After a brief email exchange with Benjo over the weekend, I attempted narrow down a list of the all-time best episodes of The Sopranos. Years before Benjo translated my book Lost Vegas into French, he used to translate episodes of The Sopranos for French fans of the series. When I first met Benjo in Monte Carlo in 2007, we talked exclusively about our shared affinity for The Sopranos. Anyway, with Benjo's advice, I compiled a rough list of the best of the best episodes... but there were so many high-quality episodes that missed the cut. My memory was fuzzy on a few episode titles, so I figured I'd absorb as much as the show as I could this week whenever insomnia struck (or the neighbor's baby woke me up) or needed a break from the writing grind.
Here are some half-baked thoughts on the first season of The Sopranos. If you are like the only person in the world who never saw The Sopranos, this is a courtesy disclaimer about plotline spoilers...
Episode 1: Pilot... Tony chased and beating down on degen gambler, but why is that fool running? Everyone knows that bookies don't kill customers because it's bad for business. Sure, they rough up the delinquent broke dicks to keep everyone in line, but Tony was never going to whack the mook... The introduction of the ducks were a tranquil moment between a hardened wiseguy and Mother Nature. The ducks were a moment of serenity in a tumultuous world of the underworld. The Ducks were an integral theme that continued throughout the entire series.
Episode 2: 46 Long... The cold open featured the gang in the back of titty bar counting money and typical wiseguy banter like clones and whether or not Princess Di was whacked by the Queen... Chris and his tweaker pal boosted Uncle Junior's trucks with DVD players and fancy suits... Tony's senile mom set her kitchen on fire while cooking shrooms then drove over her friend with the car, which ultimately landed her into an old folks home... Marty Scorsese made a cameo and Chris gave him a "Kundun!" shoutout.
Episode 3: Denial, Anger, Acceptance.... Paulie Walnuts beat down a Hasidic Jewish hotel manager with the front desk bell, then Tony threatened to cut off his pecker. Meanwhile, Tony shook down the old Jew for 25% of his no-tell motel, only to be called a "golem" which is Yiddish for Frankenschmuck... CATTY CARMELA: Some Northern New Jersey "real housewives" pettiness and pedantry between Artie Bucco's wife and Carmela... Meadow's singing solo majestically intercut with Brendan getting whacked (shot in the eye) in the bathtub by Uncle Junior's henchman Mikey and Chris shitting himself during a mock execution by the Ruskies.
Episode 4: Meadowlands... Tony almost got caught visiting Dr. Melfi for a therapy session... Chris, stricken with paranoia after getting out of the hospital, thought he'd get clipped in the lobby.... Meadow riddled with Northern New Jersey suburban angst and blurted out the emo anthem -- "I hate my life!"... Tony visited his senile mother in the old folks home and Mama Soprano is nothing but a bundle of joy: "grown men soiling themselves... and mothers throwing their babies out of skyscraper windows."... BEATDOWN of the EPISODE: Tony whooped Mikey a.k.a. Junior's henchman in the middle of the street.... The degen gambling detective swapped favors (as Tony's personal P.I.) for reduced juice and no vig after dropping 2 dimes on the Knicks... AJ rumbled with one of his frenemies in the hallway. They set up a rematch at the "Pit" afterschool. It's funny because this was back in 1999 before every kid had a cell phone. Today, the hallway skirmishes would instantly get posted on YouTube. AJ won the Pit match by default because the kid wouldn't fight him out of fear of Tony whacking his old man. Sadly, clueless AJ was unaware of how much faux-power he actually wielded... Meadow went to the internet to show AJ a mafia site that revealed the truth: Jackie Aprile was the mob boss of New Jersey and Tony is indeed a wiseguy... Jackie Aprile finally died after losing his battle with cancer. The old King is dead with Tony and Junior were vying for control of the kingdom. Instead of all-out war, Tony acquiesced power to Uncle Junior and figured the Feds would target Junior instead of him while he flew under the radar.
