The Sopranos was revolutionary in a multitude of ways. It set the stage for the modern television anti-hero while bringing therapy to the forefront of millions of minds. Though therapy didn’t exactly end well for Tony, I found his sessions with Dr. Melfi to be pretty interesting. Of course, there were some I found particularly memorable. Let’s take a look at 10 of my favorite Tony Soprano therapy sessions on The Sopranos.
1. "THEY said it was a panic attack."
Season 1, Episode 1, "Pilot"
First, when the Pilot opens to Tony sitting in Dr. Melfi’s lobby, you can tell this isn’t exactly his comfort zone. Fortunately, by the end of their session, Tony opens up about his fear of losing his family, just like he “lost the ducks.” It’s this fear that permeates the rest of the series, often hanging like a piano just over his head.
2. "If all this sh*t's for nothing, why do I gotta think about it?"
Next comes “Denial, Anger, Acceptance,” which Tony experiences as his best friend, Jackie, is dying of cancer. In the episode’s first therapy session, Tony expresses great frustration over the “Korschach” painting. By the following one, however, Tony’s forced to confront head on the fact that Jackie is going to die. Though “Jackie’s so f**king mean, he’ll scare that cancer away,” the truth is, cancer’s not intimidated by mob bosses (or anyone else).
Season 1, Episode 7, "Down Neck"
Moving on, in “Down Neck” we get our first flashback of childhood Tony and his family. Going down “memory lane” makes sense here, as therapy often involves examining your childhood to help understand who you are today. They say “You never forget your first time.” In Tony’s case, it applies to seeing his father beat someone up and watching his father get arrested, among other things. Don’t forget his mother telling him she was going to stick a fork in his eye. I guess I can’t blame Tony for thinking it’s “in the genes.”
Season 2, Episode 13, "Fun House"
Arriving at “Funhouse,” it’s hard to put into words the feelings I get as Tony, Puss, and Sil ride out to the water with “Free Falling” on in the car. Add to that the actual boat ride and the ending scene with “Thru and Thru”…you get it. For the purposes of this post, it’s really telling how Dr. Melfi picks up on Tony’s despair. It’s not like she doesn’t already know he’s the sad clown. But the difference this time, afterall, is “him, you loved.”
5. "Marcel Proust wrote a seven-volume classic, Remembrance of Things Past..."
Season 3, Episode 3, "Fortunate Son"
Similarly to “Down Neck,” in “Fortunate Son” we return to Tony’s childhood and his first official panic attack. On that day, Tony had watched his father cut off the pinky of a local butcher, Mr. Satriale. In an attempt to help Tony relate, Dr. Melfi recalls the story of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.”
6. "Can't I just be sad for a horse without some touchy-feely Freudian component to it?"
Season 4, Episode 10, "The Strong, Silent Type"
Jumping to season four, “The Strong, Silent Type” follows the death of Pie-O-My in “Whoever Did This” and also takes place as Christopher hits rock bottom with his heroin addiction. Fortunately, Christopher’s intervention isn’t “to the back of the head” and he lives to tell the tale (for now, anyway). Tony, however, is pretty crushed nonetheless. While he has a bad habit of finding “the drama!” the truth is, our whole country was still trying to come to grips with “this 9/11 sh*t,” so I’m sure many could sympathize.
7. "I ought to quit this therapy. Maybe it's this, Maybe it's that..."
Season 4, Episode 11, "Calling All Cars"
After “The Strong, Silent Type,” we arrive at “Calling All Cars.” It’s here where Tony launches into a tirade about how he’s been sitting in that chair for four years, yet still has questions and life frustrations. To him, this is unacceptable. In his eyes, what’s the point of therapy if you don’t eventually reach your destination of full contentment and happiness?
By the way, if you’d like to, you can read more of my thoughts on “Calling All Cars” here.
8. "Yeah, I had some problems at school, but I didn't vegetate."
Further, when we get to season 6, A.J. becomes a frequent topic of conversation during Tony’s therapy sessions. I’m always amused when I hear a particular conversation in “Johnnycakes” between Tony and Dr. Melfi because of just how well it has aged. If 2006 featured a bombardment of information, what would Dr. Melfi think about 2020/2021? (Yikes) For me, it’s another shining example of the timelessness of so many issues on The Sopranos. In today’s hyperconnected world, it seems as though things change literally by the hour. The fact that this discussion is even more on point 15 YEARS later is very telling.
Another Tony therapy topic here involves avoiding “extracurricular outlets” because Carm helped nurse Tony back to health. Back to health, that is, after being shot by his own uncle. Obviously, the ideal situation would be for him to not engage in those extracurricular activities in the first place, but we didn’t start this life 10 minutes ago. It often feels like the Soprano family dysfunction is determined to grow in perpetuity.
9. Every day is a gift.
Following Tony’s hospitalization for a gunshot wound, he tells Janice that every day is a gift. Of course, actions speak louder than words. Soon enough, Tony’s agita is back with a vengeance, culminating in his question to Dr. Melfi (below). So much for that whole stopping to smell the roses (or the gorilla sh*t) thing.
Season 6, Episode 19, "The Second Coming"
Finally, we come to Tony’s (sort of) final therapy session in “The Second Coming.” Tony’s coming off a state of crisis after A.J.’s suicide attempt and hospitalization. Naturally, he was pretty overwhelmed with emotion. And honestly, seeing Tony jump in the pool to save A.J. makes me briefly forget about Tony’s severe end-of-series downward spiral. Though of course, as David Chase makes VERY clear, The Sopranos is no fairytale. Tony’s relationship with Dr. Melfi is no exception.
Tony Soprano Therapy Conclusion
To sum up, if you didn’t already “understand Freud as a concept,” I imagine The Sopranos gave you a solid introduction. And because The Sopranos is no Freudian fairytale, in the end, Dr. Melfi cuts off Tony as a patient. Though it’s indeed disappointing to see them part ways like this, I guess they did warn us: “It won’t be cinematic.”
So, what are some of your favorite Tony Soprano therapy sessions? If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on The Sopranos, subscribe to Sopranos Blueprint (below) and connect with me on social media.