Tony Soprano was a vicious mobster with a surprising soft spot for animals, and this was notably showcased with the infamous Pie-O-My horse painting. In the beloved and acclaimed HBO crime drama The Sopranos, main character Tony (James Gandolfini) always gravitates towards animals, and in season 4, he meets Pie-O-My the racehorse. Fellow mobster Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) acquires the animal himself, but doesn’t share Tony’s fondness for her. When Pie-O-My needs life-saving medical care, but the vet won’t treat her until Ralphie’s outstanding bills have been covered, Tony is the one who settles the debt and comforts the ailing animal, in a tender moment for the gangster series.
But tragedy strikes when the horse dies in a stable fire. Though it’s ruled as accidental, Tony has the suspicion that it was Ralphie who set fire to the stable. After all, he didn’t care much for the horse, she was racking up vet bills, Ralphie would get insurance money out of it, and the two mobsters had been in a tense feud anyways. Tony confronts him about it, and the interaction ends with him choking and beating Ralphie to death while yelling, “She was a beautiful, innocent creature! What’d she ever do to you?!” Tony and Christopher take care of the body and life goes on, though Ralphie’s disappearance does make waves. But Pie-O-My leaves behind a memento of her lingering legacy: a painting of her and Tony that he had done while she was alive.
Why Tony Wants the Pie-O-My Painting Destroyed
Tony orders the painting to be destroyed in the wake of losing Pie-O-My and perpetrating Ralphie’s brutal, on-screen death. Every time he sees it, it’s a reminder of both grief and guilt. Of course, he grieves for the loss of Pie-O-My, one of his many beloved animal friends throughout the show, which helps him tap into a seemingly hidden reservoir of empathy. And, if he’s thinking about the horse, that means he’s thinking about Ralphie, too. Even though Ralphie was a terrible person, and Tony knows it, he feels guilty for the gratuitous murder. He must also feel a sense of shame over his actions, losing control in the moment and snapping to the point where he beat a made man to death without any thought.
And when remembering Ralphie and his untimely demise, Tony is also forced to remember the brutal and unfair – even by mafia standards – deaths the late, slimy gangster had a hand in throughout the plot of Sopranos. Most notably, there was Tracee, Ralphie’s pregnant girlfriend that he himself had beaten to death in a fit of anger. He also had a hand in having Jackie Aprile, Jr. whacked while he was hiding out from danger, even though the young man was like a step-son to him and Ralphie had told Tony he was going to give him “a pass.”
Why Paulie Kept the Painting (But Gave Tony a General’s Uniform)
Like many of the characters on The Sopranos, Paulie is extremely quirky. But it’s strange, even for him, when he not only keeps the painting instead of destroying it, but alters it so that Tony is wearing a Napoleon-like military uniform. But why does he do this? There’s an obvious parallel to the mafia’s military-like code, one where there’s a clear chain of command and orders are given and followed (though, ironically, Paulie doesn’t follow orders this time). Tony is the boss, the “general” of sorts, and a common mobster position is that of “capo,” or captain. Also, gangsters who follow orders within the show are often referred to as “soldiers.” And, of course, there’s a comparison between Tony and Napoleon, the widely-known military and political leader during the French Revolution.
Napoleon is also known for being the leader of an empire that ultimately fell under his leadership, causing him to die in exile. This hints at Tony and the crew’s future; though he’s an effective leader for a good chunk of time, the show later ends with the crime family crumbling, and many main characters dying or being implied to die. The Sopranos was phenomenal at intertwining testosterone-fueled crime with meaningful relationships with animals, artwork, and deeply-layered symbolism – and Pie-O-My and her painting were no exception.