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Recap / The Sopranos S 1 E 1 Pilot

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"It's good to be in something from the ground floor. And I came too late for that, I know. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over."
Tony Soprano

In a psychiatrist's office, New Jersey-based mobster Tony Soprano is framed between the legs of a naked sculpture. Dr. Jennifer Melfi opens a nearby door and invites Tony to enter her office.

After a few moments of uncertainty, she begins by stating that he was referred to her office because he had a panic attack at a family barbecue, and asks him to tell her a bit more about himself.

Tony tells her that he's a "waste management consultant". He begins telling her about how he met a friend "for coffee" before she stops and explains the concept of the doctor-patient confidentiality clause, hinting that she understands what he's referring to.

In a flashback, Tony and his nephew, Christopher Moltisanti, are driving to a meeting. Tony rails at Christopher for being lazy, and soon afterward, they see a man walking with a woman on the sidewalk. The man, Alex Mahaffey, sees Tony in the passenger seat and takes off running. Christopher gets out of the vehicle and starts chasing him while Tony gets behind the wheel of Christopher's car and eventually runs the man's leg over.

It's revealed that Mahaffey is a compulsive gambler who borrowed money from Tony and couldn't pay it back, as well as badmouthing him. Tony and Christopher beat the injured man and tell him to repay his debt before leaving.

In the present, Tony tells Melfi that he's been having nightmares as of late, and feels like his best days are behind him.

He has another flashback to waking up one morning and going outside to get his daily paper, only to discover that a family of ducks has made his swimming pool their new home. Overjoyed by this, Tony feeds them his leftover breakfast while his family watches from inside.

Carmela Soprano gets her children, Meadow and AJ, ready for school. Despite Tony's attempts to get them interested in the ducks, they leave soon afterward. Back in the present, Tony tells Melfi that Carmela and Meadow aren't getting along.

Tony begins explaining his career (omitting the violent details) to Melfi. He relates a story about a meeting he attended, which was really regarding one of his family's front operations for money laundering, Barone Sanitation. At the meeting, Tony talks with his lieutenants - Paul "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri, Silvio Dante, and Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero - about an assassination. According to Silvio, Tony's uncle (and senior mob leader), Corrado "Junior" Soprano, is looking to kill a turncoat named "Little Pussy" Malanga at a fellow friend's restaurant.

Tony and Christopher go to the restaurant, Vesuvio, and greet Junior (who's having dinner with other associates) and the owner, Artie Bucco. They sit down for lunch by themselves and reminisce about their past.

Later that day, Tony goes to his mother Livia's house. He brings in a CD player he bought for her and catches up. He relates the story of how Junior could be making a problem for Artie and asks her to speak to him, then tries to lift her spirits by telling her about a nice retirement home. She refuses his attempt, saying that she doesn't want to go there because she's comfortable where she is. He leaves soon afterward.

Back in the present, Tony tells Melfi that the day of the panic attack was also his son's birthday and that they had arranged a party and barbecue for him. As he tries to light the barbecue, he notices the ducks becoming agitated before flying away. At that moment, he begins to experience a panic attack and collapses on the lawn before the family rushes out to help him. Silvio puts out the fire while she dials 9-1-1.

The next day, Tony undergoes an MRI scan. Carmela arrives, coming to see how he's doing. When he expresses fear that he has a brain tumor, the discussion spirals into him complaining about a priest she's gotten friendly with. She tells him that the difference between Tony and her is that he's going to Hell when he dies.

Tony continues narrating his "waste management" problem to Melfi. He tells her that a fellow associate (Christopher) was able to handle the problem for him.

In another flashback, Christopher brings the heir to a rival waste management group, Triboro Garbage, to a deli for a drug deal. When the man, Emil Kolar, bends over to snort a line of cocaine, Christopher executes him.

Tony then narrates to Melfi his dealings with Junior, and she asks if the man is an important figure in his life. In flashback, Tony is arguing with Junior about the Little Pussy hit. Despite the former's attempts to sway him, Junior is unmoved and sticks to his plan to carry out the hit at Artie's restaurant.

Melfi tries to talk to Tony more about the ducks in his pool symbolizing a depression, but he storms out in frustration.

Tony takes Livia and the rest of the family to the Green Grove retirement community. Despite their best intentions, Livia refuses to accept living there. As she throws a fit about not wanting to become reliant on nurses, Tony has another panic attack and collapses in the middle of the main room.

