Pilot (1.01)

David Chase’s saga of an American family begins.

Episode 1 – Originally aired Jan 10, 1999
Written by David Chase
Directed by David Chase


The Sopranos seduces viewers right from the get-go with that incredible opening credits sequence.  “Woke Up This Morning (Got Yourself A Gun)”—a bluesy, techno-infused, cat-in-heat screech by the British band A3—scores the sequence while a handheld camera introduces us to the harsh industrial environments of New Jersey.  The vistas soften as Tony Soprano pilots his Chevy Suburban closer and closer to his suburban home.  The final shots of the opening credits deliver Tony into the driveway of his luxurious house, giving us a clue that the domestic dimension of this mobster’s life will figure heavily in his story.  Throughout the sequence, James Gandolfini is able to project a kind of worldly, street-smart confidence—this is a man who knows the score, he doesn’t easily get the wool pulled over his eyes.  And that’s what makes the opening shot of the Pilot so surprising:

pilot opening shot

We would expect a series about a powerful mobster to begin by giving us some narrative and visual expression of his strength and power.  We might have predicted something like the opening of The Godfather, in which Boss Vito Corleone grants powerful favors to guests attending his daughter’s regal reception at his impressive home.  We could have expected David Chase to generate an impression of strength and power with his camera, as Leni Riefenstahl does in her Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the WillShe exploits scale, angle and symmetry with purpose:

Triumph of the will

But Chase and company go in the opposite direction in their opening scene.  They scale down, diminish Tony, remove all sense of power and monumentality from the imagery.  Pilot episodes typically begin with an “establishing shot” that immediately orients the viewer; we are hit here instead with a disorienting shot.  Tony looks a bit perplexed, and the viewer shares in his confusion—we don’t know where he is or what he’s doing there. 

By framing Tony within the legs of the female sculpture in this opening scene, Chase may be referencing the infamous shot from The Graduate:


Just as Ben spends much of that movie baffled by the Feminine, The Sopranos will have Tony disconcerted by his mother, his wife, his daughter,  his sister, his female therapist, and his various goomars.  We are further disoriented by the silence of the opening sequence—over a minute passes before any real dialogue is exchanged.  While The Sopranos does not use its opening sequence as an establishing scene in the conventional way, two important recurring Sopranos characteristics do get established here: silence and ambiguity.  The famous cut-to-black in the Series Finale, airing more than eight years after this Pilot debuted, closed the series just as it opened—with silence and ambiguity.

Dr. Melfi finally breaks the silence in her office now by asking Tony about the panic attack that led to his blackout.  Tony doesn’t agree with the medical assessment that he is having panic attacks.  This exchange lays down an important premise of the show: Tony is not here to address any psychological or mental or emotional problems—he is here only to solve the physical problem of his blackouts.  The idea that the “talking cure” can solve physical ailments has been around for as long as psychoanalysis has been around.  Sigmund Freud wrote extensively about the patient “Anna O” who was able to free herself of physical pain by talking about it with her doctor, and this laid the foundation for Freudian psychoanalysis.  Psychoanalysis expanded and evolved over time to become a tool that addresses emotional issues more than physical ones.  By the end of this hour, Tony does report an improvement in his emotional state, and tries to credit the anti-depressant Prozac for helping him.  He is surprised to learn that his elevated mood can’t be due to the Prozac because not enough time has passed for the medication to have become effective.  Hmm… so maybe there is something to this whole “therapy” thing after all.  Melfi certainly believes this, and tells him so: “Hope comes in many forms.”  We are led here to have some hope that psychotherapy can have some truly profound effect on Anthony Soprano, perhaps not only alleviate his physical and psychological problems but maybe even address his spiritual and moral issues as well.  Over the course of the series, however, everyone—including Tony, Melfi, and we viewers ourselves—will question if psychotherapy is having the beneficial effect on Tony that we had hoped for.  And by the end of the series, we are left wondering if it might actually have had a detrimental effect on Tony (which would also mean—due to his power, position and personality—a detrimental effect on everyone in Tony’s orbit).


Tony feels that he’s come in at the end of something, he has reduced expectations of life.  Dr. Melfi assures him that many Americans feel this way.  Right out of the gate, The Sopranos began to establish itself as a cultural barometer.  Arguably no other contemporary TV show so successfully captured the angst and unique maelstrom of that particular period of time, at the end of the 20th/beginning of the 21st centuries.  Tony’s worries are primarily personal concerns regarding his security and that of his family (manifesting itself as an almost irrational concern for a family of ducks that has roosted in his backyard).  But he is also suffers from a cultural anxiety generated by the end of “the American Century.”  The century in which we saved Europe from evil, wildly flourished under a market economy, and defeated Communism was rapidly coming to an end.  There was a sense, perhaps, that we had never really paid our dues, at least when measured against the enviable ways in which we thrived.  We had been getting something-for-nothing for too long.  The front page of Tony’s Star-Ledger reminds us that we will have to pay the piper before long: Medicare will soon go bust.  Yet the back page exhorts us to continue in our ways: Autoland’s SummerSlam event gets you a new car for “Absolutely Nothing Down!”

tony reading newspaper

Both the Government and the Private Sector have been telling us that we can delay payment and focus instead on our short term interests.  Tony Soprano embodies this “buy now, pay later” philosophy perhaps more than anyone one else in American art.  He may have to pay later—through an enemy’s bullet, a prison sentence or feelings of guilt (ok, that last one is unlikely), but he’ll do anything to profit right now.

