Long before Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones captivated audiences with shocking plot twists and what the hell moments, the elder statesman of TV’s Golden Age created the formula. The Sopranos premiered on HBO in the last year of the 1990s, and television as audiences knew it then would never be the same. Until the show’s debut, the darkest TV had been could be found in some police dramas and horror shows. The mafia, psychology, philosophy, domestic drama, graphic violence, non-stop graphic language, laugh out loud dark humor–this show proved to be a cultural watershed. With the success of The Many Saints of Newark, new audiences are finally seeing what all the craze was about, and the show’s numerous shocking moments are once again being talked about. Tony Soprano himself is the culprit behind many of these, but the show was filled with equally legendary characters that either dished out or received harsh and unfair punishments in graphic detail. Here are the top 5 most shocking moments ever on The Sopranos.
5. Tony’s First On-Screen Murder. Season 1, episode 5 “College”
In Sopranos lingo, ‘whacking’ was the word often used for murdering somebody. FBI informants, loose canons, liabilities, and sometimes civilians were commonly whacked throughout the series’ 86 episodes. But we never see Tony himself do the deed until the end of the fifth episode of the first season. In fact, apart from the language, the first 4 episodes of the show are fairly tame in tone, but in this episode, we see why the show could never have made it on a network TV station. In the episode, Tony drives with his daughter to Maine to scope out some potential college choices for his eldest kid, but he notices an old family associate that broke his omerta oath and turned state’s witness years before, Febby Petrulio. The two play a game of cat and mouse with one another throughout the episode, until Tony finally tracks Febby down towards the end and chokes him to death with a piece of wire. This scene is nothing compared to what’s to come over 6 seasons, but we watch Tony choke a man to death in full-view of the camera with no cuts–things all of a sudden get real.
4. Janice Kills Richie. Season 2, episode 12 “The Knight in White Satin Armor”
Tony’s long MIA older sister Janice Soprano was introduced at the start of season 2 along with everybody’s favorite psychopath Richie Aprile. How and why Janice and Richie get together and become engaged plays out all season, but it all ends when Richie punches Janice in the face during an argument. After he hits her, we watch Janice leave the room and Richie goes back to eating his dinner before she returns on screen pointing a gun at him. She shoots him dead in a moment the audience was not expecting at all.
3. Silvio Kills Adriana. Season 5, episode 12 “Long Term Parking”
The season 5 episode, “Long Term Parking” has long been hailed as a classic, and watching Silvio drive Adriana into the woods to execute her is one of the hardest scenes in any series to watch. We know that Adriana is doomed way back in season 4 when she became an FBI informant, but we were never quite prepared for just how visceral and emotional her murder would be. The fact that fan favorite character Silvio murders her with zero humanity in his eyes makes it that much harder to watch.
2. Dr. Melfi is Raped. Season 3, episode 4 “Employee of the Month”
Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) was always the moral compass in a show filled with sociopaths and those who enable them. Audiences watched for 3 years as she patiently tried to treat Tony’s mental health issues even though she knew his psychopathology was incurable. That’s why when in the fourth episode of the series’ dark third season, her out of nowhere rape and sexual assault in the parking garage of her practice caught everyone off-guard. The scene is brutal and realistic, but necessary to show that nobody in this show is safe, not even a psychiatrist. Her rapist is let go by the authorities due to a technicality, and she spends the rest of the episode grappling with rather or not to tell Tony about the rape so he can avenge her–she decides not to tell him, and viewers are left questioning if vigilante justice is worth the guilt it can bring.
1. Whacking the Audience in the Series Finale. Season 6, episode 21 “Made in America”
The evening of June 10, 2007. Millions of Americans across the country tune into the final episode of The Sopranos, only to think their cable went out after the final scene abruptly cuts to black. Throughout “Made in America,” David Chase achieved many grand and emotional moments as character storylines came to a close and the world begin to close in on Tony Soprano. But nothing could prepare audiences for the final 4 minutes of TV’s most prestige drama. Tony and his immediate family decide to dine out at Holsten’s diner, and cut after cut builds enough tension to make Hitchcock proud as anybody and everything in the diner is a potential threat to television’s greatest antihero.
Chase focuses on Tony and his reactions to the guy in the Members Only jacket, who mysteriously glances at Tony and disappears into the restroom. The there are several suspicious-looking diner patrons, Meadow struggling to park her car outside, and even the tension that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” adds to the proceedings. We the audience are trained to believe that this type of exposition means that Tony is likely about to be killed. Meadow proceeds to open the front door, Tony looks up and the screen abruptly cuts to a black and silent empty void–the show is over. We never know what happened to Tony, if indeed anything happened at all. The audience is whacked in that moment, and all we have to go on are the lyrics of Journey’s iconic song that tell us to believe whatever we want.