There is very little doubt in my mind that The Sopranos is the greatest TV show of all time. Every aspect of the show was absolutely perfect; the cast, the acting, the dialogue, the ever-evolving plots, the beautiful subtleties, the humour, the music, hell, even the violence was awesome. However, all of these wonderful qualities would have been in vain if it was not for the most crucial aspect of all – the characters.
The depth of the characters is what takes The Sopranos from being a good show to a truly great one. For six series Tony and his motley crew made us laugh and they made us cry, they horrified us and they intrigued us. From the mobsters to the mothers, the psychos to the shrinks, every person in Tony’s life brought another unique dynamic to the spectrum.
And whilst over the duration of the show our affections for these characters grew, it’s difficult to say that any would be particularly likeable people in real life. I mean Paulie may make you laugh, but would you really want him living next door to you?? I doubt it.
In amongst the murderers, thugs, drug dealers and crooks, I think there is one unassuming member of the Sopranos crew who was just as bad as this lot, and maybe even worse. Carmela.
Carmela Soprano, the matriarch of the Soprano family and apparently the long suffering wife of Tony. She may not have ever whacked anybody, beaten anyone’s head in with a golf club, or even threatened anyone for that matter, but in my eyes Carmela is just a guilty as the rest.
Most of Tony's crew might be thugs, killers and psychos, but at least they're honest to themselves about it. These men are what they are and they make no apologies for the life they lead.
Carmela has spent a lifetime turning a blind eye and looking the other way. She is fully aware of what Tony does and where the money that keeps her in the lifestyle she has grown accustomed to comes from. As a human being and as a devout Catholic she is fundamentally opposed to what Tony does, yet she is conflicted. Initially she is conflicted by her love of the material things like the cars, the houses, the jewellery; but more than all that, she is conflicted due to her love for her children. As a mother she wants to give her children the best life possible, Tony can give them that life, but it comes at a cost – Carmela’s own conscience.
She is painfully aware that her husband shags everything that walks. She knows deep down that all those old friends who have mysteriously gone missing over the years are not really in the witness relocation programme. She knows everything, yet she carries on for what she perceives to be the greater good.
Carmela has had more than her fair share of opportunities to turn her back on the life she has chosen and gain redemption, but she's always bottled it. In Series Three she takes a leaf out of Tony's book and visits a shrink of her own but is horrified when he lays it out straight for her. He implores her to take the children, leave the blood money behind and get out of the marriage immediately if she ever wants to be at peace with herself. Ultimately it is a warning she ignores. In final scene of the episode we find Carmela wrapped up in blanket upset and sobbing, she has made her decision and is now fully consigned to the mob-wife way of life. If ever a scene summed up one character it was this; Carmela conflicted and broken, literally trying burying her head away from it all.
Carmela is also not afraid to use her husband’s power. In Series Two, in an attempt to grease the wheels of Meadow's entry into a university of Carmela’s own preference, she shows how she is more than prepared to use Tony’s reputation in an attempt to gain a letter of recommendation from a neighbour’s powerful relative. Whilst the move does not sit comfortably, it highlights perfectly the contradiction in Carmela’s character and the depths she is willing to go to gain what she, and she alone, wants.
She’s also no mug. After seeing how the widows of Johnny Sac and Big Pussy struggle financially after their husbands have gone, she has the nous to take matters into her own hands. With Tony’s reluctance to open up the family finances, Carmela resorts to taking what she feels is rightfully hers from the Tony’s secret stash and invests it for a rainy day. She's even savvy enough to divide it up into small enough pieces so to avoid the attentions of the IRS.
Carmela doesn't really want to be part of the mob world yet is desperate for all perks that it provides. When working on the spec house she demonstrated how she longs to stand on her own two feet and prove that she can be a strong, independent woman, yet ultimately, whether she realises or not, she cannot do it without Tony’s money or his power. This dependence is ultimately why she is jealous towards her own daughter. Meadow is growing the woman that Carmela longs to be: independent, self-sufficient and confident.
It's quite clear that Carmela is not evil, she is not a killer. She is incredibly materialistic, she is torn by her love of her children and she is a product of a lifetime living the life she has led. Carmela is not guilty of the types of awful crimes that the likes of Ralphy and Christopher are; Carmela is guilty of a different type of crime. Carmela is guilty of spending year after year reaping the benefits from all of Tony's hideous crimes whilst constantly looking the other way. Constantly burying her head in the sand and gladly accepting the tainted luxuries that Tony provides. The real issue with Carmela is that she is 100% conscious and aware of all this, yet through it all, she continued to carry on regardless.
That is Carmela Soprano’s crime.