Even though the gangster genre was oversaturated with numerous movies and books, The Sopranos reinvented the genre with new dramatic elements and shocking thrills. From character deaths to season finales, first-time viewers couldn’t expect anything as the showrunners loved playing around with plot twists and third act reveals. It’s part of what made the series appointment TV before it was really a thing.
While the show is grounded in reality, Tony Soprano’s visions and dreams can also make audiences question what is real and what is not. Of course, there’s that polarizing scene in the finale of The Sopranos that continues to divide viewers to this day, making it one of the most shocking series finales in TV history.
Christopher Accidentally Kills Adriana’s Dog
Christopher’s addiction to heroin doesn’t only influence his business in the DiMeo crime family but it also leads to some unexpected deaths. All alone in his flat, he ends up shooting heroin and sitting on a sofa for hours. What he doesn’t realize is that he has been sitting on Adriana’s dog Cosette all this time, who dies from suffocation. This ends up as one of the most heartbreaking moments on The Sopranos.
Shocking as it is, this scene also bears testimony to the darkly comic tones that the show explores at times. The inherent ridiculousness of the situation is comedic in and of itself but added to the reactions of the characters, it only heightens the dark absurdity.
Adriana Gets Shot By Silvio
Adriana accidentally snitches for the DiMeo family when she befriends an FBI Agent. However, by the time she realizes her folly, it is too late. She decides to come clean to Christopher hoping that her boyfriend would help her in any way. Even though their relationship is heavily toxic, Christopher still deeply loves Adriana and hence, there was some hope for her survival.
In a shocking twist, Christopher agrees with the family’s decision to kill her once and for all. The otherwise-mild-mannered Silvio drives her off to a forest and shoots her down as she attempts to flee. It was definitely a moment that no viewer expected, especially with Christopher’s agreement.
Isabella Is Not Real
In the penultimate episode of Season 1 of The Sopranos, Tony meets a new neighbor called Isabella and strikes up a romantic inclination towards her. A foreign exchange student from Italy, Isabella reminds him of a culture that he could never explore while staying in America. There is also a certain naivety in her that sets her apart from the other women Tony has been with.
While viewers would wonder what this wholesome romantic angle would mean in a violent show like The Sopranos, the third act reveals that Isabella was just a figment of Tony’s imagination. As Dr. Melfi notes the similarities between Isabella and Tony’s own mother, a subtle Oedipian angle is also thrown in the mix.
AJ Attempts To Drown Himself
From the start of season 1, Anthony Soprano Jr aka AJ seems to have a cynical view on life. His personal insecurities and lack of achieving anything in school take a toll on his mental health, a character arc that is explored further towards the last season. While Anthony does engage in a few illegal activities, he gets riddled with guilt and questions the purpose of his life.
Audiences might expect a few teary outbursts on his part but not an actual suicide attempt. AJ jumps into the family pool, wishing to end his life by drowning, but instantly regretting his decision. He calls out for help and Tony comes to the rescue. The emotional intensity of the scene and AJ’s actions were truly unexpected.
Janice Kills Richie
Richie started giving some major red flags after his prison sentence ended. Janice chose to marry him due to the high-school romance they once shared. When his homophobic remarks to his son and violent behavior towards her cross a limit, Janice doesn’t think twice and shoots him in the chest.
Janice is an impulsive person but nobody would have guessed that her actions would take such a violent turn. In its exploration of toxic masculinity and misogyny, the male characters of The Sopranos treat their wives with a lot of disrespect that the women eventually accept (much like Tony and Carmela’s relationship). But this time, Janice decides that she has had enough of Richie’s brashness and handles business herself.
Ralph’s Son Gets Injured By An Arrow
Ralphie has been involved in several misdemeanors throughout the show but it is his innocent son that suffers an unfortunate fate. While playing with a bow and an arrow, the 12-year-old Justin is struck in the chest. Even though Justin survives and is in a comatose state, doctors warn Ralphie that Justin’s ordinary body movements wouldn’t be normal as a result.
The scene comes out of nowhere and serves to show that anyone can fall prey to violence at any point in time. While Ralphie can easily be one of the most hated characters on The Sopranos, some viewers might end up sympathizing with him in this scene.
Dr. Melfi’s Assault
“Employee of the Month” is a particularly disturbing episode to watch for the main storyline involves a case of sexual assault. When Dr. Jennifer Melfi is assaulted in a parking garage, she tries putting the attacker behind bars only for the police to let him go on grounds of scanty evidence.
The suddenness and brutality of this episode make Melfi’s character arc all the more saddening. She can even seek Tony’s help in punishing the attacker but controls herself for her own moral stance on vigilantism. It is heartbreaking to find that the one responsible for Melfi’s trauma is roaming freely.
Tony Loses His Identity In A Dream
After being shot by Uncle Junior, Tony falls into an induced coma that gives way to a bizarre and surreal dream sequence. In this dream, Tony seems to have assumed the identity of a businessman with a mid-life crisis. What’s more surprising is that he has even lost his New Jersey accent in the dream!
Unable to find his real identity, he just spends the night wandering aimlessly encountering a woman who rejects his advances and two angry Buddhist monks. Tony is no stranger to such hallucinations that makes for the scariest scenes in The Sopranos. Yet this dream makes for a truly Kafkaesque nightmare for its sheer strangeness and sudden turn in the series.
Tony Kills Christopher
Owing to his drug addiction and Hollywood dreams, Christopher Moltisanti proved to be a major hindrance to Tony’s future towards the latter half of the series. While Tony did express his displeasure, it was still very surprising to find him killing his own nephew in cold blood. It is arguably the most shocking death in The Sopranos.
When he crashes a car in a drugged state, Tony takes advantage of the situation and strangles Christopher to his death. It seems like an impulsive decision but what’s even more surprising is the relief that Tony feels later. Maybe, killing Christopher was always on Tony’s mind and the car crash proved to be a perfect cover-up.
The Screen Turns To Black In The End
Who would have even thought that this six-season crime saga would end with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin”? After a sequence of violent altercations graces the series finale, Tony seems to be much calmer as he enters a diner. He waits for his wife and kids, all of whom enter one by one.
The song keeps on playing and the viewers are expecting disaster to strike in the very final minute. And then, Tony raises his head as the diner door opens following when the screen suddenly cuts to black. The ending is still discussed and debated upon till today as clearly no one would have expected the series to conclude on an open-ended note like this.