Second Opinion (3.07)

Corrado has surgery for his tumor but goes for a second opinion afterwards.
Carmela speaks to a psychiatrist and insists afterwards that Tony make
a sizable donation to Meadow’s university.

Episode 33 – Originally Aired April 8, 2001
Written by Lawrence Konner
Directed by Tim Van Patten


Carmela and Corrado both seek out second opinions in this episode, and neither of them like what they hear.  The hour begins with a dream sequence which, as usual, creates some viewer confusion — we don’t immediately realize that we are watching a dream.  For a moment we believe that the FBI are actually trying to cut a deal with Corrado as he lies on the surgery table, but then the image of a newspaper proclaiming his marriage to Angie Dickinson confirms that this is an anesthesia-fueled fantasy.

Corrado has idealized his surgeon.  Dr. John Kennedy has an arrogant, cut-and-dry manner which Corrado has mythologized as an All-American toughness (mainly because the doctor shares a name with his hero JFK).  The surgery to remove Corrado’s tumor is not completely successful, and so Tony convinces him to get a second opinion.  Dr. Mehta at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is not as gung-ho as the forward-charging Kennedy, and offers a more complicated plan of treatment.  The difference in temperament between the two doctors is underscored by the pictures that hang in each of their offices.  Dr. Kennedy’s office is adorned with photos he has snapped during his travels:

kennedy's pics

Kennedy’s photographs tell their story clearly, with very little ambiguity.  (Corrado even suggests they could appear in National Geographic, a magazine known for its photojournalism i.e. photography that conveys information clearly and objectively.)  The non-figurative artwork that hangs on Dr. Mehta’s walls, in contrast, require more effort to be understood, if they are to be understood at all:

abstract art

Corrado is shown juxtaposed against the abstract, ambiguous prints in Mehta’s office just as he lauds Kennedy’s lack of ambiguity.  But cancer is a complex problem that can sometimes be approached only ambiguously.  Corrado and Tony ask for a tumor board to be convened to deal with the uncertainty of the situation.  As the camera pans across the table of the tumor board, it recalls past scenes, such as in 3.01, when Federal agents convened to discuss the mobsters:

tumor board

Being prosecuted in federal court or getting whacked is not always the main problem that aging gangsters have to deal with, sometimes it’s aging itself.  The tumor board acknowledges that another surgery would normally be the best option for Corrado’s particular cancer, but as an elderly man, his low blood pressure puts him at greater risk under anesthesia.  When Dr. Kennedy learns that Corrado sought another doctor’s opinion, he squashes the idea of a second surgery: “Mehta?  Sloan-Kettering Mehta?!…Forget it then.  Last thing I need is to operate with that little shit looking over my shoulder.”  We get the sense that Kennedy is an asshole from his first scene (when he walks into the waiting room and expects everyone to rise from their seats for him).  His decision now, motivated more by medical politics rather than medical outcomes, along with the brush-off that he gives to Corrado, confirm that he is a jerk.


Carmela doesn’t suffer from a physical problem as Corrado does, but she is having an emotional crisis.  Carmela goes to see Dr. Melfi without Tony for the first time.  As with Tony’s first visit, Chase opens the scene by shooting Carm through the legs of the waiting room statue:


Based on some of David Chase’s previous comments, we know that this opening shot from the Pilot was meant to comment upon Livia’s constricting influence on her son.  We can therefore conclude that the rhyming shot now similarly comments upon the constriction Carmela feels from her mother.  Mary DeAngelis is unhappy with her daughter’s marriage to a mobster, and believes that Carm should have married pharmacist Stamfa (who owns a chain of drugstores now).  Carmela lashes out at her parents, telling them that they get a “free pass,” (particularly her father, whose contracting business has benefited from Tony’s influence) while she herself has to “earn it.”  We will see one way that she “earns” it at the end of the episode.

