Carmela Soprano’s Most Important Scene: I Have a Completely Different Opinion About It Today
“The Sopranos,” Season 3, Episode 7. As usual with arguably the greatest of all television series, the episode title, “Second Opinion,” carries multiple meanings.
Uncle Junior gets a second opinion from his oncologists. And Carmela Soprano gets a second opinion from a psychiatrist—one recommended to her by Tony’s shrink, Dr. Melfi.
“The Sopranos” is never more real than when it explores Carmela’s relationships with her husband Tony and her daughter Meadow. Carmela is loving and nurturing, angry and resentful, forgiving and magnanimous, self-serving petty—sometimes all in the same conversation.
In my view, Carmela is also the near-opposite of the show’s central villain, looming large even long after her death: Tony’s mother, Livia.
Livia, based on series creator David Chase’s mother, elevates passive-aggressive victimhood to a sinister art form. Outwardly, unlike her larger than life mother-in-law Carmela is refreshingly direct, though her inner struggles are a core part of her character in the later seasons. Carmela is as supportive (for the most part) as Livia was undermining.
The great Edie Falco shines in many famous scenes during her run as Carmela, as formidable an actor as her foil James Gandolfini (RIP). She was unforgettable in the blowout fight with Tony at the end of Season 5 that led to their separation. She stole the show during her showcase episodes, such as the sixth-season trip she took to Italy (“Cold Stones”) and her romantic interlude during the separation (“Sentimental Education”). But for my money, the psychiatrist scene that anchors “Second Opinion” is her single most memorable and important scene.
To clarify: I’m not talking about the scene with Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Tony’s psychiatrist. I’m referring to the scene that comes later, the confrontation with the psychiatrist Carmela is referred to by Dr. Melfi: Dr. Krakower, a mentor of Melfi’s.
Dr. Krakower could not be more different than Jennifer Melfi. She is understanding and sympathetic, seeking to connect and understand. He is direct — confrontational and cold, even.
I remember watching the scene when the episode was first broadcast in April 2001. It was riveting HBO. This was it, finally. Carmela would at last be forced to confront her demons and compromises face-to-face, through a dispassionate intermediary. To hear out loud what she needed to hear: that she needed to leave Tony as soon as possible.
And I remember how I felt at the time, how firmly I was in Dr. Krakower’s corner. He was doing the right thing.
I feel much differently about the scene today. I have a lot more sympathy and empathy for Carmela.
I highly recommend going back and watching it if you’re a fan. And, by the way, Edie Falco won the Emmy for her performance in this episode—and it was richly deserved.
The scene itself, which lasts all of four minutes, is sandwiched by a number of important plot points. Tony and Carmela have begun seeing Dr. Melfi together. Uncle Junior is battling cancer. Christopher and Paulie are feuding. Tony is even more grumpy and disengaged than usual, and is fighting Carmela by refusing to give a large donation to Columbia University (attended by Meadow) that Carmela is pushing him to approve.
Earlier in the episode, Carmela visits Dr. Melfi alone—Tony declines to attend, continuing to pull away—and emerges with a referral to Dr. Krakower.
Just before the pivotal scene, while she’s standing in the driveway talking on her portable landline phone (remember those?) confirming her appointment, Tony confronts her, and what plays out is one of those priceless, hilarious “Sopranos” dark comedy moments.
Tony: (Striding toward Carmela in his bathrobe, holding up a carton of orange juice, with a sour look on his face.) This says “with pulp.”
Carmela: You like it with pulp.
Tony: Not this much. I like the one that says “some pulp.”
Carmela: (Throws phone at Tony in response. Hard. Further argument is averted when they’re interrupted by son A.J. getting dropped off coming back from a school trip.)
So here is the relevant scene: It’s a shadowy and depressing psychiatrist’s office. Carmela is in or near tears. Dr. Krakower is wizened and imperious. We join the conversation in mid-session:
Carmela: Everybody’s marriage has problems.
Dr. Krakower: Is he seeing another woman?
Carmela: Make that plural. He sees other women. I sort of look the other way. I want to help him.
Dr. Krakower: Do you? Moments ago you used the word “divorce.”
