By Christian DiMartino
I am no television expert.
I used to always be stuck in conversations in which people gloated and bragged about how they watched Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad in a week flat. As someone who really didn’t have an interest in TV outside of Seinfeld, I used to always think to myself, “Ah, what it must be like to not have a life.” Mind you, I even watched a lot of entertainment back then too, but to hear that people could knock out roughly 60 hours worth of television IN A WEEK had me a little disturbed.
That is, until I got into TV shows.
It’s still a fairly recent development for me, and a habit that isn’t consistent. I am not a “bingewatcher,” per se, but in the last two years or so, I have consumed a lot of television, and to be honest, I now understand the hype. Shows such as Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies, The Leftovers, Orange is the New Black, Dead to Me, Kidding, The Outsider, Ozark, and so on, have all done a tremendous job of holding me in their grip, leaving me wanting and craving more after each episode. In some ways, TV shows can be better than movies, in the ways that they flesh characters out. Some shows are purely character driven, and if a show takes many seasons to flesh these characters out, more often than not it’s worth the journey. Especially if you grow to care for certain characters. It’s especially heartbreaking, in that regard, when certain character’s lives are brought to a tragic end, which is, as you know, the topic of discussion for this essay. Yet in this essay, I am choosing what I believe to be the most tragic, in the way that it haunted me ever so dearly, and still lingers as I sit here typing. As you can probably assume, spoilers lie ahead.
Now again, I am no TV expert. There are still a plethora of shows out there that I have yet to witness. Yet I have still seen my fair share of television tragedy. My heart broke with you all whenever the adorable Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) was tragically killed on Orange is the New Black, a death that has surely stood the test of time so far considering the horrific murder of George Floyd. My heart also broke witnessing the infamous Red Wedding on Game of Thrones (that one, along with Pedro Pascal’s teeth and skull crushing, fall among the more shocking and tragic). Yet to date, I don’t believe a single TV death has affected me more than that of Adriana La Cerva.
Anyone who has seen this show will know the name, and the moment, and just why it is so gosh-darned devastating.
For over a decade, I heard people rave and rave about The Sopranos. I was pestered to watch it for many years, with people telling me it’s an all time great. So, 13 years later, I finally saw it- around the time of the COVID-19 outbreak, to be exact. Needless to say, I agree with the choir. The Sopranos is an all time great, and a masterpiece. At first, I just kept wondering where it was going, and what it was doing. Yet the deeper you get into the show, the more its point becomes abundantly clear. The more its characters fully bloom, and creator David Chase really does a beautiful job, for 6 (well it’s kind of 7) seasons, inserting us into the lives of Tony Soprano (the late, brilliant James Gandolfini), his friends, and family. The show walks a really unique, fine line with its characters. Much of the time, you may be charmed by Tony and friends, and you may laugh with them. Yet the point of the series, as I see it, is that you should never lose sight of who they really are: murdering, thieving sociopaths. To a degree, I still like some of these characters, and it wants you to, but at the same time, you must constantly remain alert that these people are not only mobsters, but monsters.
This point is ever so abundantly clear in the death of Adriana, and it is her final episode that, I believe, defines what the show really is.
Adriana La Cerva (Drea De Matteo), for those who do not know, is the longtime girlfriend of Christopher Moltistanti (Michael Imperioli). La Cerva, often times referred to as Ade, is charming, gorgeous, and funny. She also, like every woman in this show, deals with a lot in terms of her lover. She stands by Moltisanti through physical and verbal abuse, drug addiction, affairs, etc. She also, believe it or not, happens to be perhaps the only character who is purely “good” in the entire series. Don’t get me wrong, I love Edie Falco’s Carmella Soprano too, but she definitely has her reasons for staying with Tony (basically, for the power, as he tries to help her with housing developments. But maybe love is involved too). I also loved Lorraine Bracco’s Dr. Melfi. Technically, she didn’t do any wrong either. But with the exception of a few instances, they’re never actually in danger. Yet Ade is thoroughly innocent, through and through, putting everyone’s needs before her own. Her heart is just about always in the right place. It is the goodness within Ade that makes this death such a tough pill to swallow.
Ade meets her fate in arguably the finest episode of the series, titled Long Term Parking, the penultimate episode of season 5. Throughout the season, Ade is really put in a horrible ringer. A ringer so dreadful that you truly root for her to get the hell out of there. Beginning in season 4, Ade is essentially roped into being an informant for the FBI, seeing as her boyfriend is in the mob, and is the cousin of Tony. When we see her in season 5, she’s sick to her stomach and practically deteriorating because of how much the guilt is getting to her. She has this, along with a rumor going around involving her and Tony getting physical. Said rumor sort of causes a rift between Tony and Christopher.
