A classic episode of The Sopranos was inspired by a dream, but surprisingly for a show steeped in psychiatry and dream analysis, it is not one of the obvious picks. David Chase’s gangster series was groundbreaking for its portrayal of organized crime through the prism of psychiatry and family drama. In doing so, he created some of the most nuanced and human characters in TV drama, subverting gangster movie archetypes in the process. With the central conceit of James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano going to therapy for his anxiety, The Sopranos could have easily been a comedy like Robert De Niro movie Analyze This.
Instead, it used the sessions between Tony and Dr. Melfi to explore themes like toxic masculinity and generational trauma. Which is not to say The Sopranos wasn’t also funny – it brilliantly balanced comedy with the brutal life of a gangster. The best example came in The Sopranos season 3, episode 11, “Pine Barrens,” which centered around Tony Sirico’s Paulie Gualtieri and Michael Imperioli’s Christopher Moltisanti getting lost in the woods while attempting to bury a body. “Pine Barrens” is a fan-favorite episode that has minimal bearing on the overall story of The Sopranos, but was inspired by the same dreams that would come to define the show.
“Pine Barrens” Was Inspired By The Sopranos’ Director’s Childhood
In a 2021 GQ article about the making of “Pine Barrens,” The Sopranos TV show director Tim Van Patten revealed that the idea came to him in a dream. As a child, Van Patten was regularly driven to the Pine Barrens by his father. It was apparently while reminiscing about childhood trips to the Pine Barrens that Van Patten had the dream that would eventually become the classic Sopranos episode. The director explains, “I guess the breaking point was I said, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to take someone out there to whack them, and it goes bad and the guy disappears, and the guys get lost”.”
Tony Soprano’s own relationship with his father, and his own dreams, are key to the deeper overall theme of The Sopranos. It is fascinating, therefore, that an episode as overtly comic as “Pine Barrens” in The Sopranos is inspired by the childhood and dreams of one of the show’s directors. As much as the episode is beloved, few would put it in the same bracket as The Sopranos‘ more experimental episodes that revolved overtly around dreams and psychology.
Dreams Are Key To Some Of The Sopranos’ Best Episodes
Tony Soprano’s dreams often reveal to him harsh truths about those around him, and what his course of action should be. In “Funhouse,” Tony has a dream which reveals to him that his friend Sal Bonpensiero is an FBI informant. There is a prevailing theory that dreams are how human beings process information and rehearse challenges they face in the daytime. This is certainly true of Tony’s dream in “Funhouse,” as well as how his coma dream sets up The Sopranos finale.
The Sopranos‘ dream sequences were one of the most striking and unique elements of the show, and it is clear from director Tim Van Patten’s experience that dreams were just as powerful a driving force in The Sopranos‘ production. How dream sequences were deployed in the overall narrative of each season of The Sopranos was carefully considered, and never felt like an excuse to be pretentious or show off to the audience. How Van Patten used his dream to inspire “Pine Barrens” was crafted just as artfully.