Carmela: I said I was considering divorce.
Carmela makes a reference to the sanctity of marriage being of central importance to Catholics, and since she assumes Dr. Krakower is Jewish, she speculates that he might not be able to relate. Krakower replies that he’s been married for 31 years.
Carmela: He’s a good man, a good father.
Dr. Krakower: You tell me he’s a depressed criminal. Prone to anger. Serially unfaithful. Is that your definition of a good man?
Here is when I first start to turn on Dr. Krakower:
Carmela: I thought psychiatrists weren’t supposed to be judgmental.
Dr. Krakower: Many patients want to be excused for their current predicament because of events that occurred in their childhood. That’s what psychiatry has become in America. Visit any shopping mall or ethnic pride parade and witness the results.
Carmela: His crimes … they are … organized crime.
Dr. Krakower: The mafia.
Carmela: (Gasps) Oh Jesus. Oh, so what. So what. He betrays me, every week with these whores.
Dr. Krakower: Probably the least of his misdeeds.
(Carmela gets up to leave.)
Dr. Krakower: You can leave now or you can hear what I have to say.
Carmela: Well. you’re going to charge the same anyway.
Dr. Krakower: I won’t take your money.
Carmela: That’s a new one.
Dr. Krakower: You must trust your initial impulse and consider leaving him. You’ll never be able to feel good about yourself. Never be able to quell the feelings of guilt and shame that you talked about. As long as you’re his accomplice.
Carmela: You’re wrong about the accomplice part though.
Dr. Krakower: Are you sure?
Carmela: All I do is make sure he’s got clean clothes in his closet and dinner on his table.
Dr. Krakower: So enabler would be a more accurate job description than an accomplice. My apologies.
This scene remains brilliant. It’s tense and dramatic. But, upon rewatching this episode in 2016, what gets me is that Dr. Krakower’s proclamations and judgments are so ineffective. Yes, he proposes a simple black-and-white analysis of Carmela’s situation. But what does he know of her life? He’s acting like a priest or professor on high. He is judging without bothering to even try to walk a mile in her shoes.
He’s not connecting with her. And that makes me feel for her.
Carmela: So. You think I need to, ah, define my boundaries more clearly and keep a certain distance. Not internalize my …
Dr. Krakower: What did I just say?
Carmela: Leave him.
Dr. Krakower: Take only the children—what’s left of them—and go.
The “what’s left of them” aside seems particularly cruel, in retrospect.
Carmela: My priest said I should try and work with him. Help him to be a better man.
Dr. Krakower: How’s that going?
Carmela: I …
Dr. Krakower: Have you ever read “Crime and Punishment”? Dostoyevski. (Carmela shakes her head “no.”) It’s not an easy read. It’s about guilt and redemption. And I think while your husband to (sic—sorry, not exactly sure of the dialogue here) turn himself in and read this book and reflect on his crimes every day for seven years in his cell—then he might be redeemed.
Carmela: I would have to … get a lawyer, find an apartment. Arrange for child support.
Dr. Krakower: You’re not listening. I’m not charging you because I won’t take blood money. And you can’t either. One thing you can never say. That you haven’t been told.
Carmela: I see. You’re right, I see.
Told. That’s the key word. It’s not a dialogue. Not a conversation. It’s a pronouncement, with no room for negotiation or compromise. And it’s easy from one point of view, and impossible from the other.
Carmela, to a great degree, represents the audience in the subsequent seasons of “The Sopranos.” She wants to keep her family together. She is compromised, but not a murderer like Tony and the others.
Perhaps she seems so much more sympathetic in retrospect when viewing this scene because I know what happens in the final several seasons. She comes to the brink of leaving Tony, but she retreats, partly out of love, but mostly out of pragmatism. She has been outmaneuvered. He taints the pool of divorce attorneys in the area by meeting preliminarily with several of them. She calculates the cost of leaving him, financially and emotionally, and finally decided against it. She extorts out of him a down payment for a spec house, a construction project that ultimately proves profitable.
She is a realist, to some extent. She realizes that she is responsible, that she has made choices that have led to where she is, and she deals with it as best she can. She’s not so hard to identify with, in the end.