The show revolved around the de facto mob boss, Tony Soprano, who struggles to balance his family and business lives. From struggling with his therapist to finding a college for his daughter, and sniffing out a rat within the family, he does it all. Nearly all 86 The Sopranos episodes are great but in celebration of its recent 25th Anniversary, Estrakt has decided to rank the 25 best The Sopranos episodes.
25. Unidentified Black Males
One major criticism of the 5th season of The Sopranos is that it just reuses a lot of previous storyline ideas, that may not work as well a 2nd time around. However, the season essentially is about one thing. Can Tony Soprano be saved from himself? The answer is a staunch maybe. This twisted episode, essentially just builds tension up for the season’s climax. At the same time, it lays the foundation for future problems for Tony Soprano as we dive into the psyche of characters like Tony Blundetto. Although this episode is pretty much about Tony’s complex relationship with his cousin, wonderfully played out by Gandolfini and Buscemi, it is the unforeseen truth of Vito’s character that makes the episode. Unfortunately, diving further into the episode would only lead to major spoilers so that’s all I can do in my capacity.
24. Nobody Knows Anything
The 11th episode of the 1st season majorly escalates issues at hand for Tony Soprano as he is forced to look into a possible rat within the family. Most of the action of the show revolves around a minor character, Makazian. Depressed and feeling unappreciated by Tony as he’s called “a degenerate f****** gambler with a badge”, struggling severely with the consequences of the life he’s chosen to lead and the business he has gotten into. Mazakian’s suicide and his general unhappiness are something that would resonate with Tony and Christopher’s character in a few years. It’s a brilliant way of foreshadowing what the characters would face in the later seasons from the ‘rat’ plotline that would take the spotlight in season 2 and the personal demons that would haunt the main characters of the show.
23. Marco Polo
Marco Polo was one of those various The Sopranos episodes that was confined to one location. This gem of an episode brought to us by the very talented Michael Imperioli, centered around the separated couple, Tony and Carmela Soprano, at the latter’s birthday party. To Carmela’s surprise as well as Tony’s, they end up falling into old rhythms and spending the night together, setting them on the road to reconciling. The performances in the episode are brilliant, the tension is palpable and everything moves so organically to an obviously pre-determined outcome in the most beautiful way possible. For any other show, this episode may have been one of the very best, but The Sopranos has always outdone itself over its 6-season run.
22. Full Leather Jacket
A bulldog of an episode, full of tense moments yet surprisingly short at only 42 minutes, Full Leather Jacket proves to be a major point in the Richie storyline of season 2. A surprisingly funny episode that turns grim really quickly when a main character has a near-death experience. Besides this, Carmella puts a huge amount of pressure on a neighbour in hopes of getting her daughter into a college of her own choice. Overall, an easy-to-remember, great episode that sets up the show for the final acts of the season.
21. From Where to Eternity
After a near-death experience and a Carmella prayer to God to save his life, Christopher has a rude religious awakening. One that startles not only him but also his mentor, Tony Soprano as it pounds upon his already burdened mind. The immediate successor to ‘Full Leather Jacket’, is an episode that explores the themes of good and evil to a great extent and gives us a look into what Tony thinks of his life, accountability, and his final atonement in front of God.
An hour of peak television and one of the most influential episodes of all time, along with Baelor, Ozymandias, and Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, College changed the landscape of cable television for decades to come. While the episode has no surprising plot twists or turns, it stands out as one of the most shocking episodes of all time. The episode revolves around Tony taking his daughter, Meadow, around to see various colleges she might attend one day, only for him to spot an ex-associate who went into hiding after snitching on Tony and his crew. Tony finds him and brutally strangles him to death in cold blood. Such a gruesome sight was very rarely seen on television. Creator David Chase has said he had to fight HBO to be allowed to show Tony killing someone. His winning argument: Nobody would buy the character if he didn’t commit this murder. And so, the television anti-hero trope that has been followed by shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men since, was born.
The penultimate episode of the 1st season pushed Tony Soprano deep into a lethargic, negative, unhealthy state than we had ever seen before at the time. His uncle wanted him dead, as did his terrible mother. Anger and the general stress of Tony’s life made Isabella a high-intensity episode that set up the stage perfectly for a finale that would steal the show and wrap up the season perfectly. James Gandolfini’s brilliant performance allowed these negative emotions to seep through and make The Sopranos an instant classic from its very first season.
