The Sopranos (episode)

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"The Sopranos"
The Sopranos episode
Christopher The Sopranos Pilot.jpeg
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by David Chase
Written by David Chase
Produced by David Chase
Cinematography by Alik Sakharov
Editing by Joanna Cappuccilli
Production code S101
Original air date January 10, 1999 (1999-01-10)
Running time 60 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of The Sopranos episodes

"The Sopranos", also known as "Pilot", is the first episode of the HBO television drama series The Sopranos, which premiered on January 10, 1999. It was written and directed by the series creator and executive producer David Chase.

Episode recap[edit]

New Jersey-based mobster Tony Soprano of the DiMeo crime family becomes short of breath and passes out while barbecuing. After his doctors are unable to find any physical problem with Tony, his collapse is diagnosed as a panic attack. He is referred to psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi. In their first meeting, the two discuss the events that led to his collapse.

Presenting himself as a "waste management consultant", Tony begins detailing the day of his attack to Dr. Melfi. Tony is initially uncooperative, expressing scorn for the practice of psychiatry. He tells Dr. Melfi about the stress of his business life—he has a feeling that he has come in at the end of something and describes a reverence for times past. Tony tells Dr. Melfi a story about a family of ducks landing in his pool and nesting there. He has a little stress in his home life with his daughter, Meadow, associating with a friend, Hunter Scangarelo, who his wife feels is a bad influence. Later he mentions that his wife and daughter are not getting along. Tony also tells Dr. Melfi about the stress of training his "nephew" in the family business. After establishing the ground rules of what will fall under doctor-patient confidentiality, Tony opens up about his career, but keeps the violent details from the doctor.

Tony details the stress of caring for his aging mother, Livia, who is relentlessly pessimistic and cynical, at once demanding and resentful of assistance. He also mentions his wife's relationship with her priest, Father Phil Intintola, as a minor irritation. By the end of their first session Dr. Melfi succeeds in making Tony admit he feels depressed, but he storms out when she presses him further about the ducks.

A second panic attack occurs following Livia's derisive outburst at Green Grove, a nursing home in which Tony is attempting to place his mother. This sends Tony back to Dr. Melfi who prescribes Prozac. Tony does not attend their next appointment, but when he bumps into her at a restaurant, he tells her the "decorating tips" she gave him really work.

At their next session, Tony is still reluctant to face his own psychological weaknesses though he is quick to give credit to the medication for his improved mood, but Dr. Melfi tells him that cannot be so, as it takes several weeks to work. She gives credit to their therapy sessions. Tony describes a dream where a bird steals his penis. Dr. Melfi extrapolates from this to reveal that Tony projected his love for his family onto the family of ducks living in his back pool. This brings him to tears, to his consternation. She tells him that their flight from the pool sparked his panic attack through the overwhelming fear of somehow losing his own family.

When dining out with his mistress, Tony is greeted by the restaurant manager, who tells him it is good to see him and it has been ages since he has eaten there. He later gives the same speech when Tony arrives with Carmela, aiding Tony in covering up his infidelity. At this dinner, Tony confesses to Carmela that he is taking Prozac and seeing a psychiatrist. Carmela, who thinks Tony is about to confess to more adultery, is overjoyed and tells Tony she is proud of him. Tony stresses that he only told her because she is the only person he is absolutely honest with, causing Carmela to scoff at him.

Tony's nephew and mob underling, Christopher Moltisanti, devises his own means of settling a dispute with a Czech waste management company, Triboro Towers Garbage, that rivals the Soprano family's own front business, Barone Sanitation. Under the false premise of a cocaine deal, he lures out and kills the company's heir, Emil "Email" Kolar, in the back room of Satriale's Deli. Originally planning to dump the body in a Kolar family garbage dumpster as an example, Christopher instead takes the advice of longtime family soldier Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero, who advises him to bury the body and avoid police investigation, while tacitly intimidating the Kolars. The Kolars drop their rival bid following Emil's disappearance.

By beginning a new enterprise inspired by his MRI, Tony demonstrates his suitability as an innovative mob leader. Mahaffey, a compulsive gambler who is in debt to Tony, is intimidated into making false claims to pay out to the organization in order to cover his debts. Herman "Hesh" Rabkin, an old Jewish friend of Tony's father, advises Tony on this scheme and in regards to some problems with Tony's Uncle Junior, who feels jealous of Tony's (and Tony's father's) ascendancy in the organization.

Uncle Junior wants to kill turncoat "Little Pussy" Malanga in Artie Bucco's restaurant, Vesuvio. Tony, a friend of Artie's since childhood, fears that a mob hit in his friend's establishment could damage Artie's business. Junior refuses to move the assassination to another location, explaining Malanga will not meet with Junior unless it is a place he finds safe and familiar. In an attempt to have Artie close Vesuvio's for a time, thereby forcing Junior to kill Malanga somewhere else, Tony offers Artie two tickets for a weeklong cruise. However, Charmaine, Artie's wife, not wanting her husband to get mixed up with the Mafia, demands that he reject Tony's offer. Unable to sway Artie, Tony has his trusted right-hand man, Silvio Dante, detonate an explosion in Artie's restaurant, in the hopes that Artie can claim insurance money without becoming any the wiser of the gangland conflict. Tony instructs Silvio Dante about this plan at their daughters' volleyball game.

