The Sopranos ranks among the best television shows of all time but it is far from perfect and that’s kind of the point.
David Chase’s portrait of life inside New Jersey’s most dysfunctional crime family is full of unexplored plot tangents and unanswered questions.
However, that’s part of what makes it such an authentic and engaging experience. Tony Sopranos’ life was full of surprises. Characters came and went, situations developed or died down and, more often than not, things got messy.
Looking back at some of The Sopranos most intriguing unresolved storylines may prove a frustrating experience but, thanks to the unique mythology of the show, it remains a fascinating one.
Meadow’s roommate at college
Meadow Soprano’s college roommate Caitlin was introduced early on in the show’s third season as a needy and immature presence who stood in stark contrast to Tony’s more savvy, toned-down daughter. At one point, it became apparent that Caitlin was having serious trouble adjusting to the pressures of academia and life in the big city while her attention-seeking antics were angering Meadow’s academically-minded boyfriend, Noah.
Just when it seemed like the show was foreshadowing some potentially serious developments, the trail went cold and viewers never heard from Caitlin again.
Janice & the Russian mafia
The third season of The Sopranos saw Tony’s sister Janice take on the Russian Mafia over her mother’s valuable record collection, nearly instigating a mob war in the process. After finding out the LPs were bequeathed to Livia Soprano’s one-legged nurse, Svetlana, Janice takes the extreme step of stealing her prosthetic limp and holding it to ransom in exchange for the albums.
However, things take an ugly turn when Janice is hospitalized following a visit from the Russian Mafia. Tony, though annoyed by her actions, swears vengeance and ends up striking back on his sister’s behalf. But rather than spark the all-out gang war viewers might have expected, it all went a little quiet.
The lamp in the basement
The FBI went to extreme lengths to keep tabs on Tony’s dealings on The Sopranos, most notably in the episode “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighbourhood” where they successfully identify a time when no one will be in the Sopranos’ residence before sweeping in and replacing a lamp with an exact replica containing a listening device.
Yet the plan appears scuppered after Meadow Soprano decides to take the lamp back to her university dorm room. Rather than discover the bug or say something potentially incriminating, the plotline simply fades away with the FBI no longer using the bug.
Paulie & the Virgin Mary
Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri goes through testing times during the show’s sixth and final season. Not only is Tony’s go-to guy diagnosed with prostate cancer but he also learns his dying aunt Dotty, who happens to be a nun, is actually his mother and that his father is an American G.I. known only as Russ.
All of this stress culminates in a scene where, after returning to the Bada Bing at 3 am, Paulie is greeted with a vision of the Virgin Mary. It’s a moment steeped in religious symbolism and foreboding yet, much like Mary herself, the meaning is simply left hanging in the air.
The retired police officer
The opening episode of The Sopranos’s fourth season took an unusual turn when Tony passed Christopher the address of retired police detective lieutenant Barry Haydu. According to Tony, the corrupt Haydu was the man responsible for the demise of Christopher’s father all those years ago and had now outlasted his usefulness to the Mafia.
Yet when Christopher goes to ‘take out the garbage’ he hears a different story from Haydu who claims he had nothing to do with it. Alas, fans never found out if something more was afoot.
Furio Giunta’s fate
A fascinating presence on The Sopranos, Furio was both a feared enforcer and tender-hearted gentleman. Introduced as a no-nonsense addition to Tony’s ranks, as time progressed, he became increasingly human, falling in love with Carmela in a development that tested his loyalty to the limit.
After nearly pushing Tony into a stray helicopter blade on their way back from a party, Furio realized his feelings makes him unfit to serve in the Mafia. He fled to Naples but anyone expecting some Soprano-shaped vengeance is left disappointed – Furio was never heard of again.
The attack on Dr. Melfi
The Sopranos took viewers to some dark places, not least during the Season 3 episode “Employee of the Month,” which saw Dr. Melfi fall victim to an unspeakable attack on the staircase outside her office. Though the police successfully identified and apprehended her attacker, a breakdown in the chain of custody saw him walk free.
Afraid and upset, the situation appears to be building towards Melfi calling on Tony to deliver his own, dark brand of justice. Despite the temptation, Melfi resists any dark urge for justice.
J.T. Dolan’s demise
Few story arcs are as depressing or unresolved as Dolan’s. A screenwriter turned addict, Dolan’s friendship with Christopher at AA is doomed from the start. A man of many vices, he’s exploited and abused to the very limit of sanity by Christopher.
Even then, Christopher views him as a friend, so when Dolan rejects that notion entirely, things turn ugly fast. An example of Christopher’s dangerously rash tendencies, Dolan’s demise could have been the beginning of the end for the Sopranos family; however, it was never mentioned again.
That crazy Russian
“Pine Barrens” rightly ranks as one of the most popular episodes, thanks in no small part to its central mystery. It mostly centers of Paulie and Christopher who are sent to make a collection from a Russian mobster but end up getting in an almighty tussle that leaves them needing to dispose of a man wrapped in a rug.
They head up to a snowy, forested park area to do the deed but, out of nowhere, the Russian comes back to life and makes his escape. Where did he go?
Debate still rages as to Tony’s ultimate fate. This is what is know: He goes for a family meal, the bell rings to signify the opening of the restaurant’s front door, and then everything fades to black.
While Bobby Baccalieri’s previous summation that a gangster’s demise can happen without them hearing a sound, the use of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” and the sudden fade to black also symbolizes that audiences can believe whatever story they prefer for Tony. Either way, it was an inspired ending.