Part of: The Sopranos Features
Season 4, episode 13
The one in which: Tony and Carmela separate.
At the end of season 4 there aren’t any major enemies to get rid off. Ralphie already died in episode 9. But the real shocker this time is the disintegration of the Soprano marriage and it is total dynamite. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco do some of the finest acting ever filmed. Their fights are just so realistic and raw, it’s mind blowing. Both superb actors won well deserved Emmy Awards for their work in this episode.
09. I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano
Season 1, episode 13
The one in which: Tony and his crew deal with Uncle Junior and his cronies for trying to have him whacked. Tony also discovers his own mother was in on the murder plot!
The season 1 finale is totally satisfying. Rat Jimmy Altieri gets whacked. Villain Michael Palmice also gets whacked in a memorable scene in the woods (“I got poison ivy all over me!”). And Junior is arrested by the feds. Carmela discovers what father Phil is really about and tells him the truth. Evil Livia makes one final move against Tony by telling Artie what really happened to his restaurant. It all ends in the perfect finale during a stormy night in Vesuvio. Tony is the new boss and he’s enjoying time with his other family in the here and now. Bruce Springsteen provides the perfect ending tune with Mr. State Trooper. This is television reinvented.
08. Whoever Did This
Episode 4, episode 9
The one in which: A stoned Christopher and Tony have to dispose of Ralphie’s corpse whom Tony has killed in a rage over a dead horse.
A wonder of an episode. These damn writers make us feel enormous sympathy for a character who did something so evil in the previous season. Like the girl he killed would never come home to her son, the same thing now happens to Ralphie. His son Justin will never know what happened to his dad. It is just so sad and horrible. Tony did this to Justin like Ralphie did it to Tracy’s kid. Before this episode, we would have loved to see Tony whack this guy. We would have cheered him on. But now… Jesus christ. Ralphie was just on the path of doing what needed to be done. Sure, he was still a mobster. He would still have regularly kicked the shit out of a guy to bring Tony a fat envelope – and sometimes worse – but he was improving. And then Tony savagely kills him. Like some fucking animal….
07. Kennedy and Heidi
Season 7, episode 6
The one in which: After a car crash Tony suffocates Christopher. Then he treats himself to a leisurely trip to Vegas.
In the second half of the sixth season, Tony becomes the worst version of himself. Sure, he was always capable of these evil deeds. And occasionally he shocked us with his wickedness. But now he goes all the way. He doesn’t hesitate a second to choke the life out of his nephew when the opportunity presents itself. He may have had reasons for doing this, but this is just a horrible goddamn mess. Afterwards, he doesn’t seem to feel any regret and flies to Vegas to have sex with Christopher’s goomar and take a peyote trip with her in the desert. It’s a very dark hour, and once again sublimely written, acted and directed.
06. Members Only
Season 6, episode 1
The one in which: Eugene inherits money and wants out, but finds out he can’t. Tony tries to take care of Uncle Junior and gets shot.
Season 6 starts with a bang. A big one. The atmosphere of the new season is totally different than the previous seasons, but there is no doubt this is The Sopranos. The ‘Seven Souls’ montage that opens it is as great as the ‘It’s a Very Good Year’ montage that started the second season. And focussing heavily on a previously unimportant character (Eugene) works very well. We see what happens when a made member wants out and it ends in the most disturbing suicide scene ever. It also surprises us a number of times. Rather than becoming the big rat like everybody thought, Raymond Curto dies of a stroke. And Junior shooting Tony is a terrible scene and one of the few times the show ends with a cliffhanger.
05. The Blue Comet
Season 7, episode 8
The one in which: A full-on war erupts between New Jersey and New York.
‘The Blue Comet’ is a real nail biter. Who will live and who will die? All bets are off. By playing with the audience’s expectations and fears, this episode feels as if Alfred Hitchcock could have directed it. The final bodycount is five, and that doesn’t include Silvio who’s in a coma at the end. Apart from the many resolutions in the Family, Tony’s therapy gets terminated too. Melfi, after realizing Tony is never going to change, kicks him out. Unlike Diane Keaton’s final image in The Godfather, who is blocked out by a door being shut for her, Melfi is the one who slams this door shut. ‘End times huh’, Agent Harris remarks early in the episode. That’s for sure. But ‘The Blue Comet’ leaves enough threats open to be resolved in the finale.
