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Things You Never Noticed In The Sopranos' First Episode

By the end of its six-season run, The Sopranos had set a new benchmark for how powerful storytelling on TV could be. It laid the groundwork for an era of prestige shows about angry men with chips on their shoulders, trying to make themselves heard in the world — see also: The Wire, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Mad Men.

Back on January 10, 1999, when the pilot episode aired, no one could have predicted how The Sopranos would change what was possible on TV. To be fair, it's only recently that we finally even understand the show's ending.  Critics did quickly realize, however, that this was something different and better than what viewers were used to, including other mob dramas. In an interview with The Guardian in 2019, creator David Chase said that, before writing The Sopranos, he'd turned down an offer to write The-Godfather-but-for-TV because he'd seen that kind of thing before and wanted a new challenge. It did, however, get him thinking, "But I have that thing about the guy going to therapy. Maybe I'll try that." He also said that he didn't put any explicit mob violence in the pilot, because before HBO bit, he was still courting networks. 

If you're a Sopranos fan who finds that jarring based on how bloody the show could be, it might get you wondering whether there are other things you never noticed in season 1's first episode that informed what would come later, and that demonstrated how masterful Chase's series was.

We learn about Junior's feud with Little Pussy Malanga

Junior Soprano (Dominic Chianese) was not known for getting over grudges, and we learn about one of his longest-running ones in the very first episode.

In the pilot, Junior plans to have old enemy Gennaro "Little Pussy" Malanga killed. The hit has to take place in Little Pussy's favorite joint, Vesuvio, a restaurant owned by Tony Soprano's (James Gandolfini) friend Artie (John Ventimiglia). Tony schemes to get Vesuvio temporarily closed, knowing that a mafia hit on the premises will destroy Artie's business with his fancy suburban clients. He eventually resorts to having it burned down, knowing Artie can at least claim the insurance money. Junior does not, of course, forgive and forget Tony's perceived betrayal. In fact, it apparently only serves to entwine Tony with Little Pussy in his mind. 

Through one of Junior's dementia-induced rants in the opener of season 6, we learn that Little Pussy also stabbed him in the back, metaphorically. Some time in the '70s, Junior and Little Pussy went in on a scheme that involved grocery chain Bohack, and Junior believed his partner in crime ripped off his $40,000 share. Tony reminds Junior that Malanga has been dead for six years, implying that the hit took place as planned back in season 1, but somewhere else and offscreen. Later in the episode, Junior apparently mistakes Tony for Little Pussy and shoots him in the stomach. This not only brings the Malanga plot full circle, but also plays out his threat that, "Something may have to be done ... about Tony," which he brought up in the pilot when Tony meddled in his hit.

That fire was the work of Corky Iannucci

Another detail about that fire is revealed later, as well. In season 4, Tony learns that the stables of the racehorse about which he's come to care, Pie-Oh-My, have been destroyed in a fire, injuring the horse so badly that it has to be put down. He confronts Ralphie Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), the horse's owner, who now stands to claim the $200,000 insurance — the amount of money he needs to pay his recently injured son's medical bills.

Tony initiates his interrogation of Ralphie by asking, "How's Corky Iannucci, you heard from him lately? You know Sil used him in that restaurant fire, excellent work." There are a lot of unanswered questions in The Sopranos, but we're pretty sure the restaurant to which he's referring is Vesuvio. In the pilot, we see Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) walking away from Vesuvio right before an explosion. 

Iannucci is just one associate we never seen on the screen — at least, not yet. The Sopranos is being revived with prequel movie, so we might learn how the character got his arsonist start. Hopefully, however, he'll remain one of the unseen characters that made the show feel real all the way from its groundbreaking pilot to its controversial end.