At his son's birthday party, Tony and his crew comfort Artie about the loss of his restaurant, and Tony tells Artie he will always help him. Christopher becomes angry and storms off; Tony presses him and discovers he is disappointed at not receiving more recognition for his work on the Triboro Towers garbage conflict. Though Tony is slightly annoyed with Christopher for killing Emil without his explicit orders, Tony agrees and apologizes to Christopher. However, when Christopher reveals that he has been thinking about turning his life story into a Hollywood script and possibly even playing himself, Tony grabs him in a fit of sudden rage and tells Christopher to not even think about it. While Christopher seems stunned, Tony regains his good mood just as quickly, embraces Christopher, and they both walk off.

While giving Livia a ride to the party, an embittered Uncle Junior floats the idea of eliminating Tony if he continues interfering in his business. Significantly, his sister-in-law's reaction is to silently look the other way.



"This wasn't four pretty women in Manhattan. This was a bunch of fat guys from Jersey. It was an incredible leap of faith."
James Gandolfini about the prospects everyone in the production team thought they had of the pilot being picked up to series by HBO[1]

Pre-production for the pilot commenced in the summer of 1997, a year and a half before the series debuted on TV. The episode was completed by October 1997. Despite being well received by Chase's closest friends and the cast and crew who watched it, Chase feared the pilot would not be picked up by HBO and, in that case, planned to ask the network for additional money to shoot another 45 minutes and turn it into a feature film. Chase was also pressured by another, completely new development deal offered to him by another network, which he kept postponing until he heard HBO's verdict on The Sopranos. Right before Christmas of 1997, David Chase received a phone call and learned that HBO did like the pilot and ordered a full season, all of which happened about two hours before the deadline for accepting the other network's deal. Chase was relieved as if "let out of jail. It was like a reprieve from the governor."[2] "The Sopranos" is the first of only two episodes directed by Chase. The other is the series finale, "Made in America". Although this episode is titled "The Sopranos" on the DVD, Blu-ray and reruns on A&E, it was referred to as "Pilot" when originally aired.

During the year-long break between the pilot and the start of the shoot of the rest of the 12 episodes of the season, James Gandolfini gained 60 pounds for the role of Tony and underwent voice coaching. Siberia Federico and Michael Santoro play Irina and Father Phil respectively. For future episodes, these roles were recast with Oksana Lada and Paul Schulze. Drea De Matteo was originally simply cast as a restaurant hostess for this one episode only. The filmmakers liked her performance, and her character was developed into the role of Adriana La Cerva in future episodes.[2] The pork store used as a meeting place is Centanni's Meat Market, a real butcher shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey. However, because the shop had a steady business and because local business owners were annoyed with the incidental effects of having a television production being shot on a weekly basis, HBO acquired an abandoned auto parts store in Kearny, New Jersey which became Satriale's Pork Store for use in future episodes.[3]

Connections to future episodes[edit]

  • Christopher mentions his cousin Gregory's girlfriend who claims to be a development girl. Gregory and Amy Safir would both make an appearance in "D-Girl".
  • Pussy correcting the quote to Christopher that "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" would ultimately foreshadow the former's fate. In the Season 2 finale "Funhouse", Pussy's dead body gets thrown in the ocean after Tony, Silvio and Paulie execute him for being an FBI informant — mirroring the quote.
  • The opening shot of the first scene in Dr. Melfi's waiting room shows Tony triangularly framed by the legs of a sculpture of a naked woman. In the Season 3 episode "Second Opinion", this exact framing is replicated, this time with Tony's wife, Carmela seen through the legs of the statue.
  • Tony talks to Dr. Melfi about Gary Cooper as "the strong, silent type" and how society has become a far cry from that ideal, with people constantly playing the victim and complaining about their problems instead of doing what they have to do as Cooper's characters did. In the episode "Christopher", Tony does exactly the same thing when Silvio's complaints about the Native American boycott of the Columbus Day Parade go too far in Tony's eyes.
  • In episodes, "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti" (with Georgie Santorelli's help) and "Cold Cuts" (with Tony Blundetto's help), Christopher disinters and moves Emil Kolar's remains.
  • In "Whoever Did This", Tony suspects Ralph Cifaretto of having Pie-O-My's stable torched. He asks if Ralph has heard from Corky Ianucci lately — an expert arsonist who was responsible for setting Artie Bucco's restaurant on fire in the pilot episode.
  • Carmela wants to take Meadow to the Plaza Hotel for tea—a longtime mother-daughter tradition—Meadow declines in this episode; it takes place in season four, episode "Eloise".
  • Carmela tells Tony that he will go to Hell when he dies. Tony reminds her of this in "Whitecaps". In "Join the Club", Carmela tearfully tells a comatose Tony that she regrets saying this.
  • When describing Uncle Junior, Tony tells Dr. Melfi that his uncle embarrassed him by telling all his girl cousins he didn't have the makings of a varsity athlete. Uncle Junior repeats that declaration to Tony on multiple occasions in the season five episode "Where's Johnny?".
  • Tony's ownership of John F. Kennedy's sailing hat, which he keeps on his boat The Stugots, is established in this episode. He later shows it off in the season five episode "In Camelot".
  • "Little Pussy" Malanga, the man Uncle Junior wants to kill in Artie's restaurant, is the same person for whom Junior mistakes Tony when he shoots him in the season six episode "Members Only".

