Almost two years ago, columnist Nathan Rabin rightfully apologized in Salon for coining the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Per his original article, the MPDG is defined as a perfect, fantasy girl-woman who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Clair Colburn, played by Kirstin Dunst in 2005’s Elizabethtown, inspired the controversial term that has since been retroactively applied to everyone from Katharine Hepburn in Bringing up Baby, to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (naturally), and Belle of Beauty and the Beast.
(All I remember about Elizabethtown was that I never saw it, but thought I should because Lindsey Buckingham was on the soundtrack.)
As I watched her story play out, I wondered: Could you call Gloria a Manic Pixie Dream Girl?
What got me thinking about this was the fact that 90% of the très genteel comments about her on youtube and some other Sopranos forums are about how they’d fuck her if she wasn’t so ‘crazy’ or even because she was. I know, who cares about youtube; why look there for signs of intelligent life, blah blah. But it still made me think about the way we perceive and talk about mental illness, especially in women.
So, is she the dreaded MPDG?
It would be easy to label her as such, but I don’t think she meets the criteria exactly. Yes, she’s unpredictable and “crazy,” and exudes a playfulness mixed with irresistible sex appeal that masks her darker side. She does add a certain elan to Tony’s life, snapping him out of his Viagra-induced impotence, making him hungry for more than just gabagool.
I’ll break down some of the qualities that she adheres to, as well as look at how she breaks away from them.
Feminine: The now-famous “Pine Barrens“ opens with a shot of The Stugots. An extravagantly dressed Gloria pulls her Benz up to the dock, killing the engine. She flips down the car mirror and takes in her reflection before pulling a floppy J.Lo-inspired hat over a patterned head scarf. She strides across the dock in knee-high stiletto boots, expensive gift in hand, all to the tune of Gloria by Them.
Though the original is lyrically sparser than Patti Smith’s horny rewrite (which she denies is a reflection of any bisexual leanings), the message is still clear. Morrison’s Gloria is a perfect fantasy woman, who comes around for the right thing at the right time, which is exactly what our Gloria is to Tony, to both their delight and eventual chagrin. It struts and swaggers, and so does she. As the embodiment of traditional Western femininity and sexuality, she is as close to Kirstin Dunst’s perky, childlike flight attendant as I am to Dana Scully.
Fun facts: One of Annabella’s three middle names is Gloria, and she stands–you guessed it–5’4.
Otherworldly: While Gloria is not an ethereal, elfin creature who listens to Joanna Newsom, she is unlike anyone Tony has ever known, at least initially. She’s spontaneous, sexy, uninhibited. However hot his relationship with Carmela was, they probably didn’t have sex at the zoo. (Just at the beach.)
Gloria is also unlike anyone we’ve known. Her independence sets her apart from the others. She comes to depend on Tony physically and emotionally, but she doesn’t need him to empty his wallet for her.
Tony is used to being paired with “gold diggers”; women who are perceived as slightly beneath him socially and economically, who crave the attention and excitement of a relationship with an older man with means. Even Carmela has been accused of being a gold digger, something she muses over when she tells Melfi that he lavished gifts upon her family on the second date: “The minute I met Tony, I knew who that guy was. … I don’t know if I loved him in spite of it, or because of it.”
We may be able to accuse Carmela of being naive or sheltered, at least at one point, but these terms definitely do not apply to Gloria. Gloria is fairly equal in wealth and status. She’s only about five years younger, narrowing the usual age gap significantly. She probably doesn’t have a secret money stash in her backyard bird-feeder, but she does work at a Mercedes dealership, and can afford some luxuries. Her home is a small, modest fit for a sometimes-single woman. She already has the means to wear leather head-to-toe, and vacation solo in Morocco. She has her own ambition. She doesn’t need Tony’s money. In fact, she buys him a gift first… the one that he throws out the window in “Amour Fou.” Slighted by his no-show at dinner in “Pine Barrens”, she tells him he can’t just treat her the way that she does because he bought her a “fucking gaudy ring.” Her affection cannot be bought.
This is not to say Gloria doesn’t love the chase. She knows she’s in a relationship with a married man who has children. I will always love her reaction when Tony storms into the dealership after finding out she gave a ride to Carmela. He drags her into the office, grabs her by the throat, and pushes her against the wall. She licks her lips with a gleam in her eye, turned on by his aggression. I think she is at first expecting a quickie like they had in the zoo. Once she sees that he’s angry, she realizes why he is there, and you realize that was what she wanted all along.
We, of course, know this before he does, having seen her jump at the chance to drive Carmela home. She asks all of the questions any of us would if we were sat next to Mrs. Mob Boss, but with much more than idle curiosity. She’s feeling out her territory, casing the joint, and taking not-so-subtle swipes at Carmela’s lifestyle and dependence on her husband. Melfi calls her a moth to the flame, someone unable to resist danger.
First she turns you on. Then, she turns on you. – TV Tropes.
Manic: I don’t think the “manic” in Rabin’s term always refers to true psychological mania, but to a hyper, coat-tugging type who refuses to let anyone be in a bad mood, because look at how beautiful the world is at this exact moment! Their enthusiasm is not born of a true need to experience and spread joy, but to distract themselves from their own inner turmoil. It’s kind of like faking it until you make it, only they never make it. It’s the sweet tragedy of their existence that endears them to an audience. Miriam Toewes calls it bullshit bravado in A Complicated Kindness.
