The Essential Sopranos Reader

By David Lavery; Douglas L. Howard et al. | Go to book overview

Honoring the Social Compact
The Last Temptation of Melfi

Nancy McGuire Roche

The overriding plot arc of the thirtieth episode of The Sopranos, “Employee of the Month” (3.4), explicitly portrays Dr. Jennifer Melfi’s temptation to have her most dangerous and sociopathic patient, Tony Soprano, revenge the violent attack and rape she suffers in an empty parking garage. Although such a plotline seems fairly straightforward, the story unfolds in a complex and often unexpected sequence of events. The underlying narrative is driven both by visual reference and by the progression of thematic scenes. Tension is created by segue, as lessurgent aspects of narrative slow and accelerate information given to the viewer. The primary design of this episode regards Melfi’s welfare, as well as the subsequent fate of her attacker.

Most notable is the fact that this episode creates an empathy toward Dr. Melfi that is more powerful than in any story line explored thus far. In “Employee of the Month,” the viewer is presented with a larger glimpse of Melfi’s life away from the definin g environment of her office, a location the viewer is most familiar with, and thus most comfortably seated in.

The charged moment that passes between Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi at the end of the episode is more potent than any flirtation, or even sexual engagement, could have generated. The underlying stimulus for this effect is a complete reversal of roles between these two major characters. Even though the action is encrypted by physical gesture and meaningless murmur, this scene presents a view of Tony as concerned and comforting, while Melfi is revealed as vulnerable and wounded.

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