In the moral world of the Sopranos, fate and moral failing regularly combine tobring about a characters doom. Last weeks episode focused on luck --or fate --andits fickleness. This weeks episode demonstrated how very limited theopportunities for a good moral choice can be, even if we want to make a goodmoral choice. The capacity to choose rightly is influenced, if notentirely determined, both by genetic make-up and social circumstances.  

In the world of the Sopranos, thereis room for free choice -- people can be held accountable -- but the possibilities for the characters making and keeping to morally sound choices are slim.   They have just enough moral freedom tobring about their own damnation.  We see this in two story lines from the next generation: Tony's son AJscontinuing heartbreak after his breakup, and his nephew Christophers struggle to stayclean and sober despite the pressures of mob life.

AJ has fallen to pieces after his girlfriend Blanca refused to marry him. Hes not working, hes sleeping a lot, and much to the consternation of hisfather, crying incessantly. His sister and his mother worry that hessuicidal. Hes lost all dignity; he goes to see Blanca at her job as a clerkon a construction site, and breaks down in tears in her arms; she comforts him like a babyas she throws an interested over his shoulder glance toward the construction workers walking by. Prompted by Carmela, a guilt-ridden Tony tries to help. As he tells his own psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi,hes responsible for this defect of his son --he has given him the bad genes, the sick genes, thegenes for depression. Tondy says that he can handle things, but he worries about AJsability to take the bleakness.

So Tony gets AJ a psychiatrist, who prescribesanti-depressants, and cajoles some young college guys with mob connections toinvite AJ to an event at the Bada Bing (a strip club) and to a college frat party. Thestrategy, not entirely pleasing to Carmela,  seems to be working atfirst AJ is out of the house and having a good time. But soon we see theturning point. These college guys have been acting like bookies in their frats, andone of their clients wouldnt pay up. So, using AJs car, they kidnap him, takehim into the woods, and pour sulfuric acid on his toe. AJ helps hold theunlucky loser down for the punishment. In a perverse way, this act of violence seems to help AJ. The anger and brutality actually seem to bringhim alive.And so AJ begins to handle things too, in much the same way his father did. Tony wasright in his observation that he had passed on his physical and psychological tendencies fordepression to AJ. But he didnt pay attention to the fact that hehad also furnished his son with the poisonous social context in which AJ would needto grapple with these tendencies. Someone like AJ has no chance outside themob -- he's an employee at Pizza Hut. Inside the mob, he has no alternative but to go the same route as his father  --but not as successfully. In the end, AJs choice boils down to this: stay depressed, suicidal, and aninnocent child, or become angry, alive, and a guilty man.

Christophers options are not much better. Hes staying clean andsober, drinking club soda and ginger ale. Hes settled down -- he has a new wife,a new baby, and most importantly, a new gas grill to host mob barbacues. Remainingclean and sober requires him to avoid the customary haunts of Tony and the gang. After all, Satriales has the beer to go with the pork sandwiches, the BadaBing has the booze and the cocaine to go with the girls. But this increasingdistance creates problems with the crew. In fact, as Tony tells him in this episode, it's because he isn't around enough that he isn't able to nip in the bud acontroversy between Paulies nephew and his own wifes father. The controversy, silly in itself, ends up causing great tension between Paulie and Christopher. In fact, one of the funniest--and scariest-- scenes in the episode is Paulie driving over to Christophers new house to ruin the$40,000 lawn and landscaping with his car -- he looks like hes channeling the WickedWitch of the West.

But disaster is averted in the nuclear Family for one more week. Unable to bear the tension, Christopher apologizes to Paulie, and vice versa.   They celebrate their reunion with a drink. Christopher falls off the wagon, ofcourse. He ends up at the apartment of his fellow twelve-stepper JT Dolan -- the guy who gotthe Paulist Prize and is presently writing an episode of Law & Order. Cleanand sober, JT is not pleased to see a drunk Christopher banging on his door late at night. He's on deadline, andits 11:30 p.m. JT plays it by the AA book -- encouraging Christopher to find hissponsor and offering him coffee. He resists, however, listening to Christopher's accountt of the gory details of his business and he clearly indicates that he doesn't want to be a shoulder for Christopher to cry on. Christopher persists, whining that the other guysjust dont understand how hard it is to stay sober around booze and drugs, and that Tony doesntunderstand what a sacrifice Christopher made in turning over Adriana.  JT backs away--he says he doesn't want to hear it -- it's dangerous to hear it, since Christopher is in the Mafia. But it's dangerous not to hear it, too. Christopher turns, in despair, to leave. Then he whirls around and shoots JTdead.

As with Tony and AJ, anger is the flip side of depression and despair for Christopher as well. As with Tony and AJ, there is precious little room for a moral choice in the mob for ChristopherThe most poignant scene in the entire episode is when Christopher returns home after killing JT. Aboutto enter his house in the middle of the night, he sees a little sapling that is tipped over; it has beenincompletely rescued from Paulies destructive car spree. Christopher reaches over, tyring to set itmore firmly upright. The sapling stays on the straight and narrow, at least for a second. But we know its not going tolast. Neither, alas, is Christopher.

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

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