The relationship between Tony Soprano and Dr. Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos was of the most complex in the series, but why Tony never sleeps with Dr. Melfi has been debated even after the show concluded. This bipolar relationship proves more than complicated, as in one moment Tony may profess his love for her, and the next he is shouting and shoving her in anger. But each brought out deep-rooted issues in the other that would have otherwise remained suppressed, giving their relationship the ability to grow as The Sopranos progressed.
From the start of The Sopranos, the two could not have been more opposite. Dr. Melfi came from a wealthy background, growing up in Essex Falls, New Jersey where she was often times sheltered from the outside world. Tony’s childhood was formed from “the life”, his father being a capo for the DiMeo crime family where Tony eventually follows in his footsteps. But something stirs between them, fueling the relationship and the rise in sexual tension as both provide for the other.
Dr. Melfi uncovers Tony’s hatred towards his mother, a self-absorbed and miserably manipulative woman, while Tony brings to light Dr. Melfi’s curiosity into the life of an organized criminal. The connection between the two adds that extra layer of complexity in Tony’s life while forcing Dr. Melfi to make crucial choices in keeping the relationship strictly professional.
Much of this tension comes from Dr. Melfi and her role in keeping the relationship professional as his psychiatrist. A perfect example is a scene where Tony blatantly asks Dr. Melfi on a date and she refuses. With Tony’s intimidating demands as to why, she honestly says she won’t start a relationship with a client. Tony’s anger emerges and he pushes her, giving Dr. Melfi the ammunition she needs to show her teeth. Her response proves her ability to stand up to Tony and see logically through his advances. She bluntly responds by saying she wouldn’t want to be with a man who disrespects women anyway. It seems realistic that she never slept with him, and by season 6, the attraction had begun to fade. The therapy sessions serve more as self-indulgent plotlines with each feeding off the other’s curiosity and desires as they do genuine therapy sessions.
The “will they or won’t they” tension in The Sopranos is far more powerful than any scene of them sleeping together. To end with a sudden, unnecessary sex scene would have been disappointing, for whose to say it wouldn’t have ended as a very short-lived affair. Tony would have grown tired of her and moved on like he does with everyone else and it seems apparent that she knew that. Although Dr. Melfi was attracted to him, her morality and ability to not excuse his lifestyle gives the show a more realistic approach to the situation and allows for further strain on the relationship. Her ability to keep professional also shows she isn’t just a woman out for sex, but a strong, independent person who could control such a powerful man in Tony who always gets what he wants, something the new soon to be released prequel may touch on as it explores his early origins.
Although they do kiss, and both fantasize about the other, Dr. Melfi knows better than to go down that path. The rape Dr. Melfi suffered in season 3 was a potential turning point for the story. If she told Tony, she knew he would have sought revenge, putting her in a position of debt to the vengeful mobster. It speaks to her moral character that she would not stoop to the level of the mob in order to get vigilante justice. Her choice to keep the relationship strictly professional was no doubt challenging but sleeping with Tony would have caused insurmountable damage to her character and the dynamic would have shifted, giving the genius mob boss even more leverage on yet another vital member of The Sopranos.