Tony goes back for another appointment with Melfi and continues to talk about his mother. When she presses him for information, he goes on about how RICO statutes (the use of electronic monitoring equipment by government agencies) have put the squeeze on his business. Melfi writes out a prescription for him, much to his exasperation.

Tony and Chris go to meet with Mahaffey's representative, Herman "Hesh" Rabkin, at the Bada Bing, a strip club owned by Silvio. Hesh says that Mahaffey can't pay the money, but the conversation turns to Junior's impending hit. Hesh suggests having Artie leave on vacation so that the restaurant will be closed and the hit can't take place. Tony goes to Artie's later and convinces him to take a cruise for the next two weeks, despite Charmaine (Artie's wife) trying to argue otherwise.

The next day, Pussy takes Hesh and Mahaffey to a bridge to discuss a payment plan to work out the latter's debt. Their attempt at coercion works and Mahaffey agrees to their terms.

Later, Tony is golfing and downs a handful of Prozac Melfi prescribed for him. He then receives word that the Triboro Garbage company withdrew their bid because of Emil's disappearance but then learns that Artie wants to speak with him. The restauranteur reluctantly returns the tickets and says he can't leave.

That night, Dr. Melfi is having dinner with a friend when Tony and a woman who is not Carmela (his mistress Irina) enter. The man expresses surprise when Tony greets her but assumes that Melfi can't say anything because of confidentiality reasons. Later on, Tony has a tryst with Irina on board his own yacht, The Stugots.

Tony goes back to the same restaurant the next night with Carmela. He tells her that he's gone for therapy and has started taking Prozac, much to her joy. When they get back home, Chris calls to tell him that Little Pussy has arrived in town. The next day, Tony and Silvio attend Meadow's softball game and make plans to enact something immediately. Silvio goes to Vesuvio's that night and plants an explosive inside after closing time, destroying the building.

Tony goes back to Melfi and tells her that he thinks he's cured, but she tells him that it's the act of letting out his feelings (and not the medication) that is working. He eventually breaks down upon realizing that the ducks symbolize his own family and that their giving birth to ducklings and fleeing are reminiscent of his own feelings about what would happen if Carmela and the kids ever left.

At a barbecue later on, Tony and the others console Artie over the loss of the building and promise that he can recoup insurance money from it. Christopher storms off in a huff afterward because he doesn't feel respected for his role in the Kolar hit. Tony reluctantly concedes that he was wrong and appreciates what Chris did. They eventually hug.

Junior is also driving Livia to the barbecue. Junior complains about Tony aggravating the Little Pussy situation by interfering, and that something may have to be done about Tony. Her only response is to stare out the window...

Tropes:

