Misc. Reviews


By • Nov 6th, 2001 •

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I just finished a video marathon, courtesy of a friend’s taping, of THE SOPRANOS, Season Two. THE SOPRANOS is brilliant. I sure wish I had HBO.

Consider this: The human brain is divided into three parts: the reptilian (or R-complex), the limbic system, and evolution’s newest addition, the neocortex. The oldest brain, the reptilian, plays an important role in aggressive behavior, territoriality, ritual, and the establishment of social hierarchies.

THE SOPRANOS is the celebration of man’s evolutionary prerogative: his reptilian brain. This is the real reason why THE SOPRANOS is hailed as the best show on TV. We recognize, on an unconscious level, that the show venerates the Reptilian Brain that we all possess, and suppress. Let’s face it – THE SOPRANOS is about a group of “cold-blooded killers.”

I love THE SOPRANOS for one concrete reason: every character (even secondary characters like Carmela’s parents) is angry.

Every character operates purely from the Reptilian Brain: “I want, I want, I want. I want NOW! I want what I think is important to me.” All the characters function on this level. This is precisely what enthralls us: here are people who do exactly what they want. There are no consequences for their actions. If someone annoys you – kill him. In Season One Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) thinks his mother Livia set him up to be “whacked,” so he decides to suffocate her. Like Season One, Season Two has killings for all sorts of infractions: Tony’s sister Janice (Aida Turturro) is punched in the face by her fiancĂ© (who has already shown us his vicious nature). She immediately gets a gun and kills him. An episode from Season Three (we were lucky to get a hotel room in D.C. with HBO) had a stripper spit in the face of her gangster boyfriend Ralphie. He brutally beats her to death. There are no consequences. According to Freud, they all have “infantile amnesia.” If characters are not dealing drugs, they are taking them. Every episode is centered around eating. All the men drink and have sex with their mistresses or strippers (and even – as in the animal kingdom- publicly, i.e., in the back room of “The Bing”).

Eat, have sex, and kill.

It’s the glorification – and the recognition – of the Reptilian Brain. I don’t particularly like Dr Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). For me she slows down the show. That said, I do like that the writers have revealed her true self: she’s angry too! She’s bitter, and is furious with the stupidity of her patients. She lashes out, and uses the “F word,” with her own therapist (so far, he’s not angry, but give him time. After all, he’s played by Peter Bogdonovich). Though Melfi is totally professional with Tony, his alpha male sensibility sees right through her. He knows she’s attracted to him because of his ruthlessness. He psychically sees the real, foul-mouthed, angry Dr. Melfi. Her estranged husband is also angry and bitter. And Melfi is in some sort of conflict with her son.

Why does Tony Soprano have our compassion? Freud explained the whole dynamic success of THE SOPRANOS in his classic work TOTEM AND TABOO. Tony Soprano is the strong male of the whole horde, which, in Sopranospeak is called in a semi-religious fervor, “the family.” But all the other weaker males want Tony’s dominant position. He is constantly in fear of losing his horde to aggressive, younger males. These are, metaphorically, his “sons.” The world of Tony Soprano – like the primitive man’s, and in the animal kingdom – is highly structured. While Tony is the acting boss, he’s got lots of organizational headaches. Everyone around him functions in infantile rage. There’s Junior Soprano, his uncle and presumptive head of the family. Junior is old and angry. (In Season Three he found out he has cancer and he’s really furious about it. No prayer group for Uncle Junior. Giving him cancer is brilliant. He’s truly dangerous now). Tony has his captains who run crews of young guys trying to make it up the ranks. Tony doesn’t so much tell his guys what to do as tell them “Never do that again.” What they all really want is to get rid of Tony and take his place. THE SOPRANOS is Freud’s primeval drama set in modern day times.

Another prominent theme (and seductive element for male viewers) is that all the men have secret lives. They are free to come and go as they please. Women come with price tags they can easily afford. They don’t communicate with their wives or each other. They greet each other with insults. They say what they want and leave. They never explain themselves. They don’t talk things out. Their gratification must be immediate.

My favorite character is Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico). I just love the way he holds his hands in a form of mobster benediction. While I like how Tony’s son A.J. is coming along (brooding and silent, which way will he go?), I’m surprised the kids never enjoy the power of being Tony Soprano’s children – like real life mob princess Victoria Gotti.

By the way, in Freud’s telling of the primeval drama, the brothers join together, kill the father, and eat him.

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