The Sopranos – 100 Greatest Moments: 20-11

20. Failed Hit

Episode: Isabella (SE1, EP12)
Characters: Tony and two hitmen

Although you know Tony will survive – what would The Sopranos be without T after all? – this attempt on his life is still a very tense affair. Luckily these ‘Boyz II Men’ sent by Junior and Mikey Palmice screw it up big-time. Tony not only survives, the huge adrenaline level raised by this experience takes him right out of his depression. Also look out for The Godfather reference. Tony is carrying a bottle of orange juice. Don Corleone was buying oranges when hitmen came to gun him down.

19. My Uncle Tony

Episode: Long Term Parking (SE5, EP12)
Characters: Christopher and Adriana

Christopher is getting increasingly frustrated with Tony. The lines he delivers here are pure poetry. “That’s the guy, Adriana. My uncle Tony. The guy I’m going to hell for.” If only he had put that in his movie script. Speaking of which…

18. Premiere Night

Episode: Stage 5 (SE6, EP14)
Characters: The whole family

The premiere of Cleaver is one hell of a great party. The movie is really funny for one thing. Daniel Baldwin delivers a terrific Tony performance (“what, you’re gonna argue with me now?”). Then there is the basement, the bathrobe, the cleaver which reminds of Chrissy’s first pork store kill… It’s all there… Off screen, hilarious things are happening as well; Paulie’s phone call, Carmine’s speech, the director’s lack of speech, Phil Leotardo’s comments (“hot and sticky, like my balls”). This really is a postmodern masterpiece.

17. All in the Family

Episode: The Knight in White Satin Armor (SE2, EP12)
Characters: Janice and Richie

The ink on the contract that Tony put out on Richie isn’t dry yet, or he gets popped by his own fiancé. Hitting a Soprano is never a smart play, Richie discovers. As it turns out, Janice is a cold blooded murderer like her brother. This is one of the greatest surprises that The Sopranos has to offer. The build-up is perfect; the gun they use for sex, Richie’s gay son to fight over, the problems between Richie and Tony… it all leads to this moment; the death of troublemaker Richie. All Janice has to do now is get rid of the body, but having a brother high-up in the mob has its perks…

16. 16 Czechoslovakians

Episode: Pine Barrens (SE3, EP11)
Characters: Paulie, Christopher and Tony

The episode ‘Pine Barrens’, in which Paulie and Christopher are lost in the woods with a Russian commando walking around who they failed to kill, is pure comic gold. In this scene Tony warns them over the phone; “The guy you’re looking for is an ex-commando! He killed sixteen Chechen rebels single-handed! He was with the Interior Ministry. Guy’s like a Russian green beret.” Paulie hangs up and tells the story to Chris; “You’re not gonna believe this. He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator.” Christopher: “His house looked like shit.” Brilliant dialogues! The Czechoslovakian remark also touches on Christopher’s first murder, the Czechoslovakian Emil Kolar.

15. Desperate Hours

Episode: Long Term Parking (SE5, EP12)
Characters: Christopher and Adriana

Feeling she has no options left, Adriana tells Christopher about the FBI. He first responds with furious rage; he almost kills her with his bare hands. Then, he is devastated and considers leaving for a while. The scene is one of the most intense in the series and features powerhouse acting by Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo.

14. Are You in the Mafia?

Episode: College (SE1, EP5)
Characters: Tony and Meadow

The now already famous question asked by Meadow is answered with some sincerity by Tony. Of course he lies at first, but then he tells her that some of his money comes from illegal gambling. They have that kind of relationship, Meadow stresses. One of the first and finest moments in which Tony’s Mafia and family life cross each other.

13. Running Gag

Episode: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (SE1, EP13)
Characters: Christopher, Paulie and Mikey Palmice

The first season’s bad guy Mikey Palmice gets whacked in this scene by killers Christopher and Paulie. For a second it appears that he is going to escape when he runs into the forest, but Christopher is a wickedly fast runner and catches up with him and puts one in his leg. Then Mikey begs for his life before Paulie and Chris pump him full of lead. A lesson from Coppola: It is important to add a detail to a murder scene to make it memorable. In this scene, Poison Ivy does the trick. Paulie runs into some bushes of the stuff and immediately can feel it itching on him. This gives him all the more reason to whack Mikey, while Christopher already has a personal reason for the kill: “You shot Brendan Filone in his bathtub naked, no chance to run!”
“No”, Mikey replies, “it was Junior.”
Christopher: “Yeah right it was Junior. Mr Magoo!”
Paulie: “I can feel it itching on me already”. BLEM! BLEM! BLEM! BLEM! Goodbye Mr. Palmice. Quite satisfying indeed.