  • Answer Cut: Tony is in a good mood and says, "Itís a beautiful day. What could be bad?" Cut immediately to Livia complaining to Corrado about her son.
  • Ascended Extra: Drea de Matteo is seen for a few seconds as an extra (a waitress) during one scene. In future episodes, she would gain greater prominence as Christopher's girlfriend, Adriana.
  • Bait-and-Switch: It looks like Tony is about to confess to adultery to Carmela when they're having dinner in a restaurant. She makes as though to throw her wine in his face in anticipation of it but then is overjoyed when Tony tells her he's taking Prozac medication.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Emphasized early on. Tony is unfaithful to his wife, who (in turn) is carrying on a friendship with a priest that he disapproves of. Tony's mother is crotchety and complains about being forced into a retirement home, his daughter is being influenced by bad friends and his nephew feels he isn't being respected enough.
  • Blatant Lies: Tony tells Carmela that he ended the relationship with his mistress Irina, in the same restaurant where he and Irina ate the night before.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: Livia insists that Green Grove Retirement Home is like this, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.
  • Boom, Headshot!: How Chris executes Emil.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Meadow, who sneaks out of the house, rails at her mother for wanting to have high tea with her and rants about how she doesn't feel respected.
  • Broken Ace: Tony, who has the fame, money, women, and power to accomplish anything, but suffers from panic attacks and parental issues as the series begins.
  • Car Fu: Tony strikes Mahaffey, a compulsive gambler who owes him money, with Christopher's car.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Tony mentions Henry Hill, the protagonist of Goodfellas to Chris. Michael Imperioli was in that film, as was Lorraine Bracco.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The pilot sets the tone for everything to come.
    Tony: I'll give you a fuckin' bone, you prick! Where's my fuckin' money?
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Tony sees a news story about Pussy Malanga returning to Jersey from Florida, which prompts both him and Silvio to put the plan of arson on Artie's restaurant into motion.
  • Confess in Confidence: Dr. Melfi wastes no time in establishing the parameters of the psychiatrist-patient relationship with Tony. He can tell her about crimes he committed in the past tense, but if he ever indicates to her an intention to commit a future crime, she will be obligated to report it to the authorities.
  • Conversation Casualty: Chris executes Emil during an otherwise-casual conversation about waste disposal.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Chris attempts to tell Tony about Little Pussy's arrival in town while a naked mistress paws at him nearby.
  • Double Standard: Early on, Tony rails at Carmela for being too friendly with a priest friend. It's revealed later that Tony himself has a history of cheating on his wife.
  • The Dreaded: The pilot makes a point of showing several times that Tony's reputation precedes him.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?:
    • Chris tells Tony at the end of the episode that he feels slighted for not even getting a 'thank you' for solving the Triboro Garbage situation.
    • Both Tony and Uncle Junior feel that their subordinates are not properly obedient and respectful enough towards them.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Tony's sessions with Dr. Melfi are used as a Framing Device for the episode, with some of the events he talks about presented as flashbacks and with his words to Melfi appearing as narration. For the rest of the series, the therapy sessions are distinct events, without flashbacks and no narration.
    • Tony is introduced as the Boss of the crime family and is recognized as the Don of New Jersey which is a particular frustration for Uncle Junior who resents Tony being above him. Starting from the second episode Tony is a Capo, with Jackie Aprile as "Acting Boss" for the DiMeo crime family and Tony and Junior spend the rest of the series competing for the top spot and the Boss authority.
    • The store where Tony and his crew hang out is "Centanni's Meat Market", whereas it will be renamed "Satriale's Pork Store" throughout the rest of the series. Silvio Dante also apparently does not spend time there as a regular guest, since his visit to pick up some meat at his wife's request is commented on by the others. For the rest of the series, he keeps a desk in the back to work, and spends as much time there as he does at the Bada Bing!.
    • Tony apparently does not regularly conduct business at the Bada Bing! since Silvio Dante has to tell a waitress that he and his guests get free drinks without charge. For the rest of the series, Tony is a regular fixture at the club and is recognized as being in charge along with Silvio.
    • When Carmela hears a suspicious sound and realizes somebody is trying to break into the house, she personally grabs an assault rifle and challenges the intruder. She is never again shown wielding a firearm in the rest of the series, and her struggle to come to terms with the reality of criminal life is a recurring theme.
    • Drea de Matteo is seen for a few seconds as the hostess at Artie's restaurant, but is not identified as Adriana La Cerva or indicated to be Christopher's girlfriend.
  • Establishing Character Moment: For the entire cast of characters.
    • Tony is from the very beginning established as both smart and physically capable. Both traits enable him to be a spectacular success in the world of The Mafia, where Authority Equals Asskicking and being Properly Paranoid can keep you alive. And yet we see underneath the veneer that he's a Broken Ace whose troubled family life and wearing The Chains of Commanding together are reducing him to a Nervous Wreck prone to panic attacks.