Episode 5: College... The episode that hooked everyone who was on the fence with the show... Excellent dichotomy of Tony, a hard-nosed father wanting the best for his daughter and a pricey education to buy her legitimacy, but that blood money was earned via gambling, titties, and boosting trucks... Meadow finally got Tony to reveal the truth about the "waste management business"... I had an basketball coach who used to say "He who hesitates is lost." Well, that witness protection schnook missed his chance to clip Tony at the motel but didn't pull the trigger when he saw Meadow. Tony eventually strangled the snitch and instantly saw a flock of ducks flying in V-formation. V for victory. V for tranquility... The Nathaniel Hawthorne quote (about multiple faces of man confusing himself) Tony saw at the college was a punch to the nuts... CATTY CARMELA: Caremla went mental when she discovered Dr. Melfi is a female. The act of Tony opening up to another woman tilted the fuck outta her. Then again, she used a Catholic priest as a free shrink and surrogate gay BFF.
Episode 6: Pax Soprano... Dr. Melfi finally figured out she's a surrogate mother for Tony. He just wanted to be loved by a motherly authority figure. Is that so wrong?.... Yes, Tony peed with the seat down in his dreams. He wanted his Ruskie side piece to start dressing like Dr. Melfi... Junior wielded his new power as NoJer BOSS and unfairly taxed Hesh's shylock/bookie business. Brooklyn under boss Johnny Sack stepped in to negotiate a lower tax... Tony had his ducks and Hesh has his horses. Tony secretly wanted to be Hesh's horses. Tony wanted the power and respect as the crime boss, but he hated the grunt work and headaches... Tony's astute take on therapy: "This psychiatry shit... apparently what you're feeling is not what you're feeling, and what you're not feeling is your real agenda."... CATTY CARMELA: She wanted to be the sole female that Tony confided in. She let the side pieces slide but got uber-bitchy about the therapy sessions? If Tony was seeing a Dr. Ira Rosenberg, then she wouldn't fret.
Episode 7: Down Neck... AJ hijinks. He stole wine from church rectory and got caught being shitfaced in gym class after one of his buddies blew chunks on the gym teacher's Adidas. I used to swipe swigs of wine and unblessed hosts when I was an altar boy, but we never got caught... Much to the chagrin of Tony, during Sunday dinner both Mama Soprano and Uncle Junior revealed to AJ that Tony was a notorious childhood delinquent who stole a car at age 10 and hustled stolen lobsters... FLASHBACK: cue White Rabbit. It's 1967 when lil Tony missed the bus and on his way to school, he saw his old man and Uncle Junior beat down a mook named Rocco. That's when Tony first learned the truth about his father being a wiseguy. Would love to see a prequel about Tony's old man and Uncle Junior taking place in the 1960s.... During multiple flashback scenes, it's very obvious that Tony's mother always had a couple of cans short of a six-pack. She threatened to smother her kids if Tony's dad moved out to Reno to get into the casino business with a partner (which would have been insanely profitable)... AJ told Mama Soprano about Tony saw a shrink and she got pissy because she's convinced Tony will be complaining about her craziness. It's her understanding that people go to psychiatrists to find someone to blame for their problems... Dr. Melfi brought up the ducks dream (the ducks flying away with Tony's penis).
Episode 8: The Legend of Tennessee Moltisani... Cold open: Chris' dream about a guy he whacked, but it's really just an existentialist dilemma... The Feds were closing in with indictments and the crew was on edge. Tony and Carmela had to re-stash all the bundles of cash they had stashed everywhere in the house... Chris, using a hot laptop, went on mega-tilt because his 19-page screenplay got eaten in Final Draft. Adriana saved the day with her tech troubleshooting. She called him "My Tennessee William." Bring the LULZ... Deep into his spiral, Chris shot the bakery kid in the foot just like Spider in Goodfellas... In a heart-to-heart chat with Paulie Walnuts, Paulie referenced Hemingway (the guy who wrote about bullfights who blew his head off) and then suggested getting their cocks sucked would cure Chris' writer's block... Also, scripts should be 90 pages and not 120! ... Chris was reading way too many self-help screenwriting books. He wondered what his "arc" is in life... When Chris attempted to reach out to Tony about his emo-phase and existentialist angst, he was shot down. "I wipe my ass with your feelings," said Tony... All Chris wanted was recognition. When he spotted his name in the paper, he got a hard-on. Reminded me of the scene in The Jerk, when Steve Martin finally got his name in the phonebook. "Look, I am somebody!"... Mama Soprano always stirring shit up. She ratted out Tony and told Junior that he was seeing a shrink.
