Mothers and daughters and the impact of aspiration

Rewatching The Sopranos is another chance to revist all those incredibly well-written and emotionally engaging episodes. One that really captures certain relationships is Episode 12 of Season 4 “Eloise.”

Carmela’s very understated flirtation/love with Furio comes to a very abrupt end when Furio disappears back to Italy, knowing that he cannot handle his feelings any more. Despite the fact that Carmela and Furio have never even come close to stating their feelings for each other, Carmela is devastated. For her, feeling betrayed by Tony, trapped in her life, this escape, this potentially very dangerous idea that nonetheless provides her with the possibility of another life, however unlikely that is, allows her an outlet, a way to channel off the frustration and anger. But when it is gone, the anger and frustration returns.

What is most interesting is the outlet that is finds. Meadow has finally got herself into the swing of college life and has a nice boyfriend who Tony can approve of. And her education and experiences and new friends are pushing her into a  realm that is beyond her mother’s experience. When Carmela, Tony and AJ go to dinner with Meadow, Finn her boyfriend and her new flatmates, Carmela’s resentment of her daughter’s escape, of her move beyond the world that Carmela inhabits becomes apparent. Carmela’s is frustrated and angry that Meadow’s education leads her to question and disagree with her mother’s opinions, even though Meadow is quite polite and reasonable in her presentation of the alternate opinion.

Meadow realises that her mother is unhappy, possibly at her, and tries to make amends – suggesting that undertake their tea ritual “under Eloise’s picture.” Carmela cannot, however, forgive her daughter for having the life she missed out on and picks a fight, leaving Meadow dismayed and angry.

The interesting thing here is that we see in Carmela the dilemma and confrontation that faces so many parents who have aspirations for their children. In theory, clearly many people want their children to do better than them, to achieve beyond their achievements, to move in different social circles. In Australia over the last 20 years in particular, that aspirational idea has been a particularly significant aspect of political rhetoric, and particularly that which dominated the Howard government. It has led to the expansion of the university sector and the growing number of law students in particular. It has also driven policy around funding for private schools and the increasing drift away from public schooling to private schooling.

And while the result of this upward educational mobility for children no doubt results in a lot of pride, it must also, sometimes, be threatening. Better education will increase the child’s earning capacity and social capacity, but some parents must worry that this better education may result in children thinking that they are smarter, or possibly that they might even be smarter than them. This is obviously challenging to the authority of a parent who is used to being the one who is in charge, who knows best. The idea that children might move in different or more elevated social circles would also represent a similar challenge to parents. While the idea of one’s children being better than oneself seems to be a fine ideal, the reality of it could be confronting.

For Carmela, these feelings are clearly coupled with jealousy over her daughter’s youth, freedom and new love, but at the same time the knowledge of her financial dependence on the family. her frustration with her life leads her to lash out at the person she would rather be, with anger,  jealousy, bitterness and fear. At the same time Meadow begins to tease together an idea of what is is that might actually be bugging her mother.

As usual, the direction, acting and writing are beautiful. The ideas are understated but clear and you can see where Carmela’s reaction is coming from, as well as understanding Meadow’s bewilderment and resultant frustration and anger.

I love The Sopranos.

Love and shooting

Am currently rewatching The Sopranos from start to finish as part of our regular DVD night viewing. As always, struck by the acting and the magnificent writing and also the beautiful framing of some of the shots. At the moment we are just getting into season four. In the three episodes we watched tonight, and in the season more generally, I am struck by how much it is focused in season 4 on the relationships between husband and wife and the different kinds of relationships. The contrast between Bobby’s intense grief over the death of his wife Karen, and Johnny Sack’s murderous rage over the insulting of his wife with Tony’s disengagement, so much so that he does not even stop to watch when he wife dances with another, younger, good looking man. We know that Tony does love Carmela, but his efforts at pleasing her tend to involve the purchasing of products rather than any sort of engagement with her emotional needs. It is hard to picture Tony sobbing over her coffin the way that Bobby does with Karen. The wives themselves understand the difference, the rarity of that sort of love in their world as they look to their husbands and partners, talking business and discuss the fact that Bobby was the only one who had never had a comare – a mistress – and that the other men had laughed at his for it. In constrast they recognise their relationships as transactional, that they make their own bargains within them to access the things that they want and the lifestyle they have chosen. Janice herself, with her failed relationships and dangerous engagements with men like Ralph, also recognises the genuineness of Bobby’s love for Karen and is desperate to gain that for herself.

This focus on relationships, with the way in which we see the actual distance between Adrianna and Christopher, because of the secrets and the drugs, which eventually leads Christopher to make the decision he does, and in the flirtation between Carmela and Furio which develops and grows continues throughout the season. This The way that men and women interact and the effect it can have on them is a clear focus in this part of the series. Johnny Sack’s outrage nearly leads to both his and Ralph’s murders and it puts another young man in intensive care. When he catches Ginny secretly scoffing chocolate bars in their basement he realises the extremity of his actions. He has overreacted but his reaction is so caught up in multiple layers of humiliation, love, blame, outrage and helplessness that he cannot help but say to her “do you realise what you have done” when it is he who has made the choice to turn Ralph’s (admittedly very poor) joke into a matter of life and death.

The depictions of these contrasts remains subtle and understated and the emotional complexity of the characters is such that often they don’t understand their own motivations. Janice is so panicked by the turn in her relationship with Ralph that she has to throw him down the stairs, unable to in any way communicate her fear, helplessness and panic except by obsessing about his shoes. Carmela uses and obsession with financial security as a substitute for the emotional security which eludes her. And no one is really happy.