The realism of The Sopranos was a crucial feature of the series that set it apart from many of the mafia dramas that preceded it, anchoring the characters and the world in a tangible environment for viewers to live in. From the seemingly chaotic nature of its stories to its infinitely exciting psychology, much in The Sopranos made television more real than ever. That’s why it can be so surprising to come across moments in The Sopranos where the supernatural exists.
One of the most disturbing moments occurs in the second episode of the third season, “Proshai, Livushka.” The episode centers on the death of Olivia Soprano, Tony’s mother. She has thus far lent manipulative and hostile power to much of the series.
There is a flashy moment as Tony and Furio talk together. Tony opens a door with a mirror in the background. As the reflection faces the camera, the image of Pussy Bonpensiero peeks out. There’s a problem: Pussy Bonpensiero is dead.
Tony killed Bonpensiero early in the series to betray his crew to the FBI, and the image shows his death haunting Tony. While Bonpensiero’s later appearances took place in Tony’s dreams, it is remarkable in the mirror image that Tony does not see the picture himself.
There is a similar moment with Paulie Gualtieri towards the end of the series, in the sixth season of “The Ride.” There, Paulie has a vision of the Virgin Mary threatening her Catholic guilt. Again, the public sees the first photo of Paulie.
Both cases show that they are not just hallucinatory images representing the character’s psyche but actual supernatural events. Even before ghosts appear, Paulie encounters a medium in “From Where to Eternity,” who channels the spirits of the Paulies murdered in his criminal career.
In true Paulie fashion, he calls the ghosts an insult and runs out of space. Still, the truth was that the information presented by the media contained details they might not have known outside of supernatural interference.
As if those events weren’t enough, even the latest episode of The Sopranos, The Many Saints of Newark, features a disturbing moment during the prequel setting. In front of little Christopher, Tony sighs at the boy who is constantly crying around him. He is warned that the period of children before they enter the world of the living gives them knowledge of the afterlife.
Since the film itself deals with the story after Christopher’s death, Tony would later kill Christopher. Christopher’s status as a storyteller and the moment when he shows his childhood fears to his future murderer underlines the importance of the supernatural and the afterlife in the world of the sopranos.
The series, in its way, imitates classic stories like Shakespeare’s, where ghosts and fortune-tellers intervene in the otherwise magical events of the story. Just as the Sopranos plunge into the realism of the criminal underworld and the psychological toll it takes on the cast, there is also a message of a deeper moral structure in the universe behind every sin their characters commit.
It may be one of the most realistic dramas to ever wow audiences. Still, The Sopranos has also managed to seamlessly integrate the supernatural elements.