Episode #01: Pilot (a.k.a. The Sopranos)
US Transmission Date: 10 January 1999
UK Transmission Date: 15 July 1999
Writer: David Chase • Director: David Chase
Cast: Michael Gaston (Mahaffey), Joe Lisi (Dick Barone), Alton Clinton (MRI Technician), Phil Coccioletti (Nils Borglund), Giuseppe Delipiano (Restaurant Owner), Siberia Federico (Irina), Justine Miceli (Nursing Home Director), Joe Pucillo (Beppy), Michael Santoro (Father Phil)
Storyline: Tony Soprano attends his first appointment with a psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi. He suffered a blackout but medical tests showed nothing physically wrong with him. Tony describes himself as a waste management consultant. In flashback, Tony recalls events from the day he blacked out. He was obsessed by a family of wild ducks in his swimming pool. The day of the blackout was his son AJ’s thirteenth birthday and Tony’s wife Carmela was planning a big party for family and friends. Daughter Meadow is agitating for permission to go skiing at Aspen with her friends.
Tony goes to work with Christopher Moltisanti. They run down a gambler heavily in debt and behind on his payments. Later Tony meets his crew to discuss the Kolar Brothers, rivals for the garbage hauling business Tony controls. Christopher volunteers to deal with the Kolars. Tony hears that his uncle, Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano, plans to have another gangster murdered at Vesuvio restaurant. That would ruin the business, which is run by an old school friend of Tony called Artie Bucco.
Tony visits his mother Livia at her home, and tries to persuade her to move into a retirement community. He also asks her to intervene with Uncle Junior about the planned hit. At the birthday barbeque, Tony sees the ducks fly away. He blacks out. Christopher murders Emil Kolar without permission. Later Christopher and Big Pussy Bonpensiero dispose of the body after unsuccessfully attempting to throw the corpse into a Kolar Brothers dumpster. Carmela catches Meadow breaking curfew and cancels the Aspen trip. During a therapy session Dr Melfi presses Tony to admit he is depressed, but he refuses and storms out.
Tony and his family take Livia for a tour of a retirement community. During the tour Tony blacks out again. Soon after he returns to therapy and Dr Melfi prescribes Prozac. Fearful for Artie’s restaurant, Tony tries to get his friend out of town with free tickets for a cruise. But Artie’s wife Charmaine refuses them because she does not want to be connected with mobsters. Tony tells Carmela that he is seeing a therapist and on medication. She is overjoyed that he has sought help. Tony fears for his life if anyone else finds out that he is seeing a psychiatrist. To prevent the hit, Tony has Silvio Dante blows up Vesuvio.
Tony starts feeling better and believes the Prozac is responsible. Dr Melfi points out that it takes several weeks for the drug to build up effective levels. Any progress is due to the therapy, not the Prozac. Tony tells her about a dream and realises he fears losing his family, like he lost the ducks. Junior is outraged by Tony’s interference. He tells Livia that he may have to move against her son. She says nothing…
Mobspeak: Tony describes himself as a waste management consultant (a euphemism for being a mobster). Tony and Christopher see a client with a boo-boo (prostitute). Uncle Junior plans to whack (murder) a gangster at Vesuvio restaurant. Christopher says he just wet (executed) a guy after killing Emil Kolar. Tony complains that nobody keeps the code of silence (a Mafia vow of silence during police interrogation) anymore when they get pinched (arrested). Christopher wants to become a made man (be indoctrinated into the mob). Uncle Junior says Tony is giving him agita (agitation).
Mamma Mia: Livia says she never answers the telephone when it’s dark outside. She also never drives when rain is predicted. Livia undermines Tony at every opportunity. She scoffs at him, sarcastically announcing that he knows everything. She also badmouths her brother-in-law, complaining that Junior comes to visit her. Twice she fights back tears when remembering her late husband. ‘He was a saint’ she sobs. This will become one of Livia’s catchphrases. She is set against moving to Green Grove retirement community, which she describes as a nursing home. She claims to have seen women in wheelchairs there, babbling like idiots. Livia says her son thinks she’ll die faster in a nursing home. Finally, she complains when Tony uses mesquite on the barbeque, because it makes the sausage taste peculiar.
Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: There’s a feast of different foods in the pilot episode. At breakfast Carmela tries to feed Meadow and Hunter some of the previous night’s sfogliatell, saying they can’t just have cranberry juice for breakfast. AJ dunks a croissant into the milk jug, disgusting his sister. Tony has a breakfast meeting outside a pork store but no-one eats. Silvio comes by to get some capicolli. Tony and Christopher go to Vesuvio for lunch. Uncle Junior is already there, eating with some friends. Father Phil brings a box of crème anglais to AJ’s birthday barbeque. AJ takes a call from his grandmother – she won’t be coming. The chubby boy seems more concerned about missing out on Livia’s speciality baked pasta dish. ‘So what, no fucking ziti now?’
