The Many Saints of Newark promises an unprecedented look into the upbringing of The Sopranos’ lead character, Tony Soprano. In a series so involved with its protagonist’s psychology, such insights will be invaluable to reevaluating just what it is that made Tony tick. And as any therapist can attest, a person’s childhood plays a massive role in the person they become.
The longer HBO’s The Sopranos wore on, the more the series established parallels between Tony and his son A.J. that suggested the latter’s psychological issues were inherited. And now, The Many Saints of Newark will certainly touch on how similar Tony and A.J.’s upbringings really were.
Many of the parallels between Tony and A.J. started early on in the series. Both had fathers who headed their New Jersey crime family, and both were subsequently spoiled by their status so that they grew up with a sense of entitlement that caused conflict with a natural sense of empathy for the people around them. By the end of the series, that parallel only goes further as A.J. begins to suffer panic attacks much the same as Tony did at the start of The Sopranos. Tony even ruminates with Dr. Melfi about the prospect of his DNA itself passing his problems on to his son.
Yet, there was always a difficulty in drawing the parallel too closely. Namely, A.J. lacks the confidence his father possesses. While Tony often projects strength (albeit to his own psychological detriment) and backs it up with intimidation, authority and leadership, his son folds almost every single time he has the opportunity to step up and take control of his life. Stories centering on A.J. often feature his revulsion to violence, open depression and his frequent fits of whimpering that put into question whether he would ever be capable of following in his father’s footsteps.
There are differences in the upbringing of the two characters, though. Tony is said to spend much more lavishly than his father did, meaning A.J. grows up in a much larger house surrounded by signs of wealth and privilege likelier to spoil a child in the upbringing. There’s also something to be said for Tony’s deeper entrenchment in Italian-American traditions, steeped in history and enculturation to the point he sprinkles Italian into his language and carries with him age-old customs of manhood stricter than modern American masculinity. There was even greater pressure on Tony to be tough, so the similarity of his childhood to A.J.’s diverges to a significant degree.
The disparity between the characters begs the question of whether Tony was ever the same as A.J. Given A.J. is just a kid at the start of the series, it’s possible to say that Tony was much the same way before the many tragedies of his life “toughened” him up. As A.J. got older that became harder to say, but in The Many Saints of Newark fans will finally be able to see just what kind of kid Tony was.
There are countless mysteries about the past in The Sopranos that the prequel movie is sure to delve into, but Tony’s past will certainly be the most interesting. As a legendarily engaging hero, ushering in a new age of anti-heroes in prestige television, Tony Soprano had charisma and mythology that would be hard for any son to live up to. A.J.’s awkward teenage years make for some of the most excruciating moments in a rewatch of the series, but such an endeavor will be worth it once fans have the new context of comparing Tony’s upbringing right alongside it.
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