Tony’s dealings with indebted gambler Mahaffey provide us our first glimpse of Tony’s criminality.  It’s not enough to beat and threaten Mahaffey who is behind on his payments—Tony wants the white-collar professional to set up an insurance scam.  The manner in which Tony thinks up this new criminal enterprise is presented to us not only narratively but also through imagery and set design.  It is shown through a series of scenes and images that are linked together by a particular color scheme:

  1. A black-and-blue “US/HMO” sign may have first  planted the idea of an HMO scam in Tony’s mind
  2. Tony perhaps mentally incorporates “MRIs” into the scam while getting an MRI in the heavily-stylized black-and-blue scanning room
  3. Tony, at the similarly stylized Bada Bing, shares his plan to set up phony clinics that will bill HMOs

black and blue

These phony mob-run clinics could certainly deplete some federal funds, hastening the demise of Medicare even further.  The “US/HMO” sign may signal that it’s not just HMOs that would get bruised and  bamboozled by these mob activities, it’s all of US—all of American society would be left black-and-blue.

Throughout the series, we will find a troubling relationship between consumption (in all its forms), religion and mob activity/violence—what I will categorize as “Food, Faith and Firearms.”  The Pilot lays the groundwork for this with a startling scene in which Carmela grabs an assault rifle from its hiding place in the dining room, of all places, with her parish Priest in tow:

Carm's gun

Religion (or at least contemporary Catholicism as practiced by these characters) is a problematic thing.  Father Phil’s first line of the series is about food (crème Anglaise) which points to his own personal preoccupation with food, but also gives us our first taste (um, sorry) of the series’ continuous portrayal of him as a religious leader that is disturbingly complacent toward his flock’s attitude on consumption.  In later episodes we will see that the Church is unable to alleviate Carmela’s concerns about the lifestyle she has chosen.

The church that Tony brings Meadow to is a sacred place, full of family history and quiet beauty.  Its grandeur contrasts strongly with the cheesy religious imagery found at Livia’s house, from the cheap plastic icon in her front yard to the pictures randomly tacked onto the interior walls.  Despite her Christian paraphernalia, Livia is far from living a genuinely spiritual life.  The reproduction of the Last Supper at her home is obscured, it isn’t clearly seen—it does not evoke the genuine religious feeling as the unobstructed closeup of this Final Meal, full of awe and fellowship, at the church does:

last supper pilot 1a


last supper pilot clear

The link between food and firearms is most clearly established with the first murder of the series: the killing of Emil Kolar at Centanni’s Pork Store, amidst tasty meats and butchered animal parts.

emil shot

It may seem a bit odd that this Pilot labors so diligently to create the connection between food and violence, but the reason becomes less mysterious as the series continues.  The Sopranos is critical of our culture’s voracious consumerism, and Food functions as a symbol of this dubious American characteristic.  These mobsters are driven to behave criminally in order to satisfy their consumerist desires, and are oftentimes supported and funded by the larger American culture’s likewise desire.  A sentence by Chris Moltisanti brings this idea into sharper focus: “Garbage is our bread-and-butter.”  This paradoxical-sounding line expresses a true fact: the waste-carting [garbage] business in the Northeast has been a primary source of income for the Mob for several decades.  But Chris’ line has a deeper, truer significance.  It is our culture’s historically unrivaled ability to create garbage—by using and consuming, devouring and demolishing, draining, burning, wasting, and depleting every resource and surplus available to us in pursuit of our desires—that ultimately gives such thriving business to the Mob.  Two scenes amplify these points further:

Consumption & Food - Sopranos Autopsy

In the first screengrab above, we see Tony conduct business in front of a mountain of trash.  If ours wasn’t such a consuming culture, perhaps neither the heap nor Tony would be present here.  (Maybe he’d be selling patio furniture off Route 22 instead.)  In his essay “Fresh Garbage,” Fred Gardaphe notes that…

Thorstein Veblin’s classic, Theory of the Leisure Class, taught us all how make sense of the consumer culture of capitalism, and his notions of “conspicuous consumerism” and “conspicuous waste” can help us overcome the simplification of knee-jerk responses to The SopranosThe Sopranos matters because it reflects U.S. capitalism at its height…Tony Soprano, a partner in a waste management company, is not only a purveyor of garbage but a dramatic embodiment of the waste produced by postmodern U.S. consumer culture.

Fittingly, Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class will appear in Season 3.  In the second picture above, Carmela stuffs her husband’s ill-gotten cash into a false-bottom Campbell’s Soup can.  Where we expect to find consumable food, there is money begotten of violence.  Food and violence are strongly equated.  (No surprise it’s a can of Minestrone, Campbell’s take on Italian soup.)