12. Non Judgemental Confrontation

Episode: The Strong Silent Type (SE4, EP10)
Characters: Christopher, Dominic Palladino, Silvio, Paulie, Benny Fazio, Furio, Carmela, Tony, Adriana and Joanne Moltisanti

Christopher’s intervention is a comical highlight in the series. How are these guys gonna be non-judgemental? Paulie, Silvio and Tony’s sharings are all funny enough to piss your pants. When Christopher starts to talk back, things get even more hysterical. If your intervention ends with a fractured skull, you know you have a couple of great friends.

11. When Your Number is Up

Episode: Funhouse (SE2, EP13)
Characters: Pussy, Angie, Tony and Silvio

Tony had a revealing dream about Pussy, so he goes to see him. Pussy instantly knows, the minute he hears Tony. This is it. Tony found out. There are too much coincidences; Tony out of bed while having food poisoning; wanting to take a boat ride; having a diarrhea attack while upstairs; Silvio requesting coffee downstairs… Pussy has been in the Mafia, he knows the tricks they use when they want to whack somebody. Of course part of him is in denial; maybe they don’t know shit, but upstairs Tony is finding the final piece of evidence he needs. This is it for Pussy.

The Sopranos: 10 Favorite Episodes

Part of: The Sopranos Features

10. Whitecaps
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.

03. College
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.

01. Funhouse
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.

My Sopranos Obsession: Final Analysis

By Jeppe Kleyngeld

In 1999, a mobster walked into a psychiatrist’s office and changed television history forever. The Sopranos was a revolution because it taught us that television can be just as good as cinema. Many of the 86 episodes that would eventually be produced are as brilliant as the best five star movies.

The show’s creator, David Chase (an Italian-American originally named DeCesare), wanted to achieve a number of things with the show. It had to be entertaining; he and his friends would have to enjoy it. It had to be set and filmed in the state he grew up in: New Jersey. And it would have to feature local Italian-American actors to make the portrayals as real as possible. Thematically, the show was mostly about realising the American dream and achieving happiness in the modern era. A time in which many Americans feel that the best is over.

At the centre of the Sopranos-universe Chase placed a character that might never be surpassed in how three-dimensional, how larger-than-life and how monumental he would be written and performed. The late James Gandolfini made Tony Soprano the anti-hero of all anti-heroes, and the most memorable lead for any tv-show before or since. James Gandolfini really delivers a Marlon Brando/Vito Corleone kind of performance. The beauty is: this is 86 episodes, so the depth he is able to create for this character is nothing less than astonishing.

Chase had always been a big fan of gangster movies like The Godfather, GoodFellas and the old James Cagney classics, and decided it would be interesting if the main character – originally named Tommy Soprano – would be a New Jersey wiseguy. This had never been done before. Gangster films are mostly set in New York, L.A., or Chicago, so this would be a big differentiator of the show. The Jersey suburbs and wastelands would form a very interesting canvas against which the characters would perform their outrageous, damning and often hideous acts. Beyond every envelope Tony receives from one of his underlings, there is a story of pain and suffering. Like the time when mobster Paulie suffocates an old lady with a pillow to get his hands on some cash.

Not only would the main character be a mobster, he would be a mobster in therapy. Tony starts going there from the pilot onwards to deal with panic attacks, a condition that resulted from growing up with a wiseguy father and batshit crazy mother. Chase’s own mother, a terribly negative and dysfunctional woman, formed the inspiration for Tony’s mother Livia. Fantastically portrayed by Nancy Marchand, Livia would become the most famous villainous mother character in television history. She would also be key to one of most incredible storylines of the show, the one in which Livia – together with Tony’s uncle Junior – tries to have her own son whacked for putting her in a nursing home. This is a comedy. But a very intelligent one.

It is no surprise that The Sopranos instantly became my favorite tv-show ever, if you know that GoodFellas is ever since its release my all-time favorite movie. The Sopranos is – in a way – 86 episodes of GoodFellas-style quality viewing. But it is by no means a rip-off. What the two productions have in common is that they portray the lifestyle of the street level wiseguy. And in both cases it becomes quickly apparent that there is nothing remotely glamourous about these lifestyles. The Soprano family in New Jersey make their money by offering ‘protection’ to businesses (mostly the garbage industry) against other gangsters looking to rip them off. They also lend money to gambling addicts at ridiculous interest rates. And they always make their money through (the threat of) violence.

