to this world. Now that she and Disraine had their next steps, she had hope for finding magic, unmasking the darkness, and figuring out why the Goddess had picked her, both to lead Sirocco and to have a second chance at life back in the world she was born in. Next Chapter
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Part 5: Amazing In Depth Essay About Sopranos Symbolism and Subtext (credit: FlyOnMelfisWall source: thechaselounge.net)
Tony Defies His Father’s Life Lessons
Season 6, part 2, depicted Tony as a heavy gambler, one who risked far more money more often than had ever been suggested before. While he always profited significantly from bookmaking and loansharking enterprises (his own and those of his crew), his personal wagering was limited and low-key in the first five and a half seasons, consisting mostly of casual card games or the odd day at a casino or racetrack. He certainly had never been depicted as the kind of man who gambled enough to endanger his liquidity or to necessitate six-figure loans just to stay even with his bookies, which describes the state of affairs in the episode Chasing It.
His gambling problem becomes so significant in that episode that it’s even addressed in therapy. Tony admits he’s been sending “good money after bad” but quickly defends the practice. “If you couldn’t lose, what’s the fuckin’ point, huh? See, you need the risk,” he tells Melfi. She asks, “What are you chasing? Money or a high from winning?” His shake of the head indicates that he doesn’t really know the answer to her question.
Many viewers couldn’t provide an answer either and felt this sudden gambling crisis reflected a writing failure, an attempt to manufacture drama by imposing unnatural or contradictory behavior on a well-established character. I felt a bit that way myself until I began to consider the gambling in light of Tony’s contemporaneous, burgeoning, and subconscious anger towards his father at that point in the series. In that context, the gambling began to make perfect sense, and, once again, it all goes back to the night of the incident involving the cleaver.
That was the night when Johnny emphatically imparted to Tony the lessons that gamblers are scum and that gamblers who borrow money and fail to make timely repayment are even bigger scum. If, in the last half of season 6, Tony’s subconscious was stuck on the cleaver incident as the true genesis for his life trajectory and was subtly pushing him to rebel against his father 35 years after-the-fact, then borrowing huge sums of money, gambling it all away, and shirking the responsibility to repay the loans would be a natural, safe course for that rebellion to take. Making Hesh the victim of his irresponsible borrowing would be a bonus, since Hesh’s age and relationship to Johnny and to Tony himself make him another natural father figure.
Of course this is exactly what happens in Chasing It. Having already borrowed 200K from Hesh in the prior episode, Tony visits his home one night. In a near-replay of his gift to Beansie, he brings Hesh a Cleaver hat while expressly denouncing the movie itself as unfit for viewing, a blatant self-contradiction reconciled only in that it signals Tony’s ongoing subconscious preoccupation with the movie’s cleaver logo and themes of violent retribution against a father figure. In any case, Tony shares gossip about Phil’s “boss” party from which he’s just returned and offers an almost stunning sentiment when Hesh questions why he left the party and the company of his crew so early. “I look at my key guys . . . what’s number one on their agenda, you know? They’re all fuckin’ murderers for Christ’s sakes,” Tony jokes, only you get the feeling he’s more serious than not. “What I’m tryin’ to say is, it’s nice bein’ here.” “Here” of course meant in the company of a guy who he fancies is able to put friendship above business, who makes his living under the auspices and protection of the mob but without directly participating in its violent aspects.
The warm fuzzy feelings disappear pretty quickly, however, when Hesh reminds Tony of the outstanding loan. Even though Hesh makes clear he is only wondering about repayment of the principal and is not looking for a “vig”,” Tony unreasonably seizes on this debt reminder as grounds for judging Hesh to be a stereotypical, money-grubbing Jew. He insists on paying Hesh a vig anyway and rubs two quarters together in derision when Hesh stops by the pork store the following week. Suddenly Tony is offended at the notion of folks collecting debts and profiting from gambling loans, something he’s unapologetically done himself directly or indirectly all his adult life. Then again, his subconscious is in a different place than it’s ever been before, fixated on the pivotal events and people in his past that contributed to him becoming what he is instead of what he’d like to have been.
The always-prescient Hesh ominously notes that this is not the usual Tony. “He’s all worked up, or something. I don’t like the way he talks. Hostile remarks. It’s not like him. Makes me worry.”
A secondary thread in this episode deals with Vito Jr. experiencing behavioral and social problems in the wake of Vito’s death. He dresses full tilt “gothic” with black lipstick, overturns headstones for fun, kills a neighbor’s cat, bullies a handicapped girl at school, and craps in the gym shower as revenge on hateful peers who tease him because his father was gay and notoriously died with a pool cue rammed up his butt.