This Pilot, like most pilot episodes, is far from perfect.  Among the most egregious of missteps was the decision to score the scene in which Mahaffey is chased and rundown with a Doo-Wop song.  (Chase later admitted it was a mistake.)  I do not like the foray into voiceover-narration that’s found here, nor am I very fond of some of the extreme camera angles and colored lens filters that Chase used throughout the episode.  Nevertheless, we get a premonition here that the series will be the work of a true-blue cinephile.  In the DVD commentary track for this episode, Chase (an English-major in college and later graduate of Stanford’s film school) makes casual but pertinent references to Vonnegut and Chinatown and Truffaut’s The Soft Skin.  His series is profoundly shaped by his literary and film education.  We can see this, for example, in how intelligently Chase employs his camera.  Some of the scenes in the Pilot are shot with a gorgeous, elliptical camera movement (such as when Corrado and his crew leave Vesuvio, and a similar circling dolly occurs around Chris and Emil at Centanni pork store).  These dramatic camera movements give the episode an epic feel.  There is one scene in particular that features some bravura camerawork:

The production crew built a ramp for the Steadicam operator so that he could reach a high angle (which amplifies the menacing mood of the situation) without cutting the shot (which could potentially diminish the menace).  This short clip shows a wealth of camera movement and angles—and intelligence—that are in short supply in most pilots.  We see how Chase, through cinematic means, is able to transform a delicious ice cream cone into an incarnation of threat.

In contrast to the dynamic and dramatic shots that make up much of the hour, the scenes in Dr. Melfi’s office are made up of very static, understated shots—the camera does not evoke epic grandeur but the quiet, thoughtful, intimate process of therapy.  David Chase has stated on several occasions, including a March 2004 NPR interview with Terry Gross, that a production rule had been established right from the beginning that there would be no camera dollies or push-ins during Tony’s therapy sessions.  A push-in (or zoom) might indicate to the viewer to pay attention now, because what’s being said is very important.  But Chase tells Terry Gross that psychotherapy, in real life, is far more ambiguous; it is not so easy to recognize what is or what isn’t important during a therapy session, and the camerawork must reflect this ambiguous nature of psychotherapy.  Beginning with this first hour, we see that the camera is used in many ways, but always in a way that best serves the needs of a particular scene.

Right from the opening credits, we get the sense that The Sopranos is a new type of mob-story, something we haven’t really seen before.  Chase lets us know from the outset that this is gonna be a whole nother ballgame, folks.  Most gangster sagas are set in New York, but as Tony drives away from NYC, deeper and deeper into north Jersey during the opening credits, we immediately understand that we will be in new geographical terrain.  The New Jersey locale is as crucially a part of the series as Tony Soprano is.

In addition to unfamiliar geography, the series will put us on new psychological, emotional and narrative terrain.  While most mobster films and novels are centered around the Mafia, the mob makes up only one piece of the Sopranos puzzle.  In this hour, we certainly find a number of mob concerns: Mahaffey’s outstanding gambling debt, Pussy Malanga’s imminent whacking, disputes over waste-carting contracts.  But we also see that several non-Mafia storylines are being developed with the same priority and attention to detail.

I would argue that The Sopranos must be characterized as “an American story” first and foremost, and only secondarily as “a mob saga.”  This episode furnishes our first view of a SopranoLand murder—the killing of Emil Kolar—but, interestingly, this murder is bracketed by commentary about an American culture that is far  bigger and broader than the mafia culture of SopranoLand.  Moments before Chris Moltisanti shoots Emil, the two men exchange this dialogue:

Emil:  In Czech Republic too we love pork.  You ever have our sausages?
Chris:  No, I thought the only sausages they had was Italian and Jimmy Deans.  See what you learn when you cross cultures and shit?

As Chris fires multiple shots into his victim, Chase crosses cultures by cross-cutting to pictures of various iconic Americans hanging up on the wall.  It is not just photos of Italian-Americans or mobsters that we see, but a mix of people: Bogey, Dino, Robinson.  The entire scene is scored to a Chicago blues-style song (a style of music that is deeply and uniquely American): Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man.”  Over the course of six seasons, The Sopranos investigates the strange, hilarious and messy ways in which people of different cultures—different ethnicities, incomes, education levels, and regional histories—come together in the mosaic we call America.  The Sopranos explores what it means to be American. 

Perhaps the signature difference between The Sopranos and all previous works in the gangster genre is the great amount of attention that is given to Tony’s personal life, in addition to his professional life.  I will delve more into how the series accomplishes this in later write-ups; right now I only want to point out one example of how Chase links Tony’s personal and professional lives through imagery.  The Sopranos had far fewer explosions (or car chases or fistfights or shootouts) than one might have expected to find in a primetime gangster drama.  This episode, with its two explosions, is an exception.  Perhaps the explosions were included as way to play to the expectations of the audience (as well as network executives while the series was being shopped around).  In any case, the two blasts serve to connect Tony’s two lives:

2 explosions

With a visual rhyme, Chase merges Tony’s personal and professional lives.  In the first instance, Tony passes out from an anxiety attack while preparing food for a family get-together, causing the unattended grill to flare up.  In the second, Tony has Vesuvio bombed in order to prevent a mob hit from taking place there.  Although The Sopranos is a mob saga, the story of Tony’s criminal life will not take precedence over the story of his domestic life; in fact, the two will be seen more and more as inexorably linked.

The primary division, arguably, in Tony’s life is not between domesticity and criminality.  Rather, Tony’s greatest duality may arise from his marital infidelity.  He is, on the one hand, a loving husband, completely committed to protecting and providing for his family.  On the other hand, he is a serial philanderer who cheats with barely a pang of guilt.  When Tony visits a restaurant, first with his mistress and later with Carmela, the host—as if he were the personification of Tony’s conscience—is dressed alternately in black and then white.

restaurant host

Carm knows about her husband’s cheating, and makes a crack about it in her very first scene of the series.  But it will not become a major conflict this first season.  In Season Four, however, Tony’s philandering will cleave the Soprano household in two.