Carmela and Father Phil are about to enjoy popcorn while watching a movie but are interrupted by Meadow trying to sneak out of the house. Carmela cancels the skiing trip. As revenge, Meadows later refuses to join her mother for their annual trip to have tea and scones at the New York Plaza Hotel. Christopher eats meatballs while Tony tries to give Artie Bucco tickets for a Caribbean cruise. When he tries to persuade his wife that they should accept the tickets, Artie says he will go psychotic if he has to stick his hand up the ass of another lobster without taking a break. Pussy scoffs an ice cream while he and Hesh menace Mahaffey, a gambler heavily in debt to Hesh. Pussy throws the ice cream over a waterfall to show how easily Mahaffey could fall to his own doom.
Tony takes his mistress to a restaurant, when he bumps into Dr Melfi. Several nights later, Tony takes Carmela to the same restaurant. The owner welcome Tony as if it has been months, not days, since his last visit. Afterwards Carmela brings her primavera home for Meadow as a peace offering. The sulking teen turns down her favourite food, finishing a bowl of cereal instead. Tony is the barbeque chef at AJ’s rescheduled birthday party, but he lets Artie cook to help him feel better.
Mobbed Up: Carmela and Father Phil discuss mob movies. Tony watches ‘The Godfather Part II’ on laserdisc all the time. He likes the part where Vito goes back to Sicily. Carmela doesn’t think much of the third film in Coppola’s trilogy. ‘Three was, like, what happened?’ Father Phil wants to know where Tony ranks ‘Goodfellas’ among great mob movies, but the conversation gets interrupted. Christopher misquotes one of the most famous lines from ‘The Godfather’ – ‘Luca Brassi sleeps with the fishes’ – as Louis Brassi. Pussy corrects him.
How Do You Feel?: Tony tells Dr Melfi that he feels fine and is back to work after the initial blackout. He admits to feelings of loss but questions the value of therapy. He prefers American men to be strong, silent types who aren’t in touch with their feelings, like Gary Cooper. Tony admits having qualms about his profession. He finds himself pretending like a sad clown, laughing on the surface while crying inside. By the end of the episode Tony says he had constant feelings of dread, but doesn’t know of what he’s afraid.
Sleeping With The Fishes: Emil Kolar, shot repeatedly by Christopher during a secret meeting at the pork store. Christopher tries to dump the body in a garbage dumpster owned by the Kolars, but is dissuaded by Pussy. He offers to help cut up and dispose of the corpse.
Always With The…: Tony takes Carmela to dinner and says he has a confession to make. Before he can go any further, Carmela gets ready a glass of wine to throw in his face, infuriating Tony. ‘Always with the drama, you!’
I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano: Tony tells Dr Melfi about a dream in which he unscrews his belly button and his penis falls off. While Tony is looking for a mechanic to repair him, a bird swoops down and grabs the penis in its beak before flying away. Dr Melfi links this to the family of ducks in Tony’s swimming pool that flew away.
Quote/Unquote: Tony remembers how his mother slowly destroyed his father, a tough mobster. ‘He was a squeaking little gerbil when he died.’
Tony takes his mother a ghetto blaster but she rejects it, preferring to drag up old grievances. ‘I bought CDs for a broken record,’ Tony laments.
Tony complains that modern mobsters don’t follow the code of silence, even if it leads to prison. ‘Guys today have no room for the penal experience.’
Silvio Dante offers a typical non sequitur: ‘Sadness accrues.’
Soundtrack: ‘Woke Up This Morning’ by A3. ‘Who Can You Trust?’ by Morcheeba. ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ by Shirley and Co. ‘I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying’ by Sting. ‘I Wonder Why’ by Dion and the Belmonts. ‘Rumble’ by Link Wray. ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ by Connie Francis. ‘I’m A Man’ by Bo Diddley. ‘Fired Up’ by Funky Green Dogs. ‘Little Star’ by the Elegants. ‘No More I Love Yous’ by Annie Lennox. ‘The Beast In Me’ by Nick Lowe.
Surveillance Report: In the pilot, the pork store when Tony’s crew hang out is called Centanni’s. However, in the title sequence for this episode and in all future appearances the pork store is called Satriale’s. Two characters in the pilot are portrayed by different actors from those who play the parts in subsequent episodes. Here Father Phil is played by Michael Santoro and Tony’s mistress Irina is played by Siberia Federico. In future episodes they will be played by Paul Schulze and Oksana Babiy.
The Verdict: ‘Hope comes in many forms.’ New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano goes into therapy but the problems with his family and his (mob) Family will take more than a few sessions to sort out. The pilot is an assured debut for this groundbreaking show. Written and directed by the show’s creator David Chase, ‘Pilot’ (a.k.a. ‘The Sopranos’) adroitly establishes all the key characters, conflicts and themes. Already crucial plot points are being set up to pay off later in the season. This episode also works perfectly as a satisfying, stand-alone drama in its own right. The ducks in the pool are an adept framing device, as well as being a metaphor for Tony’s sense of loss. By the end of the pilot, he is happier and healthier – but the swimming pool is still empty in the closing shot. There will be no quick fixes for Tony Soprano…