My first memory of Tony Soprano was of him wading in the waters of his home swimming pool, attempting to help ducks. He was grasping for something more harmless. Later I learned Tony had a difficult relationship with his mother and uncle, he didn't understands his kids, his marriage had become a habit, and he didn't seem to enjoy the company of his friends and work associates. Those kids he couldn't connect with, that mother didn't know how to love him, responsibilities caused him undue stress. As Soprano approached a midlife crisis, he had a panic attack, health concerns, and what appeared to me as exhaustion. He started to visit a therapist, one of the most humbling and embarrassing things for an American man to do, and admitted he was depressed. I think Tony Soprano committed acts of violence, but I don't remember that when I think of him. I do remember he had the eyes of an abused circus elephant.
Tony Soprano looked nothing like the other Hollywood heroes I had ever seen. He didn't have the hair of Han Solo, or the muscles of that guy from Terminator movies. Tony Soprano was fat, balding, and looked nothing like a military strategist that he was. He looked more like a pencil pusher at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or a guy who should stand next to a metal detector at a JFK terminal. Soprano didn't look smart or even respectable, but he could organize and plan better than the likes of any in the state of New Jersey. I've always felt one of the most underrated aspects of Tony Soprano's universal appeal was the fact that he looked like the guy next door, the little league umpire, not Luke Skywalker or The Man of Steel. Tony Soprano looked like me.
Tony had responsibilities to the mob, but those became incidental as the series wore on. He could have been in any profession and still feel the weight of a suburban life. There was unhealthy competition at work, outside forces looking to over power him, and a teenage daughter looking to go to an expensive college. I think the best moments of Soprano, the ones that resonate, are when he is negotiating a fast moving world.
As we say goodbye to James Gandolfini, the man who was and will always be Tony Soprano, I don't recall the violence of his iconic character. Gandolfini played Soprano like an endangered animal. In another actor's hands Tony would have been Archie Bunker or Homer Simpson, but under the care of Gandolfini the character was the embodiment of the modern American male, existential, and stuck between a plate of onion rings and quick, cold black out. Without Tony Soprano there would be no anti-heroes like Walter White, or Vic Mackey, but as Gandolfini passes away I think without Tony there would be no anti-comedy of Louie. I don't remember the killing from Soprano, but I do remember the absurdity of the ducks.