5 Events in ‘The Sopranos’ That Make Tony, Tony

With the recently unfortunate news of James Gandolfini’s untimely passing at age 51, I began to relive the complete awesomeness that was and still is Tony Soprano (not that I had ever forgotten it or anything). Gandolfini had a relatively successful career in show business. His early success came with the hit man role of Virgil in True Romance in 1993, and he had a few successes under his belt in recent years also, with roles in the Emmy-Award winning TV miniseries Cinema Verite and the Academy-Award winning box office hit Zero Dark Thirty. He even had a relatively successful Broadway career, starring opposite Jessica Lange in A Streetcar Named Desire and more recently in God of Carnage, for which Gandolfini was nominated for a Tony Award. But let’s all be honest. Despite his success in TV, film, and stage, the role that we all know and love Gandolfini for is the badass antihero Tony Soprano in HBO’s The Sopranos.

Arguably the best television series to ever exist, The Sopranos challenged the way we view life, judge others, ponder mortality, and somehow made us feel empathetic toward a central character that, in theory, should not be pitied at all. Much of the reason why we view the series this way is because of Gandolfini’s thoughtful, provoking, masterful portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano. It’s no wonder why Gandolfini earned multiple awards, including a Golden Globe and three Emmys, for his memorable performance of Tony.

Tony Soprano was many things: father, (cheating) husband, mob boss, psychiatric patient, son, nephew, liar, murderer, prey, to name a few. Gandolfini’s perfect depiction of all these things helped make Tony Soprano one of the most complex characters in recent television history. And in honor of Tony Soprano and James Gandolfini’s memory, I’ve put together a list of 5 moments in The Sopranos that I believe, at bare minimum, lay a foundation for exploring the various facets of Tony’s character, who he was, and things he had to endure.

5. Tony & Dr. Melfi’s Bipolar Relationship

One of the most back-and-forth relationships in the entire series is that of Tony and his psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Initially only his psychiatrist, Tony begins to develop feelings for her. At one point in the series, he tells Melfi that he loves her. At other various points in the series, Tony threatens Melfi. For her part, Melfi can’t seem to let go of her client, though she knows he’s dangerous. In this clip, we see how Tony’s emotions seesaw with Melfi, as he’s pining for her affection one second and angrily yelling at her the next. It may not seem like it to some, but the relationship between Tony and Dr. Melfi was one of the most complex in the entire series. They each brought out certain feelings and thoughts in each other that they would’ve rather suppressed; Melfi brought out the deep-seated issues of hatred Tony has for his mom, and Tony brought out Melfi’s curiosity and intrigue in a lifestyle that was far beyond her posh existence, causing her to make questionable decisions throughout the show’s run.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ehlp8Z-WQfw

4. Tony & Meadow Discuss his “Job”

Tony was essentially the father of two families: he was the father of his children, Meadow and Anthony Jr., whom comprised his blood family, and he was the “father” of his mafia family. It was never easy for Tony to deal with either family, but it was dealing with his blood family that arguably took Tony the most out of his element. Trying to find a way to help AJ after his failed suicide attempt, or being introduced to Meadow’s new boyfriend, Tony always had to overcome a fatherly obstacle that was foreign to him. But it’s early on in the series, in the episode “College,” when Tony is confronted by Meadow about being in the mafia that lays the groundwork for how Tony will deal with future problems with his children. In this clip, we see Meadow outright ask Tony if he’s in the mafia. Initially he denies it, but Meadow knows the truth. Eventually he acknowledges that he is, building a bond between father and daughter. A mark of significance for this conversation, and the episode as a whole, is that just prior to having this conversation Tony kills a former associate turned rat, which is the first time in the series we see Tony kill anyone.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0mo8Rmu6AI

3. Tony & Carmela’s Rocky Marriage

One of the most unstable marriages in TV history has to be that of Tony and Carmela Soprano. Throughout the nearly eight year run of the series, there aren’t too many loving and tender moments between Tony and Carmela. It’s not that the love between them isn’t there; it’s just that it takes a lot of digging to find it. Tony is a habitual cheater and Carmela is more infatuated with the materialistic lifestyle that comes with being a mob boss’ wife. Tony doesn’t have the smoothest at-home life, and in this clip we can see an epic fight between Tony and Carmela. Much like many of their other fights, this one pertains to finances. Another topic of frequent fighting: Tony’s extramarital affairs and Carmela’s interest in Father Phil. Tony’s at-home life did nothing to ease the stress from his duties as acting mob boss.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CP6GbPBUVnk