18. Join the Club
The 2nd episode of season 6 takes a page out of the legendary David Lynch’s handbook. As Tony struggles to hang on to life after being shot by his uncle, he begins hallucinating while in a coma. In the hallucinations, Tony plays an average family man and sales manager, Kevin Finnerty. The episode shows what Tony imagines his life to be if he went down the more conventional path and an interesting ‘what if?’ in Tony Soprano’s story. Fun fact: James Gandolfini used his normal speaking voice when playing Kevin Finnerty.
17. Kennedy and Heidi
Among the final few episodes of the series, which prove to be a real emotional rollercoaster, Kennedy and Heidi establishes that Tony Soprano’s journey is coming to an end and that the show is well into its endgame stages. Christopher Moltisanti, Tony’s apprentice and close friend, is killed at the start of the episode, being asphyxiated by Tony after a car accident. Some may be surprised that Christopher lasted as long as he did considering the actions he took over the course of the show, but the death was nonetheless surprising. This leads to Tony going on a thought-provoking spiritual journey. A bold episode and a highlight of the last season of the mobster show.
16. Employee of the Month
Tony Soprano, the pioneer of the protagonist anti-hero trope, always had much more of a dark side to him than a good one. However, various other characters in the same business as Tony are much more evil than him. One such character is introduced in the 4th episode of The Sopranos Season 3 when attacks Dr. Jennifer, Tony’s therapist. She has the opportunity to complain about it to Tony and get justice in a way out of the law. However, she eventually goes against doing that resulting in one of the most impactful The Sopranos episodes ever, sending a strong message in the style that David Chase has mastered in its entirety.
15. I Dream of Jeanie Cusamano
The Sopranos always did know how to end a season on a high note and this was perfectly demonstrated even in the first season when the show was pretty new to the television scene. I Dream of Jeanie Cusamano shows the boiling point of tensions between Tony and his Uncle Junior. Failed assassination attempts, the police getting involved, and a new mob boss being crowned, the episode had everything a season finale should have.
14. Members Only
The first episode of Soprano’s final season, Member’s Only was a haunting episode that established the tragic tone of Tony Soprano’s last act. It shines the spotlight on the show’s minor characters, Eugene Pontecorv, whose attempt to retire from mob life ends tragically. Tony is also shot by his uncle, plunging himself into a coma for the next 2 episodes. A startling start to a great season of television.
13. The Second Coming
Tony desperately attempts to patch up things between New Jersey and New York while his son, A.J. continues his intense struggle with depression, something his father has also suffered from throughout the six seasons. Seeing Tony do as much as he can for his son amidst the mob war and protect him from his own fate is heartbreaking to see and is perhaps one of the best plotlines of the final season.
12. The Knight in White Satin Armor
The penultimate episode of The Sopranos second season is one of the most influential episodes of all time. The episode also known as ‘The One Where Janice Shot Richie’ taught that shock could not only be produced by the surprise of an action but also by the timing of it. Everyone thought that it’d be Tony who’d do the deed of whacking Richie, but in the end, it was Tony’s sister and Richie’s own fiance, Janice Soprano who killed him. The fact that the act took place in the penultimate episode that set up the enigmatic FunHouse made it even better.
11. Whoever Did This
Ahh, yes. The episode where the hateful and hated Ralph Cifaretto met his much-awaited end. The Sopranos has always done character deaths better than any other show, inflicting a sense of empathy on the viewer for even the most despicable of characters. In this particular case, Ralph’s child suffered a life-threatening injury, something that makes us feel for Ralph. However, just when the audience begins feeling sad for him, he is whacked by Tony and Christopher. A typical David Chase act to get the viewer riled up in perfect Sopranos fashion.
10. Irregular Around The Margins
Season 5 of The Sopranos was perhaps the most eventful season of the lot. While a lot of the great moments were reserved for the final 2 episodes, its 5th episode saw Tony get into a car crash with Christopher’s fiance, Adriana. This was the episode that began setting up the show for the dramatic climax of the season as the tensions between the 3 characters began rising. The episode highlights Tony’s downfall over the seasons, physically, mentally, and morally; foreshadowing his eventual end in season 6.
