The Sopranos was populated with nefarious and underhanded individuals doing deplorable things to other people for the sake of selfishness, greed, and lust. It was very rare for any paragon of human virtue to make an appearance on the show, but if there was one character to be lumped into that category by casual viewers, it would be Tony’s wife, Carmela Soprano.
Although she was capable of some moral acts and had the veneer of integrity and decency, the truth is that she was oftentimes capable of the same vices and dirty tricks that Tony used to make living. In her desire to be a good wife and mother, not to mention her fondness for her luxurious suburban New Jersey lifestyle, Carmela often ignored her conscience to suit her own needs.
In The Right: She Searched For The Truth About Adriana
One of The Sopranos‘ most gruesome and heartbreaking moments was Adriana’s execution for being an informant. Her sudden absence from everybody’s lives was explained away as her starting a new life elsewhere, but Carmela suspected something more sinister happened to her friend.
It turns out Carmela’s suspicions that Adriana was dead were correct. Her subsequent inquiries into the matter were well-intentioned and justified and could have put to rest the tragic indignity of Adriana’s murder had she actually gone through with an investigation. Unfortunately, her preoccupation with the spec house put those inquiries to rest, alongside the whereabouts of Adriana.
Guilty As Tony: She Used Intimidation To Get What She Wanted
There’s no denying Carmela was a fierce mother, willing to go head-to-head with anyone from Tony to Meadow and A.J. themselves if she thought it was for their own good. In one instance, she even took a page out of Tony’s book by using intimidation to get her neighbor’s twin sister to write a letter of recommendation for Meadow for university. The incident was one of the first indications that Carmela’s vaunted morality was nothing more than a sham, as she had no qualms about resorting to blatant intimidation to get what she wanted.
In The Right: She Eviscerated Livia’s Character At Her Wake
One of the central relationships of The Sopranos was that between Tony and his mother, Livia. The sudden death of actress Nancy Marchand squashed any further development of that dynamic, but not before the family got to say goodbye in season 3’s “Proshai, Livushka,” which gathered almost the entire cast to pay their respects to the monstrous matriarch.
Up until that season, everybody had tiptoed around Livia’s intolerable personality, playing it off or hoping to avoid being at the center of her ire. At her wake, Carmela laid a truth bomb on the assemblage by vivisecting Livia’s character with blunt accuracy. Considering the suffering and abuse she and her family endured at Livia’s hands over the years, she was completely justified in her character assassination.
Guilty As Tony: She Misdirected Her Anger At Her Daughter Meadow
Furio’s sudden disappearance before he and Carmela could consummate their mutual affection at the end of season 4 sent Carmela spiraling into depression. Uncharacteristically, it manifested as anger, which was more akin to how Tony dealt with his feelings. Like her husband, who usually picked on Georgie the bouncer, her anger found an undeserving focus in her daughter, Meadow, who is arguably the better of the two Soprano siblings.
Perhaps feeling jealous of a young life filled with the promise of new choices, Carmela began picking at her daughter, ruining their traditional high tea date at the Plaza Hotel. Whatever sadness Carmela was feeling, she had no right to take it out on her daughter just like Tony wasn’t justified at angrily venting at his wife.
In The Right: She Separated From Tony And Dated Other Men
A major running plotline of The Sopranos revolves around Carmela trying to reconcile herself with Tony’s philandering. In season 4’s final episode, “Whitecaps,” Carmela finally threw Tony out of the house and separated from him after one of his mistresses drunk-dialed the Soprano home.
Tony’s years of infidelity alone would justify Carmela’s actions in this episode, let alone having her home invaded by “the other woman.” Now able to move on with her life romantically, Carmela became involved with A.J.’s guidance counselor, Robert Wegler, finally receiving the attention, regard, and physical affection she was missing from Tony for so long.
Guilty As Tony: She Used Bribery For Affection
Carmela’s conscientiousness as a parent changed shortly after her separation from Tony. In order to curry favor with A.J., who was lashing out at his mother for the absence of his father, Carmela allowed him to go to New York for an overnight trip. Effectively, she took a page out of Tony’s book by offering her son a bribe for affection, which Tony has done on numerous occasions with his goomars (mistresses), Dr. Melfi, and Carmela herself. It backfired spectacularly, as, by her own admission, A.J. was not mature enough to handle the responsibility, which was evident through his drunken behavior. This incident in The Sopranos was one of the saddest things in Carmela’s life.
In The Right: She Confronted Her Elitist Mother
Tony and Carmela’s separation put more pressure on an already strained family dynamic, as evident when Carmela decided to throw a birthday party for her father in season 5’s “Marco Polo.” Carmela’s mother used her separation from Tony as a pretext to keep him from the party, but really, she wanted to keep Tony’s parochial charm from embarrassing her in front of some affluent friends. After the party ended, Carmela rightfully confronted her mother about her latent elitism and stood up for both herself and Tony’s affection for so-called “lower class” affectations.
Guilty As Tony: She Treated Friends Like Subordinates
Carmela was often a source of strength and support for her friends, most notably Rosie Aprile and Angie Bonpensiero following the deaths of their husbands. Although she could be generous and gregarious with those she considered equals, like Tony, she wasn’t above exercising her primacy over others whenever she felt like it, especially if she believed they didn’t have the same social standing.
This was most notable when she contracted Charmaine Bucco to cater an event at her house. Decked out like a princess and schmoozing with her guests like a socialite, Carmela summoned Charmaine to her like royalty would a peasant in medieval times. Through subtle gestures and demeaning commands, Carmela let her friend know who was the more powerful of the two in their close social circle.
In The Right: She Ostracized Uncle Junior
Carmela had her hands full dealing with both of Tony’s families, but when they both colluded to assassinate Tony in one of The Sopranos‘ best episodes of season 1, “Isabella,” Carmela did not forgive and did not forget. For Junior’s masterminding the attempt on her husband’s life, Carmela ostracized him their immediate family, not allowing Junior into her house or even to speak to her children or her on the phone. This is understandable because if Junior had succeeded, she would have lost her husband, her children would have lost their father, and the means by which she maintains her comfortable lifestyle would have been gone.
Guilty As Tony: She Was Ultimately Her Husband’s Willing Accomplice
For a good portion of the series, Carmela never saw herself as complicit in Tony’s crimes, seeing herself as a simple housewife who was working to redeem her husband in line with her religious beliefs. A trip to the psychiatrist in season 3’s “Second Opinion” dispelled any illusions Carmela may have had to that effect, and revealed just how guilty she was of the same greedy immorality as her mobster husband.
In a scene arguably as brutal as any murder on the show, her psychiatrist rightfully judged her as Tony’s accomplice and urged her to take the children and leave. The sad fact that she didn’t abandon her morally dubious yet comfortable lifestyle illustrates just how corrupt she really is.