Episode 9: Boca... Silvio went on soccer ref tilt during Meadow's game. She's the goalie and her nickname is Brick Wall... After the soccer coach takes a job in Rhode Island, the crew tried to persuade the coach to stay in NJ... Meadow got pissy because she knows the truth about the coach robbing the cradle. One of Meadow's friends was presented as an emo-cutter who tried to slit her wrists on a swing, but we find out in Act 3 the cause of her unhappiness: she's heartbroken and her coach was deep dicking her after practices... Artie Bucco and Silvio want to whack the coach, but Tony called it off at the last second. Instead, he let the police handle the matter... Junior flew his side piece, Bobbi, down to Boca Raton. He got pissed that she revealed bedroom secrets (everyone knows he likes to chow box) so he broke up with her and shoved a pie in her face... Junior's henchman tailed Tony and got intel that Tony visited a med office twice a week. He deduced that Tony talking to the Feds. Junior knows it's a shrink but he considered clipping Tony anyway for being a disrespectful punk (he loathed the pussy chomping jokes) and spilling Omerta secrets in his therapy sessions.
Episode 10: A Hit Is a Hit... Mega rapper and wanna-be gangster Massive Genius befriended Chris because he wanted $400K in back royalties from Hesh, who owned a record label back in the day (and Tony's dad was the muscle who helped facilitate payola to DJs). Hesh and the rest of the music biz ripped off tons of musical acts including Lil Jimmie Willis, one of Massive G's relatives, who ended up a junkie. During a sit down, Hesh balked at paying Massive G shakedown money. Hesh retaliated and sued Massive G for sampling his songs... Adriana convinced Chris that they should get into the music biz; she would become producer if he bankrolled the operation. He put up cash for a demo for Adriana's ex-boyfriend's new band. The lead singer Vito is a little weird after getting electrocuted trying to fry a fish. He dropped the hair metal act (a butt-rocking band called Defiler) and re-branded themselves as a whiny indie rock band, Visiting Day... The new musical direction is craptaculalry awful. The three-day demo session sucked ass after 62 shitty takes of one song. The sound engineer was not impressed with the trainwreck, so Chris beat the shit out of the rocker with his own guitar... Hesh thought the band's demo was "not good" and uttered a line that was the episode's title. Massive G was only interested in the whiny rock demo because he wanted to shtup Andriana... Tony hooked up his doctor neighbor with a box of Cuban cigars that fell off the back of a truck. The doc invited Tony to play golf with his One-percenter friends, but all those rich douches wanted to hear were wild stories about gangsters. Tony played up to the crowd and made up a bullshit story about Gotti and an ice cream truck... Carmela got a profitable stock tip on American Biotics from one of the Real Housewives of NoJer.
Episode 11: Nobody Knows Anything... The FBI raided Jimmy's pool hall and found a cache of guns Big Pussy tried to run away and got caught... Tony's cop friend and inside guy tipped off that Big Pussy has been wearing a wire... Silvio did a lil digging around and found out that the degen cop owed Big Pussy over 30K in gambling debts (20K for football alone... what a donk!), so perhaps the wire tip was bullshit and he wanted Big Pussy whacked to alleviate a monster debt, which is the reason he ratted out Big Pussy... The cop committed suicide before he prove the wire with a police report... Tony felt guilty that he sent his cop friend over the edge, but he could not believe one of his best friends could be a rat. Tony thought that maybe the cop got Pussy and Jimmy confused because they were both fat goombas. Tony suspected that Jimmy was the rat with the wire when he got out of jail and showed up at chez Soprano and asked peculiar questions.... Tony sent Paulie to keep an eye on Big Pussy and take him out if he found any proof of a wire, but he never saw anything and Big Pussy conveniently disappeared... Mama Soprano told Junior that all of the Capos (plus Johnny Sack) put their mothers in the same nursing home so they can hold secret meetings whenever they visit. Junior, convinced they are making a move against him, ordered his henchman to whack Tony.
