Sopranos Blueprint

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The Circle of Life – Animal Symbolism on The Sopranos

Adriana with her dog, Cosette, is sitting and talking to FBI agents at their office.
The Sopranos, S.4, E.2, "No Show" - Adriana La Cerva with her dog, Cosette, at the FBI offices.

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: the circle of life and animals on The Sopranos.

Babies are like animals. They're no different than dogs. Somebody has to teach them right from wrong.

The Ducks

Tony Soprano standing in his pool with his robe on next to the ducks.
The Sopranos, S.1, E.1, "Pilot"

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:

You're right. It's a link. A connection. I'm afraid I'm gonna lose my family...like I lost the ducks.
Tony Soprano in The Pool
The series premiere of The Sopranos (Pilot) - Tony is offering to build the ducks another ramp.

The Pigs

Emil Kolar at Satriale's
S.1, E.8, "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti" - Emil Kolar haunts Christopher in his dreams after Christopher shot and killed Emil earlier that season.

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 gabbagool?). 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

Billy Bass
S.3, E.10, "To Save Us All From Satan's Power

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. Don’t let me forget the importance of not turning Janice loose on shellfish, along with Carmela’s reassurance to Chrissy at the end of season 5 that there “are other fish in the sea.”

It was that Bird...

A bird sitting on the window sill during Christopher's making ceremony
S.3, E.3, "Fortunate Son"

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. 

Ducks are flying in a v shape in the air.
The Sopranos, Season 1, Episode 5, "College"

The Rat

The Sopranos, Season 5, Episode 2, "Rat Pack"

Speaking of rat, here’s one animal you do hear about quite often in organized crime is the rat. Though it’s not always easy to identify the source. Sure, there’s often some kind of low-hanging fruit, like a like Jimmy Altieri. What we obviously hear less about are we don’t hear much about the rats that slip under the radar, like Ray Curto

The Bear

A.J. Soprano is crying after seeing a bear in the backyard of his house.
The Sopranos, S.5, E.1, "Two Tonys"

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

Tony Soprano and Gloria Trillo are at the zoo looking at the gorilla exhibit.
S.3, E.9, "The Telltale Moozadell"

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.

"The eyes are innocent. Like a baby's."
-Gloria Trillo
"Yeah, he could innocently maul you into ten pieces." -Tony Soprano

The Dogs

Petey the dog in Boca
The Sopranos, S.1, E.9, "Boca"

Moving on, 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 Horse

Tony Soprano is sitting with Pie-O-My at night in the stable as Pie-O-My lies down to rest and recover.
The Sopranos, S.4, E.5, "Pie-O-My"

In fact, 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 this 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.

However, it’s not just Tony who has a thing for horses. As Christopher himself (Michael Imperioli) pointed out on Talking Sopranos, horse is also a slang term for heroin.

The Cat

Sopranos Made in America Cat Staring At The Wall
S.6, E.21, "Made in America"

Finally, in the Sopranos series finale, a cat that hangs out at the office is particularly intrigued by Christopher’s picture on the wall. On a side note, this is totally a cat thing. I grew up with cats and often found them staring at random spots, whether on the wall or otherwise. Also, about that cat…meow? Some fans think the cat is an actual reincarnated Adriana, which would be pretty funny given the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. 

Conclusion: Did you ever think you'd see Richie Aprile doing downward dog?

Richie Aprile in ToodleOo
The Sopranos, S.2, E.3, "Toodle-f***n-Oo"

To conclude, like many other things on The Sopranos, much is in the eye of the beholder. There were also a few others I want to quickly mention:

  • Snakes (did you know they can reproduce spontaneously?!)
  • 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?

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