By the time he produced The Sopranos, David Chase had already been active in television for decades, most notably with The Rockford Files, Northern Exposure and Almost GrownBut The Sopranos represents his first effort to truly extend our conception of what a popular television show could be.  In an April 2007 Vanity Fair article, “An American Family,” Peter Biskind reports that David Chase was referred to on the Sopranos set as “Master Cylinder.”  Chase is, without question, the heart and brain behind the series.  The Sopranos is his baby.  In his capacity as showrunner, he ran the show—no one had more control of daily operations or more influence on the final product than he did.  He is, as Biskind writes, “one of the few authentic auteurs television has produced.”  However, I do believe that television production is a highly collaborative process, and therefore, when I use the term “Chase” throughout this website, I am (for the most part) referring to both David Chase and his production team.  In those instances where I mean the man himself, I hope the context will make that clear. 

The Sopranos boasts a phenomenal cast of actors, but special mention must be given to James Gandolfini.  In this hour, we see Gandolfini begin to give “Tony Soprano” a fullness and dimensionality that is just about unrivaled by any other television character ever.  There are plenty of sequences here that showcase his brilliance, but let’s just take a look at one scene in Dr. Melfi’s office.  When Melfi asks Tony if he is depressed, he tries to hide behind his charm: instead of giving an answer, he says “What part of the boot you from, hon’?  My mother would have loved it if you and I got together.”  Gandolfini’s whole demeanor expresses Tony’s sexual confidence, but simultaneously reveals that Tony is trying to hide his vulnerability behind a come-on.  When Melfi continues to push him to open up, Tony gets aggressive—he gets flushed and excited and starts ranting about Gary Cooper, the strong silent type.  Gandolfini is able to show how close to the surface Tony’s emotions lay.  When she doesn’t let up, Tony becomes haughty: “Lemme tell you something.  I have a semester-and-a-half of college, so I understand Freud.”  He remains defiant.  Gandolfini has just spent the last few minutes demonstrating that Tony, in a fight-or-flight situation, will stand up to the threat using everything from sexual charm to defiance.  And yet moments later, we are not very surprised to see Tony—after he is again asked point-blank if he is depressed—get up and stride out of the room after struggling to answer.  Gandolfini negotiates the complexity of the character so finely that both Tony’s “fight” and his “flight” responses, though occurring right next to one another, are completely believable.

It is an incredible range that Gandolfini displays in the Pilot.  At one end, there is tenderness and tears (as Tony cries talking about the ducks) and at the other end, a barely controlled rage (as Tony physically pounces on Chris who is thinking of turning his life-story into a movie option).  As the series continues, Gandolfini will demonstrate that his range is wide enough to accommodate the entire human experience.  Columnist Alan Sepinwall reported that David Chase once toyed with the idea of playing The Sopranos as a broad, farcical comedy, sort of like The Simpsons.  But once Gandolfini read for the part of Tony, Chase understood that the show “can be absurdist, it can have a lot of stupid shit in it, but it should not be a live-action Simpsons.”  The series only became what it is, full of everything—humor, drama, satire, tragedy, ardor, absurdity—because of the talent of James Gandolfini.

The Pilot is truly a fountainhead episode; moments and characters and references from here will gush and flow into all the seasons of the series.  A partial listing of connections to future episodes include:

  • The opening shot of Tony looking at the sculpture in Melfi’s waiting room is closely mimicked in Season 3 when Carmela visits Dr. Melfi
  • Chris mentions that his cousin’s girlfriend works in Hollywood—she is the namesake of Season 2’s “D-Girl”
  • Tony picks up a newspaper from his driveway, an action that reappears in virtually every season opener
  • Meadow balks at her mother’s traditional request to accompany her to lunch in front of the portrait of Eloise at the Plaza Hotel, but we will see them continue the custom in Season 4’s “Eloise”
  • Uncle Junior’s criticizes Tony’s shortcomings as a varsity athlete, and will continue to do so over the seasons
  • Tony’s infatuation with ducks will be alluded to again and again; in the penultimate episode of the series, Melfi will see Tony’s concern with animals to be a sort of manipulation
  • It is Pussy Malanga that Corrado wants to kill in this episode; in his dementia, he tries to kill an already-dead Malanga again in Season 6
  • Tony tells Melfi that he plays the role of “the sad clown,” an idea that will come up again in multiple episodes
  • JFK’s hat, which is in Tony’s possession, will appear again in Season 5
  • Emil Kolar, the series’ first murder victim, will appear again in a dream and then again as a dug-up corpse

In addition to connections to future episodes, there are connections to events, people and works of art in the real world (i.e. allusions and references).  If I were to list every connection, I would probably double the length of this write-up.  Chase is almost like a spider, casting threads and making connections in all directions.  The Sopranos is his spider web, and each connection and allusion he makes adds to its tensile strength.  The viewer gets ensnared in it.  The Sopranos’  fictional world ultimately becomes a place that feels very real because these connections give the series a sense of being tightly constructed and because they tie the series to our actual world.  Connectivity helps to bind the viewer to the show; we become bound in the seemingly real society and culture of SopranoWorld.  (I think Chase gives us some clues that he is purposefully utilizing connectivity in this way, and I’ll get into this deeper in episode 2.07 “D-Girl” and beyond.)



