Once every so often, something special comes along that takes their particular field by storm and goes down in history. The Sopranos certainly falls into this category and will go down as arguably the greatest TV show ever.
I myself was a latecomer to this legendary show and once I started watching I could not stop. I could not believe how it had taken me so long to discover such brilliance. The acting, storyline, and scriptwriting are what make it such a unique and authentic program.
Trying to construct a top five from a total of 86 episodes was almost impossible but I somehow managed to construct what I consider to be the five greatest Sopranos episodes.
5. Season 1, Episode 8 – “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti”
The ‘family’ is alerted that the FBI are getting ready to raid their homes, which causes them to abruptly depart a wedding to do some ‘spring cleaning’ as Tony calls it (clearing their homes of all the money and weapons they have). Soon enough the news is everywhere, with the names of the suspected gangsters being mentioned on the TV. Christopher sees this but does not hear his name mentioned, which many would see as a good thing, however, he is furious as he feels he is not being recognised for his work, plunging him even further into depression. He allows his frustration and anger to get the better of him, as he shoots a bakery worker in the foot as he feels he isn’t being shown enough respect. Christopher’s lust for ‘respect and recognition’ is a reoccurring theme through the whole show, even though in many circumstances he often gets away with things others wouldn’t, solely due to the fact he is Tony’s nephew. Meanwhile in the more tranquil surroundings of Tony’s mum’s nursing home, Junior is paying a visit to his sister-in-law, who lets slip that Tony is seeing a psychiatrist. Junior can hardly believe what he is hearing and this is the spark that starts the deteriorating relationship between the two, reaching a climax in a later episode. As Christopher is lying in his bed drowning his sorrows he gets a phone call from his mum saying his name was in the paper, in a story relating to ‘the mob’. He springs out of his bed and goes to grab as many copies of the paper as he can. Finally he gets the recognition he has been waiting for.
4. Season 2, Episode 4 – “Commendatori”
Tony, Paulie and Christopher head back to the homeland – Italy, to do some business with their Italian ‘cousins’. The three are introduced to Furio, a fellow gangster and their interpreter. Meanwhile back home in America, we see ‘Pussy’ talking to a cop, who he is giving information to. Being in a toy store, he thinks he is safe but he runs into a friend and is scared that he might tell people ‘Pussy’ was with the police officer. He has no choice but to follow him home and kill him so nobody finds out he’s a ‘rat’. Back In Italy, Tony and the other mobsters are talking business and having dinner when the boss’s wife walks in. Instantly Tony sets his eyes on her and looks as if he’s in love with her before they’ve even said a word to each other. However, one person that is missing from the dinner is Christopher, who is in his room high on heroin, with his Italian counterpart, marking the beginning of a serious drug problem for the supposed future of the family. After discussing some business, Tony persuades Annalisa (the bosses’ wife) to give them Furio in exchange for lower prices on the stolen cars they are flogging. Happy with the business done, Tony and the crew head back home to New Jersey.
3. Season 4, Episode 10 – “The Strong, Silent Type”
The episode opens with a shot of Christopher getting high and collapsing on the couch. Adriana (his girlfriend) comes in to find him high once again and finds out that whilst he was high he fell on top of and suffocated her dog. She is distraught and has had enough of his drug problem. Christopher’s drug problem is also affecting the business as he fails to meet Paulie and Silvio to deliver TVs to them. Instead of delivering the TVs he is in the ‘projects’ buying drugs. However, when he pulls out his money he is beaten and thrown out his car by the drug dealers. This is the final straw and Adriana decides to go to Tony and Carmela for help. Tony consults Junior (then the boss of the family), who advises him to kill Christopher but he goes against this advice, solely due to the fact it is Christopher. Instead, he arranges an intervention, which turns into a rather comical brawl after a heated discussion. It does eventually, however, persuade Christopher to get treatment and he heads off to rehab where he eventually manages to come clean.
2. Season 1, Episode 5 – “College”
As the title suggest, you might have guessed that this episode mainly focuses on Tony as he visits numerous different colleges with his daughter, Meadow. During the car ride to one of the colleges, Meadow starts to question her dad about his work and even asks if he’s in the ‘mafia’. Tony refutes this furiously, claiming there is no ‘mafia’, although he does later admit to earning some of his money from illegal activities. During a brief stop at a petrol station (or gas station for any Americans), Tony spots someone who he thinks is an ex-mobster but went into the witness protection program. He quickly grabs Meadow and speeds down the road, driving like a maniac. Despite his best efforts he does not catch him, not for now at least… After some research, and also a failed attempt, Tony finally gets his man and strangles him to death after sneaking up on him, whispering in his ear: “For us wise guys, the hustle never ends”, again showing his two sides and two families: His real family and the crime family he is part of.
1. Season 3, Episode 11 – “Pine Barrens”
And the winner is… “Pine Barrens”! This legendary episode is not only the best ever episode of The Sopranos, but arguably the best ever episode of any TV show ever made. Well, in my slightly-biased opinion at least. The episode centres on Tony, as well as Christopher and Paulie who are sent to collect money from a Russian client of Silvio’s. Seems simple, right? However, Paulie with his big mouth manages to start a fight with the Russian and they are forced to strangle and kill him. After rolling him up in a carpet, they put him in the car boot and head out to the Pine Barrens to bury him. When they open the boot to drag him out they find out he’s still alive (like that famous scene from Goodfellas). They then give him a shovel and make him dig his own grave, but when they switch off he hits them with the shovel and runs for his life. After a short chase through the woods, Paulie seemingly manages to shoot him but there is no sign of his body. Almost certain the Russian is dead, the two head back to the car. However, they get lost and cannot seem to find their car. Paulie phones Tony to update him on the situation only to find out that the Russian they ‘killed’ was an ex-commando. This leads to one of the funniest conversations in TV history. Tony says: “The guy you’re looking for is some kind of ex-commando, he killed sixteen Chechen rebels single-handed…He was with the Interior Ministry.” Due to his phone’s poor signal, Paulie misunderstands Tony, prompting him to tell Christopher: “He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians, guy was an interior decorator!” To which Christopher hilariously replies: “His house looked like shit!” Paulie also hilariously loses his shoe in the middle of the snowy woods adding to the high comedy level, although I’m sure Paulie did not find it so funny at the time. After spending the night in the woods and almost freezing to death, Tony and Bobby finally rescue Paulie and Christopher from this horror.