So after weeks of David Chase shoving the worst of Tony Soprano in our faces, chipping away the charm to show the dull piggish canny golem beneath, there's suddenly a scene of him cradling AJ in his lap, in tears, moaning "You're all right, baby, you're all right."
In a series full of brutal murders, AJ's attempted suicide — complete with cement shoes — managed to be one of the most disturbing scenes yet. For years, the Sopranos son has been dismissed and dismissible, a peripheral bit of comic relief: Meadow was the true Sopranos child, the one with a future. Now AJ has drifted to the center, heartbroken but also largely unchanged, still alternating a passive thuggishness with sensitive Hamlet anxieties. But he's also Tony's child: Symbolically, he's all those vulnerable babies Tony has alluded to this season, the infant in Chris's car seat, the toddler whose swimming-pool death Tony obsessed about at Janis's vacation house. And if AJ has been — as one of Tony's cronies suggested — poisoned by toxins, Tony knows that they're not just from the asbestos he sent drifting over Jersey.
And what are we to make of Melfi's therapy session, in which her shrink points out the danger of treating Tony — that she's just helping him be a better sociopath? (He's referring to an actual study.) Throughout their next meeting Melfi seems to watch Tony warily, softening with relief when he seems insightful, full of feeling. She so desperately wants to believe she's not a dupe as she listens to him explain that, "I'm a good guy, basically. I love my family. There's a balance, a ying and a yang." But then again, this is the guy who spends his son's therapy session trying to conceal the bloody tooth concealed in his cuff.
Favorite moment: Silvio reading How to Clean Practically Everything. —Emily Nussbaum