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The Blue Comet

A luxurious passenger train streaking over the Pine Barrens between 1929 and 1941, the Blue Comet was a marvel of speed, luxury, and glamor. It was also, and essentially, New Jerseys marvelit carried its well-heeled passengers back and forth between Jersey City and Atlantic City. It symbolized New Jerseys determination to flourish without becoming a mere satellite of New York; Manhattan passengers had to make their way to Jersey City before they could settle themselves in the Blue Comet for the short trip to the shore.

In this episode, the Blue Comet symbolizes the determination of the New Jersey mob family to survive without being swept into the orbit of Phil Leotardos New York-based family. Phil decides to go to war to take out the New Jersey family; he calls them pygmies, disparages their morals (they harbored a homosexual made manuntil Phil killed him, that is), and castigates their liturgical laxity (anyone can be made in New Jersey; furthermore, their induction ceremony was far too relaxed for Phils taste). All this, in Phils view, deserves the death penalty. So he decides to take out the three top people Tony, Bobby, and Silvioand absorb the remnants into his New York family. At last, mere anarchy is loosed upon the worldwe have our mob war.

Tony hears about the proposed hit from the FBI man (Agent Harris) who eats at Satriales the tip is, in some sense, payback for Tonys information about the Muslims suspected of terrorism. So Tony realizes that he has to take out Phil in order to survive. He gives the job to Bobby, who eventually decides to bring in the Italian hit men who worked for them successfully on a prior occasion. But on this occasion, things go badlythe hit takes place at the home of Phils mistress, but Phil isnt there at the time instead, her father, who looks like Phil, is visiting. The Italians kill the father and the mistress instead.By the time the mistake is discovered, precious time has been lost. The hits on the Soprano leadership are proceeding apace. Bobby is in a model train store, buying a model Blue Comet train, chatting amiably with the owner about how people were better and kinder during the real Blue Comets heyday, when he is shot down, brutally, by two of Phils hitmen. A model train comes crashing to the ground. Two other hit men block off Silvio and Patsy Parisis car at the Bada Bing, opening fire on them. Silvio is hit badly, but not killed; we later learn that he lies comatose in a hospital bed, unlikely ever to awake.

What about Tony? It hasnt been a good week for him or for the reputation of psychiatrists. AJs bills for the psychiatric hospital are $2200 a day and its not clear they actually did anything more than warehouse the boy. When speaking with someone from the hospital, Tonys told that kids in crisis dont need talk therapythey need a safe, unstressed place. And Tony is told, by his own therapist Dr. Melfi, that talk therapy isnt helping him. After her own psychiatrist at a dinner party where he unprofessionally talks about the case -- convinces her that sociopaths are actually made worse by talk therapy (they use it to practice manipulation) and she finally internalizes the fact that Tonys a sociopath (the article about how sociopaths do have sympathy --for babies and animals finally rings a bell), she unceremoniously and ungraciously dumps him as a patient. The proximate cause is the fact that he ripped a barbeque recipe out of her office magazineaptly titled "Departures". With displaced anger, she asks him why he didnt think about the desires of her other patients to read the magazine too. Yesthats his biggest problem. Sure it is.

Tony goes home, and hustles the family together to go into hiding without him. He smacks AJ around a bitimpatient with his whiningand reassures Carmela that they wont go after the family. But you can see that she loves himits not only herself and the children that shes worried about. Carmela, in my view, is clearly morally superior to Dr. Melfi in this episode--Dr. Melfi discharges Tony as a patient when he becomes an inconvient embarassment to her, due to the (improper) public discussion of her patient at a dinner party of psychiatrists. The manner in which she discharges him is also all about her--not about his welfare, or even the welfare of his son.

Tony, Paulie, and a few loyal members of his crew hide out in a safe house. Tony lies on the bed grasping the automatic gun that Bobby gave him for his birthday presentremembering their conversation about whether you hear the shot that kills you.

One more week. I now think theres a chance that Tony wont die. "The Second Coming"the "rough beast, its hour come round at last," may be a newly empowered and feral Tony who amalgamates the New York family to his own by killing Phil. If he survives, he will be strongfree from the need to follow conventional morality, free from the need to nurse his own psychic wounds in therapy, he will be a rough beast indeed.

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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When Phil Leotardo was recounting his reasons for going to war -- harboring a gay man, and what you, Cathy, aptly called "liturgical laxity," I couldn't help thinking: Phil is a fundamentalist. I also can't help thinking that David Chase intended a clear allusion to religious fundamentalism.

Thank you for the recap.In some way, I found the Melfi-Kupferberg dinner party to be as ugly as the brutal killings -- Kupferberg's betrayal of Melfi being part of a more refined, and for that reason a more vicious act of character assassination. Kupferberg's inexcusable disclosure of the patient's identity and his second-hand analyses of Tony's behavior as that of a manipulative sociopath was only intended to viciously undermine and humiliate Melfi (I guess therapist's know exactly how to go for the jugular vein).As to Tony's character, I found an analyses by Matt Feeney at, which discusses the series up through season four. The writer, rightfully I think, contends that Tony "is not a sociopath. He is a bad person." -- driven by the conflict with his conscience. As the Sibyl episode suggested early on, he is his own worst enemy.In that regard, Tony's reaction when Melfi announced she was terminating therapy had an element of sadness that seemed like heartbreak to me. I felt he was truly stung by her rejection, although he tried to cover it up with his usual mobster bravado.

