Although the show’s ending is often considered its biggest enigma, much has been discussed about it in recent years, particularly the death of Tony Soprano depicted in a unique way in the final scene.
Another equally intriguing mystery, however, hasn’t received as much attention: the episode featuring Russian gangster Valeri in “Pine Barrens.” In a mix of violence, humor, and Beckett-like absurdity, Christopher and Paulie take an almost-dead Valeri to the woods to “finish him off” and bury him. They later realize he’s alive, he escapes, leaving the two beloved gangsters stranded in a snowy forest.
While such an ending was fitting for the series, known for its inexplicable situations and quirky characters, many fans wanted to know what happened to the Russian. David Chase, the series creator, was often dismissive, remarking in interviews, “Who the f**k cares about the Russian?” Yet, some team members hoped for a resolution to this story.
“Talking Sopranos,” a podcast hosted by Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, who played Christopher Moltisanti and Bobby Baccalieri respectively, focuses on the series and its behind-the-scenes stories. Terence Winter, one of the writers, recently guested on the podcast and decided to reveal his plans regarding the fate of Valeri.
Several seasons after the “Pine Barrens” episode, Christopher would have encountered Valeri in a Russian cafe. They’d lock eyes, but then the camera would reveal that half of Valeri’s head was missing. He’d be in a vegetative state, not remembering or recognizing anything, yet he’d still work for the Russian mafia, now just cleaning floors in bars. However, Valeri would keep staring oddly at Christopher, leading him to constantly fear that Valeri truly recognized him.
Winter presented this scenario to the show’s main creator, David Chase. According to Winter, his biggest mistake was suggesting that fans would love this resolution. Chase, preferring to keep viewers perplexed rather than appeased, declined the proposal, and the mystery of the lost Russian in the snowy woods remained untouched.
On the other hand, perhaps Chase was right. The “Pine Barrens” episode premiered in 2001, and 22 years later, people are still talking about it. Maybe its enigmatic nature has been the driving force behind its enduring narrative. Had Chase provided an answer earlier, it might have quickly faded from memory.