Marie Spatafore asks Tony for $100K to move far away where Vito Jr. can start with a clean slate. Reluctant to give her that kind of money, Tony tries first to make Phil, as Marie’s cousin and Vito’s executioner, assume financial and quasi-paternal responsibility, with predictably bad results. Underscoring yet again the fatheson/surrogate theme of season 6, part 2, Tony tells Marie, “It’s not easy to substitute for a dad. I know. But maybe I can fill in here.”
Tony does talk to Vito Jr., employing a tact reminiscent of his intervention with AJ in Johnny Cakes and polar opposite of the one his father undertook with him after Satriale’s. He tries to plant or reinforce in Little Vito’s own mind a fundamentally good self-image by praising that he’s always been a “good kid.” Vito rejects Tony’s presumptuousness, noting that Tony is such a stranger to their family that he often mistakenly calls him “Carlos, Jr.” instead of “Vito Jr.” Still Tony tries to accentuate the positive. “Look, all I know is I couldn’t shut your dad up about what a good kid you were,” he scolds. “We were friends you know.” “But buddies?” Vito asks sarcastically. After excusing the zinger, Tony offers some genuine compassion for what it’s like to lose a father you loved and yet who caused you shame or disappointment at the same time. “I’m sure you miss him . . . a lot . . . whatever he was.”
Obviously this encounter is included in the story for what it says about Tony, not for what it says about Vito Jr., an inconsequential character in the overall scheme of the show. Tony’s counsel reveals his own latent conflicts, that despite what Johnny Boy was, and what Junior was, they were his father and uncle, the most important men in his life, the men who were around him throughout his formative years and who provided what measure of paternal love he knew. Not all of it was bad. Very much like what Tony recounts regarding Christopher’s childhood -- holding him as an infant and riding him around on his butcher bike -- there were endearing memories and experiences, enough that he could still love these men despite all the harm they caused him.
Little Vito is correct that Tony has no idea whether he (Vito) is an intrinsically “good kid”, and we have no idea whether Vito Sr. ever said or harped on that fact to Tony (probably not). But it doesn’t really matter whether either is true. Tony says these things because he intuitively recognizes how damaging it was to his own psyche and self image as a kid to hear his father euphemistically tell him after the cleaver incident that he innately possessed the sadistic, evil, or predatory nature to do what he witnessed in Satriale’s. He knows at a core, unconscious level that living up to his father’s concept of him was more important than living up to his fledgling concept of himself, a self-concept which, stripped of his father’s corruption, is revealed in all its relative innocence and idealism in Join the Club. That Tony is a mild-mannered salesman, loves his wife and kids so much that he sabotages his one chance at an illicit affair with an attractive woman, is naturally uncomfortable with minor credit card fraud, and is positively stunned at a level of violence in which another person merely slaps his face. So his effort to make Vito Jr. think of himself as a “good kid” and to internalize his father’s ostensible view of him as the same is Tony’s effort to help Vito Jr. avert the self-doubt and sense of innate moral inferiority that paved his own path to a life of crime.
Though I don’t think Chasing It asks us to make this juxtaposition, I can’t help but recall another, early episode featuring Hesh, Denial, Anger, Acceptance. There the Hasidic motel owner tells Tony he is a “golem”, a “monster, Frankenstien”, prompting Melfi’s question near the end of the episode, “Do you feel like Frankenstein . . . a thing, lacking humanity, lacking human feelings?” We don’t hear Tony’s answer in the therapy room, but it’s provided years later in his Test Dream when Tony the “mobster” (“monster” minus an “n” plus a “b”) runs from a torch-bearing, lederhosen-clad mob. Yes, he feels like Frankenstein, a monster, albeit one created by other people, against whom we can presume he bears a serious grudge.
Chris’ Displaced, Murderous Rage as a Precursor to Tony’s
In Walk Like a Man, Chris finds himself “ostrafied” by his mob cohorts because, in his effort to stay sober, he spends very little time with them at the Bing. When he does see them, he is ridiculed for drinking non alcoholic beverages and witnesses his once-favored status and earning opportunities in Tony’s crew being usurped by Bobby Bacala. Chris seeks Tony’s understanding for the fact that he inherited alcoholism from his mother, making sobriety especially difficult for him to maintain. But Tony doesn’t buy this “excuse”. Tony: I know a crutch when I see it. Chris: So my dad? You obviously musta knew he had a crutch. Tony: What the fuck are you talkin’ about? Chris: Com’e on, Tone, huh? Between the coke, the vodka, whatever the fuck else he was squirtin’ up his arm. Let’s be honest about the great Dickie Moltisanti, my dad, your hero. He wasn’t much more than a fuckin’ junky.
