The Sopranos is an American crime drama television series created by David Chase. The story revolves around Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster, portraying the difficulties that he faces as he tries to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization. These are explored during his therapy sessions with psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The series features Tony’s family members, mafia colleagues, and rivals in prominent roles—most notably his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) and his protégé/distant cousin Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli). The show isn’t about the mafia or the family in my opinion – it’s about people and their vices – Greed, Selfishness, Violence, Self-interest, Brown-nosing, Ignorance and Racism is seen in their most fleshed out forms in David Chase’s masterpiece. If The Wire is about Cops, Addicts Gangs and Politicians, The Sopranos manages to compress even more entities within itself.
The show is also one of the most critically acclaimed and awarded dramas with 21 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes to its credit. About the plot, I will be touching briefly but the show has hundreds of fan blogs devoted to it and better writers than me have commented on the same and critically analyzed this masterpiece. But I wanted to go through the characters themselves and maybe we look at these characters and see a bit of ourselves or people we know in them. Now you might say, Oooooooh, wait a minute, most of us aren’t Italian American but it’s not what we are trying to see here – it isn’t about ethnic background but rather the vices or flaws which permeate us all and don’t care if we are Italians, Americans, Germans, Indians, Algerians or whatever. Now let me touch upon the Seasons briefly before going into the characters – Sopranos ran for 6 seasons – the first season introduces Tony Soprano. When Tony Soprano collapses after suffering a panic attack, he begins therapy with Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Details of Tony’s upbringing – with his father’s influence looming large on his development as a gangster, but more so that of Tony’s mother, Livia, who is vengeful, narcissistic, and possibly psychopathic – are revealed. His complicated relationship with his wife Carmela is also explored, as well as her feelings regarding her husband’s cosa nostra ties. Meadow and Anthony Jr., Tony’s children, gain increasing knowledge of their father’s mob dealings. Later, federal indictments are brought as a result of someone in his organization talking to the FBI.
Tony’s uncle Corrado “Junior” Soprano, who controls his own crew, orders the murder of Brendan Filone and the mock execution of Christopher Moltisanti, associates of Tony’s, as a reprisal for repeated hijackings of trucks under Corrado’s protection. Tony defuses the situation by allowing his uncle to be installed as boss of the family (following the death of previous boss Jackie Aprile from cancer), while Tony retains actual control of most dealings from behind the scenes. Corrado discovers the subterfuge, after talking to Livia and falling for her subtle manipulation, and he orders an attempt on Tony’s life. The assassination is botched and Tony responds violently, before confronting his mother for her role in plotting his downfall; she appears to have a psychologically triggered stroke as a result. Junior is arrested by the FBI on charges related to the federal indictments before Tony gets a chance to murder him in retaliation.
Season 2 begins with new characters like Jackie’s brother Richie Aprile who is released from prison and proves to be uncontrollable in the business arena, siding more with Junior than Tony, despite the fact that Tony is the acting boss of the family after Junior’s arrest. Richie starts a relationship with Janice, Tony’s sister, who has arrived from Seattle to take care of their mother. “Big Pussy” returns to New Jersey after a conspicuous absence.
Christopher Moltisanti becomes engaged to his girlfriend Adriana La Cerva, despite his past abuse. Matthew Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte, two low-level associates dissatisfied with their perceived lack of success in the Soprano crew, try to make a name for themselves by attempting to kill Christopher as a favor to Richie, even though he didn’t ask them to. Their plan fails and Christopher kills Sean, but Christopher is critically wounded. He manages to recover after surgery. Tony and Big Pussy locate Matthew and kill him. A witness to the murder goes to the FBI and identifies Tony, but later retracts his statement. Junior is placed under house arrest as he awaits trial. Tensions between Richie and Tony form the main plot of the season.
In the third season, we are introduced to one of the most entertaining Sopranos characters – the return of the ambitious Ralph Cifaretto, having spent an extended period of leisure time in Miami. He renews a relationship with Rosalie Aprile, the widow of Jackie Aprile Sr. With Richie assumed to have joined the Witness Protection Program, Ralph unofficially usurps control over the Aprile crew, proving to be an exceptionally dexterous earner. While Ralph’s competitive merit would seemingly have him next in line to ascend to capo, his insubordination inclines Tony not to promote him and he instead gives the promotion to the unqualified but complacent Gigi Cestone, causing much resentment and tension between him and Ralph.
Rosalie’s son Jackie Aprile Jr. becomes involved with Meadow and then descends into a downward spiral of recklessness, drugs and crime. Tony initially attempts to act as a mentor to Jackie and encourages him to stay in school, but he becomes increasingly impatient with Jackie’s escalating misbehavior, particularly as Jackie’s relationship with Meadow begins to become serious. A.J. continues to get in trouble at school — despite success on the football team — which culminates in his expulsion and his parents considering sending him to military school.
The Season 4 of The Sopranos, shows us more of one of the New York Five Families- New York underboss Johnny Sack becomes enraged after learning Ralph Cifaretto joked about his wife’s weight. The tensions between Ralph and Johnny Sack become one of the main stories of the season. We also see chaos brought on by Paulie, by ratting about Soprano business to Johnny. Tony and Ralph invest in a racehorse named Pie-O-My, who wins several races and makes them both a great deal of money but ends up becoming a major plot point later in the story.
Following the death of Bobby Baccalieri’s wife, Janice pursues a romantic relationship with him. Bobby is initially reluctant to move on, but after an incident with his kids and Anthony Jr. trying to summon his deceased wife’s ghost, he becomes more receptive to Janice’s advances. Christopher’s addiction to heroin deepens, prompting his associates and family to organize an intervention, after which he enters a drug rehabilitation center. Adriana’s friend Danielle Ciccolella is revealed to be undercover FBI agent Deborah Ciccerone-Waldrup, who tells Adriana the only way for her to stay out of prison for heroin distribution at her bar is to become an informant. Adriana reluctantly agrees and starts sharing information with the FBI.