  • The Pilot (called “The Sopranos” on the DVD release) was shot 1.5 years before it aired on HBO, and that might account for some of the differences between this episode and the rest of Season One.  (For example, “Father Phil” and “Irina” are played by different actors.)
  • A Family Thing: We see Hunter Scangarelo, played by Chase’s daughter Michelle, before we see Carmela or the Soprano kids
  • Recycling: Tony takes a line that Dr. Melfi says to him—“Hope comes in many forms”—and recycles it to Artie Bucco, who is distraught over the loss of his restaurant.  We will see Tony do quite a bit of rehashing and recycling of Melfi’s words over the course of the series.
  • We notice early on that Father Phil is a bit of a movie buff—he even mentions Gordon Willis (the celebrated cinematographer) while he and Carm discuss the Godfather movies.  Film references in The Sopranos endear the series to cinephile viewers.  They also point to David Chase’s own focus and preoccupation with movies and cinematography.  (Chase made sure to work on this series with people who share the same focus and proccupation.  On the DVD commentary track, Chase gives great credit to Director of Photography Alik Sakharov for his input and expertise.)
  • The Sopranos’ use of clever, ironic or humorous edits is established here.  In one example, Tony is in a good mood and says, “It’s a beautiful day.  What could be bad?”  → Cut immediately to sourpuss Livia, complaining to Corrado about her son.  (She becomes quiet and attentive as Corrado responds that “something may have to be done” about Tony.)
  • Someone must be watching The Rockford Files at Green Grove—its theme song can be heard while the Soprano family and Livia tour the facility.
  • Tony tells Melfi about a dream in which he unscrews his navel and his dick falls off, which then gets carried away by a bird.  A Freudian would no doubt have a field day with this.  Freud famously referred to dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious.”  Chase will use dreams throughout The Sopranos to express his characters’ subconscious fears, desires and insights.  (Melfi will allude to this particular dream in the Season One Finale when she correctly suspects Livia of being behind the attempt on Tony’s life.)
  • Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me” closes out the Pilot, giving us an early intimation of David Chase’s admirable musical taste and knowledge.
  • David Chase’s opposition to black-and-white simplification is one of the defining characteristics of The Sopranos, and we get a sense of this even while listening to his DVD commentary: he says, regarding Carmela’s complicity in Tony’s criminality, “Let’s not say it is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’—you’re going in a certain direction.”  Right and wrong may exist, but Chase is more interested in portraying how characters move along the line between right and wrong rather than in classifying them in one group or the other.  I think this characteristic is apparent in the infamous closing moments of the Series Finale.  Those viewers who insist that Tony is killed at Holsten’s may be overlooking Chase’s aversion to simplistic binaries; Right/Wrong, Good/Evil, even Dead/Alive (in this final instance) are dichotomies that David Chase rarely accommodates on The Sopranos.


T and ducks

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83 responses to “Pilot (1.01)

  1. This is absolute gold. Preparing to read through all of them right now

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One interesting tidbit in re-watching the pilot episode….. Uncle Jun is seen wearing short pants at AJ’s birthday party. Carmine chides Tony in s4.01 by saying the Don doesn’t wear shorts.


    • Haha you’re right…I guess different rules apply for the New Jersey bosses…


      • I see that you’ve already seen my comment, Ron, and I just wanted to say thank you for a fantastic blog. I’m a long-time superfan, but I’ve just recently started looking for critical analysis of the story such as this, and your site is a goldmine.

        I’m only to your breakdown for “Pax Soprana” but definitely expect a lot of page views over the next few days!

        Thanks again! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    • Junior was never the true Don, though. Only in name, so the rules didn’t apply.

      Wiseguys generally never wear shorts, though, very nice catch as though I’ve watched so many times I never did pick that one up.

      Liked by 1 person

    • But Uncle Jun is not the Boss, no? Jackie is the acting Boss, right? This probably comes up later, but I heard/read somewhere that the shorts line came about because a real wise guy complimented Chase on the realism, but also pointed out that a Don wouldn’t wear shorts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey, rewatching the pilot I noticed one interesting parallel – it opens with Tony framed between a pair of legs. Later in I think the first scene at the Bing, we cut from Tony in therapy (“Here comes the Prozac”) to a shot of a dancer’s legs occupying the frame in a similar fashion to the statue’s legs in the opening scene.


    • Yup, The Sopranos has a lot of those sorts of parallels. And Chase revisits that opening shot when he frames Carmela through the statue’s legs in episode 3.07 “Second Opinion.”


  4. Can I ask why scoring the run-down scene with a doo-wop song was a mistake? I would like to know how one would come to that conclusion, and perhaps what the scene was trying to evoke that it failed to do.


    • I guess it ultimately comes down to personal opinion. Chase tells Peter Bogdanovich on the commentary track that he regrets using the doo-wop song because “it’s hackneyed, silly…” I feel the same way, but furthermore, I think it cheapens the therapy scene in Dr. Melfi’s office (note that Chase presents the run-down scene/doo-wop song as a flashback during a therapy session). I felt that Chase diminished the therapy scenes in the Pilot by using them as a gimmick to frame flashback scenes (I explain this better in the next write-up); and then scoring the sequence to a light-hearted doo-wop tune just wrecked the importance and realistic nature of the therapy scene in which the doo-wop appeared.

