Why The Sopranos Had To Kill Christopher In Season 6

One of the more unique aspects of "The Sopranos" was the way it killed off its major characters. Season 2 featured its main antagonistic figure Richie Aprile (David Proval) being taken down not by any of the main gangsters, but by a spur-of-the-moment decision made by his fiancée, Janice (Aida Turturro). Season 4 showed Ralph (Joe Pantoliano) getting killed halfway through the episode out of retaliation for suspicion of him killing a horse. It would've been more expected for Ralph to get whacked back in season 3 when he was acting like a full liability to the crew; instead he's killed after he's mellowed out a bit and become more sympathetic than in his debut season. 

But it's with season 6's "Kennedy and Heidi" that the show does something truly unprecedented. Not only does it kill off Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), one of the most important characters on the show throughout its whole run, but it does so at the beginning of the episode. After a relapsed Chris crashes the car and nearly gets himself and Tony killed, Tony makes the cold, calculated decision to suffocate him to death and tell everyone he died purely from the crash. Although it was widely speculated that Christopher might not survive the final season, fans weren't expecting his death to be so anticlimactic. 

The rest of the crew seems sad to hear the news, but they get over it quickly. Tony himself doesn't feel any real guilt over the situation; he's cracking jokes at Chris' funeral and keeps bringing up the fact that the car seat in the back for Chris's daughter was destroyed in the crash. It's meant to be a justification for killing Chris — arguing that Chris had gotten so irresponsible he could've easily gotten his infant daughter killed if the circumstances were different — but the more Tony brings it up, the more it feels like a hollow excuse. He'd been wanting to kill his nephew for a while now, car seat or no car seat.

The devolution of Tony and Chris' relationship

On rewatch, one of the most heartwarming aspects of the early seasons is the relationship between Christopher and Tony. They may bust each other's balls, sure, but you can tell Tony genuinely loves his nephew and wants the best for him, and Christopher sees Tony as a father figure and respects his decisions. When Christopher is shot and nearly dies in season 2, Tony's devastated.

The first real sign of decay comes in season 4, in which Christopher's heroin addiction progresses to the point where an intervention's necessary. Because this is a show about emotionally stunted mob guys, the intervention goes poorly. Tony's enraged when he finds out Christopher accidentally smothered Adriana's (Drea de Matteo) dog to death, then disgusted by the revelation that Christopher was high during his mother's funeral. Christopher snaps at Tony, saying "The way you eat, you'll have a heart attack by 50." The intervention ends about as well as we could've expected it to, with the rest of the crew beating the s*** out of Christopher before he begrudgingly heads off to rehab. 

Christopher returns from rehab a new man, genuinely focused on maintaining his sobriety and becoming a better person. But as much as Tony claims he wanted him to get better, nothing annoys Tony more than the sight of someone becoming a better person. This was made most clear the season 5 episode "Cold Cuts," where Janice starts working on her anger problems, and Tony stomps all over it to make himself feel better. People changing themselves for the better just reminds Tony of how he's only changed for the worse over the years, and it brings out the most spiteful side of him. Throughout season 5, Tony's constantly going back and forth between shaming Christopher for his addiction and then shaming him for his sobriety. As much as Tony bashes Christopher for his relapse in season 6, it might not have happened if Tony had been even a tiny bit more supportive.

Tony and Adriana

Their relationship nearly ends a season early in "Irregular Around the Margins," where Tony and Adriana get in a car crash in the middle of the night, leading everyone (Chris included) to believe Tony was sleeping with Chris's fiancée. What makes the situation more damaging is that while Tony and Adriana technically didn't do anything, it sure seems like they would have hooked up if the crash hadn't stopped them. 

Although it's Adriana that deals with the brunt of the scandal, Christopher nearly gets himself killed when he drunkenly storms into the Bada Bing and points a gun at Tony in front of everyone. If anyone else had done this they probably would've been whacked, but because Tony still has some semblance of humanity left, he makes an effort to find a solution, and the two of them manage to work things out. The episode ends with Tony, Carmela (Edie Falco), Christopher and Adriana going on a double date, making a public declaration that the conflict between the two men is all behind them. 