The Sopranos eventually became a series about Carmela as much as it was about Tony (with some viewers finding Carmela’s arc even more compelling).  The pathos of Carmela’s life truly begins to be explored in this episode.  (Edie Falco won a “Best Actress” Emmy for her performance in this hour.)  Carmela is becoming depressed.  When Carmela waits for her daughter at Columbia, a student in the neighboring dorm room turns up the volume on Nils Lofgren’s “Black Books.”  A close-up shows that Carmela is slipping into a black mood.  She has sadness emanating from her.  But she is happy when Mead arrives, and thrilled to deliver her sausage dish to her beloved daughter.  The two women discuss what they’ve each been reading lately.  Carmela is intrigued by one of Meadow’s assigned books: The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen.

Thorstien Veblen

Things get a little heated when the conversation turns from books to Noah.  Carm doesn’t fully believe that their breakup was solely due to Tony’s prejudice.  An angry Meadow responds, “Don’t drag me into whatever bullshit accomodational pretense you’ve got worked out with daddy.”  Carmela is curious what Mead means by this, but Meadow does not want to continue the conversation.  Of course, it’s a difficult subject for Meadow — she herself has been accommodating her father’s criminality for years (and sometimes she has more than just accommodated, she has profited.)

Carmela has come to Columbia not only to visit her daughter, but also because she has an appointment with Dean Ross.  The Dean wines and dines her in his attempt to get a sizable donation from the Soprano family.  Carmela is ready and willing to make a donation as she is convinced that it would benefit Meadow’s college experience.  Meadow surely is the first Soprano (and probably the first DeAngelis) to attend an Ivy League university.  This must be a great point of pride for Carmela, and Dean Ross (himself a second-generation Italian-American) targets her pride in trying to secure a $50,000 gift — he informs her that all donors at that level will have their names inscribed in the black marble “Donors Wall” at the new Student Center.  Thorstein Veblen, in the book that Carmela was holding earlier, wrote:

In order to gain and hold the esteem of men, it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power.  The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence.

Carmela has always sought respect through displays of wealth (her house, car, jewelry, clothes).  The inscription of the Soprano name in Columbia’s hallowed halls would be a new way of gaining esteem.  Tony, however, is not impressed by Ross’ plan.  He see the university administrators simply as “Morningside Heights gangsters” who are trying to extort his family.  Tony reaches into his pocket for a much smaller sum that Carmela can donate to the school:

The clip contains an interesting cut.  Carmela says that a $5000 donation would be an insult to the university; moments later, Chase cuts to Dr. Mehta talking about a “5-FU regimen.”  It’s almost as though the doctor is corroborating Carmela’s belief that 5 grand would be a “fuck you” to the school.  (Of course, “5-FU” is not a reference to the 5 grand, but to the chemotherapy agent Fluorouracil.)  Carmela cannot believe that her husband is willing to spend money on all sorts of other expenses but is only willing to donate $5000 (essentially pocket change that he literally pulls out of his trousers) to his daughter’s school.  Along with his philandering, it seems to be more proof of his lack of domestic commitment.

Carmela goes to see Melfi’s old teacher, Dr. Krakower, whose frank opinion is difficult for her to hear.  Pyschiatrist Glen Gabbard, author of The Psychology of The Sopranos, is conflicted about this scene in Krakower’s office.  On the one hand, he writes, Carmela will probably ignore Krakower’s advice since the doctor doesn’t really make an “effort at empathic understanding and the building of a trusting relationship.”  On the other hand, “In a sea of moral relativism, where deans and priests and therapists seem as slippery as loan sharks, a straight shooter like Krakower is a welcome addition to the cast of characters.”

But Krakower isn’t exactly an “addition to the cast” – he is only here for a couple of minutes and then is never seen or heard from again.  His function within the narrative is largely symbolic.  He personifies an ethical Immovable Object that is not swayed by relativistic (or even pragmatic) arguments.  Carmela tries to argue that Catholicism prevents her from filing for divorce.  We have often seen Carmela wear a cross around her neck as a fashion accessory, but seeing the jewelry in Krakower’s office now, we are led to wonder: does the cross represent a genuinely held belief, or does it merely represent an excuse for Carmela?