Gene, I agree on the religious fundamentalism bit. Phil's wife was portrayed as a highly religious Catholic who abhors homosexuality -- he used that as a reason for killing Vito, among other reasons.I would have said that in Phil's remarks about mob liturgy, Chase was commenting on the liturgy wars in Catholicism now, but Chase isn't Catholic. So we have, in a way, mob fundamentalists--in contrast to the Muslim fundamentalists whom the FBI is chasing and who may or may not exist.I agree, too, Antonio on the dinner party--really made all the psychiatrists look bad. It was ugly, and nasty. But I think Melfi ought to have resisted it. Reading one article about sociopaths and she dumps Tony--why? Was she in it just for the glamour and gets out when the glamor is gone?Actually, I think the series wasn't fair to Melfi, if her storyline ends this way.

"I think Melfi ought to have resisted it."So do I. I was disappointed about how malleable and defensive she was in buying into Kupferberg's rather sadistic manipulations. I don't think she was in it for the glamor though. If anything, I felt there was a mutual dependency bordering on sexual attraction that she recognized and found difficult to let go of. What's unfortunate is that she doesn't get what he's about. Even if she did, though, the constraint to remain non-judgemental would prevent her from intervening in any meaningful way. Nonetheless, at some point, she would have had to realize that there was no future in helping Tony become a well-adjusted criminal.Too bad she didn;t refer Tony to Dr. Krakaur. That encounter would have been interesting to watch.

I agree there was some sexual energy between Tony and Melfi, but it was more frisson than anything else. It was rather adolescent --she got a thrill --a frisson-- out of hanging out with a mobster. It's that that I mean by "glamour." But I think the dinner party brought home to her the interest--and the potential scorn, personaly and professionally, of her peer group. So it wasn't "cool"--"glamorous" any more to treat him.She treated him, in breaking off treatment, very much like an adolescent break up.

Hmm. Cue the Slate crew:"What she feels, I'm guessing, is shame at her vicarious thrill-seeking, which is the real reason she kept Tony on her rolls for so long. And which is the reason we've watched the show for so long, Dr. Melfi being, of course, the stand-in for every law-abiding member of The Sopranos' audience, who shouldn't derive delight from the actions of violent mobsters, but who do, anyway. Did you notice the collateral-damage subtheme last night? Not only did the incompetent Neopolitan hit men murder the wrong guy, but Phil Leotardo's killers gunned down Bobby in front of two children, who screamed in terror at what they had witnessed. Not to make too much of this, but I think David Chase was delivering a message to us last night about the consequences of violence and about hisand ourobsession with it."I think he's right.

Yes, Grant--but if it were real, healthy shame--why not get out of it in a professional way. Why treat a patient--Tony--so shabbbily. I think the shame itself is morally suspect in her case--I don't think it's real, I think it's peer pressure. She got caught.On the second point, I think the Slate folk are right--but it's a continuing theme in the show. Was this worse than the Canadian father who got killed so that Tony could get the Canadian drug contract? It points out the irony of Tony saying to Carmela, "You know they don't come after families."

I think her lapse is also meant to further emphasize Tony's corrosive power. Collateral damage and all that. Clearly Melfi had been preoccupied with the study after Eliot mentioned it. You could hear her trying to convince herself as much as the dinner guests. Why else would she embarrass herself by accusing Eliot of conspiring against her? Now, I don't believe for a second that Eliot had the welfare of society in mind when he brought the study to Melfi's attention. He's always been morbidly fascinated with Tony, and envious of Melfi's work with him. This was just a convenient way for him to punish her for having all the fun. Still, she went into it, I think, for the right reasons, and the public outing may have served as a breaking point for her. Realizing she has betrayedher deepest ethical commitments--even in some way her own ethnicity (note her reaction to the comment about big Italian noses)--she lashes out. She's tainted now too.

That's great, Grant.

Actually, foxy Phil has always been a devoted reader of "The Little Prince:" "Il faut des rites." Now for the last rites!

It's going to be hard, Bob --it's going to be hard.And Grant, I can't say I have a really good feeling yet about John From Cincinnati--Deadwood's creator's next big thing.

I don't either--although I like the casting--but then again, I had no interest in 'Deadwood' until I was more or less made to watch the first episode. Now I miss the show so much I went and bought National Book Award-winner Pete Dexter's historical novel, 'Deadwood'! (At City Lights, no less--hey, when in the West...) It's not Milch's 'Deadwood,' but still quite good.

Hey, I rely on you guys for my in-depth Sopranos-exegesis.Did any of you pick up the "Raging Bull" connection?The following from:"The scene Im talking about will forever be known as The Raging Bull scene. Tony, Silvio and Bobby were eating lunch, making preparations for going to war with New York. Suddenly, over the speakers, the classical score to Raging Bull began to play. Tony and Sil instantly recognized the soundtrack, and began pantomiming the opening credits to Raging Bull where Robert De Niro as Jake Lamotta dances around the ring in slow, almost balletic motion, shadow boxing with his demons as he gets ready for a fight. As Tony and Sil pantomimed the scene, they threw punches in slow motion, laughing, sharing a bit of their heritage."And the possible conclusion:"Oh, one other thing. The villainous mobster in Raging Bull was played by Frank Vincent, the same actor who plays Phil Leotardo on The Sopranos. Things didnt end particularly well for Vincents character in Raging Bull"."(with thanks to Amy Welborn)

Wow, that's brilliant Bob. I confess I've never seen Raging Bull--I'm too queasy about extended boxing scenes.I hope they're right about Phil. It's one thing for Tony to die, it's another thing for Phil to triumph.

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