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Moments from The Sopranos

GRAPHIC IMAGES: Following the passing of actor James Gandolfini, here's a selection of scenes from the acclaimed HBO series The Sopranos in which he played the lead role of Tony Soprano.

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James Gandolfini's sudden death brought to mind the knockout ending to his time on the small-screen as his most famous character Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.

It has been a scene hugely debated since it went to air in 2007: audiences were left feeling bereft because of its "what-just-happened" nature. Tony was eating onion rings at a diner with his family, an unknown man goes to the bathroom, a door opens and then – black.

The Sopranos.

The Sopranos... from left, actors Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante, Steven R. Schirripa as Bobby 'Bacala' Baccalieri, James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, Michael Imperioli as Chistopher Moltisanti and Tony Sirico as Paulie Walnuts.

The debate about what that meant still rages, but one interpretation that rang true was that Tony Soprano was shot in the head, and the reason it goes to black without warning was because, as Tony himself foretold "[you] never hear it happen".

It also references Tony's favourite scene from The Godfather, when Michael Corleone shoots those responsible for his father's assassination attempt at Louis' restaurant.

The show without doubt earned its mantle as the best scripted US television show of all time, but it was also brought to life by its complex emotional layers, coupled with artistic dream sequences, deeply rooted symbolism and a truly gritty performance by Gandolfini.

Tony (James Gandolfini) Soprano in a scene from the first episode of the final season of The Sopranos. Click for more photos

James Gandolfini

Tony (James Gandolfini) Soprano in a scene from the first episode of the final season of The Sopranos.

He managed to portray Tony Soprano as a Catholic family man, torn by conscience and whose childhood was devoid of empathy, but who could bring out the paranoid sociopath in a single look and deflate any notion that he really was ever a victim. His was not a character who escaped having blood on his hands (for his fists were frequently bloody), yet audiences loved him.

This is not designed to be a tribute piece to Gandolfini the man, but more to his work as Tony Soprano, who said: "They say every day is a gift. But why does it have to be pair of socks?"

The following are just some of the more memorable moments in the The Sopranos. Please add your own in the comments below.

 Funniest moment: Hunting the Russian 

Aside from Paulie and Christopher's bonding moment in the woods itself, the telephone conversation between the would-be assassins and their boss is one of the more memorable.

Tony Soprano: [over the phone] "It's a bad connection so I'm gonna talk fast! The guy you're looking for is an ex-commando! He killed 16 Chechen rebels single-handed!" Paulie Gualtieri: "Get the f--- outta here."

Tony Soprano: "Yeah. Nice, huh? He was with the Interior Ministry. Guy's like a Russian green beret. He can not come back and tell this story. You understand?"

Paulie Gualtieri: "I hear you."

[hangs up]

Paulie Gualtieri: "You're not gonna believe this. He killed 16 Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator."

Christopher Moltisanti: "His house looked like shit."

Most cheered moment: Killing Ralphie Cifaretto over Pie-O-My

Tony's relationship with his highest-earning captain Ralphie starts badly because of Ralphie's sadistic pleasure in beating up a young stripper at Tony's club, who Tony feels badly for and who gets beaten to death by Ralphie outside the club.

Tony then has an affair with Ralphie's girlfriend Valentina, during which he learns Ralphie does not enjoy "normal" sex with women. Valentina tries to pressure Tony into making their affair formal, but Tony gives her a confronting but honest let-down: "I've already taken his horse." But he does eventually tell Ralphie.

It's not long before there's a fire at the stables due to a short-circuited light, which burns Pie-O-My so badly the animal has to be shot in front of Tony. It's then that Tony retaliates and breaks a cardinal rule of the family: he takes out a protected member of the mob over a pet.

Ralphie's line to Tony: "It was a f---in' horse. What are you, vegetarian? You eat f---in' beef and sausage by the f---ing car load … You fat f---." Tony then strangles him after a lengthy and bloody physical tussle in Ralphie's kitchen, while yelling that Ralphie had killed an innocent creature.

Most awkward moment: Vito Spatafore being forced out of the closet

A significant portion of The Sopranos focuses on the fact that these gangsters feel that having sex with a lot of women and keeping a mistress (or "goomah") makes them strong standover men, with Catholic values.

The idea of romance beyond buying gifts of diamonds and furs is totally dismissed: even gentle sex with women in the show is a rare occurrence. In an early season, Junior Soprano attacks his girlfriend by pushing her up against her office wall and shoving a dessert in her face while calling her unmentionable names, because it got out to others in the family that he liked to give her oral pleasure, which was considered a weak thing to do.

So when Vito gets exposed as being gay – worse still "a catcher, not a pitcher" – it became a matter of family honour for him to be killed. Even friend Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri, offers to cut off Vito's pastrami himself, because "How much more betrayal can I take?" Leaving Christopher to mock: "Vito a fag. Big construction tycoon. Ton', when he was always talkin' about 'greasin' the union', who knew, that's what he meant?"

