The Sopranos Killed Adriana Offscreen And We're All Better For It

One of the more interesting aspects of Adriana La Cerva's informant storyline in "The Sopranos" is how poorly she handles it. Rather than insist on a lawyer straight away, she buys the FBI's largely empty threats against her. By neither telling Christopher (Michael Imperioli) of what's going on as soon as she can nor giving the FBI any actual valuable information, she cements her own death through one bad decision after another. 

In fiction writing classes, novice writers are often advised to never make their characters feel incompetent, yet every head-scratchingly terrible decision Adriana makes through season 4 and 5 somehow only makes her more sympathetic, not less. Her repeated insistence on standing by Christopher, helping him through his issues even as he beats her and kills her dog (accidentally, but still) is heartbreaking because we know how futile her hopes for a happy life with him are. 

"Adriana's purpose on the show was innocence, and she was filled with love," said Drea De Matteo, who played the tragic character. Although Adriana wasn't entirely pure or anything, she was the character most capable of seeing the good side of everyone else. She was one of the few characters who rarely came across as cruel at any point. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly about the character's death, show writer Terence Winter explained

"She was guilty by association, but she certainly didn't deserve the fate she got. So her death was more painful than any of the gangsters who live by the sword, die by the sword. That her big sin was falling in love with Christopher made it that much more painful. I would be hard-pressed to name another episode that shook people up more."

Most importantly, her death served as the show's clearest moral condemnation of the mafia yet. As De Matteo put it:

"She told Christopher, 'I told [the FBI] nothing because I know nothing.' [Tony and Christopher] never tried to find out if she was guilty of anything and just impulsively took her life ... All they talk about is 'loyalty, loyalty,' but there's no loyalty when it comes to a loved one."

'I don't think any of us wanted to see Drea in that condition.'

The scene where Adriana dies is disturbing and primal. She clutches to the steering wheel as Silvio drags her screaming out of the car, and she futilely tries to crawl away into the woods. She shows such a clear, overpowering will to live that only makes the futility of her attempts all the more devastating. Yet notably the show decides not to show her actual death. Showrunner David Chase explained:  

"It's the only time in the whole history of the show in which we killed someone and we didn't show their point of view. It seems to be worse without it; we were imagining what might've happened to her and how her body would've been destroyed. I don't think any of us wanted to see Drea in that condition."

In a way, keeping her death offscreen makes the experience even worse for the viewer, as nothing is more horrific than our own imagination of how it played out. On the other hand, it gives her death a dignity that isn't afforded to so many of the other killed-off characters on the show. The only other character in "The Sopranos" to not have their death scene shown is, debatably, Tony Soprano himself in the finale

The love for Adriana extended off the set, as De Matteo's last day was one of the most solemn in the crew's run. "When we were on the stage that last day, they brought out a big cart of champagne and flowers," the actress said. "The whole wardrobe department filled my trailer up with balloons."

Imagining how things could've been

Not showing Adriana's death isn't the only unique creative decision made in "Long Term Parking." They also decided, at De Matteo's request, to cut a scene between Christopher and Tony, where Christopher tells him about Adriana being an informant and Tony agrees to kill her for him. "I was like, 'I don't care if you show the death!'" De Matteo said. "'I only care that nobody knows it's going to happen until it happens and that you drag that out.'"

Sure enough, the aired episode doesn't make it clear she's about to be killed until around the point where Adriana herself figures it out. The clues are all there, but like all good tragedies, "Long Term Parking" gets a lot of mileage over the audience's desire for things to go differently. Just as we spent the past two seasons hoping Adriana would figure out her way out of this terrible situation, her final episode gives us a glimpse of her getting into her car and driving away from both the mob and the FBI. "All you wanted for her was to escape," episode director Tim Van Patten explained. "And when you thought she was going to succeed, you were so happy for her and so relieved. When you realize she's going to her death, it's absolutely devastating."

What's most impressive about Adriana's storyline is how well it holds up to re-watch. The dream sequence works not just because it's shocking the first time through, but because it lets us imagine so easily how much better things could've gone for her. No matter how many times you watch it, the episodes still evokes the thought that hey, maybe she'll actually leave this time. Maybe this time she'll figure out Christopher betrayed before it's too late. But then the show cuts to Adriana in the passenger seat, and we're forced to accept all over again that this won't have a happy ending. On a show filled with tragic moments, "Long Term Parking" still stands above the rest.