1 – Join The Club
After the shocking end to the first episode of Season Six, with Tony being shot by his increasingly senile Uncle Junior, Join The Club is a very different kind of episode to most of the rest in the show’s entire run. The action is split, with most of it taking place in the hospital where he lies in a coma, with his family gathered around him and coping with the emotional trauma (with Edie Falco particularly , while his other Family loiter in the waiting room and bicker over money and the potential leadership vacuum. Meanwhile, Tony drifts off into a coma-induced other life/purgatory as a travelling salesman who loses his identity and discovers he is developing alzheimers. The end shot of him sitting alone in his hotel room, soundtracked by Moby’s When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die, is simply heartbreaking, perfectly demonstrating how even a ‘monster’ like Tony can be a sympathetic character. Full of symbolism, full of raw emotion, full of quality.
2 – The Blue Comet
Quite often, much like The Wire, The Sopranos dealt its killer blows in the penultimate shows of a season, rather than in the finale. And so it turned out at the very end. Phil Leotardo finally unleashes his bloody vengence upon the New Jersey mob for the killing of his brother in Season Five, taking out Bobby Bacala and Silvio Dante (putting him in a coma) and sending Tony into hiding. The murder of poor Bobby is a masterpiece on its own, taking place in a model train shop and edited to perfection. The final season theme of Tony’s world collapsing continues in a less obviously dramatic manner with Dr Melfi cutting him loose after deciding that his therapy only helps him validate his crimes, and the shot of him at the end of the episode, alone on a bed and this time clutching a machine gun, echoes the isolation of the Join The Club ending.
3 – The Second Coming
The preceeding episode was also full of drama and emotion, with the focus falling on AJ Soprano, so much his father’s son, but without the strength that gets Tony through each day. So, with depression having set in after the break-up of his relationship with Blanca, the bleakness of modern life and the poetry of W.B. Yeats (particularly the poem referred to in the title, which also relates to his inheritance of the ‘fucked-up Soprano genes’) lead him to jump into the swimming pool with his legs tied to a concrete block and a plastic bag over his head. Fortunately, the rope is too long and he survives long enough for Tony to get home and save him. When Dr Melfi asks whether AJ subconciously used a rope that was too long because he didn’t want to die, Tony’s reply is one of the lines of the series: “He could just be a fuckin’ idiot… historically, that’s been the case.” All of this and Tony curb-stomping a Lupertazzi soldier for insulting Meadow, thus taking the NY/NJ mob dispute beyond the point of no return.
4 – Whitecaps
Both James Gandolfini and Edie Falco won Emmys for their performances in this episode, and rightly so. The culmination of a whole season of tension in their relationship (most notably with Carmela’s flirtations with Mob soldier Furio), Whitecaps starts off all shiny and happy, with the Soprano family visiting their new beach house (called Whitecaps), but ends in marital apocalypse. The killer blow is delivered by Tony’s ex-mistress Irina, who rings up drunk and tells Carmela about Tony’s flings with both her and Svetlana (Uncle Junior’s former maid). This leads to the row of all rows and one of the best scenes in any TV show ever, with both Gandolfini and Falco acting their socks off. Eastenders, it wasn’t.
5 – I Dream Of Jeannie Cusamano
There aren’t many episodes from the first season in this list, not because it wasn’t any good, just because it got better and better with age. However, this closing episode confirmed exactly what an amazing TV show it was, with all of the threads of the preceeding episodes coming to a head, not least from the attempt on Tony’s life in the last episode. An FBI surveillance tape proves to him that his mother Livia and Uncle Junior were behind the plot against him, and he goes to angrily confront (ie, smother with a pillow) Livia in hospital, only to find that she has suffered a stroke and he can’t get at her. But is that smile on her face? And that’s not counting all the other stuff that goes on in this episode…
6 – Funhouse
The end of the second season was just as dramatic and inspired, with Tony’s suspicions over whether his best friend Big Pussy is working for the Feds coming to a head in the form of feverish dreams after he suffers food poisoning. Most memorable is the scene where Pussy appears as a dead talking fish and confesses what Tony already knew, deep down, though the other dream sequences are also inventive and impressive. The climax of more than a year’s worth of suspicion and paranoia comes with Tony, Sil and Paulie taking Pussy out on one last boat ride before executing him and dumping his body over the back of the boat.
7 – Pine Barrens
Steve Buscemi’s times spent working with the Coen Brothers certainly didn’t go to waste when he came to direct this famous Fargo-esque episode. Paulie and Christopher had long been a great comic partnership (usually unintentionally on their part) but this episode cemented it as they bumble from one catastrophe to another, having only started out to collect some money from a Russian mobster. Paulie stupidly gets into a fight with him, and when they think they’ve killed him, they take his body out to the Pine Barrens to bury it. But he’s not dead yet, and soon Paulie and Chris end up in the middle of the snowy woods, lost and very pissed off. The best line comes when a bad phone signal makes Paulie think that this guy, previously in the Russian Ministry of the Interior’s special forces, was an interior decorator, to which Chris replies “Really? His house looked like shit.”
From that levity to one of the most tragic episodes. Christopher’s fiancee Adriana had been forced to work with the FBI’s to keep them both out of prison, but had so far managed to keep it a secret from her man while also giving the Feds very little useful info. However, when she gets caught on camera helping cover up a murder at her nightclub, she ends up having to try and convince Chris to join her in testifying and going into the witness protection programme. After intially flying off the handle and almost strangling her, he calms down and seems to be considering it, but when she gets a call from Tony saying that Chris has tried to kill himself, poor Adriana gets into a car with Sil and takes a ride into the Pine Barrens from which she never returns. Even The Sopranos flinched away from showing her death on-screen, though watching her trying to crawl away past the camera is just as affecting.
Most of these episodes have been hugely eventful, but Soprano Home Movies is much more restrained, on the surface at least. Kicking off the second half of the final season, it sees Tony and Carmela joining Janice and Bobby Bacala at their lakeside holiday cottage. At first, things are reasonably relaxed (as relaxed as anything can be when Janice is involved, anyway), with Tony bonding with Bobby, who completes his rise from being a fat joke nursemaid for Uncle Junior to being one of the senior guys in the crew. However, when a Monopoly game turns violent and he knocks Tony down, the episode takes a darker tone, with his punishment not coming with the loss of his life, but with the loss of his innocence, as Tony sends him to perform his first-ever killing. The final shot of Bobby embracing his daughter but staring blankly out at the beautiful lake is majestic.
10 – University
Strangely, two of the most shocking acts of brutality committed in The Sopranos were in episodes named ‘College’ and ‘University’. But whereas Tony’s strangling of a mafia rat while looking at colleges with Meadow in the first season was groundbreaking for TV, it nowhere near matched the horror of this. Tracee, a stripper at the Bada Bing, seems to be obsessed with Tony and keeps giving him presents and trying to talk to him, though he does nothing to encourage her. She also admits to him that she’s been sleeping with Ralphie Cifaretto, whose Gladiator fixation leads him to behave increasingly violently at the Bing. After she mocks him in front of other customers, Ralphie viciously beats Tracee to death outside, leading to a confrontation with a shocked Tony, who breaks a Mafia code by punching another ‘made guy’. He’d be doing worse to Ralphie a few episodes later, though that time over a horse rather than a young woman. Go figure.
- Thievish Thursdays: The Sopranos (filmblerg.com)
- Steve Schirripa Talks Shocking ‘Sopranos’ Finale: Is Tony Alive? (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Sopranos: 46 Long (Review) (them0vieblog.com)
- Oral History of The Sopranos (kottke.org)