    • Carmela is established as a Hypocrite who convinces herself that she can enjoy the luxuries provided by the Mafia without facing any of the moral repercussions involved, and that it isn't cheating as long as it doesn't get as far as physical sex.
    • Meadow is shown to be a Brainy Brunette and a Bratty Teenage Daughter. She'll exhibit both traits, even the second one, well into her twenties.
    • A.J. will be the eternal Dumbass Teenage Son, even well into his twenties.
    • Livia from the very first scene makes it obvious she'll never be anything other than a total Jerkass and Hate Sink during her time on the series.
    • It becomes obvious that Dude, Where's My Respect? will be one of Uncle Junior's defining characteristics for most of the series. Pining for the Golden Age will be another character trait of his.
    • Special mention goes to Chris, who's eager to take on the hit job on Emil hoping that by itself will be enough to raise him to made man status. Chris will exhibit strong Social Climber tendencies for almost the entire series.
    • Artie is established all at once as the Supreme Chef, Tony's Morality Pet, and a Henpecked Husband on account of Charmaine.
    • Charmaine is shown to have very little tolerance for the restaurant or her family having any connections at all to the Jersey mob.
    • Hesh is also shown to be a Greedy Jew when he insists on getting some benefit from the shakedown of Mahaffey. He's also a Best Friend and Honest Advisor to Tony.
  • Evil Mentor: Tony runs down Mahaffey in a show of Car Fu, and then gives him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Chris arrives, and Tony invites Chris to give Mahaffey a few kicks to learn the Loan Shark skill set.
  • Food Slap: Subverted. Carmela gets ready to throw a glass of wine in Tony's face, in anticipation that he'll tell her that he's cheating again. Instead, he tells her that he's gone on medication and started therapy, and she's overjoyed.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Carmela tries to get Meadow to come with her for their yearly tea beneath the Eloise picture.
    • Tony tells Dr. Melfi that he felt hurt by Uncle Junior telling his cousin that he "never had the makings of a varsity athlete".
    • Uncle Junior expresses resentment to Tony that having to play catch with him as a kid was a burden. This moment will in a way become one half of the Book Ends for the series itself.
    • Chris mentions that he has an interest in film screenwriting, and says that his friend is a "d-girl" in Hollywood.
    • Uncle Junior and Livia ride together, both touching on the idea of "dealing with Tony".
  • Gilligan Cut: Tony gives Dr. Melfi his Understatement of having had coffee with Mahaffey. The very next shot is of Mahaffey dropping his coffee on the pavement, and running away after recognizing Tony in the car.
  • Golden Age:
    • Tony longs for the day that real men in the older generations of The Mafia were willing to face hard prison time as a matter of Undying Loyalty, instead of the newer generation who will turn into Witness Protection rats at the very thought of doing any time. Also doubles as Foreshadowing multiple times throughout the series.
    • In a twist of Irony, Uncle Junior sees Tony as an example of what is wrong with current generations of mobsters. His feeling is that Tony is not properly deferential towards his elders and superiors. Also doubles as Foreshadowing for their future conflict.
  • Groin Attack: Christopher receives one from Mahaffey when he tries to apprehend him. This gives Mahaffey a chance to escape...at least until Tony decides to use Christopher's Lexus as a blunt weapon.
  • Henpecked Husband: Tony considers his own father to be this, in regards to Livia's influence.
    • Artie suffers a serious dressing down from his wife Charmaine for even considering accepting what are (probably) stolen cruise tickets from mob boss Tony.
  • Holier Than Thou:
    • Carmela tells Tony that he's doomed to go to hell when he dies, but she's not, just before he gets slid into the MRI scan chamber. Those words will come back to haunt her more than once over the course of the series.
    • Charmaine really comes down on Artie for even allowing mobsters to dine in his restaurant, let alone accepting vacation tickets from Tony.
  • Hypocrite: Carmela tells Tony that he'll go to Hell for being a Mafioso, while conveniently forgetting that she lives in the luxury of the blood money he pulls in.
  • Incendiary Exponent: Tony drops a can of lighter fluid on the barbecue when he has his panic attack, causing the rig to burst into flames when Carmela runs out to help him.
  • Insistent Terminology: "Retirement community." Becomes a Running Gag later.
  • It's a Small World, After All: Tony runs into Dr. Melfi at a local restaurant.
  • Loan Shark: Tony and Chris, when they shake down Mahaffey.
  • Loose Lips: Tony swears Carmela to secrecy about his seeing a shrink. He's afraid the other mobsters will take him for a rat if word of it gets out.
  • Mama Bear: When Carmela hears a noise outside her home, she immediately grabs an assault rifle and runs outside, gun at the ready. Also some Early-Installment Weirdness, as Carmela is characterized in the remainder of the first season as largely outside the family business, at times in denial or struggling with her feelings about it. It's hard to reconcile that version of Carmela with the Kalashnikov-toting mafia wife depicted in the pilot.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Tony cries over the ducks giving birth to babies, symbolizing his own life and feelings of inadequacy.