04. Pine Barrens
Season 3, episode 11
The one in which: Paulie and Christopher get lost in the woods.
A fan favorite directed by one of Chase’s favorite directors Steve Buscemi. There are Fargo references, but the snow was merely a coincidence according to the episode’s writer Terence Winter. The plot is about setting boundaries and what happens when one crosses them. This leads to a hilarious episode with some of the funniest dialogues and performances of the show. The Sopranos was often way more funny than the funniest comedies, and this episode is the comedic highlight of the series. Paulie: “You’re not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. The guy was an interior decorator.” Christopher: “His house looked like shit.” It doesn’t get better than this.
Season 1, Episode 5
The one in which: Tony takes Meadow looking for colleges, while Carmela hangs out with the local priest.
This is the episode that really took the show to the next level. For some of the best writing, acting and directing of the series, look no further than ‘College’. The two stories mirror each other in a brilliant way. Carmella’s confession: “I think he has committed horrible acts”. To Tony confessing to Meadow that he is in organised crime: “Some of my money comes from illegal gambling and whatnot”. And then he brutally murders a man for breaking the omerta. Chase is an extremely smart guy. There are more confessions. Meadow tells Tony she took speed. And Carmela tells Tony Father Intintola has spent the night at the Soprano house while Tony was away. And then: “Your therapist called… Jennifer?” Tony confesses: “It’s just therapy. We just talk. That’s all.” Like Carmela and Father. No sex, just talking.
02. Long Term Parking
Season 5, episode 12
The one in which: Adriana gets killed for ratting out the Family.
A gut wrenching episode in which we have to say goodbye to another show regular. The final images in which Tony and Carmela inspect the ground of their new spec house, have a Godfather-like quality. The fallen leaves indicate it’s a place similar to where Adriana was killed moments earlier. Another sacrifice to pay for their decadent lifestyle. Their whole world is built on blood. “You’re alright?” Carmela asks Tony. “Me?” Tony replies. “Yeah. Absolutely”. Wow.
Season 2, episode 13
The one in which: Tony discovers through a series of fever dreams that his longtime friend and associate Big Pussy is a rat.
I now see that my favorite three episodes all have to do with rat extermination. Obviously, this is one of the central themes that The Sopranos used to create terrific drama and suspense. ‘Funhouse’ also brilliantly uses dreams to drive the plot forward, which makes this my favorite television episode of all time. When I first watched it, I just couldn’t believe it. I was hoping for a terrific episode to wrap up the season, like season 1 did with ‘I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano’. A conventional finale that neatly ties up the remaining storylines, although The Sopranos was never conventional. ‘Funhouse’ did something else entirely. By adding twenty minutes of dreamtime I got much closer to Twin Peaks than to the mob films it originally seemed to be based on. It does resolve the main remaining story – that Big Pussy is indeed ‘singing’ for the feds and needs to get whacked – but it does so in a brilliantly surprising way. By delving into the main character’s subconscious and making him realise the ugly truth his conscious self couldn’t accept. Michael Imperioli (who plays Christopher) has a theory about the episode he explains in the Talking Sopranos podcast. He believes Tony didn’t have food poisoning at all, but that it was the knowledge that he had to kill his friend that made him so sick. And killing his friend he does. The scene on the boat, of which the interior scenes were shot in a studio, is a dramatic highlight of the show. Brilliant acting by the cast, especially James Gandolfini and Vincent Pastore as Pussy. It’s ridiculous that season 2 didn’t win the major Emmy Awards that year, but they weren’t ready for The Sopranos yet. The show has been groundbreaking from the beginning and this episode really took it to another level again. Words are not sufficient to express how amazing this episode – or the whole show – is. It’s just incredible.