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|First appearance||"The Sopranos" (Episode 1.01)|
|Last appearance||"The Blue Comet" (Episode 6.20)|
|Created by||David Chase|
|Portrayed by||Lorraine Bracco|
|Family||Aida Melfi (mother)
Joseph Melfi (father)
|Spouse(s)||Richard LaPenna (ex-husband)|
|Children||Jason LaPenna (son)|
Like most of the primary characters in The Sopranos, Melfi is Italian-American, which is also the main reason why Tony selected her to be his therapist following a panic attack. Her father's family has roots in Caserta. She is a graduate of Bard College and Tufts University School of Medicine and lives an upscale lifestyle, living in a three-bedroom condominium in Essex Fells, New Jersey and shopping frequently at gourmet Italian shops (as revealed in "Meadowlands"). Presumably educated in the Freudian school of psychoanalysis, Melfi analyzes Tony without immediately assuming he is an untreatable psychopath.
She is probably the person closest to truly understanding Tony Soprano. Over the years, Tony Soprano has been able to confide in Melfi many things that he has told no one else, not even his associates or his wife, Carmela. However, Melfi and Soprano have an unusual, on-again, off-again relationship. He inwardly fears Melfi's prying into his life during their sessions, but he also fears the results of not dealing with the problem. As a result, she watches him go through frequent mood swings during their time together, sometimes acting playful, other times violent — sometimes acting responsive, other times being cold and distant. At times Soprano also expresses frustration with the pace of his treatment and berates Melfi with short outbursts, when he feels she is not following his train of thought.
For her part, Melfi has tried hard to help Soprano as much as possible, half chalking it up to some sort of vicarious thrill of helping a gangster but also trying to resist the idea that she has romantic thoughts about the man. Nevertheless, Melfi wants to keep their relationship professional which she does for the entirety of the series. Melfi, in addition, has an ongoing battle with alcoholism. While she resisted Soprano's constant advances, which have simultaneously attracted and appalled her, Soprano no longer wishes for their relationship to remain strictly professional, for he seems to see her as the one thing that he is unable to truly have and, while continuing to pursue her, also resents her for it.
On the run
Throughout Season 1, during the power struggle between Tony and Uncle Junior over who will be boss, Junior informs Mikey Palmice that Tony is seeing a psychiatrist. This makes Junior, Mikey, and all other members of Junior's crew who were informed extremely angry and paranoid, for they fear Melfi could be potentially used as a witness to testify in court against the activities of the DiMeo Crime Family. In the Season 1 penultimate episode "Isabella", two hit men are sent by Junior and Mikey Palmice in an attempt to assassinate Tony for supposedly giving information to Melfi; unfortunately for Junior and Mikey, the hit fails. One assailant is inadvertently killed by the other while trying to shoot Tony in his driver seat from the passenger side after Tony grabs the first assassin's gun. Tony throws the other hit man off onto the road, not killing, but injuring him. Tony laughs ecstatically but has taken his eyes off the road long enough to crash his SUV into a parked car, knocking him unconscious. Tony later informs Melfi that his enemies are aware of their therapy sessions, and she must go into hiding to avoid getting killed until everything blows over. To save his own life and Melfi's, Junior's top lieutenants Mikey Palmice and Chucky Signore are subsequently killed, the latter by Tony himself. Junior is only saved by being arrested by the FBI on racketeering charges. In the Season 2 premiere episode "Guy Walks Into a Psychiatrist's Office...", Melfi is shown doing business and living in a small roadside motel in Wayne, New Jersey, telling her patients her office is being remodeled. After the last troublesome member of Junior's crew, Philly "Spoons" Parisi, is murdered, Tony informs Melfi that "it's over" and that she can go back to her normal life.
In the Season 3 episode "Employee of the Month", Melfi is walking alone through the parking garage to her car when she is attacked by a man. He grabs her from behind and, after she attempts escape and cries out for help, proceeds to drag her to the stairway of her building, where he violently rapes her. He leaves her lying helpless in the stairway, crying.
At the hospital, she is visited by her ex-husband, Richard, who is relieved to find she is okay. Once he discovers the man who raped her also has an Italian surname, he begins to feel embarrassment for himself and the Italian people, indicating that rapists make Italians like him look bad. Melfi feels his reaction is ridiculous and irrelevant. Although her rapist is arrested, he is subsequently released because of an improper procedure performed by police. This infuriates Melfi, in shock that he was released. She comments to her psychiatrist and colleague Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, "I could have that asshole squashed like a bug," meaning that she could easily have her rapist killed by telling Tony that she was raped. More shock comes when Melfi is in the fast food restaurant where the rapist works. She sees his smiling picture on the wall as Employee of the Month (hence the episode title). She is tempted to tell Tony what happened but is torn between wanting to see her rapist punished and not wishing to involve herself in Tony's world. During her second session with Tony after the rape, Melfi is overcome by her inner conflict and breaks down. When Tony, apparently distraught at her grief, attempts to console her and asks "Do you want to say something?", she regains her composure and responds flatly, "No."
Melfi also sees a psychiatrist and colleague, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg (played by Peter Bogdanovich), on a regular basis. In "The Second Coming," he tells her that a recent study has shown that talk therapy may only help a sociopath become more sociopathic. Elliot has commented that treating Tony Soprano gives her a "vicarious thrill." Melfi tells Elliott she used to find Tony attractive at first, but no longer. She does not mention that shortly before this session, she had an erotic dream about herself and Tony.
Relationship ends permanently
Despite several failed attempts by both Melfi and Tony to end their therapy sessions, a dinner party Melfi attends with colleagues during the episode ("The Blue Comet") breaks the balance. Dr. Elliot Kupferberg mentions a study that found therapy is a failure with sociopathic people, and goes on to reveal to the other guests that Melfi is treating Tony Soprano, which angers Melfi. Following the discussion, Melfi reads the article, which states that therapy can sometimes justify the criminal acts of a sociopath or criminal. She begins to realize that perhaps treating Tony has been useless and has aided his criminal lifestyle.
At the next therapy session, Dr. Melfi scolds Tony, for she has seen him ripping out a page from a magazine. Melfi then proceeds to attack Tony throughout their session, mainly firing sarcastic comments whilst he discusses his recent problems. As the session continues, she offers to refer Tony to another doctor, leaving him somewhat confused. Finally, Melfi tells Tony that she cannot help him, saying that, due to his current family crisis, she does not want to waste his time. Tony gets up and leaves the room as Melfi follows him back to the waiting room. Tony then takes out the folded-up steak recipe page out of his pocket, unfolds it, and gently and sarcastically places it back inside the magazine from which it came. Melfi then shuts the door, seemingly ending her professional relationship with Tony Soprano once and for all.
- "Pilot" (Episode 1.01)