Carmela, whose relationship with Tony is tense due to financial worries and Tony’s infidelities, develops a mutual infatuation with Furio Giunta. Furio, incapable of breaking his personal moral code and that of the Neapolitan mafia, clandestinely returns home to Italy. After Tony’s former mistress calls their home, Carmela throws Tony out. Tony decides to quit therapy, thinking he isn’t making any progress. He thanks Dr. Melfi for all her help and they part amicably. Stuck in a deadlock over a deal with the Lupertazzi family, Tony is approached by Johnny Sack with a proposal to murder Carmine.
Season 5 brings with it a string of new characters including Tony’s cousin Tony Blundetto, who simultaneously along with other mafiosi, is released from prison. Among the others released are former DiMeo crime family capo Michele “Feech” La Manna, Lupertazzi family capo Phil Leotardo, and semi-retired Lupertazzi consigliere Angelo Garepe. A power struggle in the Lupertazzi family spills over and forms the basis of this season’s plot.
Season 6 gives us a much darker Sopranos with several major characters departing permanently. It also covers Tony being shot by by a senior Corrado “Junior” Soprano and his subsequent recovery. Tensions also continue between Phil Leotardo and Tony leading to a subsequent war between the factions. However, it brings to a close several arcs within the show and ends in one of the most divisive series finales in Television history.
There are so many vivid and complex characters on The Sopranos, that it is impossible to discuss them all. But we are going to as these characters represent the worst of humanity and at times the best. We have fascinating minor characters, like Vito Spatafore, who comes to the forefront of a whole season as a hardcore Mafioso who is also gay and hiding it from his fellow “manly” gangsters or even characters like Beansie Gaeta who got turned into a paraplegic by Richie Aprile due to Richie’s ego and temper issues. Not to mention characters who aren’t even in the mob like Arthur Bucco or his wife Charmaine or Hesh, the Jew, who knew Tony’s father. As we can’t discuss all or even 20% of the Soprano characters, let’s choose a few – Corrado “Junior” Soprano (Tony’s uncle and temporary Boss of the Soprano family), Livia Soprano (Tony’s mother), Carmela Soprano (Tony’s wife) and Antony “Tony” Soprano himself.
Firstly, Corrado “Junior” Soprano displays some of the worst instincts of any criminal – egoistical, greedy, insecure while retaining some of the most useful ones like cunning, ruthlessness and pragmatism. However, his worst instincts cause his reign as Boss to be as short as it could be and his ego and greed, result in other mistakes. However, him and his nephew Antony Soprano retain a love/hate relationship throughout the series culminating at the end where Corrado meets a lonely end, suffering from Dementia and alone in a nursing home. His chance at a healthy relationship is ended due to his ego and masculinity taking a hit, when his nephew finds out he is great at Cunnilingus and pleasing his woman, and hence since he goes down on a woman, he must be a “fag” – an old school Mafia belief which has little or no logic behind it but it is the world they live in. He could have been great but was undone by ego, greed and insecurity.
Second, Livia Soprano, the mother figure but anything but a good mother. A master manipulator and a textbook narcissist – her own issues and world views are all that mattered to her. An extremely controlling woman who was like an “albacore” around her husband Johnny Boy’s neck (a malapropism made famous during a flashback episode). Livia, angered by Tony selling her house, even manipulated her brother-in-law Junior Soprano into calling a “hit” on her son Tony. A woman who spread no joy and only really loved her kids when they were part of her little power trips. A huge influence on Antony Soprano’s behavior throughout the series.
Third is Carmela Soprano, the wife and the enabler for all of Antony’s evil deeds. Someone who claimed to be a good Christian and hated Tony’s womanizing ways but despite speaking against the Mafia wife role she was playing, enjoyed the perks it brought her like cars and coats and a fancy house. Even when she left Tony, she came back soon enough – like a moth to a flame, she could see no other life for her. We see many such characters in regular day to day life – people who are with those who hurt them and abuse them or are inherently evil but cannot sever ties and keep returning to these people maybe due to it being their comfort zone or because they are attracted to the thrill of such relationships. A hypocrite and a snob, even treating Charmaine like a servant when she and Arthur took a contract for catering at the Soprano residence.
Fourth is the big daddy himself – Antony “Tony” Soprano – the main reason for the show’s success. Here is a man, tall and big and a “tough guy” but as the show reveals, an insecure, deeply damaged and an extremely selfish man. His insecurity is seen in several episodes whether it be about his weight, his intelligence, his “athletic prowess” or his ability to fight (seen when he felt insecure after his surgery and had to assert his dominance by beating up a young jock member of the crew just to prove he was still strong). Antony Soprano had two redeeming qualities though – his love for his kids and his love for animals, especially horses (sorry the second one is an inside joke which The Sopranos faithful would enjoy). He basically had just the one redeeming quality. He has learned manipulation from his mother and has an explosive temper (something shared by almost every character in the show). If you are looking to see Michael Corleone style calm and cool mafiosos in The Sopranos, you might not find one. Even the calmest – Carmine Lupertazzi lost his temper at the golf course when egged by his son. So, The Sopranos is not like The Godfather but that is what makes it so damn good – it’s completely different and it doesn’t romanticize the notion of a gangster but rather shows the flaws in these people.
Shows you need to see before you die is something said quite often but The Sopranos is literally a show you need to see before you die. Allow yourself to be taken over by the “Ooooooohs” and the “Madonn’s” in this thrilling ride.