In this series, twenty one dialogs that reference genetics from the six seasons of the HBO television series The Sopranos are cited and discussed, in chronological order, from the perspective of a fan who is a geneticist. The context of each citation with respect to the plot and characters will be the main focus of discussion.
Tony is in a coma after being shot by Uncle Junior. In his mind, he’s at a hotel bar after falling down the hotel stairs and being told, following an exam in the emergency room, that he has Alzheimer’s disease.
Tony: “Know what I found out yesterday?”
Bartender: “What’s that? (serves Tony another drink).”
Tony: “Thank you. I was diagnosed actually, with Alzheimer’s.”
Bartender: “Man, I’m sorry to hear that.”
Tony: “Well my uncle has memory loss- maybe it’s hereditary.”
Bartender: “Someone’s probably working on that.”
This is the only reference to genetics that links Tony directly to his Uncle Junior. Since Tony’s in a coma after being shot by Uncle Junior, it makes sense that uncle junior would be the genetic link to Tony in this scene. Back in season II, AJ carried on a confused conversation with Livia about his report on DNA and confounded DNA with “DNR”. Then he continued the conversation with a discussion of DNA and comas:
“Because what if you went into a coma or something? But DNA doesn’t prevent comas, does it?”
Amazingly enough, Tony is now the one in the coma, compliments of his uncle, and shortly after this dream scene Tony emerges from his near-death experience. At the moment Tony awakes, he has followed the mysterious recurring beacon of light in his dream to a large house that seems to be full of people from Tony’s life who have died, including his late cousin Tony Blundetto who is trying to convince him to enter the house, presumably to die. Just when Tony appears to give in, he hears the voices of Meadow and AJ coming from the woods near the house. The camera focuses on the trees and sky that resemble the scenery beyond Tony’s swimming pool where the ducks come and go, and Tony comes out of the coma. Tony’s uncle (and earlier his mother) almost kill him, but his children bring him back. The bartender’s comment to Tony that “Somebody’s probably working on that” in response to Tony telling him about his Alzheimer’s diagnosis and his uncle’s “memory loss” suggests that it’s ok for him to come back.
Although these family ties cut both ways, Tony’s loyalty to his family seems to pull him out of his coma. The expression “chance favors the prepared mind” may describe how his years of therapy have helped to prepare him for this moment. Tony emerges from his coma with a calmer, more spiritual approach to life, with a genuine appreciation for Carmela’s loyalty and support during his recovery, and a renewed sense of responsibility as a parent to his children. He is still not about to give up his day job, but he appeals to Phil Leotardo, for instance, after Phil’s near-death experience following a heart attack, to put aside their business rivalry for the sake of more important things in life such as enjoying their children and grandchildren. At the end of season six, with the Soprano family peacefully gathered together for another Christmas, we’re left in suspense until the final season to see if Tony’s new perspective on life, and the relative calm in his world are for real.
Tony has come out of his coma and is back at work. Janice has had a baby and comes in to Tony’s office with her new daughter, Domenica, in a stroller. Tony is commenting on the close resemblance between Janice and her daughter, and the baby’s lack of resemblance to Bobby Baccala, Janice’s husband and Tony’s employee.
Tony: “She’s your little twin. Baccala’s got no fucking genes at all.”
This quip draws unequivocal attention to the importance of family ties. Even though baby Domenica is related to her father, Bobby Baccala, by one half, and to Tony by one quarter of her genes the one fourth that she shares in common with Tony is the only connection that matters to him. Janice takes offense at Tony’s constant criticism and abuse of Bobby, but only because it means that she is indirectly financially affected by Bobby’s apparent underachievement as a mafia captain.
Janice (with Domenica), still visiting Tony in his office, plays up her role helping to care for Tony while he was in the hospital. Tony can’t resist giving Janice a hard time about her real motives.
Tony: “I appreciate it, but we both know, no matter how much help I gave, you’d still be here fucking complaining.”
Janice: “My God- there’s nothing holding us together but DNA!”
Janice should probably be grateful DNA is holding them together, otherwise Tony might have little use for her. In any case, Tony is willing to call her bluff and have some fun at her expense. The dynamic between Tony and Janice hasn’t really changed, in spite of Tony’s near death experience. The dialog here suggests that even when everything else is stripped away, family ties still bind unconditionally. Loyalty to the mob, in the same manner, is dictated by the “blood oath” upon induction and Tony feels strongly bound by both mandates. Even though his mother and uncle tried to kill him in season II, Tony didn’t punish them directly, and even though Uncle Junior nearly succeeded in killing him in season VI, Tony lets him live and is upset with AJ for his botched attempt to exact revenge on Uncle Junior by stabbing him. Janice is counting on Tony’s genetically based loyalty to her and playing it for all it’s worth.
Based on Tony’s history with his mother and Uncle Junior, however, this exchange also has a familiar undercurrent of risk for both Janice and Tony, as Soprano family feuds can be dangerous. We are reminded that loyalty based on DNA has its limits, by Patsy Parisi, one of Paulie Walnut’s crew members inherited from Uncle Junior. Patsy is now working for Tony in spite of the fact that he knows Tony ordered the hit on his identical twin brother Phil.
Fat Dom, who is a captain for Phil Leotardo’s New York family, is at Tony’s pork store giving Silvio and Carlo a hard time about Vito Spatafore’s recent death at the hands of Phil and his men. His insults drive Silvio and Dom into a rage and they kill him, and now they are trying to figure out what to do with the body.
Silvio: “Fuck! Tell Patsy and them- say we had to leave-uh- pipe broke. …when the store closes we’ll get him out.”
Carlo: “Cut him up in the work area.”
Silvio: “No more of that- DNA.”
This is the first time any reference to DNA or genetics occurs outside the context of conversations involving Tony or at least one of his immediate biological family members. The absence of Tony and any genetic connection to Tony in this dialog suggests that this is purely a forensic reference. Tony and his men never took any precautions against DNA evidence in the past, so this new level of awareness of genetic evidence and caution about it might be setting the stage for the events that will unfold in the future.