Tony Soprano Is Going to Hell

For six seasons, 'Sopranos' fans have been asking what will happen to Tony. The answer: He is going to hell.

Tony Soprano
The opening image of "The Second Coming," the third-to-last episode of "The Sopranos," is a steaming pile of trash. The camera lingers on the image for a moment, then cuts to a wide angle of the refuse at the edge of a New Jersey marshland. The waste is seeping into the water, contaminating a whole region, a whole people.

"Sopranos" devotees know that this isn't just any trash—it's Tony Soprano's trash, a pile of asbestos produced by a workers union the Sopranos are extorting. Tony's mob-chief rival, Phil Leotardo, will no longer allow Tony's crew to dump in one of Phil's waste sites without paying a steep price. So Tony passes on the cost of doing business to thousands of Garden State residents.

The trash is a fitting image for Tony's decline as northern New Jersey mob boss and patriarch of the extended Sopranos family. "Waste management" has long been Tony's cover for his crime syndicate, but more importantly, trash has been a way for "Sopranos"-creator David Chase to make literal the ways in which the Mafia, as imagined by popular culture, is in the business of disposal. Mobsters don't just execute victims; they make them disappear—dark plastic bags; cement shoes; Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, and Ray Liotta digging a midnight grave in "Goodfellas." Being a good mobster means being a good custodian. 

But we're in the End Times for Tony Soprano, which could mean he's headed for an apocalypse, a complete unveiling of his crimes as the FBI finally gets their guy. That's not likely to happen, but Tony's past is still present. He hasn't been a good enough manager of waste. Earlier this season the FBI discovered the resting place of Tony's first murder victim, a man Tony killed more than two decades earlier. The murder of Adrianna, fiancé of Tony's nephew and surrogate son Christopher Moltisanti, continued to haunt Tony and precipitated his decision to murder Christopher. These and other debris from Tony's past keep filtering into his life like refuse into the New Jersey marsh.

The image of burning asbestos, then, is the answer to what has always been the most pressing question for fans of "The Sopranos": What will happen to Tony?

Answer: Tony Soprano is going to hell.

Or: he's already in it.

Just outside Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom lies Gehenna, an ancient site which was used for child sacrifices, the cremation of criminal corpses, and the disposal of refuse. Several times in the Gospels when Jesus speaks of a place of damnation, he refers to Gehenna, which Jesus' hearers knew was forever dark, forever burning, and right around the corner.

Hell is a burning trash heap. And in some sense, it's a place here on earth.

For Tony Soprano, hell is a place of his own making, a place he has willfully chosen in spite of numerous opportunities for redemption. Tony's potential for moral transformation, to choose good instead of evil, has always been part of the drama of "The Sopranos." While many Mafia stories involve operatic descents into damnation, a la Michael Corleone in "The Godfather," Tony's evil is that of fits and starts. He cheats on his wife, Carmela, then dotes on her and pledges fidelity. He is a deadbeat dad who nonetheless responds from time to time to his kids' needs for protection and provision. He exudes concern for his associates and their families, even as he uses them for his own gain.
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Patton Dodd
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