Tony is speechless. He doesn’t know what to think or say in the face of a son calmly debunking a lifetime of false paternal myth and hero worship and replacing it with naked, unvarnished, and unflattering truth. He is undoubtedly also disturbed to see the pedestal he built under another of his own father figures crash to the ground so suddenly and emphatically.
Elsewhere in the episode, Paulie provokes a squabble with Chris over stolen power tools that ultimately results in Chris beating and throwing Little Paulie out of a second story window and Paulie driving his car like a high-speed plow over the expensive new landscaping at Chris’ home while Kelly watches in terror. Tony forces a truce, which Chris seals with a drink to placate Paulie. This sacrifice and effort to fit in is rewarded when Paulie mocks Christopher’s drunken soliloquy about his daughter and makes her the butt of two cruel jokes in front of the crew. As Chris’ “friends” convulse in laughter, and especially as he absorbs the depths of betrayal written in the broad smiles of his “father figures”, Paulie and Tony, Chris storms out of the Bing and to the home of JT Dolan.
There’s a natural symmetry to him showing up in that moment at the home of the screenwriter who helped him express his covert hatred of Tony Soprano in a movie script. But on this night, the hatred spurting out of him is far more urgent and tangible. He threatens to “bring everybody down” by revealing sensitive secrets, like the truth behind the murders of Ralph and Adriana, and notes the rewards of the Witness Protection Program. He even mentions that Sammy “The Bull” Gravano is “living large” in the program in Arizona, a remark with some portent for the next episode.
JT repeatedly warns that he doesn’t want to hear these things that could get him killed and is unmoved by Chris’ plea for sympathy. “You know my father abandoned me,” Chris cries. “I thought you said he was shot,” JT fires back coldly before trying to shock Chris back to the realities of the life he chose: “Chris, you’re in the Mafia!”
Clearly Chris doesn’t subscribe to the “don’t shoot the messenger” theory. He impulsively draws his gun and blows a hole through JT’s head, but driving the action is the anger accompanying his sense of paternal betrayal and abandonment. It’s a transparently displaced act of rage reminiscent of the beatings Tony administered to Georgie through the years when the motivating anger was actually aimed at others or at himself.
A Reprise of Tony’s Paternal Guilt
Just as Christopher’s paternal hatred was exploding, Tony’s was imploding. And, once again, the explicitly acknowledged guilt Tony feels as a father and the unacknowledged blame he dispenses as a son are part of the same, swift current.
In Walk Like a Man, Tony has decided to quit therapy once and for all following Melfi’s demand that he honestly assess its value to him and whether he is serious about continuing. But before he can share his decision with her, Blanca ends her engagement to AJ, plunging the younger Soprano into a deep, suicidal depression.
When AJ cries that Blanca was “the best thing that ever happened” to him, Tony makes his most concerted effort of the series to boost AJ’s self-esteem and convince him of his intrinsic worth, telling AJ that plenty of girls would love to have a guy like him. AJ tearfully scoffs. AJ: Yeah, right. Like I’m so special. Tony: [earnestly] You’re damn right you are. You’re handsome and smart . . . a hard worker. And, let’s be honest, white.
I guess Tony had limited raw material to work with, but he did his best to sell all points.
AJ’s crisis causes a reversal in Tony’s decision to quit therapy, making his position in his next session paradoxical. On one hand he declares that therapy has been one big “jerk off” but allows that he is now “trapped [there] forever”.
The immediately striking aspect of this scene is that Tony is intellectually aware of the reasons for AJ’s depression: painful, personal rejection and the demise of his first, serious romantic relationship. That could happen to any young person in any walk of life with any kind of father or background and produce serious depression. But Tony’s awareness of this fact doesn’t stop him from feeling he is to blame for AJ’s plight. Tony: Obviously I’m prone to depression . . . a certain bleak attitude about the world. But I know I can handle it. Your kids, though. [His watery eyes and frangible voice betray the sincerity of his emotions as he continues.] Tony: It’s like when they’re little and they get sick. You’d give anything in the world to trade places with them so they don’t have to suffer. And then to think you’re the cause of it. Melfi: How are you the cause of it? Tony: It’s in his blood, this miserable fuckin’ existence. My rotten fuckin’ putrid genes have infected my kid’s soul! That’s my gift to my son.
A long pause ensues as Melfi absorbs the importance of the moment. These words are almost a verbatim echo of Tony’s emotional outpouring years before in Army of One, the only time he came really close to condemning his gangster way of life and particularly its harmful effects on his son. His verbiage here is even stronger in that he speaks of having “infected [AJ’s] soul”, a metaphor with considerably greater moral and spiritual weight than implied by the innocent, biological conveyance of a defective gene for regulating serotonin uptake.