Despite the earlier doubts of Tony's crew about him going to a therapist, he was no longer considered weak because he wasn't gay and he was willing to stand his ground against rival Phil Leotardo wanting to kill one of his captains. As Meadown's then-fiancee, Finn DeTrolio, made clear about taking the law into their own hands: "Don't give me any of that 'poverty of the Mezzogiorno' bullshit. We're in f---ing Caldwell, New Jersey, and you're on your high horse about justice? They are gonna mete it out themselves."

Most improved character: AJ Soprano

AJ's attempt to stab Junior in the nursing home over the shooting of his father at first reeked of another wannabe gangster move by a young man unsure of his position in his father's world. After all, Anthony Junior had so far been portrayed as a whining, selfish adolescent boy, who didn't understand how much blood was on the money his father brought home. This was compounded by the scene of him listening to nightclub socialites, who were leeching from him and mouthing off about expecting such reprisals on the back of his father's name.

Yet AJ was blind to the fact that he could not afford to keep such lousy company – both literally and symbolically – since he was only a video rental employee. But when it came time for a dressing down by his father in the car park of a police station (after Tony bailed him out with his connections to corrupt officers), we finally connected to AJ's plight. And it is Tony who is humbled by his teenage son, who just wanted his father's love and approval.

Tony Soprano: I mean it. You're a good guy. I'm very grateful.

Anthony Junior: Well, you're a f---in' hypocrite, alright, 'cause every time we watch Godfather, when Michael Corleone shoots those guys at the restaurant, those assholes who tried ta kill his dad, you sit there with your f---ing bowl o' ice cream and you say it's your favourite scene of all time!"

Tony Soprano: Jesus Christ, AJ. I mean, you make me wanna cry. It's a movie. Ya gotta grow up. You're not a kid any more. You hear me, you ... you ... you gotta grow up. (AJ throws up) Get in the car. First of all, your mother does not find out about this."

A symbolic moment: Tony as the bear

The arrival of a grizzly bear at Carmela's house, after Tony was forced to move out over a pending divorce, may not be the most symbolic moment in The Sopranos but the image of the bear seemed the most apt to describe Tony's character – a big lumbering menace that could not leave Carmela alone. (It doesn't hurt that James Gandolfini loomed 1.85m tall.)

The bear appeared only when Tony was not around, and like all bears, even though they can appear cuddly and symbolise protection for a family, they can just as easily tear shreds off people. The image of Tony Soprano camped out by the family pool with a massive rifle seemed to say it all.

Most shocking moment: Tony killing his "nephew" Christopher Moltisanti

Christopher had been skating on thin ice with Tony for most of season six because of his drug habit, for which he was warned, "If it were anybody else, anybody, they woulda had their f---in' intervention right through the back o' their head”, and for his portrayal of the Don character in his film "Cleaver", which included alluding to Tony's secret killing of Ralphie.

But after giving up his fiancee Adrianna to Tony as a snitch, it seemed that surely that level of loyalty would spare anyone from Tony's paranoid vendetta, especially someone he called family.

So when Tony heard a grievously injured Christopher say: "I'll never pass the drug test; call me a taxi" while spitting up blood, it was a shocking moment to see Tony hold Christopher's nose so the wheezing breath empties out of him and he suffocates on his own blood.

But even in death, Christopher infuriated Tony because he had to play the grieving uncle – even when speaking to his right-hand man Silvio Dante, who asked: "He didn't seem high did he?" He only hinted at what had happened because he was desperate to tell someone, saying: "Are you kiddin'? I've been furious. I woulda f---in' strangled 'im." Then he finally confided his relief to Dr Melfi and broke every rule by saying: "He was a tremendous drag on my emotions ... on my thoughts about the future. I mean, ta begin with ... every mornin' I wake up thinkin', 'is today the day that one o' my best friends is gonna dime me ta the FBI'." And a weak f---in' snivelin', lyin' drug addict? That's the worst kind o' bet. The biggest blunder o' my career is now gone. And I don't have ta be confronted by that fact no more. And as a relative, a friend, someone you can count on ... Let me tell you somethin', I murdered friends before, even relatives. My cousin Tony ... my best friend, Puss' ... but this ..."

Foxtel's Soho channel will run select episodes of The Sopranos this weekend:

Saturday’s episode line up:

Where's Johnny (Season Five – Episode 5003)

Funhouse (Season Two – Episode 2013)

Long Term Parking (Season Five – Episode 5012)

Whoever Did This (Season Four – Episode 4009)

Join the Club (Season Six – Episode 6002)

 

Sunday’s episode line-up:

Employee of the Month (Season Three – Episode 3004)

Whitecaps (Season Four – Episode 4013)

The Sopranos Pilot (Season One – Episode 1001)

Pine Barrens (Season Three – Episode 3011)

College (Season One – Episode 1005)