9. All Due Respect
The Season 5 finale, All Due Respect, taking on from an incredible yet upsetting penultimate episode, further adds fuel to the fire that is the grief of the viewer as it shocks us with yet another popular character death. With the Adrianna and Christopher storyline resolved, All Due Respect focuses on Tony resolving the conflict between his cousin and Phil Leotardo, a high-ranking member of the New York crew. While Steve Buscemi’s character had stuck around for only a 6th of the whole show, the audiences had grown attached to him, and saying goodbye to him was an awfully difficult thing to do for most. Yet another great season finale from David Chase.
8. Made in America
Whether you hate it or you love it, you can not argue with the immense impact that The Sopranos series finale had on television and pop culture. One of the most iconic finales of all time, all ends with a simple cut to black. It may leave something to be desired for a few viewers while others would find the end perfectly befitting for Tony and company. What exactly happens after that cut to black, is still debated, with David Chase still asked questions about it in interviews today frequently. Maybe Tony met his ultimate end, or maybe it was a figurative ‘death’ in the sense that he’ll never find peace and happiness ever again. We still have questions about that guy in the ‘Members Only’ jacket though.
Funhouse shows Tony suffering from intense food poisoning while also grappling with what to do about Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero, one of his closest friends who has turned out to be an FBI informant. It is an amazing and insightful The Sopranos episode, with dark imagery in the form of Tony’s fever dreams foreshadowing many events to take place. Informing is the ultimate betrayal punishable by death, and even Tony’s closest friends aren’t any exceptions to that rule.
6. Sopranos Home Movies
With the final season of The Sopranos split into two halves, the second half which was the stronger of the two, kicked off with an absolute banger of an episode with Sopranos Home Movies. The central plot saw Tony and his wife, Carmela go on a retreat to a cabin with Janice and her husband, Bobby. The unique setting of the episode allowed for great things giving us one of the most enjoyable The Sopranos episodes to date. The ending of the episode might be the most heartbreaking sequence of the entire series, forcing viewers to tear up.
5. Long Term-Parking
Building on the themes from “University” and “Whitecaps,” “Long Term Parking” sees the finale of a storyline building on the cusp of season two with Tony being targeted by the FBI. “Long Term Parking” also features the most shocking death on The Sopranos when Silvio guns down Adriana (Drea de Matteo) after she confesses to being an FBI informant to Christopher. Betrayed, he tells the mob about it. Throughout the episode, there is the lingering doubt that Christopher may pick Adriana over Tony. In the end, it makes it in the eyes of many fans, the greatest The Sopranos episode ever.
4. The Blue Comet
The Sopranos clearly takes heavy inspiration from iconic mob movies including The Godfather and Goodfellas. This episode is probably the most like each of those films. With heavy, dark editing that supports the tone of the episode, the all-out mob war is perfectly highlighted amidst the chaos in Tony’s life. As the penultimate episode before the show’s end, it made sense that the episode was as insightful and eye-opening as it was. It gives a sense of finality, that the story is ending, and it may not be a happy one.
Whitecaps, the least violent season finale of The Sopranos, is the best one in our eyes. What it doesn’t have in violent explosivity it has in emotionality. It shows that at the heart, The Sopranos, is a show about family, no matter how twisted that family may be, it is family. The show’s masterful shift of Tony thinking about cementing the future for generations of Sopranos to have it come crashing down is masterfully gut-wrenching. The performances by Gandolfini and Edie Falco were also as good as it gets.
The spiritual successor of College, University proves to be a much darker counterpart of its predecessor. It tackles the bleak underbelly of crime in a way The Sopranos had never done before. Unlike College, University isn’t set out to justify the choice of the protagonists but to show what lack of moral choice does to a person. It shows that these characters don’t deserve to be idolized or too much sympathy. The social commentary is powerful, yet not overbearing, and makes for one of the greatest episodes ever.
1. Pine Barrens
The best The Sopranos episode, masterfully directed by Steve Buscemi is Pine Barrens. The visuals of the episode have the viewer in the chokehold as it takes us through a barrage of both funny and emotional moments throughout its runtime. It not only shows Chris and Paulie hunting a Russian mobster in the woods but also sheds light on the fact that Tony runs away from his responsibilities. His responsibilities as a mob boss, friend, husband, and father. It represents The Sopranos at its very best. Pine Barrens displayed that the show can still have fun despite its dark, disturbing, and complex nature.