      But yeah, ultimately it’s just personal opinion. Bogdanovich says on the commentary track that he thinks the scoring works…


  5. Love this

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Artie’s calender says 1997? I know the air date was 1999 but I believe I read somewhere that this pilot episode was shot in ’96 or ’97, some time before they were green lit to shoot an entire season. That really dates this pilot episode. Robert Iller looks literally like a young child. Dominic Chianese looks how Larry David looks today. Gandolfini had hair. I feel old realizing the Sopranos pilot episode was shot nearly 20 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great job on this man.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent analysis. Great read.

    If you think about it, the opening and ending shots of ”The Sopranos” tell you everything you need to know about the series. It’s the show in a microcosm.

    The 1st shot encapsulates the Nietzschean ideal of the Overman/Ubermensch and Tony’s desperate attempt to reach ”strong, silent type” status.

    The 2nd shot represents the inescapable nihilism Tony wrestles with during the series.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “DREA DE MATTEO …..Hostess”


    Liked by 1 person

  10. Absolutely brilliant analysis. I look forward to reading your entries as my wife and I rewatch the series. I agree with you the pilot has some clumsiness– the doo-wop music; the way the sound effects don’t quite connect with the images when the doctor’s face is punched– but over all, a superior first episode.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. who is the artist that did statue in dr melfi’s office it’s the same kind in scarface in tonys lawyers office


  12. God bless! This is all I need!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve heard the pilot was filmed In 1997, yet the newspaper Tony’s holding in his driveway has a date of Wednesday, June 17. June 17 fell on a Wednesday in 1998. Just noticed it now. Thoughts?


  14. Another aspect of the Campbell”s soup piggy bank and consumerism. Andy Warhol’s art focused on consumerism and his most famous pieces are his Campbell’s Soup reproductions.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I am so glad that I found this site! The insights are flawless. The 3 people who Chase chose to use in the continuing saga are Drea de Matteo, The girl in the gold club beating scene (and later a friend of Adriana) and also Vito (first a customer at the bakery, and then a gangster)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. David Chase has a thing for the number 3 throughout the entire run of The Sopranos. You’ll notice that Chases daughter is the 3rd person you will see in the pilot . Carmela and Father Phil sitting by the fireplace, Carm says those 3 logs have been in there since Lincoln split them (episode College) Keep your eyes and ears open to #3, the series is littered with 3’s

    Liked by 1 person

    • And of course Corrado says that people die in threes, and Mikey Palmice appears in Christopher’s dream to mention 3 o’clock, and then Paulie gets freaked out by 3:00 etc etc… I’m not sure if Chase buys into the mythology of the number 3 very much (I think he’s more interested in showing how people create their own mythologies), but everyone has their own interpretations…


  17. Me again. Doing another re-watch.

    Now that I’m a couple of years past the age that Tony Soprano is in his opening dialogue with Melfi, I’ve found an entirely new take on his line about “coming at the end”. I feel like I’ve missed the party altogether. The American Dream, prosperity, the idea that you can make it. I feel like I missed it entirely, and it would seem a lot of GenXers feel this way. 9/11. The Great Recession. Donald Trump. Who saw it coming? Back to all that’s left of my American dream. On to 46 Long.


  18. Great work Ron…

    Tony’s reaction to Chris wanting to go “Henry Hill” was very important. It first made me think that the Christopher character, as well as he is scripted and acted by Imperioli, is more or less a fuck up. As for Tony, it gives further insight as to who this man is…basically chocking out his nephew at his son’s birthday party with everyone a few feet away. The “Beast in me” during the credits follows up to the beast inside Tony, who we will get the pleasure of seeing full force time and time again throughout the series (Mikey, the Russian on the boat, Ralphie, Philly during the car chase scene, and who could forget Coca, who couldn’t keep his mouth shut). Tony Soprano is not a man to cross paths with, and Jim Gandolfini makes this fictional mob boss seem all too real. His ability to change with the “flick of the switch” on screen was just uncanny. (I remember a Chase interview where he explains Gandolfini took the scene further and actually gripped Chris up by his shirt. The original script if I remember correctly was he smacks Chris on the back of the head.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nicky JimsBabygirl



  19. Nicky JimsBabygirl

    My father and I wrote the scripts although most played themselves out on their own! I am still in love with M. Imperioli I wonder if he wants to know the real wife of Chris Moltisanti lol Whenever you get to reading this ghostrider call me up xoxo BABY n Jim Loooking for you call me


  20. Your site is what made the internet great, long before fake-news, click-bait and SEO copy came along and ruined it. The level of care, insight and erudition you bring to these commentaries is phenomenal. Respect. Thank you


  21. Was the “Patrick” Meadow was sneaking out to see in this episode the same Patrick that she ended up with in the finale?

    Liked by 1 person

  22. This is amazing. I read Todd vanderwerffs writeups on the sopranos as well. His is great but I like how you get more into it than he does. You can tell that this is why you did it, to answer ALOT of questions lol

    Liked by 1 person

  23. 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Dear Ron. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to find your writing about the show. I bookmarked something you wrote long ago and just came back to it and now… I’m in. I know I’m going to have to read every single one of these (same feeling I get if watch an episode again) and I’m excited to do so. I write for the screen sometimes and teach at film school, and this stuff here is just so illuminating and well written. A huge thank you! MH

