The Sopranos defies genre in many ways. A recent rewatch of the series reminded me how hilarious the series was in addition to how it’s truly a study of human behavior. The show’s genius may lay in the fact that no detail goes wasted, everything feeds into something else. Events and emotions have consequences, just like in real life. Perhaps this is never more apparent than with Christopher, who is almost Shakespearean in how tragic a figure he is.
Christopher starts the series off as a young guy who wants to climb the ranks faster than he already is. Tony Soprano, who in the show’s early days is shot-calling without the boss title, wisely keeps Christopher’s growth within the family steady but not too fast. Christopher has mistakes to make still, but he’s the chosen one. On the surface, Chris seems to have a bright future and, as some might say, the world by the balls but there is a world of hurt and pain beneath the surface that dictates the direction and future of the character. In this article, I’ll be looking at several relationships of Christopher’s that helped shape his tragic fate and what made him–in my opinion–one of the most heart-wrenching characters in television history.
To get a full and accurate accounting of Christopher, we have to start with his parents. Dicky Moltisanti, Christopher’s father, was a soldier in the Soprano family crew, a path his son would follow. Dicky was shot and killed when Chris was an infant, leaving large shoes to fill in the world of organized crime for his son and also, like Christopher’s mother, issues with alcohol and drugs that got passed on. With his father deceased and his mother struggling with alcoholism and not always being present for him, Christopher’s relationship with Tony became even more of a focus in his life. Tony filled the older brother/uncle role for Chris, had a strong connection to Chris’ father, and was successful. For a boy who was in need of people to look up to in his role, Tony fit the bill.
The need on Christopher’s part to please Tony and to gain his recognition and respect is on full display for most of the show. Even when the two are at odds, the conflict can typically be traced back to Christopher not getting the desired response or credit from Tony, the way most kids are with their parents. Given that Tony was also his boss, things were even more complicated. From Tony’s perspective, you can see that he wants Chris to be his next in line. He grooms him at the rate that he thinks is best, which is often too fast for other guys in the crew and not fast enough for Chris. This leads to several conflicts among numerous characters, most notably between Paulie and Chris, which is a relationship we’ll get into further later in this article.
Another aspect that needs to be looked at is Christopher following in both his father’s and Tony’s steps career-wise. While we don’t know this for a fact, it’s a fair assumption to make that Chris never considered another lifestyle for himself, wanting to both honor the deceased father he never knew and please the man who played the man who filled that role for him. We see Christopher dream of another life for himself, writing and making movies, a dream that he did pursue but after he had already made a decision to devote his life to being a soldier. One can’t help but wonder if Christopher ever felt that he had a choice to be something else in life, or that his path was chosen for him. When frustrations surfaced with the life that he had, he always found comfort in his dreams, which represented a life where he was his own man and not overshadowed by the men whose footsteps he followed in.
The Sopranos wasn’t exactly a love story, but Chris and Adriana were in fact just that. No, their relationship wasn’t perfect by any means, but they did love each other. Going back through the show, it’s impossible to deny that all Adriana wanted was to live happily ever after with Christopher. It’s also quite clear that Chris didn’t know how to love her. He wanted to but look at the examples set for him in his life; no real relationship with his own parents, the men he surrounded himself with from a young age, weren’t faithful or even all that respectful to the women in their lives. They certainly didn’t treat them as equals—Christopher is a byproduct of men who lived a certain way and didn’t apologize for it. Christopher going to rehab was when everything changed for him. The more he learned about the recovery process; the more distance grew between him and the guys in the family. He wasn’t around as much because it threatened his sobriety, a fact the others didn’t understand and thought less of him for. This would become one of Chris’ greatest struggles throughout the rest of the series. The other would be Adriana’s murder.
Christopher chose Tony Soprano over the woman he loved. When faced with the choice of leaving with her and turning on Tony or knowing that her life would end, Chris chose to please Tony, like he always has. Despite his relapses, Chris was sober for stretches of time after Adriana’s murder. Without the numbing assistance of heroin and alcohol, Chris had to live with his thoughts. Without drugs and alcohol, he had to come to terms with how much he really loved her, and as time went on, he would also have to come to terms with the fact that he could never please Tony. To do the things he needed to do to stay sober, Chris needed to create distance. That wasn’t good enough for Tony. He wanted Chris to just “be normal,” something that any recovering alcoholic or addict knows simply isn’t possible. Can you imagine living in Christopher’s shoes, knowing that you signed the death warrant of the love of your life and what you hoped to get in exchange you could never have?
Season 6 of The Sopranos really allows the tragedy that is Christopher Moltisanti to shine. Chris is desperate to do anything to improve his life. He works the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, only to have the fact that he’s in the mafia limit how far he can go, particularly in relationships with those in the program. He marries a woman he accidentally gets pregnant, and they have a baby, hoping that starting this family can fill the void he feels inside. He finally makes a film, which turns into a revenge fantasy of sorts towards Tony, with a supernatural killer representing how Chris felt dead inside after losing Adriana and the life he used to think he wanted. Chris sought to escape his problems and feelings by attempting to drink or use in smaller quantities, but that always led to him crashing and burning hard. Everything that happened to Christopher after Adriana’s death was him trying and failing to ease the pain over him, putting Tony Soprano ahead of the one person who truly had his best interest at heart. From the day she was murdered until the day he died, Christopher was haunted by that choice, her memory never leaving him.
This is not to say Christopher was without his flaws–one of the best parts of The Sopranos was how well written and how human the characters were. A lot of Christopher’s problems were of his own doing, but with that being said, no character in the show was as tragic as Christopher. From his childhood to the resentments from others on his fast rise throughout the ranks, his battle with addiction and how being in the mafia made it extremely hard to recover and most importantly, having to hand over the love of his life to meet her untimely end, Christopher’s story is the definition of tragic. The guy didn’t stand a chance. Watching Tony end Christopher’s life during this rewatch, it stuck out to me that Christopher didn’t try to fight him at all. Maybe he had just felt too much pain in this life and was ready for it to be over. A beautifully written and acted character, heartbreakingly tragic and one of many reasons why we’ll continue talking about The Sopranos until the end of time.
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You think Chris “had to” give up Adriana?
I couldn’t agree more!! My heart broke for Christopher so many times, watching the YEARNING in his eyes as he talked about his childhood Heroes and how TERRIBLY much he wanted them to love and accept him. You could just see the young Chris begging to be loved by people who DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO LOVE. Tragic beyond words. Christopher was a DAMAGED man who kept trying to overcome that damage. Despite some of his truly horrific actions there was a heartbreaking innocence about Christopher, whose feelings could be so hurt by the cruelty of those whose love he so desperately needed.
No death in the entire series bothered me as much as that of Christopher’s. I always felt sorry for him, even though he was very impulsive and had done some awful things. I think his relationship with Adriana was dysfunctional but they did love one another in the way that they could. The acting of Michael Imperioli in the scene when he tells Tony about Adriana talking to the Feds was absolutely brilliant. Thanks for your great article. 👍
Christopher Moltisanti is forever trying to do better, for himself and The Family especially Tony Soprano.
From the very start Christopher Moltisanti wants to impress and episodes such as “The Legend Of Tennessee Moltisanti” Season One Episode Eight where Christopher Moltisanti is dismayed at his utter lack of progress and lack of respect from People within The Family such as Paulie and Tony.