Dirty Work: ‘The Sopranos”s most killer episodes
Stop everything! The Sopranos is making a comeback (sort of). Featuring the working title of The Many Saints of Newark, showrunner David Chase sold a script for a The Sopranos prequel to New Line. The movie is set in New Jersey in the 60s when, as Deadline put it, “the African-Americans and the Italians of Newark were at each other’s throats, and amongst the gangsters of each group, those conflicts became especially lethal.”
Count us in, Mr. Chase! In celebration of this news, we’ve ranked our ten favorite episodes of the seminal gangster series that you should revisit immediately.
“Pilot”: S1, E1
“I feel like I came in at the end . . . the best is over,” Tony (James Gandolfini) tells Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) about America’s waning glory days. The conversation offers a poignant opener to what became one of the most defining American TV shows of all time, one that keeps its nose firmly pressed up against the window of American nostalgia throughout. The episode is terse & masterful, highlighting Tony’s suspenseful dichotomy as a character: the monstrous family man having a panic attack over a lost flock of ducks, but sparing little feeling for whacking flocks of people.
“Made in America”: S6, E21
Featuring one of the most divisive finales in TV history, “Made in America” is both controversial, but also audacious & groundbreaking. The most debated moment is when the screen inexplicably fades to black for ten seconds, and whether it represents Tony being killed, or simply his own fear. However, this isn’t really the point – the episode serves a meaty throwback to the pilot by exploring the ongoing decay of the American Dream.
“Boca”: S1, E9
There are two terrific components to this legendary episode that make it so memorable. The first is Tony exerting his terrifying influence upon Meadow’s soccer coach, gleefully offering him strippers & bribes before wishing his death when news spreads he slept with a young player. The second is Junior smashing a pie into his girlfriend’s face after she blabs about his abilities at giving head. It’s a simple but unforgettable episode.
“Soprano Home Movies”: S6, E13
This episode is primarily set at an upstate weekend retreat and deals with the everyday emotional administration of being a gangster. Alongside big moments of sudden violence, there are also small moments of genius, like the Monopoly house stuck to Tony’s face after he & Bobby (Steve Schirripa) fight, or the two men discussing whether you can hear it when you get whacked. The episode proves The Sopranos was as great with the minute details as it was with the enormous ones.
“Join the Club”: S6, E2
One of the most unexpected episodes of the series happens inside Tony’s head while he lies in a coma after being shot by his erratic uncle, Junior. It’s strange and daring, sharing philosophical insights and hinting at what’s to come in Tony’s fraught future.
“Employee of the Month”: S3, E4
Exploring the crushing physical & mental aftermath of Dr. Jennifer Melfi’s rape, this episode is almost unbearable in its devastation, with Bracco delivering an unparalleled performance as a woman straining to contain her trauma. A final scene shows her breaking down in tears and fighting her desire to ask Tony to whack her assailant before the empowering denouement of her ordeal is sealed with one word: “No”.
“Whitecaps”: S4, E13
When one of Tony’s many side women drunk dials the Soprano residence to tell Carmela (Edie Falco) about his various indiscretions, we get one of the most loaded marital melees in TV history. Falco’s performance is wounded & apoplectic, while Gandolfini plays Tony with the perfect balance of unrepentant rage and desperate backtracking.
“D-Girl”: S2, E7
In a slice of meta-genius, aspiring screenwriter Christopher (Michael Imperioli) heads to Hollywood with big plans to turn his mob stories into a hit movie. He thinks he’s a big deal, but tinseltown thinks he’s little more than a walking stereotype. The episode is smart & punchy, also offering some exceptional guest stars such as Jon Favreau (Iron Man), who steals one of Christopher’s stories, and Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men), who objects to the word “bitch”.
“Long Term Parking”: S5, E12
After Adriana (Drea de Matteo) is outed as a snitch, her fate is tragically and harrowingly sealed at the end of Silvio’s gun barrel. The episode is a tense, taut, slow burn, drawing out the prospect she could be saved by her darling Christopher. Watching Adriana crawl on her hands & knees while desperately pleading for penance before the crack of a gunshot rings remains one of the most haunting moments in the entire series.
“Pine Barrens”: S3, E11
Widely regarded as one of the greatest episodes of any show in TV history, this one-off is a comedic masterpiece. Paulie (Tony Sirico) & Christopher encounter desolation, despair, and the consumption of ketchup for survival when they get lost in the woods after botching a hit. Watching the two turn on each other in a bid to survive is a reminder that their crew likes to talk up loyalty, but often fail to practice it – particularly when it comes to self-preservation.