Cultural references[edit]

  • Voicing his discontent to Dr. Melfi about the current trend of people to publicly discuss their personal problems, Tony mentions the Sally Jessy Raphael Show.[4]
  • Carmela and Father Phil watch Field of Dreams before finding out that Meadow broke curfew.
  • While touring Green Grove, the theme to The Rockford Files can be heard coming from the television. David Chase was a writer/producer for The Rockford Files for many years.
  • Christopher is introduced while driving a Lexus LS 400, which was a flagship automobile and seen as a quintessential product of the 1990s.
  • 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. The movie is referred to and homages to it are made throughout The Sopranos' entire run.[5]
  • 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.


  • The very first song to play in the background while Tony gets the newspaper is "Welcome (Back)" by Land of the Loops. It is played again in "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti".
  • The background music playing while Tony is in the pool with the ducks is "Who Can You Trust?" by Morcheeba (from their album of the same name).
  • The song played in the kitchen during the breakfast scene, while Tony plays with the ducks, is "Shame Shame Shame" by Shirley & Company.
  • The song played in the kitchen during the breakfast scene, as Tony and Carmela speak, is "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" by Sting.
  • The song played in the car, when Christopher first appears, is Fred Neil's "The Other Side of This Life", performed by Jefferson Airplane. The cut is from the album Bless Its Pointed Little Head.
  • The song played when Christopher and Tony are chasing Tony's debtor is "I Wonder Why" by Dion and the Belmonts. Within the commentary track on the DVD release, David Chase states his regret about choosing this song for the scene.
  • The song played in the scene outside the cafe is "Rumble" by Link Wray and His Ray Men.
  • The song played as Tony and Christopher drive to Vesuvio and as they meet Uncle Junior and Artie Bucco is "Can't Be Still" by Booker T. & the M.G.'s.
  • The song played on the CD player Tony bought for Livia is "Who's Sorry Now?" by Connie Francis
  • The song played during Tony's first attack is "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La rondine, by Giacomo Puccini. This song is also played at the end of the episode "Irregular Around the Margins".
  • The song played during the scene where Christopher kills Emil Kolar is "I'm A Man" by Bo Diddley.
  • The song played at the Bada Bing when Tony and Christopher meet with Hesh is "Fired Up!" by Funky Green Dogs
  • The song played in Meadow's room when she informs Carmela that she is not going to the New York Plaza Hotel is "Lumina" by Joan Osborne.
  • The song played on Dick's car radio when he informs Tony and Paulie about the Kolar Bros. withdrawing their bid is "Little Star" by The Elegants.
  • The song played when Tony is with Irina, his mistress, in a restaurant and runs into Dr. Melfi who is also on a date is the same one as when he has a date with Carmela at the restaurant, is "Tardes de Bolonha" by Madredeus.
  • The song played during the barbecue scene at the end is "No More I Love You's" by Annie Lennox.
  • The song played during the nursing home scene is the Theme from the Rockford Files by Mike Post and Peter Carpenter.
  • The song played over the end credits is "The Beast in Me" by Nick Lowe.


David Chase won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series for his work on this episode and a Primetime Emmy Award for Joanna Cappuccilli for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series. It was also Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for David Chase.


  1. ^ Martin, Brett (2007-10-30). ""Woke Up This Morning": The Birth of a Show". The Sopranos: The Complete Book. New York: Time. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-933821-18-4. 
  2. ^ a b Martin, Brett (2007-10-30). ""Woke Up This Morning": The Birth of a Show". The Sopranos: The Complete Book. New York: Time. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-933821-18-4. 
  3. ^ Martin, Brett (2007-10-30). "Welcome to New Jersey: A Sense of Place". The Sopranos: The Complete Book. New York: Time. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-933821-18-4. 
  4. ^ Weber, John; Kim, Chuck (2003-05). "Those Who Know". The Tao of Bada Bing! Words of Wisdom from The Sopranos. United States: Carhil Ventures LLC. p. 45. ISBN 1-56649-278-5.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Martin, Brett (2007-10-30). ""Woke Up This Morning": The Birth of a Show". The Sopranos: The Complete Book. New York: Time. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-933821-18-4. 

External links[edit]