Animals on The Sopranos and Their Important Symbolism
When a non-Sopranoholic thinks of The Sopranos, what comes to mind? Most often, it’s the mafia (the Omerta), organized crime, guns, money, food, or perhaps all of the above. Less obvious is the role that animals play in telling the Sopranos story and illuminating the inner psyche of certain characters. That’s what this blog post is all about: animals on The Sopranos and their important symbolism.
No Wonder The Papers Are Calling This The Year of The Rat
First, taking a step back, there’s actually one animal we do hear about quite often in organized crime. Yes, you guessed it: That animal is a rat. Though it’s not always easy to identify the source. Sure, there’s often some kind of low-hanging fruit, like a Jimmy Altieri. But what we obviously hear less about are the rats that slip under the radar, like Ray Curto.
The Sopranos Cats - Some Turned Out to be Rats
Next, let’s get to the elephant, er, cat, in the room. One of the prime characters in the first two seasons of The Sopranos is Sal Bonpensiero, but the only person who really calls him Sal is his wife, Angie Bonpensiero. As for everyone else? They call him Big Pu$sy, or “Pu$s” for short. Puss and Tony are so close that Puss is like an uncle to Tony’s kids.
As we all know, Tony finds out this pussy cat is a rat in S2, E13, “Funhouse,” when Tony finds a wire under a false bottom in Puss’s cigar box in his room.
Now, getting to the next cat in the room, in the last episode of The Sopranos, “Made in America,” an orange tabby cat starts hanging out around Tony and the crew and stares at Christopher’s picture on the wall all day. Some fans think the cat is an actual reincarnated Adriana, which would be pretty funny given the Buddhist belief in reincarnation.
First, it doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize Tony Soprano takes a particular liking to animals. In fact, in the beginning of the Pilot, Tony follows a family of ducks into his backyard pool—robe and all—while offering to build them another ramp if they wanted one. Talk about A+ hospitality, huh? It’s no secret that the family of ducks signifies something deeper, and by the end of Pilot, Tony and Dr. Melfi conclude why:
Next, here comes the sausage! (“How many pounds, hot or sweet?“) Pigs are a frequent presence on The Sopranos, whether in Christopher Moltisanti’s nightmares, down at Satriales, or right in the Soprano refrigerator (all this from a slice of gabagool?). Not to mention the other characters who often act like pigs in both personal and professional pursuits. Can you believe Christopher thought the only sausage they had was Italian and Jimmy Dean? It turns out to be much deeper than that.
(Sleepin' with) The Fishes
Another key member of The Sopranos animal kingdom is the fish. You know, like how Louis Brassi sleeps with the fishes. (Luca Brassi. There’s differences, Christopher!)
Of course, the “sleeping with the fishes” part comes from The Godfather, but David Chase gives it a nice Sopranos touch with Billy Bass. As we know, it’s actually a fish (in Tony’s dream) that tells Tony Big Pussy Bonpensiero’s “been working with the government.” Anyway, $4 a pound.
In addition to Big Pussy Bonpensiero, Tony sends Chucky Signore to sleep with the fishes one season earlier. And of course, we also have Carmela’s reassurance to Chrissy at the end of season 5 that there “are other fish in the sea.”
It was that Bird...
Not surprisingly, Chrissy was less than thrilled to find a bird sitting on the window during his making ceremony. While his fiancee, Adriana La Cerva, promised him it was only bad luck if the bird was inside, Christopher was convinced otherwise. In hindsight, his prediction of the bird being a bad omen wasn’t too far off, as we’ll see much later with that day’s inductees.
Also, remember the water bird I mentioned earlier? Sure enough, I’m circling back to the ducks, though they’re not in the Soprano pool anymore. Instead, they’re flying high above Tony immediately following his murder of a rat in small town Maine.
The Bear - Those Eastern Black Bears, In Particular
Moving on, although we’re used to seeing birds and ducks in the neighborhood, not all animals on the Sopranos are quite as small. Like bears, for instance. So when one arrives in the Soprano backyard, A.J. and Carmela are understandably alarmed. Let me pause, though, for a moment, as I consider the following: Who really is the bear? Is it the Eastern black bear, or the DiMeo Family one?
The Gorillas Usually Just Engage in What's Called Threat Behavior
By the same token, speaking of animals, Tony and Gloria went to the zoo on their first outing in The Telltale Moozadell. It was here that Gloria informed Tony that, “Usually they just engage in what’s called threat behavior.” Why does that sound familiar? It seems just like the kind of thing that occurs in the industry in which Tony works.
Dog Sh!t Up to the Rafters!
Further, a number of dogs come to mind in The Sopranos. We have Coach Hauser’s dog, Petey, the Rottweiler from Dr. Melfi’s dream, Angie Bonpensiero’s Coco (that fluffy, coco piece of sh*t?), Adriana’s Cosette, and Tony’s old dog, Tippy. There’s also the other Soprano family dog that A.J. said got run over by a car. Dogs have a variety of temperaments, but loyalty’s a pretty consistent trait. That loyalty and innocence tear at our heartstrings on both The Sopranos and in real life.
The Horses of Many Forms on The Sopranos
Finally, animals are so significant that they may even get a whole episode named after them! Just like “sleeping with the fishes,” a horse was also in The Godfather, though that time it was a horse’s head in Jack Woltz’s bed. For me, Pie-O-My symbolized the “compassionate side” of Tony, though it also makes me think of that scene in Test Dream where Tony comes into the house riding one.
Conclusion: Did you ever think you'd see Richie Aprile doing downward dog?
To conclude, here are a few other animals on The Sopranos with more minor roles that I want to quickly mention:
- Snakes (did you know they can reproduce spontaneously?!) And be careful, she’s a real snake in the grass!
- Rabbit, as in the one Artie Bucco killed and cooked, in addition to the song “White Rabbit.”
- Deer, appearing in “College” and seemingly distracting Febby Petrulio so Tony could catch him off guard.
- What did I miss?