Carm's crucifix

Jewish Krakower is not moved by her Christian argument, and he brings judgment down upon her like an Old Testament prophet.  Krakower says that Tony has little chance of redeeming himself, and Carmela is acting as his enabler (if not his outright accomplice).  If she continues living with Tony Soprano, she must realize she is living off of blood-money.

Krakower tells Carmela that he will not accept payment for this visit.  A surprised Carmela says, “That’s a new one.”  This is indeed an uncommon sentiment in SopranoWorld.  In this episode alone, several characters have greedily grabbed at both money and goods that are tainted with blood: Dean Ross wants a $50k contribution from the Sopranos; Angie Bonpensiero tries to finagle extra “widow payments” from Tony; and Adriana reaches out with both hands for designer shoes:

3 gimme gimme gimme

Krakower will not accept payment from Carmela because he knows that her money is ill-gotten.  His use of the term “blood-money” further undermines Carmela’s use of Catholicism as an excuse for not divorcing.  She would know that, in a Christian context, “blood-money” refers to the 30 pieces of silver that Judas received to betray Christ.  Carmela is perhaps being faithful to Catholic dogma if she refuses to divorce, but she is betraying fundamental moral principles by remaining married to a criminal.  By the end of the scene, Carmela seems to have accepted that she must leave her husband.

But of course she doesn’t leave him.  In the episode’s final scene, we see that Carmela has decided to stay in the marriage.  Tony must make a payment of $50,000 in the form of a donation to Columbia for his marriage to remain unbroken (although he has no idea that this is the accounting that is in Carmela’s mind; he only recognizes that Carmela is resolute about the gift to the University).  Like many of the Big Moments on this series, Carmela’s decision here is open to interpretation.  Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan, in their essay, “This isn’t a negotiation: ‘Getting to Yes’ with Tony Soprano,” have a harsh interpretation of her actions, believing that Carmela…

…in a rather despicable display of manipulation, feigns severe depression, lying on the couch wrapped in a blanket…Carmela uses Tony’s interest in preserving the marriage and his struggle with mental health issues to negotiate the donation she wants.  Tony is no match for this kind of manipulation…

Sutherland and Swan are both lawyers, and perhaps that accounts for their extremely cynical view of Carmela’s behavior.  A less cynical interpretation might be that Carmela has not manipulated Tony so much, but that she has manipulated herself into accepting, once again, the charade she has been deluding herself with all these years (and what Meadow referred to earlier as “bullshit accomodational pretense”).  Perhaps we can view her behavior with no cynicism – Carmela may be making an earnest effort at sincere Christian forgiveness.  The Gospel of Mathew recounts:

Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to 7 times?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to 7 times, but up to seventy times seven.’

Regardless of whether you interpret “seventy times seven” to mean 77 or to mean 490, it comes out to a buttload of forgiving.  Christian Carmela may genuinely be trying to forgive Tony’s misdeeds, both minor and major.

I think that Carmela is motivated by multiple reasons simultaneously.  Lofgren’s “Black Books” starts up again over this final scene and serves to highlight Carm’s multiple motivations.  When the song was heard earlier, it seemed to be the soundtrack to her depression; by being replayed now, it points to her sadness as something real, not “feigned” simply to manipulate Tony.  But there is something distasteful, if not manipulative, about the way that she has gotten the money for Columbia; the song’s title “Black Books” can possibly refer to the lengths Carm will go to in order to keep the ledger book of her life “in the black.”  I think the song also gives us another way of looking at the term “blood-money” because the song directly links this final scene to the earlier scene in Meadow’s dorm where it was first heard; we recognize that Carmela has secured the money not for herself, but for her “blood,” her closest kin — daughter Meadow.  If Carmela manipulates her husband or engages in a morally questionable accounting, she does so primarily for the sake of her children.  Carmela loves her children, and the depth of her maternal concern is reinforced by the plot point of AJ’s school trip to Washington DC.  Carm embraces and kisses and fawns all over AJ when he returns from DC because this short trip is the longest he has ever been away from her.  How can we or Dr. Krakower expect Carmela to divorce her husband and deal with joint custody and visitation issues over AJ when she can barely handle a short separation from him?