Mobsters are capable of this vicious behaviour because they lack empathy. They don’t mind ruining a guy’s life or murdering him if that can make them a quick buck and they can get away with it. It is this psychological aspect of the gangster’s life that gets a lot of attention in The Sopranos and it’s fascinatingly done. As an audience, you’re spending a lot of time in the company of killers. The thing is, these guys are really funny and it’s extremely entertaining to see how they go about their daily business and what their private lives look like. Therefore as a viewer, you often forget what they are really about. And then, time and again, you’re confronted with savage behaviour and brutal violence often aimed at the unlucky and innocent.

The main characters of this show are thus all sociopaths capable of terrible deeds. Even their wives lack empathy. How else can they stand being around these guys for so long? The very first episode already shows us who these people really are. The young mob wannabe Christopher (Michael Imperioli), who wants to prove himself, murders a guy just to hang on to some stupid garbage scheme. And Tony purposefully hits a degenerate gambler with a Lexus and then savagely beats the crap out of him. The casual way this violence occurs should tell us: This is what these guys do, have been doing, and will forever be doing. It is really bad and will get worse. How can they cope with it and how should we as viewers? The show doesn’t judge, but just shows us these characters for what they are. We are the moral judges ourselves.

According to Michael Rispoli – who was in the running for playing Tony and ended up playing Jackie Aprile – the pilot script already had the brilliance built into it. He was therefore not surprised at all that it became a hit. There were so many ways you could go with this story. And he was right. Chase and his very talented writing and production team really went for the best cinematic quality they could accomplish.

After the pilot was shot in 1997, HBO ordered a full season which was shot in 1998 and premiered on the pay channel in 1999. It became a huge success. Audiences, in that first year 10 million viewers, loved it and became instantly hooked. The first season, which might very well be considered as a 13 episode mega movie, is an absolute masterpiece. In an early review in 1999, The New York Times wrote it may just be the greatest work of American popular culture of the last quarter century.

What was a very smart move by creator Chase – who had worked before as writer/producer on such shows as The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure – was to include elements that a wide audience would enjoy: Tony’s ‘normal’ family life with his wife Carmela (a fantastic Edie Falco), interactions with non-criminal locals in New Jersey, the modern Italian American lifestyle and the very realistic therapy scenes. But by making Tony a depressed arch criminal who enjoys beating and killing rivals, he added dimensions that make the show much more layered than the sitcom audiences were used to: The Sopranos is so rich and accomplished in its writing that you can watch it five times and still find it immensely enjoyable and discover new details every time. Even in what is considered one of the worst episodes of the series – ‘Christopher’- there are classic moments. Like the mobsters sitting on their asses in front of the pork store complaining about Native Americans. “When did we ever get anything without having to work our asses off?” says Vito dead serious. “I would like to sit on my ass all day, smoking mushrooms and collecting government checks”, says Bobbie. And this happens after the episode ‘No Show’ in which the crew gets paid for doing absolutely nothing whatsoever. These characters…..

After the extremely positive reactions to the first season, Chase and his teams went for an even better second season. When I viewed the Season 2 finale – ‘Funhouse’ – for the first time, I knew right away: this is an entirely different league than anything that I have seen before on the small screen. It can comfortably compete with the best of Scorsese, Kubrick, Tarantino and Coppola. Yes.

Rather than copying the proven formula of the previous season or successful episodes, they took the show in a new direction every time. The first season centered mostly around the power struggle between Tony and his uncertain uncle Junior (a brilliant turn by Dominic Chianese). It famously ended with Tony surviving an assasination attempt orchestrated by his mother and uncle, and then becoming the new boss of New Jersey. A major plotline in the second season is Tony’s friend and associatte Pussy’s betrayal to the feds. When his own best friends are forced to murder him in the final episode, it becomes ever more clear that they will have to make very costly sacrifices to maintain their lifestyles.

Season 3 starts with Livia’s death (due to the death of the actress who portrayed her) and the feds increasing their efforts to bring down Tony. Had Livia been around she would have played a major role in season 3. Instead, three new volatile characters are introduced: Jackie Jr., the dumb son of the deceased old boss of the Family Jackie Aprile, Ralphie (Joe Pantaliano), the craziest mobster ever, and Gloria (Annabelle Scoria), the new borderline love interest of Tony who can be considered as a temporary replacement for Livia (along with Tony’s crazy sister Janice who was introduduced in season 2).

