The conclusion of The Sopranos resolved many of the show’s unanswered questions, but the fate of the Russian gangster Valery (Vitali Baganov) from the episode “Pine Barrens” remains a mystery. The Sopranos, which had an extensive and successful six-season run, ended in 2007 with a divisively abstruse final episode, but Tony’s (James Gandolfini) final moments on screen weren’t the only unsolved mystery during the show’s run. The Sopranos creator David Chase and longtime The Sopranos writer Terence Winter have been peppered with questions about Valery’s fate along with several fan theories that speculate about what might have become of him.
In the season three episode “Pine Barrens,” Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie (Tony Sirico) become irritated with Valery after he gives them attitude, and Paulie snaps and kills the man – or so they think. The two drive into the Pine Barrens, a heavily forested area in New Jersey, to bury the body, only to discover Valery is still alive. After forcing the Russian to dig his own grave, he then attacks the two with a shovel and runs away. Christopher and Paulie give chase, and Paulie shoots Valery with a glancing shot to the head, yet Valery, miraculously, gets up and runs away. Christopher and Paulie return to Christopher’s car to find it stolen, and the speculation about Valery’s fate began.
Paulie and Christopher tell Tony of the incident, and Tony says if issues arise with the Russian mob boss Slava (Frank Ciornei), Paulie would be forcibly held responsible. However, Valery is never heard of or seen again. The obvious fate of Valery is that he died in the Pine Barrens. Because Slava never raised questions to Tony, one could speculate Valery never made it back to tell his tale. Another theory is that Slava was behind the attempted hit, and Valery went into hiding, keeping the secret to himself for his safety. But more realistically, due to the extent of his injuries, he would not have survived the harsh conditions without help. As for the stolen car, it is more than likely Valery hijacked the vehicle and sought a daring escape only to succumb to his injuries and die in the woods. But this doesn’t seem enough for die-hard fans of The Sopranos.
David Chase is quoted as saying, “Who gives a s—t about this Russian?” Upon unrelenting questions, however, Chase finally stated that some Boy Scouts found the Russian who had Slava’s number in his pocket. Slava then took Valery to the hospital where he underwent brain surgery and was sent back to Russia. This seems more appealing to those who speculate because Terence Winter, who wrote “Pine Barrens,” offered more to the story. Further pressuring Chase, and to Chase’s frustration, the two finally agreed on a resolution set to appear in the final season of The Sopranos. Tony and Christopher would visit the Russian mob boss and find Valery sweeping the floor, but due to a traumatic brain injury, he would not recognize Christopher as his attacker. This would have explained that the local Boy Scouts did in fact find Valery, but it would not explain why nothing ever came of the incident, meaning why Slava never raised concerns to Tony. This scene, which could have put an end to the speculation, was never put in the final season of The Sopranos and Chase continues to insist that whatever happened to Valery is irrelevant to the overall story of the show.
While there are a host of possibilities as to the Russian’s fate in The Sopranos, sometimes the biggest television mysteries either remain unsolved or just simply don’t have a worthy explanation, no matter how badly fans may want one. What the mysterious fate of Valery demonstrates about the series is the creative team’s commitment to building an open-ended world that The Sopranos only shows a small piece of.