One of the questions that remain around The Sopranos finale is whether the ginger cat Tony bonds with was the reincarnation of Christopher (Michael Imperioli.) In season 6, episode 21 “Made in America”, Tony (James Gandolfini) and his crew bring a stray ginger cat back to Satriale’s Pork Store after bonding with it at Tony’s safe house. It’s just one of a number of animals that Tony forms a bond with throughout The Sopranos, from the ducks in his swimming pool to Tony’s ill-fated racehorse Pie-O-My. One member of the DiMeo family who doesn’t take to this new addition is “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri (Tony Sirico) who refers to cats as “snakes with fur“.
Tony assures Paulie that the cat is “a good guy” but he’s far from convinced. One comic scene finds Paulie threatening the animal with a broom before swiftly pretending to sweep the floor when Tony enters unexpectedly. Paulie clearly has a grudge against the animal and becomes more unnerved by it as the episode plays out. It’s another The Sopranos finale mystery, one that many have pondered since the show ended in 2007.
As Paulie explains, his suspicion of the stray cat is rooted in ancient Italian superstition. In Italy, black cats are believed to be the devil’s pet and the lord of graveyards. Despite being ginger, it’s appropriate that a cat crosses Paulie’s path as he ponders his own mortality. It’s Paulie’s fear of death – and his superstition – that prevents him from immediately accepting Tony’s offer to run the old Cifaretto crew, given the fates of each of its previous bosses. When Paulie catches the cat staring at a picture of Christopher in the Satriale’s office, he becomes convinced that the cat is the reincarnation of the man himself. This suggestion is backed up by the more supernatural elements of David Chase’s The Sopranos and the often fraught relationship between Christopher and Paulie. Whether the cat is or is not Christopher’s reincarnation, it’s clear this concept is a representation of guilt and a reminder of the concept of death.
Paulie Gualtieri was just one Sopranos character who resented the close relationship between Christopher and Tony. Picked by Tony as a potential successor, Christopher’s dreams of being a Hollywood filmmaker – and his issues with substance abuse caused tensions with Tony, which eventually led to his death at his former mentor’s hands. Meanwhile, Paulie relished being able to put Christopher in his place throughout the series, but he’s genuinely upset by Christopher’s death, implying a closeness between the pair. The ginger cat in Satriale’s is another stray who’s got into the inner sanctum through closeness to Tony, so it’s easy to see how Paulie draws the connection with Christopher.
But Paulie’s links between the cat and Christopher go much further than mere metaphor. Through ghostly visions, dream sequences, and spiritual apparitions, David Chase and his writing team regularly added a supernatural layer to The Sopranos. One of these visions occurs in the final season, Paulie sees the Virgin Mary at the Bada Bing, something he admits to Tony in their last conversation in the finale. Tony laughs this off with a joke about shrines, knowing of Paulie’s well-documented belief in the supernatural. Across the series, Paulie spoke of his fear of death, and the afterlife and even visited a psychic, who appeared to know too much about his past murders. Despite laughing off Paulie’s strip club vision, Tony is visibly shaken by the idea the cat could be the reincarnation of Christopher. It’s clear that despite being ginger rather than black, the cat is a bad omen for both Paulie and Tony, a reminder of both their past transgressions and their own mortality.