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The Ending Of The Sopranos Season 1 Explained

"The Sopranos" today is a franchise that includes not only its original six season run on HBO, but more recently a prequel movie and a podcast dedicated to its making. Add to that SopranoCon events and seemingly endless content dedicated to its more oblique meanings and you've got one massive franchise. 

The humble beginnings, however, kicked off in 1999 when creator David Chase got the chance after years of dabbling in TV to get his own HBO drama that challenged cultural and storytelling norms with its unblinking look at the world of New Jersey mobsters, focusing in on Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). Tony is a murderer and mob boss, but he's also dealing with feelings of depression and isolation that even the head of a crime family can't escape. 

It didn't take long after its debut for "The Sopranos" to become a cultural phenomenon, but the first season deserves a lot of credit. It may be more than 20 years old, but the start of "The Sopranos" was made before the world knew the name Soprano, before HBO knew what they had, before Chase knew his gamble would pay off. "The Sopranos" Season 1 set the standard for the rest of the show, and it was a high standard. There is much from the series people likely forget was introduced in that first season, the ending of it teasing much of what was to come from Chase and his team of New Jersey mobsters. 

Tony and his Livia's relationship is over

Most fans can likely agree there is no relationship more complicated in "The Sopranos" than Tony and his mother, Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand). The relationship deteriorates by the end of Season 1, leaving it in a place it will never return from. Tony defends his often negative mother in initial episodes, eventually paying to put her in a "retirement community" that costs a pretty penny. He also regularly visits her, even if their visits end in them fighting. 

In the finale, Tony discovers through the FBI that his mother knew of his Uncle Junior's (Dominic Chianese) attempt on his life in the episode "Isabella." Tony escaped death, but hearing his mother rat him out to his uncle about seeing a psychiatrist — and then approve of him dying — destroys whatever love he has left. By the end of the finale, Livia has had a stroke and Tony still can't forgive her. He warns her as she's taken away that he will kill her. 

Livia doesn't elicit much sympathy as we watch her also rat out Tony for having burned down his friend Artie Bucco's (John Ventimiglia) restaurant when he comes to see her at the hospital. One can argue she is confused, as she has shown signs of dementia, but a later family dinner scene where she pretends to not to know Artie suggests she may be manipulating her frail state. 

Tony's rat problem is not solved

Tony has a rat problem. He discovers in the episode "Nobody Knows Anything" that he could have a snitch after Det. Vin Makazian (John Heard) gives him a description of someone. Makazian dies before Tony can get any more details. Tony is later confronted by Jimmy Altieri (Joseph Badalucco) after the capo is arrested. He visits Tony at home and is acting nervously, asking specific questions one would know not to ask the boss. Tony determines Altieri is the rat and gets permission from Junior in the finale ("I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano") to take him out. 

It's a win for Tony as Altieri — shot by Chris Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) — is ratting anyway and taken out, but it has already been discussed that the missing Pussy (Vincent Pastore) could also be a snitch. Tony and the others don't want to believe this, so they let themselves think Altieri was who Makazian was talking about. Tony ends the season thinking this one problem is solved, but fans know Pussy is far from not being an issue for Tony. 

What this does say about Tony is that even after everything we witness him do, he still has some innocence left to lose. We will eventually see Tony literally kill family, but at the end of Season 1, he wants to believe that one of his friends would not be capable of turning on him. 

It's all out war ... until it's not

Tension between Tony and his Uncle Junior reaches a boiling point in the Season 1 finale. Junior has already given the green light to kill Tony, something that ultimately fails in the penultimate episode of the season ("Isabella"). After Tony discovers the hit was put out by his uncle, it appears it's going to be all-out war. Moltisanti and Paulie (Tony Sirico) even whack Mikey Palmice (Al Sapienza), Junior's right-hand man who was the go-between for his boss and the hitmen who couldn't best Tony. Chucky Signore (Sal Ruffino), another mobster under Junior's wing, is also killed.

Before the wheels can really come off though, Junior is indicted on racketeering charges. Around the same time, Tony's mother is also carted off after having suffered a stroke. Two birds with one stone, Tony thinks, as his problems are temporarily taken care of. Despite a war being averted, Tony and Junior's relationship has been mangled by their actions towards each other. Junior has grown frustrated with Tony running things behind the scenes and gets especially angry when Tony busts his chops like no one would ever dare do to a real boss. 

Sitting in prison, Junior is given the chance to turn on Tony once more, his lawyer arguing they can say Junior was taken advantage of as a fall guy. Knowing this will destroy any credibility he has, Junior barrels forward into a new kind of war. 

Melfi's relationship to Tony is changing

Tony and Dr. Jennifer Melfi's (Lorraine Bracco) relationship is broken beyond repair by the season's end. 

What's notable about their interactions in Season 1, compared to the rest of the series, is that Melfi is far more interested in the details of Tony's business. She is even the one to originally suggest his mother is behind the attempted hit on his life. In the finale, she also makes reference to Pussy, a moment where Tony seems to realize he may be saying too much. 

Melfi's excitement turns to something else when Tony informs her an all-out mob war is on the way, and his uncle knows he's seeing a psychiatrist. He tells her to leave town, something she adamantly objects to, rightfully citing at-risk patients who need her. Later in the episode, Tony goes to see Melfi in a moment of crisis and finds she's not there. She's taken his advice and gone on the lam, so to speak. 

Tony's business has directly mixed with his psychiatry, something we've watched him try to avoid over and over again. In the finale, his crew mostly accepts the news their boss is spilling his guts to a shrink (Moltisanti walks off, but still takes retribution for his boss), but his journey in therapy has changed course. Melfi has seen the life he leads up close and personal now and this will lead to an understandable distance between the two going forward. 

This is the beginning of the end

The most important moments in the Season 1 finale of "The Sopranos" are its last, when Tony and his family have fled into Artie's restaurant to escape from a massive storm. When Tony proposes a toast to his family, we see a tender side to a man we've already watched brutally murder multiple people. 

"Someday soon, you're gonna have families of your own and if you're lucky, you'll remember the little moments like this, that we're good," he tells them. It's a rather positive note to leave such a chaotic episode on, but it is the signifier that the end is nigh. This very line is referenced by Tony's son, A.J. (Robert Iler), in the series finale ("Made in America") when they are together again for a meal. Tony doesn't remember saying it, but it shows us at least some good in him has been passed along. 

We see tender and empathetic moments from Tony in Season 1, but it's really these final moments with his family that shows who he can be. It's why Chase eventually uses it to have the series come full circle. With Junior about to be on trial, Melfi gone, and his mother near death, Tony's life is not in the most stable of places, but he can center himself with his family. It's these moments fans have to remind themselves of as they watch Tony and his family ripped apart and tested in coming seasons.