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Yo. I just started watching The Sopranos. (I know, I know.) The NY Times had a piece (and published a guide) in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary, so I figured it was about time. Needless to say I am hooked. Watching is like going down a rabbit hole; each episode not only makes me want to watch more, it makes me want to KNOW more. Which is why I am so glad I found your blog. Thank you for your analysis and insight. You are now an app on my desktop.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. This is incredible. The Sopranos aired when I was in high school and I tuned it every week, dying to know who might get whacked next and caring for little else. Multiple re-watches later (as well as age and maturity) have turned me on to how incredibly dense and amazing this show is. “The Sopranos Sessions” inspired me to start my 6th rewatch as I read along – the book is okay, but I noticed one review that said the analyses were a little lacking, and to “stick with your favorite Sopranos blog instead”. One season in and I agreed – some good material but I felt like it was only skimming the surface. A couple Google searches later and I think I found the exact blog the reviewer referred to. I can’t wait to dig into this as I go – thank you for your impressive dedication!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Brilliant write up, love this page


  28. As so many others have said, GREAT write up. I recently found this and am going to read through your write ups in order, so we’ll get to the finale later. But since you mentioned it here, I get the ambiguity between good/evil, right/wrong in the real world, and how people exist along a continuum between the extremes, and that is what Chase so successfully portrayed. But there is no ambiguity between dead/alive in the real world. So I will be interested to see how you apply that to the finale when you get there. Again, great job though, VERY interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Ron, I’m wondering what you think about realism (or lack thereof, sometimes) in The Sopranos.

    Prime example is in the pilot, the scene where Tony and Christopher chase down and beat Mahaffey. This happens in an office park, in broad daylight, and in full view of multiple stunned civilians. At times Tony almost hits bystanders, and he recklessly drives on sidewalks and on the grass.

    Tony and Christopher do the beatdown and leave. I don’t think we ever heard anything more about this incident, at least not from a law enforcement perspective.

    I know the mob has the cops in their back pocket to a certain extent, but isn’t it a bit unrealistic to think they could get away with this in a suburban office park in the 1990s?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Chase took certain liberties in service of drama and narrative at times.. I don’t have a big problem with the Mahaffey scene because I think it was part of Chase’s effort to get a network to bite on his series (this is the Pilot, after all) and also because Tony isn’t the Boss yet—he can somewhat afford to do dumb or risky things. This type of thing is less forgivable in later seasons, although thankfully it doesn’t happen too often…


  30. Why was the doo-wop song a mistake for the Mahaffey run down scene? Any details on the rationale that would make that a “mistake”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chase regretted it because it was, in his words, a “hackneyed, silly” song choice, and I agree. I went into a little bit more detail in my response to Eric’s comment above…


      • Thank you for the response. Apologies for the redundant question.
        I could see how using a song from other mob movies could seem lazy.
        Thank you for the site, everything is very well thought out and well written.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Here’s what I liked about the song choice:
        like all the music in the Sopranos, the lyric introduces us to the greatest uncredited character in the show: the subconscious:

        I don’t know why I love you like I do,
        is it because I think you love me to.

        Liked by 1 person

  31. Shame on Junior.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Dear Ron, I was just wondering, did you start watching The Sopranos when it originally aired or sometime later. Thanks, Pam

    Liked by 1 person

  33. What an astonishingly good website! Thank you so much for writing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. For those who watched this when it was first broadcast in 1989, it may be amusing to go back for a moment. (In England, where I saw it, it was broadcast on a terrestrial channel, with advertisements, a few months after the American premiere.) Most people will probably be able to work out where they were and who, if anyone, they were with. But I can’t recall the TV set I saw it on. If it were set beside a present-day flat-screen TV, it would look very old-fashioned.
    The way people watch ‘The Sopranos’ may have changed in at least two ways, if they are now watching on a television. First: in the past the screen was smaller, so people sat closer. Second: the picture was inferior, so they saw less detail.
    But there may be other changes. I suppose some people are now watching alone on their computer screens, or even on their phones.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. In the pilot we see how Tony brings his daughter to a sacred place his grandfather built. That immigrant community was as insular as the mafia families are but they built something that lasts and was actually connecting them. That church can be a sanctuary and sacred place for whoever comes into that city. we see it’s empty when Tony gets there with Meadow. Tony kneels down at this physical embodiment of history. But what do him and other adults pass on to their children. We see it a vistas of crumbling, rusted infrastructure. Tony lives not in a house of rock but a McMansion that will fall apart in 30 years especially if love and care is not put into maintain it. Tony just absorbs history as a bunch of facts to recite and does not reflect on what his ancestors did. His grandfather was not nihilistic the way Tony and Tony’s father was. Tony wants to put his grandfather’s achievements on a pedestal not carry it forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. I visit your site regularly after finishing the series recently (for the 1st time) and I agree with the comments here, your site is the best! Love the work you put into this.
    I actually liked the pilot episode although to be fair I haven’t watched Goodfellas at that point. I didn’t had a clue of what the series was other than its about a mafia boss and the infamous “cut to black” series finale.
    I like how pleasant and fun the pilot is. At the time, I just needed to watch something while I eat dinner/unwind before I work my night shift. Man, was I suprised after watching “College” and couldn’t control binging after hearing Cake’s “Frank Sinatra” play at the end of “Tennessee Moltisanti.”

