By Shea Vassar | August 18, 2021
Carmela: From the Beginning
Carmela Soprano née DeAngelis was born in 1960 to Hugh and Mary. What is known of her early life is gathered from bits and pieces of conversations. Tony and Carm met in high school and were married in 1982, the same year Meadow was born. Though curious about intellectual topics, her getting married and starting a family at a young age left no time for higher education.
On several occasions Carmela attempts to venture into the workforce but fails for various reasons. Though jealous of women who have the opportunity to go to college or start their own businesses, she has little motivation to make her own money because Tony’s income supports her family’s upper middle class lifestyle. In return, she tries to be a successful housewife—though the maid comes in a few times a week—and mother to Meadow and Anthony Junior. It’s not always enough. Underneath it all she remains embarrassed by her own lack of intellectual sophistication.
Meadow: From the Beginning
Meadow Mariangela Soprano was born in New Jersey in 1982 to Anthony and Carmela Soprano. While Meadow is seventeen when the show begins, her big personality and sassy attitude suggest she has always been like this. Booksmart and clever, she is strong willed and often blurts out her thoughts and opinions. While there are times when her social life is her main priority, Meadow still manages to succeed in her academic career, first in high school, and later at Columbia University.
With wide interests and an ability to charm those around her, Meadow’s opportunity to excel is not limited to a particular field. Her potential is first seen and acknowledged by the time she is a teenager, and her mother worries about who might influence her. First Carmela is watchful of Hunter Scangarelo’s influence over her daughter. She perceives Hunter, one of Meadow’s closest friends, as a waste who will not grow up to be anything admirable. Then Carmela is suspicious of Jackie Aprile Jr’s intentions as Meadow’s boyfriend. The latter could be a manifestation of a mother’s hope that her daughter will not fall into the same mobster wife’s life that she will endure eternally.
Tension between Carmela Soprano and her daughter, Meadow, is evident from the beginning of The Sopranos. What first appears to be a simple moment of angst between parents and their teenager takes on a more nuanced meaning from the emotional and mental depth creator David Chase puts into the show’s long arc. Young Meadow is mean to her mother because she wants to be everything Carmela isn’t. Ironically, in the end, she becomes just like her.
The Pilot Tells It All
“Miss Meadow,” Carmela says before opening her daughter’s bedroom door. Dressed in a lavender skirt suit, her medium-length blonde hair perfectly hovers above her blazer’s shoulder pads. “Every year on this date since you were itty bitty, Mom and Meadow get all dolled up, drive into New York, Plaza Hotel, for tea under Eloise’s picture,” she says to her daughter. Meadow continues to lay on her bed until her mom carefully dangles a pair of gloves in front of her face. She suddenly sits up after Carmela insists the two always have so much fun. “To tell you the truth, I felt it was dumb since I was eight. I just go because you like it.” Carmela tries to hide her disappointment as she pauses, “And here I thought this was something we would do long after you got married with girls of your own.” Meadow replies, “Hopefully I won’t be living anywhere around here by then.”
In retrospect, this conversation reveals more than just a snarky teenager who thinks they are too cool for their parent. Meadow is confident in telling her mother that she not only dislikes the yearly tradition they have practiced for nearly a decade, but that she hopes to get far, far away from New Jersey and her family. Although Carmela might want a future for her daughter that she never had the chance to achieve, Meadow’s mention of living away from the family is an unspoken disappointment.
From Coast to Coast
Carmela’s desire for her daughter to stay close is explored throughout season two as Meadow begins her college application process. Meadow wants to go to the west coast, to the University of California, Berkeley. Neither Soprano parent is in favor of this move. While Tony might be afraid of the liberal attitude stereotypical of West Coast schools, Carmela’s fear of losing control of her daughter is a major motivator.
Armed with ricotta pie, Carmela visits her neighbor, Jean Cusamano, a second time. The last time she talked with Jean, Carmela insisted that her sister, an alumna of Georgetown University, write a letter of recommendation for Meadow. This time, Carmela brings with her an unspoken threat. It is one of the only times Carmela uses her well known status as the wife of a mobster: she requests this innocent civilian help secure the letter.
Carmela dedicates herself to keeping Meadow somewhere close to home. And, in the end, Meadow decides on Columbia University, just on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. While Columbia is not exactly a right-winged paradise, Meadow’s constant visits to the Soprano household allow Tony to voice his opinions while Carmela keeps an eye on her.
Towards the end of season four, there is an episode where the Soprano family head to Manhattan to have dinner at Meadow’s new apartment. Carmela’s bad mood could be due to a number of things (including the disappearance of Furio, the man she has been crushing on all season long), but there is still all the underlying tension between her and Meadow that bubbles to the surface. “The fact that Mead has got roommates and a boyfriend and a whole life that viewers no longer know very much about just underlines how independent she is becoming. Meadow is no longer trapped in that little corner of NJ where she grew up. But Carmela still is, and she knows it. She envies her daughter’s opportunities,” the Soprano Autopsy website states about this episode.
A conversation about Herman Melville’s Billy Budd brings Carmela’s embarrassment about her lack of sophistication to the surface. While her frustrations could also be caused by other incidents happening in this season, the overwhelming emotion that Carmela normally hides spills over. Even if she does not acknowledge her envy of Meadow, or her unease at being one of the least refined people in a room, her children pick up on these sentiments.
As a call back to the pilot episode, Meadow and Carmela meet for tea and scones under the Eloise portrait at the Plaza Hotel. Again, Carmela is unable to hide her resentment towards Meadow, who at one point yells, “Would you rather I go to Montclair State? Then maybe I could drop out like you did.” The strained relationship witnessed in Meadow’s room during the first episode of the series has only gotten worse.
Everything changes when Meadow gets engaged.
All Carmela’s schemes and watchful protection couldn’t hide her desire for her daughter to succeed in this predictable and old fashioned way. Once Meadow’s interests had turned to social justice and the law center where she volunteers, Carmela officially had nothing in common with her little girl. Now, with a wedding to plan, that all changes. Meadow is in no rush to tie the knot, but this sliver of similarity allows for a bandaid to slow the bleeding of her relationship with her mother.
In the end she doesn’t even marry Finn, her long term boyfriend turned fiancé. Towards the end of the show, Meadow tells her family that she is going to law school, and dating Patrick Parisi, a mob son. The decision to go into the legal field is not a complete surprise. She spent a lot of time at the pro-bono law center, and was an intern at a law office in the first part of season six. But Patrick Parisi is a different story.
For so long, Carmela bragged about her little girl who would be a pediatrician. While legal and medical careers are about equal in terms of prestige, Patrick’s influence as a lawyer is a major distortion in Carmela’s plans for Meadow. Despite this, the obvious progress the young Soprano has made as an independent adult away from New Jersey and the organized crime life is now null, as Patrick is the son of one of Tony’s men.
It might not appear like Meadow’s fate is similar to her mother’s—she has the three things Carmela has longed for, education, a career, and prestige—but is this what she wants? Because this question cannot be confidently answered, I believe Meadow is making decisions without truly knowing what she wants. She has set herself up to live a life fuelled by bitterness and jealousy. And she will never have the option to escape the mob family she has been connected to from birth. She has become just like her mother.