- Tony later retells his dream where a water bird – narrowed to the same ducks by Dr. Melfi – flies off with his detached penis. Tony’s sexual frustration, infidelity and insecurities aside, it’s interesting that he symbolically loses his ‘masculinity’, or rather the classic definition of authority (bringing us back to the forgotten motto: the strong, silent type) on a subconscious level through the same ducks he cares so much about as if they are his own family. The serene image of the ducks is ripped away from him in an instant, again adding to the fear of losing his family. The loss and regain of authority later comes to shine in 5.01: when Tony and Carmela are separated, a big black bear comes into their backyard and scares the family, as a perfect transparent symbol of immediate threat in Tony’s absence, although it seems it’s not particularly interested in harming them. At the end of the episode Tony finds his way back home, as the sole protector of his family, on the lookout for the same bear. In 5.13 Tony escapes the feds and runs back home crackling through the bushes just like that intimidating black bear (or even the ducks from the pilot). Back to his family, authority restored.
“When I was young [my uncle] told my girl cousins I would never be a varsity athlete, and frankly that was a tremendous blow to my self-esteem.”
- The hopelessness that overwhelms Tony following the ducks’ departure pretty much mirrors the repressed disappointment he feels and expresses after severing ties with his mother and uncle. Feeling betrayed that they’ve been so ungrateful after everything he’s done for them, all for nothing. Could it be that after all the efforts, and building this cozy life, he’d be separated from his wife and kids like the way those ducks left him? We (and Dr. Melfi, the overseer) can argue that Livia and Junior are responsible for his insecurities while Johnny Boy initiated him to violence and the senseless thirst for power and control; simply put, the need prove that he’s a tough kid. Furthermore in Tony’s dreams we see how these weaknesses overcome Tony’s desire to be in charge. This particularly comes to shine in the illusive “test dream” when Tony’s teeth falling out juxtapose with bullets melting in his hand as his football coach towers over him, criticizes his life of crime and basically brings out the sources of Tony’s repressed low self-esteem. The falling teeth dream symbolism is famously associated with overwhelming anxiety or change (old tooth, vs. new tooth/coming of age) and feelings of loss or even the fear of death (Read more about it here and here).
- On the other hand, these dreamworld symbols at times can traverse the boundaries and affect the real world of the show in the form of premonitory signals. Perhaps a fitting example would be the juxtaposition of the ducks leaving in the pilot and their symbolic equivalents (ie. Tony’s wife and kids) never fully coming together in the series finale, as Meadow walks in a bit too late (with the ‘Members Only Jacket guy’ theory in mind). Or even generally speaking, Tony’s not allowed to have a proper memorable moment with his family, as the ‘storyteller’ (in this case, David Chase) cuts to black. The metaphorical universe of the show plagued by Tony’s fear of losing his family, forbids him that and rips that perfect moment away from him. Or consider this: had the show gone on with all four Sopranos sitting at the table and then faded to black with no twist at all, wouldn’t it have indicated that Tony had only been able to preserve his family ‘physically’ as all three of them, Carmela, AJ and Meadow had already gone through hell and back emotionally? Doesn’t it count as some sort of loss?
- “That’s the link, the connection…” – Moreover, speaking of the dreamworld-reality crossovers, notice how Johnny Boy drives Tony to the Sopranos house in a dream (5.11), somehow visually mirroring the famous opening sequence of the series. On a far-fetched note, the farm-house in the painting at Melfi’s office seen in 1.03 looks awfully similar to Tony Blundetto’s hideout. Strangely enough, the therapy scenes are usually cut to or from with no introduction or establishing shot, and feature many separate medium to close-up shots of Tony and Dr. Melfi, giving off a sort of otherworldly aura. Even on a couple of occasions we mistake Tony’s dream visits with actual sessions (Check out 5.11 where Melfi is replaced by Gloria or 6.18 where Tony confesses to his murders right in front of her, in a dream).
- “I had a dream last night…my bellybutton was a Phillips head screw, and I’m working, unscrewing it and when I get it unscrewed, my penis falls off.” – Adding to the dreamworld-reality connections, seems the symbolism of the show folds in on itself: after getting shot by Uncle Junior, Tony goes into a coma similar to how Christopher’s heart stopped in hospital following another shooting. In fact both of the relative episodes, 6.02 and 2.09 play out similarly on many levels. “Anxiety attacks are legitimate psychiatric emergencies. Suppose you were driving and you passed out?” Then there’s Dr. Melfi in this episode, whose note of precaution for Tony finds its way to her subconscious mind, as she later has a dream of his ‘favorite’ patient passing out behind the wheel and crashing his car, eventually urging her to resume the therapy.
- “I understand therapy as a concept, but in my world it doesn’t go down. Could I be happier? Yeah. Who couldn’t?” – Melfi diagnoses correctly, Tony is depressed, and he’s ‘enlightened’ regarding the philosophy of his life but he’s also -secretly- in denial. Throughout the series he goes on throwing blame on people, justifying his terrible acts. Is it because Tony has always felt sorry for himself that he’s lived after the glorious old times? Is it the need to prove to everyone that he’s not ‘nothing’ compared to the people who used to run things? Seeing it in a positive light, you could say he understands, but rarely learns, hence Melfi finally puts a stop to the therapy, ‘relieving’ him, with whatever darker implication that may come. “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky.” Upon noticing the Ojibwe saying which mysteriously appears in the hospital (See 6.03), he initially subconsciously incorporates its meaning and cherishes the gift of his ‘new life’ but gradually goes around preaching it to others around him while failing to see the real bigger picture himself (See 6.16 where he lectures Vito’s son and 6.07 where he advises Artie using the same thing).
Next: It All Gets Washed Away…