Life with Gloria is at first like opening the door to Oz: she takes Tony from living in black and white to technicolour. She does not overtly tug on his reluctant hand, enthusing that life is a gift, but she does give him a shot in the arm. He tells a concerned Melfi that Gloria is better for his mood than her therapy and Prozac combined. He tells Gloria he has never met anyone like her before. Their interactions are at first playful and sexy, and frankly, fucking adorable.
Tony: “See ya later!”
Gloria: “Who was that?”
Tony: “Oh, that was my hard-on.”
How cute of them to have sex by the boa constrictor enclosure. Gloria will eventually choke him with a slow squeeze, testing his patience, suffocating him bit by bit. Considered one of the most beautifully coloured and attractive of all snakes, its inclusion in this scene cannot be accidental. Careful not to lean on the glass!
Gloria’s exact diagnosis is never confirmed, but wiki suspects BPD. She struggles with depression and suicidal ideation. In her last fight with Tony, she screams that nobody would care if she died. Melfi has reached the same diagnostic conclusion about Livia based on her reported behaviour, leading Tony to retort, “I didn’t just meet you. I’ve known you my whole fucking life.”
I can’t decide if she presses Tony’s buttons intentionally, like Valentina, or if her behaviour is a coping mechanism or symptom. Probably all three in varying degrees. I have no doubt that she is truly afraid of being left alone, something we all fear, regardless of our situation.
Among fans and casual viewers alike, Gloria’s shrewdness often comes under fire. Many of the opinions about her come from unfair misconceptions and projections. Her propensity to manipulate crudely places her in the “fucking wackadoo” category. Hot But Crazy is the official appraisal, which comes with supposedly well-intentioned warnings to avoid women like this in real life. Apparently, all of us are either The Cool Girl or The Crazy Girl, with no safe middle ground. Just what is an innocent boy to do?
The main men on the show hold dubious claim to morals and values, but nobody calls them crazy bastards for shooting someone in the foot over cannoli. I mean, they do if you look hard enough, but for the most part, people like Tony and Chris are considered badass legends who get shit done. Look no further than this two-part compilation, titled Tony Soprano’s Most Badass Moments, dedicated to his myriad murders and threats.
To be fair, a lot of the comments question these clip choices too, with the best one warning that “pride comes before the fall you fat fictional pig,” and it is popular opinion that Tony and Chris are psychopaths or sociopaths, but the connotations are different. It’s always like, “I’d be crazy if I had that job, too!” As soon as a woman takes the upper hand or exhibits similar behaviour, even toward herself (suicide vs. murder), she is considered truly dangerous. Too much to handle. Avoid at all costs. I’m not praising or excusing Gloria’s behaviour, only pointing out that one often gets rewarded and the other reviled.
I give the writers credit for not villainizing her for having a mental illness. Gloria wasn’t portrayed solely as a perpetually out of control havoc-wrecker. She was plagued by failed relationships, but no blame is explicitly placed upon her. In therapy, she tells Melfi that her relationships all failed because her boyfriends couldn’t handle her, but this is only her perspective. This could mean a number of things, not all of which have to do directly with her treatment of them. There is no denying that mental health impacts a relationship, but maybe she had met men who took advantage of her in the past, or who only wanted her for her looks and money. Who knows what her life has been like?
If they really wanted to make her ~the crazy one~ and build her identity around that, she would have come out of the gate that way. The slow build allows us to see that there’s more to Gloria than what she brings to therapy. I think they developed her in the best possible way, given that she was a secondary character with a limited run.
It also helps that Annabella Sciorra is inherently likable. You know how you like someone just because? That’s how I feel about her. She’s cute, with a sweet smile that lights up her face, even if its impetus is a devious plot. Good casting call.
Gloria is shown in much the same light as Tony, as a woman with an equal amount of good characteristics to match the bad. The reason why she so loved by fans (mainly women) is that she is real. She’s flawed. She’s self-aware, not above admitting that she needs help, and seemingly committed to self-care. She seeks peace through spirituality and meditation. She sees Melfi. I liked her because she called Tony on his bullshit. To borrow her words, he does have a habit of taking a dump and walking away.
I also think they handled the delicate subject of suicide well by not showing it. Instead of showing a horrific death (as they did with Eugene Pontecorvo, fuck you very much! My therapy bill is on its way to Chase right now), they opted for the horrific aftermath, in which the survivors are left to grapple with their own questions and the fragility of life. This effect further disqualifies Gloria as a true MPDG. Her ostensible purpose is to inspire a greater appreciation for life. Quite the opposite occurs here. If anything, Gloria’s death drives Tony deeper into depression. It further engenders the feelings of helplessness and fear that brought him to Melfi’s office in the first place. With Gloria gone, Tony must now face the ugly truth that maybe he’s not as good a guy as he thinks he is. Whatever joy he felt with her is forgotten.
The Devil You Know
If I had to attach a stock character to Gloria–really had to, because I think the writing is better than that–I would label her a siren. She’s a femme fatale with an immediate, almost supernatural hold over Tony; they begin their affair only days after meeting. It’s hot and heavy; the kind of whirlwind romance that is easily and unabashedly romanticized for the big and little screen. This rapid progression is not unusual for him, but the personal connection is rare. It is this real connection that they form, and the immediate fallout, that further allows her to defy such narrow categorization.
G-L-O-R-I-A is not a true M-P-D-G, and that’s a good thing.