    Liked by 1 person

  37. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is the few discrepancies with later Sopranos lore ie: Silvio doesn’t seem to know Artie that well commenting ” didn’t you two go to school together?” (or something to that effect) when telling Tony about Jrs planned Malanga hit. Later it is implied(if not outright stated) that Artie, Tony, Silvio and Jackie Aprile all knew each other since childhood, not to mention how often Silvio is shown eating at Arties place over the course of the show. Also Tony is only a captain at this point and is already living in that house? Compared to how we see other captains live thru the course of the show (Big Pussy, Uncle Jr., Paulie, Ralph etc.) it seems a bit much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get what you are saying, but in terms of Tony’s living in a house I think I see it differently …

      Big Pussy lived in a house, wife drove a Cadillac, they owned a lucrative auto shop, etc. Big Pussy answered to Tony. He was lower in the ranks. Same with Paulie and Ralph. Paulie spent his money on his mother (or aunt) at Green Grove ($100,000 per year) and Ralph bought a race horse (probably $100,000 plus the cost to stable the horse). Uncle Junior spent his money on legal fees and, it seems, may have hidden his money and he forgot where he put it. Then there is Christopher, who put his money in his arm and up his nose.

      Tony spent. Tony spent and spent and gambled and spent. It’s no wonder Carmella was so concerned about what would be left if Tony died and tried to set up a trust as well as steal cash when she could find it. In addition, Carmella’s father built the house, so they did not spend on it what others might have.

      Liked by 1 person

  38. I am 24 minutes into the pilot (starting the series again for probably the 10th, maybe 15th, time. LOL). Right away, the scene with Christopher and Emil in Satriale’s stands out like never before (when thinking about Christopher throughout the series, especially season six)!

    The bloody *cleaver* on the butcher block makes me think of his movie… the one thing he thought would give him the respect and the cred he was always trying so hard to get from Tony (he was so close).

    The song “I’m a Man” – again, Christopher trying to prove himself throughout the entire series. In season six, “Walk Like A Man,” the episode before “Kennedy and Heidi,” we see Christopher watching the room full of gangsters laughing at him in slow motion, but Christopher only cares about Tony’s reaction. That same episode, Tony calls Christopher’s loyalty into question at the barbecue. Even in the end, after all those years, Christopher was never treated nor looked at as a “Man” by Tony.

    Finally, the photos Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, and Edward G. Robinson that flash on the screen as Christopher kills Emil – and just like Christopher, all three men were not taken seriously in their respective *gangster-ish* fields (whether it be in acting or music) and all were looked at as jokes (some sooner than others). All three were damn good at what they did (like Christopher), just never looked at with a “straight” face, with “sobriety.” These three artists are a representation of Christopher in his respective gangster field.

    They really set up Christopher’s character for the entirety of the series in just the pilot! Fantastic!

    I am looking forward to really … REALLY … watching this series again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Chase seems to have had a strong sense of who these characters were right from the get-go. And once the characters are clear in the writer’s head, I think the plot-points just naturally follow…


  39. I am watching the series more closely than ever before, especially watching:

    1) Tony’s and Melfi’s relationship.
    After having watched the whole series many times, I now see Tony’s manipulation of Dr. Melfi is present here in the pilot. Their last session of the episode (which I believe is only their 3rd and also the one after he no showed for an appointment) they discuss the dream where a water bird stole his penis. Dr. Melfi mentions ducks, Tony begins to cry, and the tears do seem like crocodile tears to me.

    These are excerpts from the “The Blue Comet” – the 2nd to last episode of the series when Dr. Melfi finally understands that Tony has been using her:
    “Apparently, the talking cure actually helps them become better criminals. … The study was by Yochelson and Samenow. … This other, I think it was Robert Hare, suggested that sociopaths actually quite glibly engage on key issues, like mother, family. … They even mimic empathy. They blubber and cry. … Food for thought. …
    MELFI: You just can’t resist rubbing my face in it. …
    I only suggested you reevaluate your work with Leadbelly [Tony] or be prepared to deal with moral and possibly legal consequences. … Still, it must be fascinating work.
    MELFI: It is.”

    It’s time to really pay attention to everything in between “Pilot” and “The Blue Comet” this time around.

    2) Meadow’s rise in the family ranks.
    When in St. Patrick’s Church in Jersey City during the pilot, Tony is in his head and Meadow is trying to get his attention. I don’t know. The way she keeps repeating “Dad” to pull him out of his own head makes me think of her calling out “Dad, Daddy” during the dream sequence in “Join the Club” (my FAVORITE episode BTW). I am not anywhere yet with a theory, but I am especially watching Meadow’s character develop this time around. My husband and I discussed last year after the last run of the series the possibility that Meadow becomes boss of New Jersey. Of all the characters in this show Meadow seems not only to be the apple of her daddy’s eye but her character grows and transitions more than any other character throughout the series – and she eventually becomes a legal advocate, if you will, for her father. There is negative talk about women in the mob multiple times throughout the series but they do exist (ie Annalisa Zucca, Lorraine Calluzzo) – and Tony seemed ok with it – so I wonder if this theory plays out when I actually watch for it.

    I am just in my head and thinking as I move forward.

    Thanks Ron.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Fantastic insight. I will probably repeat your points to my friend who loves the sopranos and pretend I noticed it myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. This is quite truly some fantastic analysis, coming from someone who has an obvious knack for writing. As a first time watcher, I am ten times more excited to continue with the rest of the series knowing I can access this alongside it. I was disappointed at some of the spoilers but I am sure I will survive! Thank you Ron, I hope you are proud of this work.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Ron, I’m impressed with the amount of information you’ve added to this review.. Last time I was here it was quite short compared to what it is now. Also, great catch regarding the blurred out last super in comparison to the one seen in the church.

    Liked by 1 person

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