At the time this may have seemed like a rough patch the two would be able to recover from, but in hindsight it was simply another sign of their inevitably decaying relationship. In season 6, Christopher produces a movie about an assassin who gets revenge on his boss in part for sleeping with his fiancée; the clear implication is Christopher still on some level believes Tony slept with Adriana and resents him for it. 

Long Term Parking

The biggest test of Christopher's loyalty to Tony happens when Adriana reveals she's been an informant for the FBI. Adriana gives him a choice: He could flip on Tony and enjoy a life free from the mob, or he could betray the woman he loves so he can continue living the lavish lifestyle of a made man. Adriana's offer comes at a pretty opportune time for him as he's become increasingly dissatisfied with his life, particularly in the way he's been treated by the rest of the crew. But in the end he chooses the mob, and Tony sends Silvio to murder Adriana in the one of the show's darkest moments.

Although Christopher tries to tell himself he made the right decision, by season 6 he's a shell of his former self. He jumps into a marriage with a woman he's barely gotten to know, and despite constantly expressing hatred toward Adriana, it's clear he knows deep down he threw away the only woman who ever truly loved him. What's worse is despite the massive sacrifice he made on behalf of the crew, he doesn't get any real credit for it. He's now placed under suspicion that he himself might flip, and the mockery over his addiction gets even worse. 

There are a lot of reasons for Christopher's relapse in season 6, but at the core of it is his understanding he made the wrong choice and he can never take it back. That's part of what makes Tony's smothering of him so especially cruel: Christopher threw away his chance of happiness for the guy who'd end up killing him.

Showing Tony's descent into pure evil

In a season 3 review for the show, TV critic Emily St. James described the central theme of the show as "people can change, but most are unwilling." The first half of season 6 has Tony recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound. Confronted with his own mortality in a way he's never been before, Tony tries his best to improve himself for the first time in a long while. Whereas seasons 1 through 5 mark Tony's gradual descent into an irredeemable person, season 6a was a brief period where Tony pulled back from the brink and made an honest attempt to change his trajectory. 

But as it turns out, improving yourself is hard, so it only takes a few episodes post-coma for Tony to find himself going back down the same old path. Even before Christopher's death, the second half of the final season shows us Tony at the worst he's ever been. He nearly decides to whack Paulie (Tony Sirico), his gambling addiction spirals out of control, and he gets in one of his most brutal fights with his wife since "Whitecaps." The episode after Christopher's death really zeroes in on how bad Tony's gotten, as he can no longer bring himself to even pretend to mourn the death of the person he once cared so much about. 

Much discussion has been made of the finale of "The Sopranos" and whether Tony dies during that final cut to black, but Tony's soul was gone long before that point. By the time he was coldly watching the lights fade out of Christopher's eyes at the beginning of "Heidi and Kennedy," there was no longer anything inside Tony worth saving.

A final condemnation of the mob

More so than anyone else on the show, Christopher was dealt multiple opportunities to separate himself from the mob. Tony gave him an easy out of the mafia back in season 2's "D-Girl," telling him that if he left then to pursue a career in Hollywood he wouldn't have to worry about any repercussions. The decision Christopher's faced with in "Long Term Parking" had much higher stakes, but Christopher responded in the same basic way. He's somebody with creative ambitions, but he can't pursue them because to do so would be to abandon the mafia world he's always known. 

If the biggest running theme in the show is the gradual loss of Tony's soul, the second biggest is the idea that the mafia, for all its perks, is not worth the trouble. By the time we reach "Kennedy and Heidi," Christopher's gotten everything he wanted on a surface level: He's got a nice wife and kid, an impressive house, a position of general power and respect. But he's still miserable because the cost of all this was way too high.

Chris is offered multiple chances to leave the mob and become a better person, and he turns each of them down. In a show that's ultimately a condemnation of the mafia, it makes sense that "The Sopranos" would ultimately punish him for these decisions. Much like with Tony's maybe-death in the finale, the moment where Christopher was truly beyond saving was when he let his crew murder Adriana. As sad as his death scene was, by this point in the series the Christopher we'd known and loved had long since withered away.