Good stories are rare and when they come by, they are like a fresh breeze on a sunny day along the beach.
To the layman, Mafia is synonymous with organized crime and evokes the rule of the jungle. However, this perception is likely not to change if you watch the Sopranos.
David Chase’s Sopranos is a good story well told and presents important themes such as cultural identity, family, interpersonal relations, power, and talk therapy.
Chase’s ability to weave talk therapy in a Mafia narrative was ingenious and managed to extricate the story from being perceived as an extension of Mario Puzo’s Godfather.
But what exactly is talk therapy and why would a mafioso need it? That is the point – that no one is ‘strong’ enough to make do without talk (therapy).
It is a fact that human beings are born helpless and dependent. The need to be loved, cared for, and validated – initially from the mother and the immediate family – therefore becomes a primary need and continues throughout a lifetime.
Whereas the layman’s perception is that the Mafioso are to be feared and even eradicated, the Soprano evokes a need to appreciate a culture that has stood the test of time. The fact that the Mafioso are as vulnerable as everyone else is an important insight into the role and power of culture.
If talk therapy has been important to the ‘ruthless’ Mafioso’s culture, who do you think you are that you can bottle up and still survive?
Talk therapy provides a vent for implosions such as suicides, separation and divorce, loneliness, and other forms of self-harm. It is a continuation of the innate need for love, care, and validation.
Just like a parent’s affirmation is to a child learning to walk, so is a spouse’s affirmation after a day’s toil, or even after a sex round. In other words, talk therapy is for everyone and those that know how to use it can wield much inner power.
The Mafia, for example, is depicted in Soprano as a closed culture with the insiders expected to play by rigid rules that revolve around trust. In return, members benefit from social and economic support.
The closed nature of the Mafioso culture is so sensitive that obtaining talk therapy from an outsider is frowned upon and a weakness sign. So much for the therapy itself, and for the fact that the talking may expose the insiders’ secrets.
The Soprano offers a glimpse at a Mafioso’s embrace of talk therapy and the therapist’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that a client seeks to validate conflicts arising out of a criminal lifestyle.
Are not all human beings struggling with the same? It is easy to avoid confronting the elephant in the room. In other words, it is easy to ignore (or rationalize) the problem in the hope that it will evaporate rather than deal with it.
By the time the therapist decides to terminate the therapy, the criminal is strong enough to put up with the bustles of his life. Consequently, the Soprano provides valuable insight on the role of talk therapy in a bustling world.
PS: This article is not an endorsement of the Sopranos