While there is something admirable about the hard line that Krakower takes, Chase pushes us to question whether such a hard stance is tenable.  As I argued in my last few write-ups, Chase has been ordering and structuring recent episodes in a way that complicates our feelings toward Tony Soprano.  In “Second Opinion,” the final four scenes work to further complicate our attitude toward the man:

  • Fourth to last scene: Tony and Furio convince Dr. Kennedy (“You got a bee onna you hat”) to treat Corrado with the respect that he deserves
  • Third to last scene: Dr. Krakower essentially draws a line in the sand and tells Carmela she must not cross it if she is to save herself
  • Second to last scene: Dr. Kennedy is full of smiles and good-will when he sees Corrado at the hospital
  • Last scene: Carmela quietly insists that Tony must make the large contribution to the school and Tony quietly assents


By sandwiching Krakower’s appearance between one scene that shows Tony’s actions on behalf of his ailing uncle and another that depicts the good result of those actions, Chase undermines the simplistic stance that Krakower takes against the mob boss.  I know that Krakower is fundamentally correct—Tony Soprano is a wicked man—but I love how Tony puts douchebag Kennedy in his place.  Anyone who has been aggravated by unsympathetic doctors or the cold bureaucratic machine of American healthcare would wish they had a thug like Tony Soprano on their side.  I know I should distance myself from Tony Soprano just as Krakower advises Carmela to do — but it is a difficult thing to do.  These final four scenes highlight this concept of distance.  At the golf course, Tony thrusts a titanium club at Dr. Kennedy, insisting it will add 10 yards to his drives:

Kennedy: I could use a little extra distance.
Tony: Who couldn’t?

Tony and Furio then close the distance between themselves and the doctor, invading his space and backing him into a lake.  In the next scene, Carmela throws “distance” into the mix of psychological jargon that she tries to hide behind in Krakower’s office:

Carmela: You think I need to define my boundaries more clearly, keep a certain distance, not internalize my–
Krakower: What did I just say?
Carmela: “Leave him.”

Krakower may be able to insist that everyone should distance themselves from Tony Soprano, but that is because he has a very limited picture of the man.  Our understanding of Tony, like Carmela’s, is more complex, and we cannot take a simple black-and-white stance on him.  Things are never as simple as that on The Sopranos.


Poor Georgie — he’s still wearing the bandages from Ralph’s attack last episode when Tony attacks him in this episode for bringing the gag gift Big Mouth Billy Bass to the Bing.  Obviously, the singing fish reminds Tony of his dream of Big Pussy as a fish (who “sang” to the Feds).  The lyrics of Billy Bass’ song must also remind Tony of how Pussy’s body was disposed of:

Drop me in the water - billy bass

Billy Bass will appear again in a future episode.  (And poor Georgie will suffer at the hands of these mobsters again in the future.)



  • Ever since Chris has gotten made, the tensions between him and Paulie have been mounting — Chris even reaches for the gun strapped to his ankle at one point, suspecting that Paulie is reaching for his own gun.  (He’s not, he is reaching for a Billy Bass.)  The rising tension between the two men is leading us to one of their great episodes together, “Pine Barrens.”
  • One of my favorite lines of the whole series: panty-sniffing Paulie says, with complete earnestness, “As of the wedding day, anything that touches her pussy is off-limits.”  Paulie is a simple man that lives by simple rules.
  • Dr. Gabbard explains in his book how writer Robin Green came up with some of the dialogue for Krakower.  Green’s brother is a psychiatrist who, after reading Crime and Punishment, suggested to two clients who were child molesters that they should read the novel and then turn themselves in to the authorities.  I don’t know if the two clients took the suggestion.  It’s very unlikely that Tony Soprano would seek redemption this way.
  • Nils Lofgren, whose “Black Books” is used so effectively here, joined Springsteen’s E Street Band in 1984 and has played alongside Stevie Van Zandt (Silvio) in the ensuing years.
  • It’s strange how Tony keeps trying to use the Witness Relocation Program as the reason why Big Pussy is nowhere to be found, when everyone knows that the FBI would not leave Angie Bonpensiero behind.  (Of course, everyone also knows, deep down, that Tony’s excuse is simply that — an empty excuse.)
  • Sully Boyar, who plays “Dr. Krakower,” was the bank manager in Dog Day Afternoon (one of those seminal films that made the 1970s the greatest decade in American film history).
  • The doctor that is at the center of the tumor board meeting is played by Sopranos’ Executive Producer Ilene Landress.