Halfway through the season, the makers confront us with two shocking episodes. In ‘Employee of the Month’ – Tony’s psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, the only moral character apart from Charmaine Bucco, is brutally raped and due to mishandling of the evidence, the rapist is released. Rather than putting Tony on the rapist, Melfi stays true to her personal values. Not since The Godfather has the delivery of a simple “no” made such an impact. In ‘University’, like in ‘College’ in season 1, it is the audience that is getting schooled. In this incredibly hard to watch episode, we witness Ralphie beat a young prostitute – and mother to a young boy – to death because she insulted his ego. As disturbing as the act itself are the crew’s reactions to the violation (‘she was just a whore’ and ‘he disrespected the Bing’). These are the guys we enjoy so much watching. It’s like the relentless psychiatrist Dr. Kwakower tells Carmela halfway through the season: ‘You can never say you haven’t been told’.

The season ends with the hilarious ‘Pine Barrens’ in which Paulie and Christopher – the Maffia’s own Cheech and Chong – get lost in the woods. Two characters get a resolution this season. Tony uses mobster Patsy to end the affair with Gloria (“my face will be the last you’ll see, not Tony’s. We understand each other? It won’t be cinematic”) and Jackie Jr. gets killed after pulling an incredibly stupid robbery on a made guy’s card game. Villain Ralphie surprisingly survives the season, only to get killed off in the ninth episode of season 4 right after the makers manage to evoke sympathy for the character. That season’s final shock is the disintegration of the Soprano marriage. The final episode ‘Whitecaps’ features some of the greatest acting ever in a television show between James Gandolfini and Edie Falco who both won an Emmy Award for Best Lead in a Drama Series.

In the fifth season, things are really turning dark and the show – inevitably – becomes harder to watch. The season showed us that no one can escape Tony Soprano. Both Carmela and Tony’s cousin Tony B. (Steve Buscemi) find this out the hard way. The only character to ever pull this off is Furio, who fled the country in season 4 after losing respect for his boss because of the way he treated Carmela, the woman he fell in love with.

After Pussy had to go in season 2, another major character is killed off in episode 12 ‘Long Term Parking’. Christopher’s fiancée Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo) was talked into cooperating with the feds in season 3 and in this shattering episode, she meets her tragic demise. Imperioli’s and De Matteo’s stellar acting earned them both an Emmy for this season. At the end of season 5, a war with the much more powerful New York Family is averted and its new boss Johnny Sack is pinched by the feds. Tony buys his way back into Carmela’s life by giving her a spec house. And finally, he murders his own cousin to appease the New York mob.

The first part of the final season starts off with a shock. Tony is shot by his demented uncle Junior and nearly dies. During his coma, he travels to another domain of existence in which he leads an alternative life as heating system salesman Kevin Finnerty. After his awakening, he briefly has a more positive outlook on life. But in this depraved world, we learn once again that no one, not even Tony himself, can escape it.

And so, the bulldozer Tony continues on his destructive path through Jersey leaving loads of misery (and corpses) in its path. “You’ve caused quite some suffering yourself, haven’t you?” Dr. Melfi confronts Tony at one point. But there is really no point in trying to get through to this narcissistic sociopath. No point whatsoever. At the end, Melfi realises this too and kicks him out of therapy. But not before he causes even more misery. Like his mother before him.

In Season 6 B – the final 9 episodes – Tony alienates even his closest friends and associates. Even more disturbingly, he becomes more and more like his evil mother. In the first episode ‘Sopranos Home Movies’, he enjoys telling his sister Janice a horrible story about a child drowning just to upset her (which succeeds perfectly). He also sends his brother-in-law Bobbie out to murder somebody just to get back at him for some petty beef. And he sinks even lower in episode 6 ‘Kennedy and Heidi’. In this very dark episode he suffocates his own nephew Christopher after a car crash. He may have had reasons to do so, it is still a definite damnation of his soul.

The final season doesn’t end with Tony searching for redemption like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III. In fact, like Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller rightly observed in their terrific book ‘The Sopranos Sessions’, in the final scene it seems that everything that has transpired barely made a dent in this guy’s thick skull.