Episode 12: Isabella... The penultimate episode of the season... Tony was deep into his Emo-binge moping around in bed and sitting in the shower with his robe on. He fantasized over the Cusamanos' sizzling hot Italian maid (who was just a hallucination, albeit a sultry one) and the breastfeeding vision was as Freudian as you can get... Dr. Melfi increased Tony's dosage of happy pills, but she freaked out when he revealed his hallucinatory side effects... Uncle Junior's henchman Mikey subcontracted the hit on Tony, who in turn hired a couple of guys to take out Tony at his local newsstand. On the day of the hit, Chris randomly blocked the hitmen's car and spoiled the potential assassination. When the subcontractor promised the botched job would get done the next day, he made an inadvertent crack that even Tony's momma wanted him whacked (which he was just joking about, but it ended up true), so Mikey decided to whack the subcontractor... T'was Tony's lucky day once again. Both hitmen were inept and terrible shots (who misses from that close?). One of the guman shot Tony's orange juice -- a direct nod to the scene in the Godfather when Vito Corleone was holding oranges during his assassination attempt. Tony thwarted the attack (that looked like a carjacking) and killed one of the assassins, but ended up in the hospital after he crashed his SUV... Special Agent Harris showed up in the hospital to cut a deal because Tony's "assassination problem will not go away", but Tony told the Feds to fuck off.... Even AJ didn't buy the carjacking story. The media dubbed it a "gangland shooting gone awry"... Moma Soprano and Uncle Junior were shitting bricks when they saw the botched hit on the news because they both knew that Tony would think it was Junior who ordered the hit. They showed up to see Tony anyway like fucking scared shitless dogs. Moma Soprano acted extra senile (pretending to not know who Meadow was) to throw off Tony's scent, who bought the sketchy act... When Junior confronted Moma Soprano about her so-called senile performance, she played the crazy card again... I Feel Free by Cream was the end credits music.
Episode 13: I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano... Final episode of the season... Junior okayed a hit on Jimmy after he asked too many questions in a Capo meeting. Tony was convinced that Jimmy is the rat wearing the wire, so Silvio and Chris whacked Jimmy in a Manhattan hotel. His body is found with a rat stuffed in his mouth... Senile Moma Soprano wandered up to Tony's house to bolster her so-called Alzheimer's... Dr. Melfi suggested that Moma Soprano ordered a hit on Tony, and he flipped the fuck out on her... The Feds were sweating Tony hard and he wouldn't play ball even after they played him the recorded conversation in which his mother and Uncle Junior were implicated in the attempted hit... Paulie suggested that Tony should be worried that Junior is going to finish what he started, so Tony and the crew went on the offensive. They whacked one of Junior's guys Chucky on a boat after Tony hid a gun in the mouth of a big fish. Mikey, Junior's henchman, was next to get clipped. Paulie and Chris whacked Mikey while he was out jogging and Paulie was wicked pissed he caught poison ivy... Tony realized his riff with Junior and seeing Dr. Melfi nearly cost him his life: "Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this!"... CATTY CARMELO: Carmelo is super jealous that the widow Rosalie Aprile is getting a lot of attention from Father Phil. She cooked him ziti and then dumped it in the trash when she saw him eating pasta that Rosalie brought him... The Feds finally indicted Uncle Junior and a couple of Capos on racketeering charges (yet Tony was not indicted). With Junior in jail, Tony's main concern was that the guys in custody were gonna flip... The Feds told Junior their real target is the New York crew like Johnnie Sack and the guys above him, so all Junior has to do is rat everyone and admit that Tony is the de facto boss. That notion -- that Tony is in charge -- infuriated Junior and he stubbornly rejected a deal.... Moma Soprano continued to stir the pot. The crazy old bird told Artie Bucco that Tony burned down his old restaurant for the insurance money. Artie wigged out and pulled a rifle on Tony, but he claimed he was not involved in arson and talked Artie out of shooting him by claiming that his mother is batshit crazy. Then again, Tony looked serious when he told Artie to go ahead and shoot him. Bluff? Or semi-bluff with suicidal tendencies?... Tony was gonna smother Moma Soprano with a pillow, but she had a stoke before he could seek out his revenge. Tony was convinced she faked the stroke so he let her know that Junior is in jail and he knows what's up... BEATDOWN of the EPISODE: random paramedic that was wheeling Moma Soprano to an ambulance. Tony called him "George Clooney" then beat his ass... The episode and season one ended in the middle of a nasty storm that killed power and knocked down trees, but everyone had an intimate candle lit family meal at Artie Bucco's restaurant. Despite an internal and literal storm, and the Soprano family shared a brief moment of tranquility. Tony survived an assassination attempted, faded indictments from the Feds, but he has become the new king of New Jersey.