Ilene Landress

20 responses to “Second Opinion (3.07)

  1. Your point about wishing you had a thug like Tony on your side when dealing with the apathy and greed of the health care industry also comes to mind in season 6 when Tony has it out with the insurance company employee who’s trying to wheel him out of the hospital to save money. “Wallet biopsy?”. I won’t repeat what he says after that, but my goodness I think it’s something most Americans would applaud considering the cold and confusing maze that dealing with health care insurers has become. But of course, if you or I, or most people reading this, had said such things to that woman, we’d be dropped from the policy and end up in a county hospital emergency room. In many ways Tony Soprano is as much 21st century super hero as he is a criminal minded sociopath. Breaking Bad was very popular due to this same moral ambiguity in the leading character. Could be a template for lead characters in cinema and television in the coming generation.


    • Well said. And let’s hope you’re right that more future shows will use The Sopranos as a template (but I’m not very optimistic about this).


  2. thedalitrauma

    That’s the great Sam McMurray as Dr. John F. Kennedy.


    • Marky "Mark" Markovich

      Sam McMurray best known for playing Roy in Dinosaurs. Incidentally one of the puppeteers controlling Baby Sinclair in that show was called John Kennedy.

      This episode has some of the funniest lines in the entire series. “Stupid a fucking game”


  3. The doctor in The Godfather- the book – is named John Kennedy. Weird, huh?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m arriving very late to this most entertaining party and certainly anticipating the season 6 review.
    Paulie’s quip to Chrissy “You’re too worried about what I give you. Worry a little more about what you give me” nicely echoes JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. More examples of Carmela’s being told to leave Tony, yet she chooses not to, she is the most corrupted character on the program

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Another thing outlining Dr Kennedy douchiness is phrase ‘Watch and learn, Miles. Watch and learn’ said during operation and almost same ‘Watch and learn, Phil. Watch and learn’ said before golf shot. My understanding is this shows his aspiration to raise own self esteem performing difficult surgery rather than help deadly ill person lying on operation table.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tony’s problems with impulse control are well documented, but is there any better example than his immediate rise to violent anger upon seeing the Cadillac in Angie’s driveway? Forget about the fact that it’s an overreaction to begin with, but I’ve always found it funny that he doesn’t even bother confirming whose car it is before going to work on it with a bat, like he’s Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. Like, what if Angie had a friend visiting? Or let her neighbor park in the driveway? These possibilities don’t even cross Tony’s mind… he spots the car, and immediately sees red.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This episode is about the “Gray” areas of life. Carmela is not strong enough to completely break away from her life. She merely needs a way to live with herself. We see later that a divorce is out of the question, and she folds then too by securing real estate. This episode she used her daughters education as an excuse to take money and live with a man who she is conflicted about. She is really depressed about her choices, but as she sees it, this is what she signed up for. Tony is genuinely worried about her when she is laying on the couch. He doesn’t want her to be upset, no matter what the reason is. $50,000 to him is nothing. Its the principle that bothers him. Is Tony a bad guy? Yes and No. She can’t fool herself that he isn’t a murderer and a thief and she is guilty by association. They never speak truths in their household. So she gets the money and goes to dinner, and learns to live with her choice, and Tony feels better too. I think she is so entrenched in the life that to work at a supermarket or any other job like that is beyond her comprehension. This is what Meadow constantly points out to her with contempt. And why she doesn’t really argue. I think Carmela is one of the worst perpetrators in this series, because she knows her life is wrong, but doesn’t try to change it. All she can do is prepare for when Tony goes to jail or gets killed. When she finally admits this to herself, she will find peace.