    • Then there's Artie after his restaurant gets burnt to the ground.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Tony runs down Mahaffey in a show of Car Fu. He then gets out of the car and beats Mahaffey mercilessly, including on his injured leg.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Livia remembers her late husband as a 'saint', at least post-mortem. While he was still alive? Not so much, as we will see over the course of the series.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Hesh and Big Pussy lead Mahaffey out onto a bridge overlooking deep waterfalls. They demand Mahaffey give Tony part of his company to pay off his gambling debts. Mahaffey initially refuses. But then Hesh invites Mahaffey to join him for a dive into the river below, and Big Pussy punctuates the point by throwing his ice cream into the river. That pretty much suffices to end any further resistance from Mahaffey.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mahaffey, when he recognizes Tony driving up to him.
  • Pet the Dog: Tony was Childhood Friends with Artie, so he does whatever he can to avoid the reputation of Artie's business being ruined by Uncle Junior's intention to have Pussy Malanga killed.
  • Precision F-Strike: A.J. gives one to his parents.
    "So what, no fuckin' ziti?"
  • Pride: Uncle Junior has been Passed-Over Promotion to Boss several times already, and now Tony is on the horizon as the newest candidate for Boss. Hesh lampshades that the situation makes Uncle Junior unlikely to give any ground to Tony on his intentions to have Pussy Malanga taken out inside of Artie's restaurant.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • The opening shot of the series is Tony framed between the legs of a naked statue, symbolizing birth. The final shot of the series (in Season 6) has Tony looking up in much the same way.
    • The family of ducks, who arrive in Tony's pool and become agitated just before he has his panic attack.
    • Chris executes Emil in the back of a butcher's shop. Capping it off, there are numerous pig heads in the background, and Chris ends up with the highest body count of direct onscreen kills in the series.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: All it takes is a word from Tony for the restaurant to ready a table for Dr. Melfi and her boyfriend ahead of the lineup.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Tony storms out of what was going to be his only session with Melfi when she brings up the ducks might have a deeper meaning, only to come crawling back after another panic attack.
  • Seriously Scruffy: Chris looks rather disheveled after murdering Emil Kolar and hauling his body around.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When disposing of Emil Kolar's body, Christopher says to "Big Pussy," "Louis Brasi sleeps with the fishes." Pussy corrects him, "Luca Brasi." The character Brasi, as well as the famous phrase describing his death as "sleeps with the fishes," are from The Godfather.
    • When Tony grabs Christopher after he was considering selling his life story into a biopic, he mentions mobster Henry Hill whose life story was documented in the true crime book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family and subsequently adapted into Goodfellas.
    • Tony takes umbrage at Carmella's overjoyed reaction to his revelation that he's seeing a therapist, saying "You'd think I was Hannibal Lecture!", referencing Hannibal Lecter.
  • The Sociopath: The Pilot wastes little time dropping a strong indication that Livia absolutely is a sociopath. And that moment is when Uncle Junior is driving her to the family barbeque at Tony's house. Uncle Junior has a lot to say on his own account, as he's got plenty on his own plate. But Livia remains focused on her own petty concerns, barely registering any acknowledgment of Junior's concerns, which definitely comes across as It's All About Me! Then Uncle Junior drops a hint of a willingness or a perceived necessity to "do something" about Tony. And Livia just sits there in the passenger seat with a Thousand-Yard Stare, focused on her own misery. We realize that she herself is no fool, and is actually quite intelligent beneath her crotchety demeanor, so she couldn't possibly miss what Junior was getting at. The possibility of Uncle Junior murdering her own son does not trigger even the slightest degree of concern or reaction from her.
  • Spotting the Thread: Melfi realizes that Tony had a panic attack because the sight of the ducks flying away made him think he might lose his own family. It's unclear which "family" he means.
  • Strict Parents Make Sneaky Kids: Carmela catches Meadow trying to climb down from her window in defiance of the curfew.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: "I'm a Man" by Bo Diddley is playing while Chris murders Emil Kolar.
  • Take a Third Option: Tony has Silvio detonate an explosive at Artie's restaurant, which solves the problem of the Little Pussy assassination attempt and allows Artie to claim insurance money on it.
  • There Is No Kill like Overkill: Christopher shoots Emil point-blank in the head. While this appears to have brought instantaneous death, he fires another four rounds into the body.
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: Mahaffey, to the point that he's forced to give Tony part of his company.
  • Understatement:
    Tony: We had coffee.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Chris feels Tony is being one for not making him a made man the instant he whacked Emil Kolar.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: Tony is very selective with what he shares with Melfi. When he couches his business in euphemisms, the flashbacks show explicit violence.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Chris sees Tony as a father figure, and a lot of his actions and motivations stem from trying to please Tony but frequently failing.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy combined with This Is Reality: Chris wants to leave Emil's body in a bin that's on the Kolar routes, with the intention of leaving a message for the Kolar family. And his inspiration for it is the 'Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes' message from The Godfather movie. Big Pussy has to tell him forcefully that real-life Mafia work is different from the movie. It's imperative to dispose of the body so that it is never found, both to avoid law enforcement heat and to avoid retaliation from the Kolars.

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