David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, touched on various subjects within the show, but ghostly encounters are an overlooked aspect. While the violent and comedic antics of Paulie Gualtieri and Tony Soprano are what the show is most known for, there are many instances of nods to ghosts. After taking a closer look, there are blatant examples of haunting antics that allude to supernatural beings existing in The Sopranos. With an already packed show filled with mafia strategies and family drama, there was still room for Chase (and staff) to add blatant hints to other entities.
Prolific screenwriters of The Sopranos like Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner never shied away from playing with audience expectations of mafia-related content. Instead of mimicking films like Goodfellas and The Godfather (which they referenced frequently), they experimented with dreams and complex storytelling. The show is still loved and watched fourteen years later because the writers respected the viewer’s intelligence. If Chase and collaborators spent so much time loosening the structure with things like dream sequences, then it would make sense that supernatural elements were discussed during development.
The existence of ghosts slipped into The Sopranos in a few different ways. There are scenes in the earlier seasons that happen very subtly but would be considered odd behavior of an object or even a human figure. On the more obvious side, there are scenes in which dead characters are seen physically by living ones and an instance where Paulie comes in very close contact with a biblical figure. When ghosts appear as physical figures, it always follows a past or recent death of a significant character, like Big Pussy. As subtle and rare as they come, these supernatural occurrences impact characters internally more than any other aspect of the show.
The smaller examples have a significant impact on their scenes when revisiting them closely. In season 4, episode 11, “Calling All Cars,” while Bobby Bacclieri and Janice are eating, a wine glass presumably moves on its own. A similar instance, this time in human form, appears during Livia Soprano’s wake at Tony’s house. Out of focus, there is a mysterious ghostly figure on the stairs in the background behind Tony. The figure avoids the family and goes back upstairs, never to be seen again. Much like any horror movie, Bobby, Janice, and Tony do not see these spooky moments happen, and they serve as little nods from the creators that the characters are never alone.
During Livia Soprano’s wake, Tony opens up a closet, and for a split second, Big Pussy’s reflection is in the mirror on the door. Something similar but much more real happens to Paulie in season 6, episode 9, “The Ride.” Paulie walks into the Bada Bing and sees The Virgin Mary floating over the stage. However, before Paulie sees her, the audience sees through a reflection, similar to the Big Pussy appearance. The use of these two frightening reflections is to show that the images are physical and that they are not in the characters’ heads.
Paulie is a character who encounters a lot of eerie scenarios, eventually leading him to see a spiritual medium. The medium tells him about Paulie’s first “whacking” and says details about others. These specific moments imply that ghosts exist in The Sopranos universe and appear throughout key scenes. In addition, dead alibis and enemies showing up as ghosts to haunt the remaining characters of The Sopranos adds another layer of tension to an already exhilarating show upon rewatching.