TV URBAN LEGEND: “The Sopranos” almost revealed the mysterious final fate of the Russian gangster from the episode “Pine Barrens” in an episode in the final season of the series.
When long-running television series begin to reach the end of their runs, there is often an urge (very often driven by the fans of the show) to try to resolve any unresolved stories left over from past episodes, whether such an impulse really fits into the final plot of the series or not. “How I Met Your Mother”, for instance, tried valiantly to resolve their long-running pineapple mystery in their final episodes (they never found a way to make it work). “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, on the other hand, seems to delight in defying fans’ desire to learn the true name of the Waitress before the series ends. When you take into account the famous final scene of the hit HBO drama “The Sopranos”, the show’s creator, David Chase, seems to pretty clearly lean towards the latter school of thought. The finale famously lacked a clear cut resolution to the life of New Jersey crime boss Tony Soprano.
There was another famous unresolved plot line on the Sopranos, though. In the acclaimed season three episode “Pine Barrens” (written by longtime “Sopranos” writer Terence Winter, who later created “Boardwalk Empire” and “Vinyl”, based on an idea by frequent “Sopranos” director, Tim Van Patten, who also worked on “Boardwalk Empire” with Winter), Soprano made men Christopher and Paulie were forced to fill in on a collection duty for another member of the crime family.
They were irritated at having to do collections and when one of the people they were collecting from, a Russian gangster named Valery, gave them attitude, Paulie snapped and killed the man. Or at least he believed he killed him.
When Paulie and Christopher drove to the Pine Barrens (a heavily forested area in New Jersey) to get rid of his body, they were shocked to discover that Valery was still alive. They then gave him a shovel and made him dig his own grave. However, Valery waited until their guard was down and then used the shovel to attack them and escape. Paulie then shot him in the head. Amazingly, Valery got back up and continued to run away. When the two men returned to Christopher’s car, they discover that it was stolen. So now the two men have to worry not just about the missing Russian but about surviving the night. They never found Valery, but they are eventually saved by Tony, who explained to them that if Valery shows up again and it causes any sort of problem with the Russian mob boss, Slava, then Tony would force Paulie to take responsibility for what happened. Valery was never seen or heard of again on “The Sopranos” (Slava was, though, so the presumption was that Valery never made it back to tell Slava about what happened).
Reader Matt G. wrote in to ask about a story he once read about Tony Sirico (who played Paulie) saying that they nearly addressed the Valery situation. Sirico, did, in fact, tell the New York Times soon after “The Sopranos” ended:
We had a scene this season when Chris and I are talking in the bar about whatever happened to that Russian guy. And in the script we were supposed to go outside and there he was standing on the corner. But when we went to shoot it, they took it out. I think David didn’t like it. He wanted the audience just to suffer.