This final season of The Sopranos has been mostly about Tony's nearest and dearest being steadily pared away. Tony's pal John Sack died in prison of cancer, he murdered his protege Christopher Moltisanti, thought seriously about killing his one-time father figure Paulie Walnuts, alienated his old friend and financier Hesh in a spat over money, and got in a savage fistfight with brother-in-law Bobby Bacala. In Sunday's episode, the blade cut close to the core: The blowback from Tony's life roared through his family like a gale, endangering his children and threatening to implode his marriage.
AJ's suicide attempt, given his depression since breaking up with his girlfriend Blanca, may not have been exactly surprising, but that didn't make it any less dramatic or harrowing. With the house deserted, AJ tied a plastic bag over his head, weighted himself down with a cinderblock, and threw himself into the deep end of the family swimming pool. Only Tony's unexpected return home for lunch saved him.
AJ was motivated to take the big plunge after listening to his English professor's dramatic recital of W.B. Yeats' poem The Second Coming. (Lucky for AJ the professor wasn't a Wallace Stevens fan; he might have taken a chainsaw to himself.) Written in the aftermath of World War I, The Second Coming includes some chillingly bleak imagery ("What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"), but nearly a century later Yeats' fears that the breakdown of imperial Europe presaged the end of Western civilization seem naive and arrogant -- a description that fits AJ to a T, pardon the patrial pun. In the days before his aquatic adventure, AJ was a fountain of sophomoric cynicism about everything from U.S. foreign policy to food processing. "Twenty years he won't crack a book," scoffs Tony rather accurately, "all the sudden he's the world's foremost authority."
Carmela's reaction to the suicide attempt was, initially, total denial: "He was always so happy," she says of AJ, a fanciful description of a kid who has been a sullen, spoiled little punk from the very first of The Sopranos eight years ago. Her second was to blame Tony's defective genes: "He didn't get it from my family, that's all I'm gonna say." When Tony protests that depression is an illness, Carmela is spitefully dismissive. "You've been playing the depression card until it is worn to shreds," she berates him, "and now you've got our son doing it."
"Card? CARD?" Tony bellows, incredulous. The argument ends with them throwing both curses and objects at one another, and though we've seen it all before, there was a sense Sunday that they've crossed some irretrievable line of mutual contempt.
Tony, by the way, got a more sympathetic hearing from the gang at the Bing. When he admitted AJ's suicide attempt, everybody chimed in to say that, yeah, their kid was a depraved mess, too, sort of a "I'm Spartacus!" of manic depressive disorder. Paulie Walnuts, with no kids of his own to mess up, offered an alternative theory: "Between the mercury in fish alone, it's a wonder there ain't more kids jumping off bridges." Next week, it will probably turn out that Phil Leotardo's New York family has bought off the FDA.
Speaking of Phil Leotardo, his ongoing dispute with Tony over dumping asbestos at his garbage facility has only gotten worse -- and it led to the other threat to one of Tony's children. When Leotardo brushed off Tony's counterproposal to his demand for 25 percent of the action in return for accepting the asbestos, Tony retaliated by suspending other business with Leotardo's crew. Two of Leotardo's captains upped the ante by beating and robbing the foreman of Tony's sanitation company.
Soon after that, one of them -- Coco Cogliano -- made an obscene and somewhat threatening remark to Meadow Soprano during a chance encounter in a Little Italy restaurant. Tony had the last word; in one of the most terrifyingly violent scenes in the show's history, he literally broke Coco's face. Tony was still picking stray teeth out of his cuffs hours later at a meeting with AJ's shrink. If you ask me, we've seen where Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell are headed.
Final scorecard: Two savage beatings, one suicide attempt, and a profoundly disturbing vision supplied by Paulie Walnuts, who described dropping acid while listening to Jerry Vale. Talk about bad trips.
Big winner: The American Association of Orthodontics. Did you see what Tony did to Coco's mouth? It looked like he broke open a pinata full of teeth.
Big loser: Psychiatry. First Dr. Melfi's own shrink, Eliot Kupferburg, warns her of research that therapy not only won't help a sociopath like Tony but may actually make him worse because he can practice new techniques of manipulation on the therapist. Then Carmela dismisses all Tony's talk about depression as an illness as a big bore. And finally, when Dr. Melfi speculates in best Freudian fashion that AJ's suicide attempt may not have been serious but simply "a cry for help...On some level he may have known the rope was too long to keep him submerged," Tony offers a more acute analysis: "Or he could just be a [bleeping] idiot. Historically, that's been the case."