"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.
New Jersey, late 1990s. Tony Soprano has had a panic attack and been referred to a psychiatrist, Jennifer Melfi. He tells her he is a waste management consultant but she knows that he is a leading mobster. After she has established the ground rules about what will and will not fall under doctor-patient confidentiality, Tony begins to open up, at least partly. He feels that he "came in at the end. The best is over." He looks down on those who seek help from psychiatrists; he admires the strong, silent type, like Gary Cooper.
There are tensions between his wife Carmela and teenage daughter Meadow: the mother thinks the daughter hates her. He is irritated by Carmela's friendship with their priest, Father Intintola. He is having difficulty training Christopher Moltisanti, whom he calls his nephew, in the "family business." His uncle, known as Uncle Junior, resents Tony's rise in the business and his own decline. He has a strained relationship with his widowed mother Livia, who is resisting his advice to move into a retirement home. A confrontation with his mother triggers another panic attack and he returns to Dr Melfi for a second, unintended appointment. He tells her about a family of wild ducks that had been living in his pool and the ducklings that hatched; it was "sad to see them go." Dr. Melfi shows him that he has a dread of losing his own family; to his consternation, this brings Tony to tears.
A major part of Tony's business controls garbage and sanitation, but a Czech organization is under-bidding for the contract. Acting on his own initiative, Christopher kills one of the Czechs, Emil "Email" Kolar, and Soprano soldier Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero helps him dispose of the body. The Czechs later withdraw their bid.
Uncle Junior wants to kill turncoat "Little Pussy" Malanga in a restaurant he frequents, owned by Artie Bucco, a friend of Tony's since childhood. It would ruin the restaurant's business, but Junior rejects Tony's request not to carry out the murder there. Tony persuades Artie to accept some cruise tickets so that the restaurant will be closed for a time, but Artie's wife Charmaine, who is firmly opposed to any relationship with Tony and his associates, will not accept them. Tony then has his right-hand man, Silvio Dante, bomb the restaurant so that Artie can claim insurance compensation, and start again with his reputation unspoilt.
Mahaffey is, in Tony's words, "a degenerate gambler" in debt to him, and very heavily in debt to Herman "Hesh" Rabkin, an old Jewish friend of Tony's father. Tony concocts a scheme for Mahaffey's company to make insurance claims payable to non-existent clinics in order to pay off his debts, and he is intimidated into complying. Hesh congratulates Tony on the scheme.
At his son's 13th birthday party, Tony and his crew comfort Artie about the loss of his restaurant, and Tony promises to always help him. Chris storms off, thinking he should have received more recognition for killing Kolar; Tony tells him he approves. However, when Chris reveals that he has been thinking about turning his life story into a Hollywood script, Tony grabs him in a fit of sudden rage and tells him not to even think about it. While Chris seems stunned, Tony regains his good mood just as quickly, and embraces him.
Driving Livia to the party, an embittered Junior floats the idea that "Something may have to be done about Tony." She listens carefully, silently looking the other way with a hint of a smile.
-James Gandolfini about the prospects everyone in the production team thought they had of the pilot being picked up to series by HBO
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." "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. 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.
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.
Connections to future episodes
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
In order of first appearance:
- North Caldwell, New Jersey
- Paramus, New Jersey
- Elizabeth, New Jersey
- Verona, New Jersey
- West Orange, New Jersey
- Satin Dolls in Lodi, New Jersey
- Long Island City, Queens
- The Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey
- Skyway Golf Course in Jersey City, New Jersey
- Tribeca, Manhattan
- St. Patrick's Parish in Jersey City, New Jersey