Relationships are built as much on delusion as they are on truth. While partners need to be honest with each other in order to build trust and intimacy, they need to lie as well, to themselves as well as their partners. It could be something as simple as agreeing with them for the sake of keeping the peace or something as insidious as developing a crush on somebody else but keeping it silent. Some things can’t be said because to say them would fray the strands of the relationship itself. Sometimes partners need to deal with those lies, those frustrations, those issues, on their own time, because to bring up every little issue would do more damage than most relationships could handle.
But what happens when neither partner deals with any of those problems? What happens when both of them let everything fester, let the lies grow and the delusion sink deeper into the core of the relationship? Relationships like that begin to become more and more toxic, to the point that misery and suffering take over. Because letting those problems take hold is like letting cancer go unchecked. It’ll spread on its own, slowly at first, then take hold of the vital components of the relationship before stopping its heart entirely. And then both people will just wonder what happened, where everything went wrong. And it’ll be so wrong and ugly and awful that the roots of the damage will be too tangled to even begin to comprehend.
In essence, this is what “Whitecaps” is about. The title alludes to that delusion, the thing that is supposed to keep the relationship going until it just doesn’t anymore. It’s as Carmela said. Whitecaps is just a bigger version of a ring. Tony got it for her to get back into her good graces. But his delusion runs so deep that he’s unable to realize just what is troubling Carmela. He’s just focused on her staying quiet while he does whatever he wants to do. Sure, he does love her, but it’s as she said. She knows so much about him, the real him, that he can’t help but hate her too. And Carmela knows all of this. Delusion has been enough to stave that reality off, all until this one moment where everything snaps.
It’s not as if Irina calling Carmela is the worst thing that has ever happened to their relationship. Throughout the season, she’s found evidence of his infidelity, such as Valentina’s fingernail. She’s known about his sleeping around for as long as they’ve been together. But Irina’s voice was enough to send her over the edge, an edge that she was already so close to. Hearing the voice of the person responsible for your husband’s infidelity is enough to break the delusion. Or, at least to break the delusion long enough to push the eject button. Because once that button is pushed, then the floodgates are open and there’s no turning back.
The scenes where Tony and Carmela are fighting are some of the best in the series, not just because of the raw emotion packed into each seething word, but because this is the “no holds barred” fight that we’ve been waiting for the entire series. This is the culmination of every fight the two of them have ever had. When Carmela breaks down and asks Tony what these other women have that she doesn’t, when she reminds him that not every woman he’s slept with has been his “friend”, he’s finally faced with the inability to answer. He’s finally faced with the truth, that he’s a horrible husband and father, that he’s the kind of man to run away from all of his problems.
Because he can’t even begin to justify his actions. Doing so would open up all sorts of truth, everything that he (deep down) knows about himself but is too afraid to admit. When Carmela admits the truth about Furio, he can’t even form words to respond. He punches a hole in the wall and spouts the vitriol that his mother used to spout at him (“poor you”). It’s not as if Carmela is innocent in their relationship, as Tony’s remarks about the MRI scan and the theft aren’t unfounded, but she has at least reflected on her shortcomings. She understands who she is, what she married into, what has happened to her children as a result of her husband. She’s deluded, but she faces the truth far more than Tony ever did. And that’s why Whitecaps is a joke that she sees through as soon as Irina called.
Juxtaposed with this is the boiling turmoil concerning the Esplanade shut down. Everything outside of the Soprano marriage takes the back burner in this episode, but the Esplanade business does a great job of showing us how Tony and the rest of the mob world operates. Bring everything to a breaking point (Tony and Johnny almost whack Carmine, the boss, in this episode), and then back off at the last minute in order to preserve the status quo. After Carmine concedes to Tony’s offer, Tony stops the hit on Carmine, and everything goes back to normal. It’s an anti-climactic way to finish up the season, but consider how this relates to Tony’s marriage troubles. He can’t even begin to justify his actions to Carmela because he never planned for everything to explode like this. He would much rather play chicken, because he can’t lose that way. He’s not used to having to directly face the consequences of his actions.
There are a couple other plotlines that are resolved at the end of the season, from Junior’s trial to Christopher coming clean out of rehab. Junior has been largely sidelined all season, but the end of the season shows how it isn’t the mob that’ll necessarily destroy him. It’s himself, as his mind is deteriorating from the dementia that has been hinted at since the midpoint of the season. Christopher, on the other hand, is just vaguely reintroduced, his and Adrianna’s troubles being pushed aside for next season. But again, for Christopher the trouble is all from a source that he doesn’t expect. He’s clean, back in Tony’s good graces, but Adrianna is still a ticking time bomb that’ll explode when he least expects it to happen.
Season 4 definitely isn’t my favorite season of The Sopranos. It has a couple rather shaky episodes and only a couple real standouts. However, those standouts are some of the absolute best episodes of the series. “Whoever Did This” deals in some of the deepest moral quanderies the show ever explores, and “Whitecaps” is a brilliant meditation on what happens when no amount of delusion is able to stop the truth from coming out. Because everything has to boil over at some point. And when it finally does, it often does so at a time when you least expect it, from a source that you’ve never thought to look.
So thanks again for following me through this season of The Sopranos. Next week, I’ll start with “Two Tonys” and “Rat Pack”, the first two episodes of Season 5 (which is an amazing, amazing season of television). So what did you think of “Whitecaps”? Let me know in the comments!