In the pilot episode, family patriarch Tony sits in the waiting room of his new psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi (played by Lorraine Bracco), following his first panic attack. As Tony waits, he stares at a sculpture of a naked woman. The camera cuts between the statue’s stony gaze and Tony’s perplexed face, his lips pursed in both confusion and fascination.
During their session, Tony says: “Lately I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” Dr. Melfi responds: “Many Americans, I think, feel that way.” Their meeting sets the tone for the entire series—the show is not just about mob violence, but about decay, family, and, perhaps more than anything, the influence of women in Tony’s life.
Each woman in Tony’s life represents a different archetype: his mother, Livia (Nancy Marchand); his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco); his daughter, Meadow (Jamie Lynn-Sigler); his multiple mistresses; and Dr. Melfi herself. Tony behaves differently around each of them. As TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Matthew Zoller Seitz write in their book The Sopranos Sessions (2019): “Tony alternates between courtly and protective, and peevish, possessive, and crude, depending on the woman.”