The Sopranos/The Isabella Hallucinations

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The Isabella Hallucinations/The Baby Antonio Daydream
Madonna and child.
Episode 1x12 - Isabella
Dreamer Tony Soprano
Character(s) Tony
Isabella
Carmela


The Isabella Hallucinations and The Baby Antonio Daydream are a series of lithium-induced hallucinations from The Sopranos episode 1x12 - Isabella.

Dream Synopsis

Most likely induced by the lithium he is taking, Isabella is an Italian exchange student Tony hallucinates while he is in a state of deep depression. He learns she is not real when Dr. Bruce Cusamano denies any knowledge of her, and Carmela claims not to remember the argument she supposedly had with him over her.

In his first encounter with her, Tony merely sees her through his bedroom window, a beautiful woman in the Cusamanos' yard hanging her laundry on a line from a big wicker basket as the wind blows.

He does not talk with her until later that day, after he has gotten dressed for his appointment with Dr. Melfi. In his backyard, he finds a piece of white lingerie which has blown off the clothesline, and he returns it to Isabella as she sits under a white tarp in the Cusamano yard. They talk, and Tony learns she is an Italian exchange student of oral surgery watching the house for the Cusamanos while they are away on vacation. He flirts with her briefly, but she merely smiles politely. In what is perhaps foreshadowing of the fact that she is only a hallucination, she says she does not know the English word for the type of lingerie Tony has found, and he admits he does not know the word for it, either.

The next time he sees her is later that day, after his appointment, when Melfi ups his Prozac dosage to overcome his depression. He stops at a very old-fashioned looking pharmacy with a sign which reads, "Chemist since 1907." On his way out of the drug store, he runs into Isabella, who has just bought a hero sandwich, although she asks why it is called a "hero." Tony says, "You don't wanna eat that," and he takes her out to lunch. At a fine Italian restaurant, she talks about how beautiful Italy is, and she correctly guesses his family is from the town of Avellino. She says he resembles a stonemason from Avellino, and he admits his grandfather was a stonemason. She urges him to go to Avellino, although she admits it has mostly been destroyed by earthquakes, but a church with a bell is still standing.

While she talks, Tony stares at her mouth and has the Baby Antonio Daydream. In the early 1900s (Tony later identifies it as 1907), he passes through a white curtain to a small cottage, where Isabella sits dressed all in white nursing a baby named Antonio, whom she rocks to sleep and whispers comforting things to. She smiles warmly at Tony as she rocks.

Back at the lunch, Isabella asks Tony if he is on medication, but he denies it. They talk about Isabella's interest in oral surgery, and she says she is studying "tumors of the gum and soft tissues of the mouth."

In the fourth and final encounter, Tony watches Isabella tying down the tarp through his bedroom window. Carmela enters and catches Tony watching her, and when he admits he had lunch with her, Carmela reams him for failing to be a good father and husband. She says, "I spoonfeed you and bathe you," and she ends by shouting, "If I had an ounce of self-respect, I would cut your dick off!"

Analysis

Isabella is a true hallucination. She does not know anything Tony does not know (such as the name for a piece of lingerie), and she knows things a person who has never met Tony would not know (such as his place of origin in Italy—a tiny town outside Naples—and that he is on medication). Although she is not truly a dream, she is a figment of his imagination, and as Dr. Melfi says, who and what she is therefore reveals significant facets of Tony's psyche.

Before he realizes Isabella is a hallucination, Tony tells Melfi about the Baby Antonio Daydream, and Melfi brings Tony to tears when she says, "Anthony, your fantasy, that's... that's you, that little baby, and Isabella, that she was nursing you."

After Tony discovers the whole existence of Isabella is a hallucination, Melfi refers to her as "the Madonna." She points out Tony never made a sexual advance at Isabella, although he says she is beautiful—her name even means "beautiful." (In therapy earlier, Tony had called Isabella "this gorgeous piece of cooze." That, however, may not have represented true sexual attraction. Since Melfi rebuffed his sexual advances to her in episode 1x06 - Pax Soprana, Tony seems to have delighted in taunting her with other women whom he views sexually.) In fact, the one time Tony flirts with Isabella, she merely smiles politely.

