Calling All Cars: The Sopranos and The Meaning of Life

Dr. Melfi talking to Tony in a therapy session
"Calling All Cars" is a phrase used in old police radio dispatches as a call for all radio patrol cars to assist a fellow officer or to look for a suspect or situation.

Contemplating the meaning of life during a global pandemic can be tricky. You may find yourself with more time than ever to think about the bigger picture. Or perhaps you can barely hear yourself think with the noise of competing, conflicting obligations. There’s one thing I do know: This past year has made us press pause (voluntarily or not) and think about what this whole “thing of ours” really means. As we know, this question comes up quite often on The Sopranos. On that note, let’s dive into season four, episode 11 of The Sopranos, “Calling all Cars.”

Calling All Cars - We've Been Driving for Four Years Already!

Dr. Melfi Talking to Tony Soprano Calling All Cars
Dr. Melfi talking to Tony in her office, Season 4, Episode 11, "Calling All Cars"

First, The Sopranos “Calling All Cars” features some insightful therapy conversations between Tony and Dr. Melfi. It begins with Tony describing his dream of riding in a car with Carmela, Ralph Cifaretto, Gloria Trillo, and Svetlana Kirilenko. Along with the human passengers, Ralph has a caterpillar sitting on his head. I should note I was surprised when Tony said the caterpillar transformed into a butterfly. When I picture butterflies, I think of beauty, growth, and good spirits. I can’t say I get the same vibes when thinking of Ralph Cifaretto and how things ended there.

In fact, when Dr. Melfi asks Tony more questions about the dream, he doesn’t react very well. It’s in this moment that Tony launches into a tirade about how he’s been sitting in that chair for four years, yet still has ongoing questions and frustration. To him, this is unacceptable. In his eyes, what’s the point of therapy if you don’t eventually reach your destination of full contentment and happiness? 

Should that be a source of shame? That when the desperate struggle for food and shelter is finally behind us, we can turn our attention to other sources of pain and truth?

Calling All Cars: Are We There Yet?

Tony Soprano talking to Junior about shaving cream
Season 4, Episode 11, "Calling All Cars"

Overall, as we progress through the series, we see more and more that life is just…weird. Death is weird, too. And perhaps the weirdest of all is when one starts creeping into the other. By the time we get to the end of season four, Junior is exhibiting more frequent signs of dementia. One example is leaving shaving cream on his face, which definitely concerned Tony when he saw it. Earlier on, it had been easier for Tony to think of Junior as putting on a “show” for legal reasons.

At the same time, I imagine nearly every man has forgotten to wash off a bit of shaving cream from his face at least once in a blue moon. I guess the point here is that sometimes, you just don’t know why someone does something. It’s possible you never will. It really struck me when Junior’s lawyer said “Since his injury, I have not had a single conversation with Mr. Soprano in which we’ve related on any meaningful level.” Again, you wonder how much of that is his effort to convince the Judge, and how much is complete sincerity. Of course, when it comes to The Sopranos, we’re all very aware of how much we don’t know. As Dr. Melfi says so eloquently in response to Tony’s dream interpretation questions, “it depends.” 

When You Arrive Too Early to Your Destination

Bobby Baccalieri at Karen's Grave in Calling All Cars
Bobby Baccalieri visiting Karen's grave on their anniversary to bury a cake.

Also tied into the theme of our “very brief time on Earth” is that frightening subject of what happens afterward. After Karen Baccalieri died in a car accident, Bobby and his kids endured extraordinary grief. In fact, Bobby wasn’t sure he could find meaning in his life without Karen. Naturally, they all tried to connect with Karen however they could. Grief is unique. But that acute sting often centers on one’s view that life is now meaningless. When a death is sudden, this feeling can be particularly strong.

Calling All Cars: What To Do When You're Done Putting Out Fires

Dr. Melfi and Tony in The Sopranos
Tony & Dr. Melfi having a conversation about the meaning of life, Season 4, Episode 11, "Calling All Cars"

Finally, it looks like we get to that point of no return. While certainly not the first appointment Tony cut short, this time you may believe he’s actually done for good.  Calling All Cars is a juncture: It’s that moment when Tony decides whether to go deep into uncharted territory or to turn back to safety. Well, it’s what he perceives as safety, anyway. Tony provides a great illustration of this awkward moment:

So, what's customary? I mean, do we shake hands? How about a diamond pin?

Then again, saying farewell with jewelry doesn’t sound too strange when it comes to Tony Soprano. In fact, it’s a standard practice of his to send jewelry to his goomahs as a goodbye gift. With jewelry, or an affair, there are tangible items/things that signify an end point. Mission accomplished. However, getting to a place where you truly feel like you understand the meaning of life is an ongoing journey, one without a fixed end point.

Conclusion - There's That Creaky Noise Again

Livia Soprano as a dark shadow
The shadowy figure in Tony's dream at the end of the episode - Season Four, Episode 11, "Calling All Cars"

In sum, The SopranosCalling All Cars” has a hell of a lot of traffic. You have the Esplanade project. The Baccalieri grief. Tony’s alleged last therapy appointment. And we haven’t even analyzed the whole dream sequence, including the lady behind the dark shadow in the photo (I happen to think it’s Livia, but we can get to that later on). On that note, stay tuned for more. Until then, calling all cars: be on the look out for Tony!

Little Carmine Lupertazzi is in Miami at a bar talking business with Tony Soprano.
Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr. & Tony talking during Tony's trip down to Miami.

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