In the final season, everything is building towards that final moment in which Tony and his family are, like in the season 1 finale, in a restaurant (a final analysis of the ending can be found here). It is a quantum mechanical ending in the sense that it is all things at once. It is a death scene and not a death scene. There seems to be threats and everything seems to be cool. The family is together and not together (we never see Meadow enter). Tony got away with everything (Phil is dead), but is also in deep shit (Carlo is testifying). What will occur after the screen goes black? We can only ask ourselves. David Chase – the artist – said that he just wanted to show that life is precious and the ending can come for all of us at any time. Then he uses a quantum mechanical term: the probability that someone like Tony would get killed is of course much greater than the average person. What ending will be manifested? That is up to the viewer.

Life itself caught on to the ending in an ironic way when the ending for James Gandolfini indeed came out of nowhere. May he rest in peace. And so, the legendary show, that ended so legendary in 2007, gave us a real life shock six years later when Gandolfini departed.

It is now 2021 and the show is still ‘alive’ in every way. Two prominent actors of the series – Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa – started a podcast ‘Talking Sopranos’ which features many cast and crew members, including Lorraine Bracco, David Chase, Dominic Chianese, Steven van Zandt, Terence Winter and Vincent Pastore.

For those – like me – who still can’t get enough, this is a blessing. Even better, in October the long awaited prequel The Many Saints of Newark arrived in cinemas. Most television shows are quickly forgotten after release, but I am pretty confident that The Sopranos will be around for a very long time. Like the music of The Beatles or the plays of Shakespeare, it is a timeless piece of art.

In Talking Sopranos, Imperioli, Schirripa and many of their guests reflect on what a unique experience the making of this show has been for them. Never before or after, did they enjoy working on a production that much. What they describe is the magic that happened when this show got made. I immediately felt it when I started watching: this is something truly special. And now, 20 years later, I realise all the more that this was really a rare thing. That something comes together so well. Like with The Beatles, it was unbelievable that four musicians so talented found each other and were able to pull it off. In The Sopranos, the brilliant original vision of the creator found the perfect cast and collaborators to bring it to the screen, and – let’s not forget – the perfect platform in HBO to put it out there. I don’t expect to see anything like this anytime soon, but like The Beatles, I can always go back and revisit the series anytime and experience the magic once again.

 

My Favorite TV Episode of All Time

You know that we do take-away.
We deliver too.
Open twenty-four hours, babe.
Just waiting on a call from you.

The Sopranos
Episode 26 – Funhouse (Season 2 Final)

Directed by
John Patterson

Written by
David Chase & Todd A. Kessler

Regular Cast
James Gandolfini … Tony Soprano
Lorraine Bracco … Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Edie Falco … Carmela soprano
Michael Imperioli … Christopher Moltisanti
Dominic Chianese … Corrado ‘Junior’ Soprano
Vincent Pastore … Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero
Steven Van Zandt … Silvio Dante
Tony Sirico … Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri
Robert Iler … Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano
Jamie-Lynn Sigler … Meadow Soprano
Nancy Marchand … Livia Soprano

Guest Players
Jerry Adler … Herman ‘Hesh’ Rapkin
Federico Castelluccio … Furio Guinta
John Ventimiglia … Artie Bucco
Dan Grimaldi … Patsy Parisi
Frank Pellegrino … Frank Cubitoso
Robert Patrick … David Scatino
Louis Lombardi, Jr. … Skip Lipari
Matt Servitto … Agent Harris
Sofia Milos … Anna Lisa
Maureen Van Zandt … Gabriella Dante
Toni Kalem … Angie Bonpensiero
David Margulies … Neil Mink
Nicole Burdette … Barbara Giglione
Tom Aldredge … Hugh DeAngelis
Suzanne Shepherd … Mary DeAngelis
John Fiore … Gigi Cestone
Robert Lupone … Bruce Cusamano
Barbara Andres … Quintina
Sig Libowitz … Hillel
David Anzuelo … Flight Attendant
Kathleen Fasolino … Meadow’s friend
Ray Garvey … Airport Guard
David Healy … Vice Principal
Ajay Mehta … Sundeep Kumar
Jay Palit … Indian Man

Wrap Up
Tony is feeling pretty good, despite his mother busting his chops after Janice left. He solves it by giving her airline tickets of the Scatino bust-out, so she can go and visit an old aunt (aunt Quinn, the other miserabile). He’s earning good enough money with a prepaid phone card scheme to buy Carmela a mink coat and he’s not so depressed anymore. Another reason for Tony’s untroubled state-of-mind is the demise of Richie, ‘All my enemies are smoked’, Tony tells his crew optimistically during a diner. But it is too good to be true, his unconsciousness tries to tell him. He gets food poisoning the day after. And in a fever dream Silvio tells him, ‘our true enemy has yet to reveal himself’, in true Al Pacino style. Silvio is even wearing the maroon vest Pacino wore in The Godfather III.