Which about brings us to Long Term Parking. After Ade is seen covering up evidence of some sort on camera footage, the FBI essentially tell her that she will be imprisoned, unless she begins wearing a wire right then and there. She instead offers a compromise: seeing as Tony and Christopher are on the rocks as it is, Ade believes that she can get Christopher to turn, and betray Tony. Ade, being the sweetheart that she is, scared out of her mind and very well aware of how the love of her life may react, tells Christopher the truth. What happens in this scene is some of the best acting you will see… perhaps ever, but definitely in The Sopranos, which is pretty high praise. Christopher, with his low tolerance and occasional violent temper, proceeds to strangle Ade. How they pulled this scene off is beyond me; it genuinely looks like De Matteo is at death’s door. Not to mention, as Christopher is choking her, we see multiple shades of Christopher that I don’t believe were present at any other time. He’s furious, terrified beyond belief, and yet still furious, to the point where he is THIS close to killing the woman he loves… and yet he begins weeping, probably right before he completely crushes her windpipe, because we know what these two have been through, we know what they’re about to go through, and despite his current anger, she is still the love of his life. Both De Matteo and Imperioli won Emmys for the 5th season, and if I had to guess, it was for this very moment, and this very episode.
After the choking is done, Ade and Christopher decide that they’re going to run away together, and flee from Tony and the police. While Christopher is filling up his gas tank, however, he spots a poverty stricken family with their belongings strapped to the top of the car. Shortly after, Ade gets a call from Tony, saying that Christopher tried to kill himself. It is from this point on that we witness some of the show’s most masterful storytelling. The whole episode belonged to Ade, and yet in the final act of this episode, we are essentially seeing her journey through her eyes. We are at first given a glimmer of hope: Ade appears to have come to her senses, packed up her things, and drove off into the sunset… and then reality has sunk in. Rather than running for the hills and living a peaceful existence, she has actually chosen to stay with the man she loves because she knows he loves her too, and that they can both lead a happy life on the road together. Turns out, Ade is actually riding with Silvio, one of Christopher’s friends, to go visit Christopher in the hospital. Throughout these final minutes, due to our affection for Ade, we wish her the best, and we truly hope that the outcome she is expecting is the one she is going to get.
Alas, this is not so.
Silvio pulls into the woods and parks the car. Ade has a confusion for a split second, and then the horrific reality sinks in. Screaming and begging for her life, Silvio pulls her out of the car, and as Ade begins making a run for her life, she is shot off-screen. The screams still ring through my ears, especially since the fright and desperation that ran through Adriana the entire episode, and season, was finally reaching its unfortunate, tragic end. It’s funny, even today people have a theory that because we didn’t actually see her get killed, that she is actually still alive. That just goes to show what an impact this character made; we don’t WANT to believe that she is dead. Yet The Sopranos, like the show around them, simply have the iciest blood running through their veins, and wouldn’t go for such a thing.
There comes an episode in the final season in which you see a flashback in which Christopher comes to Tony asking for help because of what Adriana has done. That scene was actually supposed to be in Long Term Parking, but De Matteo urged them to cut it because she wanted us to see Ade’s journey through her eyes. It’s such a brilliant move, especially because it more than adds to the tragedy.
I can’t say that the show killing her off was a surprise, necessarily- The Sopranos wastes no time in knocking off crucial characters. Yet the genius of Long Term Parking lies in the fact that it was kind of a guessing game: Will Adriana and Christopher make a run for it, or will Christopher turn on her? What broke my heart so dearly about Adriana’s death is the sequence of events, and the circumstances, surrounding her death. Adriana’s heart was large, and she pretty much always wore it on her sleeve. Her heart, and her devotion to Christopher, ultimately get her killed. She was thinking for the both of them- she loved him dearly, envisioned a life together… yet in the end, she died for him.
Man, oh man, did this death tear my heart out. So much so that I am writing about it 16 years after the episode aired, and three months after seeing it. I guess I decided to write about it today because… GAH, I JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT. I actually have urged many to watch the show, simply for the fact that I want to talk about how amazing it is, and how much certain moments affected me. In fact, I could also definitely write an essay about the season 4 finale Whitecaps, and the series finale, which has generated quite a debate over the years… but another time. I think the death of Adriana is the most important of the series though , because it solidified what Chase and his brilliant writers were trying to capture all along. Even Tony had an affection for Adriana, but when it comes to saving themselves, they will of course put themselves first, and eliminate any and all traitors. Adriana had the purest heart of any character in the series, and her giant heart is ultimately what cost her her life. If that ain’t tragic, I don’t know what is.