HBO’s The Sopranos is a masterfully written piece of television. Much of the praise is aimed at the show’s characters, all of whom are expertly written and performed. Most of these characters are genuinely awful people, full of rage, greed, and murderous tendencies. Some even kill innocent people. But they are also wonderfully complex and they contain many relatable and sympathetic traits.
No character on The Sopranos is wholly bad, but nor are they wholly good. They certainly aren’t saints, but even the most antagonistic characters display some type of “good” trait that allows the audience to emotionally connect to their story.
Tony’s Best: Fatherly Love
Tony Soprano may not be a great father, but no one will deny that he loves his children. He absolutely adores Meadow, encouraging her academic pursuits and even sharing some semblance of truth regarding his role in the mafia. It’s clear that he loves and respects her very much, and he often regards her as a mature equal.
The relationship he shares with A.J. is obviously a little more rocky, owing largely to A.J.’s lack of ambition. However, it’s still obvious that he loves his son – as is evident when Tony saves A.J. from taking his own life.
Tony’s Worst: Making Everyone Miserable
Tony has a horrible penchant for making everyone around him absolutely miserable. Tony is not a happy person, and he languishes in therapy with Dr. Melfi, often ignoring her advice, wallowing in self-pity, and refusing to put in an effort.
Rather than making himself a better person, Tony instead chooses to drag everyone else down to his level. This is perhaps most evident in “Cold Cuts,” when a jealous Tony shatters Janice’s newfound peace that she attained through anger management.
Carmela’s Best: Friendly & Welcoming
If nothing else, Carmela Soprano is very friendly and welcoming. Yes, one could certainly argue that this is the “role” she is supposed to play as a mob wife. However, it seems that Carmela is genuinely caring in most cases.
She often makes food for guests and always welcomes people into her home. She is genuinely friendly to most people in her inner circle, even if her sense of superiority often rubs them the wrong way (as is the case between her and Charmaine Bucco).
Carmela’s Worst: Encouraging The Lifestyle
While Carmela Soprano doesn’t directly work in the mob business, she certainly reaps its many rewards. Carmela is blatantly aware of her own hypocrisy, often scolding Tony for his behavior while also basking in his riches.
In one of the series’ most shocking scenes, Carmela sees a psychiatrist and is blatantly attacked for her own hypocrisy. The psychiatrist doesn’t pull any punches, even outright calling her an “enabler” of Tony’s actions. Of course, like most characters on The Sopranos, Carmela fails to heed his warnings and refuses to better herself as a person.
Christopher’s Best: Staying Sober
Perhaps surprisingly, Christopher Moltisanti actually takes his newfound sobriety quite seriously. After falling into a seemingly bottomless pit in regards to his drug use, Christopher gets clean and shows a genuine desire to remain sober throughout the rest of the show.
He generally avoids the Bing and other hangouts due to the rampant drinking and partying, and in many later scenes, he is often seen drinking either a soda or a non-alcoholic beer. He also rebuffs Tony’s numerous insistences that he start drinking again.
Christopher’s Worst: Murderous Psychopath
Many characters within the mob are violent individuals, but Christopher is perhaps the worst of them all. While he remains one of the show’s most sympathetic characters, he is also one of its most ruthless and psychotic.
In one case, he throws a rock at a waiter’s head after being confronted about his poor tip. In another, he shows up drunk at JT’s apartment, spills his guts, and shoots JT in the head. Unlike many others on the show, Chris was never afraid of harming, or even outright killing, innocent people.
Junior’s Best: His Jokes
Junior Soprano is nothing if not a joker. Junior’s role throughout the show is quite nebulous, seamlessly flowing from antagonist to sympathetic supporting character. Perhaps Junior’s most famous trait is his hilarious jokes.
Many of these jokes are wickedly inappropriate, but that’s just part of Junior’s character. He wants to entertain those around him, and in most cases, those people want dirty jokes.
Junior’s Worst: Anything To Retain Power
Throughout season 1, Junior is placed in a position of faux-power. He serves as the public figurehead of the mob while Tony secretly controls things from the sidelines. Junior is very easily manipulated, and everyone sees just how powerless he really is (especially Livia).
However, Junior’s ego often gets the better of him, and he does anything to showcase his power and might – including having his own nephew killed. Fortunately, Tony is able to stave off the hitmen, surviving the attack orchestrated by Junior.
Melfi’s Best: A Genuine Desire To Help Tony
For a while there, Dr. Melfi shows a genuine desire to help Tony. She continuously sees him, despite his often violent outbursts and general unwillingness to engage, and she displays a sense of professionalism in helping a mob boss, seeing him first as a person in need of professional mental help.
And to her credit, she often comes close to making breakthroughs with Tony, proving her capabilities as a therapist. Unfortunately, Tony is simply unwilling to better himself as a person and continuously fails to make said breakthroughs.
Melfi’s Worst: Seeking Thrills
Like all characters in The Sopranos, there is a further, darker edge to Dr. Melfi. The first few seasons portray a Melfi genuinely willing to engage with Tony on a professional level. However, as the series progresses, Melfi begins to take a certain interest in being the therapist of a mob boss, finding a sense of excitement and intrigue in the idea.
Despite countless pleas from her colleagues and family to drop Tony as a patient, she refuses. And in season 3’s “Employee of the Month,” she genuinely considers using Tony to seek revenge against the person who raped her. To her credit, she doesn’t.