Pussy’s not feeling so well. He has to give his phone card earnings straight to FBI Agent Skip Lipari. He didn’t get food poisoning though, even though he ate at the same restaurants; an Indian place and Artie Bucco’s. Tony suspects Artie’s shellfish, but when Artie calls Pussy they find out he doesn’t have any symptoms, while they had different courses at the Indian place. Tony starts dreaming again, about him at the boardwalks. First he dreams that he sets himself on fire in front of his friends because he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer (‘what if they’re wrong?’). Then he dreams that he shoots Paulie Walnuts during a card game. He discusses the meaning with Dr. Melfi in a dream therapy session, while he also talks about Pussy. ‘Pussy’ in multiple ways.

Tony knows something is not feeling right about Big Pussy. He also knows someone has to get whacked, because of the Paulie dream. In another dream sequence, a fish who looks and talks like Big Pussy tells Tony he has been working with the federal government. Tony still doesn’t want to believe it, but when he wakes up he knows what has to be done. A little later, Tony and Silvio come by Big Pussy’s house to pick him up to help them buy a boat. Tony, still sick, pretends to get another attack and goes into the upstairs bathroom. While Silvio keeps Big Pussy downstairs with Angie, drinking coffee, Tony searches the bedroom. He finds what he was looking for; wiring equipment and tapes. When Tony comes downstairs he says, ‘who’s ready to buy a boat?’

Paulie Walnuts is waiting by the boat and Pussy is getting nervous. The boat departs and when open water is reached, Pussy is taken below deck, where Tony confronts him with his betrayal. After denying it, Big Pussy has no choice but to confess. He knows his number is up. And after a last round of tequila with his friends, the inevitable happens, Tony, Paulie and Silvio shoot Pussy and he drops dead in the cabin. His body is placed in a bag with weights and entrusted to the Atlantic Ocean.

When Tony comes home, his mother calls to tell him that she is being held by airport security for the Scatino tickets. Not much later the FBI comes by with a warrant. Just when Tony is handcuffed, Meadow comes in with her friends, one day before her graduation. Luckily Tony gets off easy but he is still concerned. The season ends the way it started, with a montage of all the Soprano crew’s businesses, such as Barone Sanitation, the Jewish owned hotel, the phone card scam and David Scatino who’s divorced, broke and leaving town. The scene is scored by The Rolling Stones with ‘Thru and Thru’, an insanely great choice.

At Meadows graduation party the whole Soprano cast is present and it’s one big happy family again. Tony stands alone in the living room, smoking a cigar and reflecting on recent times. The final shot is from the ocean, where Pussy sleeps forever.

Why Great?
This final episode of the second season is extremely well written and directed. It is a powerful and surprising final episode that reminds of a Greek tragedy. Tony has to make his hardest decision yet. This is totally necessary in his leadership position, but he was also the one who loved Big Pussy most whose death is therefore a great loss for him. And for the viewer as well. Pussy’s passing and the dream sequences leading up to it are so far the most exciting and memorable moments of the Soprano saga.

When I first watched ‘Funhouse’, 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 – 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*1 about the episode. That 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.

Finest Moment: Pussy on the Brain
Tony is having fever dreams while suffering from bad food poisoning. All dreams have certain elements in common; danger, cancer (destruction from inside out) and Pussy. It all leads up to this final dream; the dream in which Pussy – in fish shape, but it really looks like Pussy! – reveals to Tony that he is working for the government. It is in moments like this that The Sopranos is at its most powerful; using a dream as a method to really push the plot forward. In the first season, when his mother wanted him whacked, Tony was in denial and started fantasising about a Madonna. But he didn’t acknowledge the truth until he heard his mother speak on the FBI tapes. Now, Tony has learned to listen to his subconscious. He has been having a strange feeling about Pussy for a long time and now he is open to the ultimate truth. When he wakes up he knows. The fish is also a brilliant find. In a macho gang like the Sopranos, it is considered unmanly to betray your friends. Therefore, it is Pussy – the guy with the feminine name – who’s a rat. There is also a pussy joke in there, pussy smells like… you get the picture. The reference is also to death, as in ‘sleeps with the fishes’, and it foreshadows Pussy’s ultimate resting place, the ocean. This dream is the perfect crossover between the series’ essentials; the mob and psychiatry.

*1 Talking Sopranos Podcast, episode 26 – Funhouse.