    • Yeah, there is some irony in the fact that when Carm sees Angie working at a supermarket, she feels sorry for her, but over time it is Angie that is able to gain a measure of independence, eventually managing Pussy’s old body shop and even buying herself a Corvette. But Carm is never able to carve out any real independence for herself….


  9. I believe that Carmela married Tony knowing fully of the implications and possibilities of what could happen. I don’t remember the episode, (maybe college) but she even outright states that she “wanted” things for her and her children. I think one of the reasons she takes so much shit from Tony is the material things she has become accustomed to receiving. Tony gets to fuck who he wants and do what he wants, she knows what’s going on. The thought she would leave him is ridiculous. I even felt this way at the end of “Whitecaps.” I think most avid viewers of this show kind of knew she’d never leave him for good. As for Tony, Melfi gets it right by saying “she may leave you, but you’ll never leaver her.” I think the short visit with Krakower was a fresh voice of sanity in a darkening, gloomy Soprano world, but did little to change Carmela’s mind. She knows that she usually gets her way, as we see with the 50K donation to the “Morningside Heights Gangsters.” I like what you had to say about the medical politics and Dr. Kennedy’s ego. These folks are in a profession to help people and all he is concerned with is his image. We are fooled by all of the “humanitarian” type of photos in Kennedy’s office; it’s all about his ego. I agree that most all viewers loved the scene where Tony and Furio confront Kennedy. It was totally necessary. I love how Tony addresses Furio as “Mr. Williams.” Oh, that’s very believable. I also think it’s around this point in the series where it begins to take a darker turn. The Melfi rape scene and the killing of Tracee got the ball rolling.


    • I recently learned that Sully Boyar, who played Krakower, died two weeks before this episode originally aired – he never got to see himself in it. My guess is that Chase never had any plans for Krakower to become a recurring character regardless… His voice of reason and rectitude doesn’t have much of a place in SopranoWorld…


  10. His voice doesn’t but he along with Carm’s mother are the only people (maybe besides Meadow in Whitecaps) who actually confront her about these issues. This was “one of those scenes” worth remembering. Shame Boyar didn’t get to see his finished work..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Her mother confronts her about what a pain in the ass Tony is, but she still benefits from his criminal activities. I think if Tony had a better personality, she wouldn’t say anything. Ot if his crimes were white collar. The whole family is complicit. “The waters don’t part for you?” says Carmela’s mother…but in Carmela’s mind she earns it because of all the crap she puts up with. I am sure that her mothers criticism stings because it rings of truth, but then she accepts Tony’s favors. She’s all about appearances. That’s why she didn’t want Carmela to talk against Tony’s mother and why she shushed her husband when he FINALLY let Janice have it at the wake. He even called her “the minister of Propaganda”. Everyone knows hes a murderer….and they go on their merry way.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Dude Manbrough

    The Krakower scene is fantastic, however I’ve never really fully understood what he meant by “visit any mall or ethnic pride parade to see the results” re: the failure of modern psychiatry. For the life of me I can’t figure out how those two examples relate to personal accountability, which is what he was discussing at the time.

    Carmela is just as duplicitous as Tony is, maybe even more so. Just as Tony always rationalizes his crimes away by claiming he does it to “provide for his family” (which we all know isn’t “really” why he does it), Carmela rationalizes away her attempt to bask in Ivy League credibility (and have her name etched into a nice marble wall) by pretending it’s all for Meadow, which we know isn’t “really” the case at all. Carmela is willing to squelch the guilt and anxiety she feels over her criminal lifestyle with (surprise) a nice cash payoff she’ll use to continue her self-delusion regarding her “place in society”, let’s say. Unlike Tony, who at least has some understand of who he “really” is, Carm lives the delusion 24/7, always pretending she stands on higher moral ground than her husband does even though she’s just as aware as he is that it’s bullshit to the core.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think Krakower means that you can go to any public place in America, from the most innocuous (shopping mall) to the most rife with groupthink (ethnic pride parade) and see the horrible results that a feel-good, non-judgmental form of psychology has had on the American peoples’ sense of integrity and accountability..


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