“Second Opinion” Review
“Crime and Punishment”
Throughout season three of The Sopranos, several characters face their own self-contained critical junctures. Dr. Melfi was at a crossroads in “Employee of the Month,” Tony Soprano let his emotions go unchecked in “University” and now Carmela is given a terse ultimatum in “Second Opinion.” The episode directly asks the question that Carmela has been avoiding all her life — is she complicit in Tony’s crimes by choosing to stay with him?
Back in the first episode of the series, Carmela told her husband that he was going straight to Hell when he dies. Notably, she didn’t include herself in that equation. It’s true that Tony is a liar, cheater and murderer destined for damnation, but Carmela is well aware of his many transgressions. She knew what she was signing up for the day she married him, and now her long-repressed Catholic guilt is finally catching up to her.
Inconsiderate husband aside, Carmela is the loneliest character on the show at this point. Her daughter is off to college and has always been resentful, and her moody son chooses to keep to himself (and is on a school trip to Washington, D.C.). She’s even more isolated than her friend Angie Bonpensiero, who is widowed but still receives a generous allowance from Tony to do what she pleases.
The neglect causes Carmela to question her entire lifestyle, which is how she ends up literally seeking a second opinion on her marriage.
Up until now, Carmela has somewhat skirted around the issue that her husband is a mob boss who kills people and fucks anything with a pulse. She’s been content to cook his lasagna and take his money, no matter how unenthusiastic and lovelorn she’s become. As evidenced by the opening montage of season two, Carmela has been fed up with her daily routine for years but hasn’t done anything to address the issue.
The early installments of The Sopranos wanted us to ask “Is Tony a good man?” Obviously, the answer has been a resounding “no” with each passing episode. “Second Opinion” wants us to ask something that we never really considered: “Is Carmela a good woman?” She remains faithful to an adulterous and murderous husband — if Tony won’t change his ways, then why doesn’t she change hers?
And so Carmela reaches out to Dr. Melfi, who recommends her to a colleague. The psychiatrist in question, Dr. Krakower, couldn’t be any more different than Melfi in his approach to psychotherapy. In a tearful session, he lambastes Carmela for the life she’s chosen and the blood money she’s accepted. He tells her she’s an accomplice and an enabler and that the only way she can save herself is by taking the children and leaving — “One thing you can never say is that you haven’t been told.”
Dr. Krakower also serves as a direct stand-in for series creator David Chase himself. All the topics and themes of the series are exposed in one blunt conversation. “He’s a depressed criminal, prone to anger, serially unfaithful. Is that your definition of a good man? … 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.”
Once again, Chase (via Krakower) is implicating the role of the audience as passive bystander. We’re just as bad as Carmela for encouraging such behavior, even if all we’re doing is watching a TV show. And just like Carmela, we know we can’t leave. The benefits outweigh the moral accountability.
The rest of the episode is somewhat humorous in comparison. For example, Uncle Junior is obsessed with the fact that his cancer surgeon’s name is John Kennedy, even though the indifferent Dr. Kennedy didn’t do a great job removing Junior’s tumor. As a result, Tony and Furio are forced to use intimidation tactics to make sure Junior gets the care he deserves. After a hilariously menacing encounter on the golf course, Dr. Kennedy gives Junior his personal cell phone number.
Elsewhere, newly made man Christopher Moltisanti is subject to rookie hazing and random frisks by Paulie Gualtieri. Similar to the events of “Fortunate Son,” animosity starts to build between the pair, with both complaining to Tony about the other’s behavior. Everything is made right when Chris and Paulie both bond over a Big Mouth Billy Bass.
Similar to Chris and Paulie mending fences, a depressed Carmela forces Tony to donate $50,000 to Columbia University as a sign of good faith to Meadow’s future. All is forgiven, and Carmela’s emotional growth is once again put on hold. She chooses to take the easy way out.
In the final scene of the episode, Tony lovingly suggests to Carmela that they go out on a dinner date. It’s one of Tony’s most genuine displays of affection, and the sequence is accompanied by a romantic acoustic guitar solo courtesy of Nils Lofgren (a live version of “Black Books”). As the end credits roll, we’re left with a touching note of elation.
Even though the scene tugs at our heartstrings, it’s one of the most cynical endings that Chase has ever cooked up. We should be disgusted — Carmela essentially accepts the fact that she’s a terrible person. Instead, the music and the money make it seem like progress is being made. The artfulness manipulates the audience into thinking that maybe the Sopranos can change after all. But if you’ve been paying attention, then you know that isn’t true.
“Black Books” is the perfect song to end this fantastic episode of television. Keep listening past the sentimental solo and hear how it’s really a breakup ballad about a failed relationship: “She wants new shoulders to cry on.” Season three continues its dark, depressive trudge despite a brief glimpse of light.
- Dr. Krakower suggests to Carmela that Tony should turn himself in and read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment everyday in his jail cell for seven years so that he might be redeemed. I wonder if he’s like this in every therapy session?
- I find it touching that Uncle Junior puts so much stock in the name of his surgeon, Dr. John Kennedy. As I’ve mentioned before, The Sopranos loves to examine the role of the elder generation in the modern age. Tony even said it in the pilot: “Lately I get the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” Uncle Junior’s trust in Dr. Kennedy reflects that ‘wishing for the golden age’ attitude.
- How about an Uncle Junior dream sequence? It’s a quick throwaway scene, but it’s pretty funny nonetheless. Subhead in fictional newspaper: “Star witness weds Angie Dickinson.”
- The other “second opinion” in this episode is when the tumor board review determines that Uncle Junior should receive chemotherapy. He’s fallen a long way rather quickly, especially when considering he was boss of the family in season one.
- Apparently, Adriana once gave head to Penn (of Penn & Teller fame). The revelation nearly starts a huge fight between her and Chris, but Paulie arrives at their apartment just in time for another random search. When Chris catches Paulie sniffing Adriana’s underwear, his anger is redirected.
- Compared to Tony, Chris has been a more faithful romantic partner (the bar is on the ocean floor). In “Second Opinion,” however, we see Chris meeting with a prostitute (even though he claims he didn’t have to pay for it). It’s the second time we’ve seen him cheating (the other time was in “D-Girl”). Unlike Carmela, Adriana doesn’t seem like she would be so accepting of an affair.
- Furthermore, how many times has Chris ever told Adriana he loves her? Just once by my count (in “Full Leather Jacket” when he buys her a ring). When she says it to him this episode, Chris’ response is “you fucking better.”
- Tony has a flashback to “Funhouse” when he sees the Big Mouth Billy Bass on his desk at the Bada Bing. He immediately breaks it over Georgie the bartender’s head.
- Tony has been giving Angie Bonpensiero a monthly allowance due to the fact that her husband was an FBI informant who “disappeared.” Once again, money heals all wounds — Tony feels less guilty, and Angie doesn’t ask questions about Big Pussy. But when she asks for more money, Tony comes over and breaks the windows on her brand new Corvette.
- Actress Edie Falco won her second Emmy award for her performance in this episode.
- “Second Opinion” was written by Lawrence Konner and directed by Tim Van Patten.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “I guess you could call that a dick.”
- “The man’s got two speeds: mopey and yelling, when he’s here.”
- “That’s why they invented microwaves. For inconsiderate husbands.”
- “Anthony is a cunt hair away from owning all of North Jersey. And I am that cunt hair.”
- “Fuck the orange juice.”