“Two years ago I thought RICO was a relative of his.”
Dr. Jennifer Melfi is probably the last person anyone would expect to be associated with organized crime. Her private life is unassuming; she’s divorced with a son who attends Bard College. Professionally, she is a respected psychiatrist in private practice. One day, however, she opened the door to her waiting room and came face to face with la cosa nostra personified: Tony Soprano. Referred by his neighbor, the notorious capo was seeking treatment for anxiety attacks. That meeting was a seminal event in Melfi’s life – one that she often wishes had never happened.
But when Dr. Melfi took on the task of helping Tony with his problems, she unwittingly let herself in for some monumental woes of her own. Helping a killer to feel better about himself is stressful work – there have been times when Melfi thought Tony was going to physically hurt her – and drove Dr. Melfi to self-medicate, with increasing amounts of vodka. Her own therapist, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, once prescribed Ativan (a sedative) and Luvox (a drug to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) for her. In addition to the work-related stressors, Dr. Melfi was attacked in the stairwell of a parking garage one night and brutally raped. When the rapist was freed on a legal technicality, Melfi confessed to Kupferberg that it made her feel better knowing that Tony would “squash” her attacker “like a bug” if she wanted it.
Dr. Kupferberg has repeatedly advised Melfi that for her own sake she must terminate her treatment of Tony – and she did, once, but ended up taking him back.
Their relationship grew even more complicated when Tony, separated from Carmela, asked her out, an offer she refused. Though Tony has quit treatment more than once, Melfi has helped him avoid some destructive impulses — such as hitting on Adriana – as well as his tendency to go into “high sentimentality mode.” More recently, she helped him see that his feelings for his cousin, Tony B., were rooted in guilt and shame, ultimately freeing him to make a difficult decision about how far he had to go to protect the guy.
Though she’s frustrated with his inability to tell her things, in the end, Dr. Melfi maybe the only person who truly knows Tony Soprano.