The Best Episodes of The Sopranos
When lists are being compiled of TV’s greatest ever shows, certain ones never fail to be included amongst the upper echelons. Of all these revered programmes however, a strong case can be made that the very best of the best, the crème de la crème, is David Chase’s peerless crime drama, The Sopranos. The show combined searing drama with psychological musings and genuine comedy. Across six seasons, it also showcased possibly the greatest character arc of all time in the shape of James Gandolfini’s conflicted Tony Soprano, an often brutal man who suffers from panic attacks as he juggles the pressures of family life with those of being a full time mobster. It’s quite hard to narrow down single episodes as the whole show is pure class, but here is just a small selection of the show’s greatest outings.
(Credit: AV Club)
S1 E5: College
In this early episode we get perhaps the ultimate example of the conflict Tony faces between separating his work and family life. While taking his daughter Meadow to look at colleges in New England, Tony spots a former gangster turned FBI informant and this prompts his two worlds to collide in the most dramatic of ways. Tony is compelled to take action and his violent nature comes to the fore just as powerfully as his caring fatherly side. It’s also this episode where Meadow straight out asks her father if he is in the Mafia, a fact which Tony flatly denies, a telling glimpse into the mounting pressure he faces in keeping his worlds apart.
(Credit: AV Club)
S2 E13 Funhouse
Tony experiences a variety of dream sequences throughout the show and one of the finest comes in this season two episode where a bout of food poisoning leads to him having some wild visions. The most vivid of which regard his friend turned FBI informant, Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. The whole season focused on Big Pussy’s turn and this episode marks the climax to this intense storyline. It’s at its heart an emotional character study as Tony and his crew come to terms with their friend’s betrayal. When the group all take a quiet boat ride together, the range of emotions Tony goes through is clear to see in a masterclass of acting from Gandolfini.
(Credit: The Hollywood Reporter)
S3 E11: Pine Barrens
A firm fan favourite here and one which features surprisingly little of the Sopranos themselves. This time, the focus is instead on Paulie Walnuts and Christopher Moltisanti who turn a routine collection into a huge old mess when things go awry and Russian mobster Valery winds up in the trunk of their car. They wind up trying to dispose of the body in the woods, only to discover that Valery is very much alive and is able to make a run for it. Paulie and Chris soon wind up lost and petrified in an icy cold forest and it turns into a dangerous bonding experience for the pair. Plotlines are let unanswered, but it’s an unforgettable character development for both men and a reference point that crops up again and again.
S4 E13: Whitecaps
This season finale marks the final breaking point between Tony and Carmella with the long-suffering wife deciding she can take no more after one of Tony’s mistresses phones the house drunk. For years it’s his work life that has caused the worst of his stress but here it’s Tony’s family life that comes crashing down around him. The angry exchanges between the two escalate rapidly and both James Gandolfini and Edie Falco are in absolutely sterling form. The tension between husband and wife has been simmering for four seasons now, and in this one explosive episode, years of bitterness come to the fore.
S4 E9: Whoever Did this
Tony has various antagonists throughout the shows run, often they are friends disguised as enemies and a prime example of that is Joe Pantoliano’s Ralph Cifaretto. Ralph is a major pain in Tony’s ass and an all-round annoying hot-head. In this episode, Ralph’s son end up in a coma whilst at the same time, Tony’s beloved horse “pie-oh-my”, is burned up in a stable fire. Tony accuses Ralph, the horse’s former owner, of causing the fire deliberately for insurance purposes and after Ralph makes the mistake of questioning Tony’s upset, the pair get into an almighty fight. It’s an interesting look at Tony’s moral relativism on show here, and his increasing detachment from human life. It’s an intense episode and one in which Tony’s brutal anger takes centre stage.
S5 E12: Long Term Parking
A powerful episode here in which there are some major developments in the crew’s ongoing issues with Johnny Sack’s family. The main focus however is on Christopher’s girlfriend Adriana and her increasing desperation after she is forced into ratting to the FBI or facing a long prison sentence. This is the episode where she finally tells Christopher the truth and the pair share an emotionally wrought moment as they decide what to do next. Few scenes in the entire series can match the tension found in this outing when Ade then gets a ride from Silvio to an uncertain destination.
(Main Photo Credit: HBO)