Rather, Melfi's description of her as a "Madonna" seems to be accurate. As both an image of the Virgin Mother and a religious icon, the Madonna would be a significant female figure to Tony. It is noteworthy that Isabella is never seen wearing any color other than white, signifying purity, innocence and virginity. In fact, almost all cloth seen in the hallucinations is white—the clothes she hangs on the clotheslines, the tarp over her sitting place in the Cusamanos' backyard, the curtains at the Italian restaurant and the curtains in the Baby Antonio Daydream. Even the wine Tony and Isabella drink at lunch is white, where red wine would more commonly represent blood. The Baby Antonio Daydream, too, is a piece of Madonna and Child imagery.

As Tony's idealized mother, that Isabella would be Italian should be no surprise, nor that she speaks of Tony's family's town and of his grandfather's profession. Also, given the timeline, that would have been around the year Tony's grandfather—the one who immigrated from Italy—would have been born, and it is a date perhaps suggested or perhaps echoed by the drugstore. Tony has had a fascination and kinship with his Italian heritage since his first appearance in episode 1x01 - The Sopranos, when he became entranced by a church his grandfather helped build and spoke reverently of it to Meadow. Isabella's admonition to him to go to Avellino undoubtedly represents a deep longing on Tony's part—one he will later realize in Season Two, when he goes to Naples in a trip that bears much weight on his later development.

Three other pieces of imagery in the hallucinations are worth noting. The first is his choice for Isabella's field of study, oral surgery, specifically tumors. At the time of this episode, many of Tony's problems are caused by himself or other people talking too much—"tumors of the mouth." Not only has Tony caused himself trouble by teasing his Uncle Junior (for cunnilingus, at that), but he is relatively sure that his fellow capo Jimmy Altieri is a rat for the FBI, and he has reason to believe his best friend Big Pussy may be, as well. Secondly, when Tony runs into Isabella outside the drug store, she has bought a hero sandwich. The phallic nature of certain foods has already been established in The Emil Kolar Dream from episode 1x08 - The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti, and the hero sandwich is certainly a phallic food item. Yet Tony suggests Isabella not eat the hero (possibly not spoil her virginity) and takes her out for better Italian food. Tony has not expressed open offense with the Americanization of Italian cusine (such as the submarine sandwich), as Paulie has in episode 1x02 - 46 Long, yet for many Italian-Americans with as much pride in their heritage as Tony has, the purity of Italian cuisine would be a point of pride. It is also worth noting that Isabella wonders why a sandwich would be called a "hero," and Tony is about to make himself a hero of sorts to her by rescuing her from Americanized food.

In the Italian restaurant, a piece of classical guitar music repeats in the background. It's "Lagrima" by the Spanish guitarist Francisco Tarrega. The piece has a Neopolitan sound, and Tarrega gave concerts in Naples around the turn of the 20th century. "Lagrima" means "teardrop," and this piece of music seems to suggest the breakthrough that will bring Tony out of the emotional numbness of his depression.

Perhaps the most telling hallucination, however, is the argument Tony has with Carmela. Where Isabella wears only white, Carmela wears sky blue. It is true that the Madonna is often seen in Medeival and Renaissance paintings as wearing blue, but the blue there is typically royal blue, signifying her regal stature. Instead, the sky is often associated with masculinity in Jungian psychology, but perhaps more significantly, blue can also signify loyalty and sincerity (as in the phrase "true blue"). Fantasy Carmela berates Tony for his infidelity, as Carmela has—although the real Carmela has confided to Father Phil that she welcomes Tony's seeking release in the arms of other women.

More importantly, however, Carmela accuses Tony of not being a good husband and father. In therapy with Dr. Melfi, Tony has said that, as a result of his depression, "I'm not a husband to my wife. I'm not a father to my children." It is worth noting, then, that after the assassination attempt, which breaks Tony of his depression, Carmela says she wants Meadow and A.J. "to have a father," to which Tony replies, "They got one. This one. Me. Tony Soprano. And all that comes with it." Carmela also claims to have spoonfed and bathed Tony while he is in his depressive state, although nothing in this episode suggests she has literally done either. Rather, this may be Tony's longing for a nurturing, mothering figure. In putting those words in Carmela's mouth, he may be seeing that quality lacking in her, or he may be infanticizing himself.

Along those same lines, Carmela ends the argument by saying, "If I had an ounce of self-respect, I would cut your dick off!" Both Tony and Christopher have already equated masculinity and virility with power and identity in their dreams thus far in the season, and they and the other Italian males would continue to do so throughout its duration. Thus, for Tony to psychologically "wish" to be punished for his sins by castration, he is literally wishing for destruction of his identity and power.