Often heralded as the greatest television drama of all time, The Sopranos helped revolutionize television with its excellent quality of acting and writing. Never before had a series reached such an incredible mixture of character depth, realistic and memorable dialogue, exciting storylines, and ambitious thematic reach that touched on many aspects of 21st-century life.
Like any television show, certain episodes tend to stand out and directly led to the show’s reputation. The Sopranos is a serialized drama, so episodes tend to run into each other, but that has never stopped certain hours from standing out more than others.
All Due Respect (2004): 9.3/10
Serving as the fifth season finale, “All Due Respect” aired in June of 2004 and was written by series creator David Chase and creative partners Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess. The episode is remembered for the death of Tony Blundetto, whom Tony personally kills to appease Phil Leotardo.
It also ends with the arrest of Johnny Sack, who would remain behind bars for the rest of the series. For many, this was a perfect ending to a perfect season, and like many episodes involving a major character’s death, it is highly rated on IMDb.
Irregular Around The Margins (2004): 9.3/10
Written by Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, “Irregular Around the Margins” served as the fifth episode of the fifth season. Tony and Adriana nearly sleep with each other while Chris is out of town, and when he finds out, he beats Adriana and relapses into his heroin addiction. When he proceeds to shoot up Tony’s car, Tony takes him to the Meadowlands and nearly has him executed.
The episode is fondly remembered and was showered with Emmy recognition. Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo won Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress, Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess were nominated for their writing, and Allen Coulter for his directing.
The Knight In White Satin Armor (2000): 9.3/10
Serving as the penultimate episode of season two, “The Knight in White Satin Armor” set a precedent for The Sopranos in placing most of the action and major plot developments in the second-to-last episode rather than the finale itself, as was typical for the time.
In this case, the major plot development is the shocking death of Richie Aprile, who is shot by a vengeful Janice after he punches her in the mouth. The episode is critically acclaimed and was nominated for three Emmys – Allen Coulter for directing, Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess for writing, and William B. Stich for editing.
Whoever Did This (2002): 9.3/10
The show’s fourth season is typically regarded as one of its worst (although even subpar Sopranos is still great TV), often earning criticism for its slow pace, lack of major plot development, and disjointed storytelling. “Whoever Did This” serves as a bright spot in an otherwise divisive season, being remembered for the death of Ralph Cifaretto.
Ralph’s death came as quite a surprise, and it showcased The Sopranos at its most unpredictable and violent. Not only did the death come out of nowhere in the middle of the episode, but it also came in the season’s ninth episode – a stark departure from typical TV storytelling which often sees major deaths occurring in premieres and/or finales.
The Second Coming (2007): 9.3/10
“The Second Coming” is easily one of The Sopranos’ darkest and most disturbing episodes, leading to its strong reputation. One storyline sees Coco hitting on Meadow at a restaurant, prompting Tony to curb stomp him and knock out some of his teeth. In another, A.J. sinks into a deep depression and attempts to take his life in the family pool.
The episode has long been acclaimed for its drama and sense of plot escalation. With this episode, viewers knew they were finally heading for the not-so-happy ending. For his work on the episode, writer Terence Winter was awarded Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series from the Writers Guild of America.
Made In America (2007): 9.3/10
A show lives or dies on its finale. A bad finale can completely sink a show’s reputation, whereas a great finale can secure its spot in the pantheon.
“Made In America” is the latter. Containing one of the most infamous yet discussed endings in television history, “Made In America” sent The Sopranos out by forcing its viewers to think, contemplate, and debate. The episode is highly regarded within Sopranos circles, serving as the perfect series finale and winning David Chase his third Emmy for Outstanding Writing.
Funhouse (2000): 9.4/10
The Sopranos had a knack for delivering strong season finales, and that includes season two’s “Funhouse”. This is often regarded as a brilliant episode, perfectly blending the show’s ambiguous, literary dream sequences with straightforward excitement.
The ending of this episode famously sees Tony, Silvio, and Paulie taking Big Pussy on the boat and killing him for talking to the FBI. It was the show’s first major death, and it was a devastating one.
The Blue Comet (2007): 9.6/10
Serving as the show’s penultimate episode, “The Blue Comet” portrays a lot of plot momentum – most of it of the tragic variety. In this episode alone, Melfi drops Tony as a client (losing any hope of bettering him as a person), Artie and Charmaine’s storyline comes to a close, and Bobby Baccalieri is killed by Lupertazzi hitmen.
It also contains one of the show’s greatest endings, with Tony hiding out in a safe house and wielding an assault rifle, preparing for war. It heralded great things for the finale to come.
Long Term Parking (2004): 9.7/10
Season five’s “Long Term Parking” is well regarded for two primary reasons – the collapse of Christopher as a redeemable character, and the death of Adriana. Christopher learns that his girlfriend has been working with the FBI, and rather than fleeing with her to witness protection, he goes to Tony and has her killed, marking one of the many times fans hated Christopher.
Her death is easily one of the most tragic of the entire series, and it signaled a drastic change in the show’s tone, fully embracing the dramatic and tragic half of its identity.
Pine Barrens (2001): 9.7/10
Often regarded as the show’s greatest hour, season three’s “Pine Barrens” is a stellar bottle episode – not to mention one of the show’s funniest. Most of the episode centers around Christopher and Paulie’s exploits in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey as they try to prevent freezing to death.
The episode contains some of the series’ most memorable lines of dialogue, and the storyline effortlessly blends comedy with genuine tension. It’s a short survival movie integrated into The Sopranos‘ wider storyline, and it helps deepen Paulie’s character, establishing him as a rather helpless, incompetent, and unhinged soldier.