2. Tony & his Duties as Mob Boss

Managing a group of people is never easy. It especially isn’t easy when some of those people are goons or drug addicts, or, even worse, FBI informants ready to leak all the dirty details for a chance at freedom. This is exactly what Tony faces on a day-to-day basis. In season two, it is discovered that one of Tony’s closest friends and confidantes, Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, has turned rat and is secretly working with the FBI to bring Tony down in order to save himself from life in prison. When Tony finds out, he doesn’t want to believe it given the closeness that he feels with Big Pussy. However, Pussy’s FBI involvement is confirmed and there’s nothing that can be done except having him sleep with the fishes. In this clip, you can see the anguish in Tony’s face before he kills Pussy. But this is one of the events that will mark how Tony will handle serious decisions given his high ranking position.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeY0iRGKKL0

1. Tony & Livia Have Some “Bonding” Time

If ever there was a mother from hell, Livia Soprano would be that mother. To some on the outside looking in, Livia (played by the late, great Nancy Marchand) wasn’t the cunning mastermind that she actually is. I mean, no one was mistaking her for a sweet, kind old woman. But Livia, absolutely furious with Tony at taking her out of her home and putting her in a retirement community, could be so sneakily deceptive that she became one of the biggest threats to Tony’s safety. Tony and Livia never had a close relationship, and the hatred between the two developed into a full-blown murder plot on Livia’s part to have her son killed. Livia pulled in her brother-in-law, Junior, to the murder plot (as Junior wasn’t overly fond of his nephew either), and all it took was for Livia to say a few things about Tony’s psychiatry visits and play naïve to others before the plan was in motion. She was an extremely underhanded woman who, until her final breath, did everything in her power to seek out revenge on her son. In this clip, you can see the true dynamic between mother and son. It’s truly one of the most chilling things to see these two interact.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed5BfnNXqqA

These five moments aren’t necessarily the best moments from The Sopranos, but they give a look into Tony’s life (his life as a father, a husband, a mob boss, etc.) and explore how truly and deeply complicated it was to manage every single aspect with which he had to deal. Gandolfini’s Tony is one of the most memorable in television history. James Gandolfini can rest in peace knowing that he helped bring to life one of the most exciting, confounding, and iconic television characters of the 21st century for everyone to enjoy now and in the future.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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12 Comments

  1. I was watching some of my Soprano’s DVD’s after JG passed away, and I was grateful that we have those now. That’s a nice legacy for someone to leave, literally years of terrific entertainment that people who continue to discover, and rediscover in the years to come. Plus there is all of his non-Soprano’s work to enjoy.

  2. It’s a hard task to choose just five moments but these are definitely some of the most memorable. Tony Soprano is still my all-time favorite television character. With James Gandolfini’s passing, we lost an incredible actor. Thanks for remembering him with me. You clearly have much love for the series and the character, and I very much enjoyed the article.

  3. Jon Lisi
    Jon Lisi
    0

    This is a nice tribute to Gandolfini and the great work he did on The Sopranos. It is indeed one of the most memorable characters ever created in the history of any artistic medium and Gandolfini is largely responsible for this, though he also had great actors to work with. He was also terrific in God of Carnage so I’m glad you mentioned that, and he is hilarious in the little seen In the Loop.

    In any event, there is one Sopranos episode called “Irregular Around the Margins” that features, in my opinion, Gandolfini’s most explosive work. The way Tony’s relationships with Carmela and Christopher are tested in this episode is brilliant.

    • Robert Humphrey

      I’ll have to check out In the Loop.

      Oh man! “Irregular Around the Margins” was a great episode. That episode kept me guessing from start to finish as to what would happen. Amazing episode…as pretty much are all of them.

  4. Such a brilliant show, and a brilliant article. His relationship with Livia was so fantastic, especially with his therapy in the background to heighten his mother issues. I need to rewatch this series yet another time, definitely worth it!

    • Robert Humphrey

      Thanks. And, yes, I need to rewatch the series as well. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen the bulk of the series. Time to dust off the DVDs! The Sopranos is one of those shows, to me anyway, that never gets old when you watch it and feels new every time. That’s writing, acting, producing, etc. done right!

  5. Austin Bender

    Great list. Tony Soprano was such a great character and James Gandolfini was an amazing actor. I couldn’t believe it when I had read of his passing.

  6. Michelle Webb

    Great tribute and well written. Nice job.

  7. Kathryn Talbot

    I loved Soprano’s relationship with Melfi. Character development done right! Great article. Gandolfini will be missed.

  8. Nicholas Devin

    Great list. You’ve nailed the integral moments to Tony Soprano. This article has made me start to re-watch the series.

  9. Kevin Licht

    I was in the middle of re-watching the series for a 3rd time when the news of his passing came. I don’t think I’ll ever see acting in any medium as good as him and Edie Falco in Whitecaps.

    Even seeing that fight at the end of the episode so many times, it can still give me chills.

  10. Tigey

    Not his mushroom trip?

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