So, as before, this confession of guilt and sorrow is clearly about more than genes. It’s about more than Tony wanting to save AJ from romantic heartbreak. This is about Tony feeling an inexorable corruption of his own humanity and sense of worth by the influence and value system of his violent father. And it’s about his concomitant guilt for fearing that, as a man like his father, he has done the same thing to AJ.
Just as in Army of One, Melfi’s gentle tone of voice signals how much she’s pulling Tony to make these realizations while his angry tears show how much he’s pushing to resist them. Melfi: I know this is difficult. But I’m very glad we’re having this discussion. Tony: Really? Really? ‘Cause I gotta be honest. I think it fuckin’ sucks. Melfi: What does? Tony: [yelling] Therapy! This! I hate this fuckin’ shit!
And there, in a nutshell, is the problem. He can’t stand to feel sorrow or indulge the pain of deep introspection, a theme recurrent through the series and explored openly in House Arrest and The Ride.
It’s no coincidence that Walk Like a Man and a number of other episodes from the final nine essentially begin by showing Tony soundly asleep in his bed. It’s also no coincidence that, after waking in Walk Like a Man, he plods downstairs while singing a verse from the Pink Floyd classic “Comfortably Numb”, a song which also features prominently in the following, culminating episode. Remaining numb to his deeper feelings of conscience and humanity is both the secret to Tony’s success as a gangster and the reason why some of his most personal, tactile acts of violence have followed moments of great sorrow (e.g., belt-whipping Zellman, killing Ralph, viciously beating a drugged-out Christopher after the Adriana hit.) Psychological distraction and extreme sensory manipulation are the keys, whether achieved by adrenaline-inducing violence, compulsive sex, compulsive eating, compulsive spending/material acquisition, or compulsive sleeping. The objective in all cases remains to either feel anything but pain or to feel nothing at all.
Walk Like a Man brings these deeply repressed feelings close enough to the surface that Tony glimpses the price of dredging them all the way up. And it’s not a price he’s willing to pay.
He knows that in order to “grow”, to truly progress in Melfi’s office, he has to be willing to essentially condemn an entire lifetime of immoral choices and acts that inflicted immense suffering on other people. He has to be willing to experience the guilt and remorse associated with that process. He has to be willing not only to smash the pedestal he erected under his father and denounce his way of life and his example but to own the fact that he willingly followed in his footsteps as an adult, compromising the potential of his children and especially of his son. In short, he has to do what the monks in his coma dream were suing to make him do: take personal responsibility for his life and actions.
No more blaming Livia consciously or Johnny Boy unconsciously. No more blaming Junior or Paulie or Dickie because they were equally poor surrogate fathers. No more “going about in pity for himself” because of his upbringing.
All of this is why the explicit admission never comes, the breakthrough never truly occurs. It’s too hard. It opens him up to too much sadness and regret and sense of waste and failure in his life. As hard as it is at times for him to live with the repression of those feelings, repression is easier than confrontation and all its consequences.
Of course the very fact that Tony has such feelings to repress has always been paramount for me. Though his actions grew increasingly dark over the course of the series, he always betrayed evidence of some conscience, some capacity for love, some capacity for sorrow and moral conflict, without which I can’t imagine that I would ever have been as obsessed with this show as I became. I cared about him and devoted so much passionate energy to trying to understand him only because his vulnerability and shreds of goodness made him, in my judgment, worthy of caring and understanding.
The humanity was often microscopic, but it was there, even in relation to some of the darkest deeds on the show: the way he was haunted briefly after killing Matt Bevalaqua, who he recognized was barely more than a “kid”; his reaction to the way Richie Aprile maimed Beansie; his long resistance to the idea that Pussy was a rat that had to be killed as well the way the murder troubled him well afterward; the way he uniquely (among the crew) was saddened by and took moral issue with what Ralph did to Tracee. We glimpsed his humanity in his red, grief-swollen face and defeated voice in All Due Respect when he instructed Chris where to find and bury the body of Tony B. We even saw it after he coldly ordered Adriana’s execution, both in the angry beating he administered to Chris (classic distraction from sorrow and punishment of Chris for having “created” the whole situation to begin with) and in his lumbering, emotionally oppressed frame and countenance in the closing scene of Long Term Parking.
So by the time of Kennedy and Heidi, even though there was nothing new about Tony killing people for whom he felt some form of affection, there was something entirely new about him killing a loved one without any trace of regret, sadness, or moral conflict. That’s why his seemingly remorseless, defiantly triumphant murder of the young man he thought of as a surrogate son forever changed the way I view Tony Soprano. Or at least I thought it did. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 6
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