Season 5 Episode 3 “Where’s Johnny?” – Season Five is the richest of the show’s run. The new characters (Tony B, Phil Leotardo, Feech LaManna) slot in perfectly to the cast and the brimming conflict with New York sets up the darker battles of Season Six. The death of Carmine Lupertazzi has created a power vacuum in New York and an escalating war between Little Carmine and Johnny Sack, and though Tony wants to remain neutral, other events will drag him deeply into the conflict. Meanwhile, this episode includes a decidedly more Jersey sort of struggle: the war between Paulie and Feech over landscaping territory. Robert Loggia’s Feech is actually a likable, somewhat sympathetic character: a grizzled old school wiseguy just released from prison only to find that the modern Family is neither appreciative nor accommodating of his status. We may also recall that the story of how a young Tony Soprano made his name by robbing Feech’s card game without reprecussions to due his father’s name, so the fact that he has to grovel for scraps without “stepping on any toes” has rankle him quite a bit. So it would seem that a small grab at the local landscaping racket is a fair move. Unfortunately, Paulie’s aunt is one of the customers and her cries of protest at the change in landscapers leads him to intervene. Hilarity insues, with the landscapers themselves taking most of the beatings and maimings in the proxy war. Uncle Junior’s subplot about getting lost in Newark is less successful, but there is a funny moment when he confuses “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with coverage of his own trial.
Season 1 Episode 11: “Nobody Knows Anything” – Of all the disparate plot elements introduced in the first season, it was the discovery Big Pussy’s disloyalty that truly resonated. It happens at just the right moment, when the season’s momentum is starting to drift. Livia as the controlling mother is overplayed and grating, with the subtleties of her influence on the activities on the the Family getting lost in the cartoonish portrayal. Tony and Uncle Junior continue their odd dance of alternating between familial allegiance and murderous strategizing. Meadow has not yet bloomed. So it was the prospect of Big Pussy’s treason that really kicks the last few episodes – and the series as a whole – into high gear. This tension is played out to perfection over the next season, but it’s given a clever twist even within this episode. The supposed rat actually turns out to be Jimmy Altieri, who is released suspiciously soon after his arrest and then attempts to coerce information from Tony in a scene similar to Pacino’s encounter with Lalene in Carlito’s Way. In the end, Tony is left distraught: not due to the deception of his close friend but rather to what he believes is his own misreading of the situation, which causes Big Pussy to run off in fear and not to reappear until the next season.
Season 2 Episode 12 “The Knight In White Satin Armor” – The best single episode of The Sopranos. Richie Aprile – a character who perfectly captured the Jersey waste management ethos more than any other on the show – is scheming to permanently retire Tony even while engaged to his sister Janice. The machinations provide one of Uncle Junior’s best moments, in which he sends Richie to try to sell the idea to the other bosses; when he fails, Junior covertly decides to side with Tony. (Bobby Bacala is amazed, although he’s also amazed by toy trains and baked ziti, so that may not be saying much.) Meanwhile Big Pussy is trying to make the best of his undercover operations, assuming that his amateur detective work will garner him accolades. He is wrong, of course, and that realization only sends him spiraling further into guilt and confusion. But the shocker comes with the (SPOILER) murder of Richie in a fit of anger by Janice. Tony has to clean and dispose of the mess – and if there’s one thing we can all learn from The Sopranos, it’s how to properly dispose of a body. When Tony returns home to collapse on the couch after all of this is over, we share in his exhaustion after the thrilling ride of this great episode. “Richie,” he tells Carmella with a weary, pointed gaze, “is gone.”
Season 4 Episode 9 “Whoever Did This” – Following a similar formula, this episode is marked by a surprising death and the memorable production of disassembling and disposing of the body. What’s most surprising in hindsight is that Ralphie Cifaretto lasted as long as he did. Even putting aside his incessantly disrespectful attitude, his series of transgressions is quite impressive: the mis-mentoring of Jackie Aprile Jr, the nearly fatal joke about Ginny Sacrimoni, the near blinding of Georgie with a swinging chain, and the brutal beating of his stripper girlfriend at the Bing (the latter two infractions occurred in the same episode, “University,” one of the best in the show’s run). I suspect that the character was able to survive only through Joe Pantioliano’s note perfect performance and the fact that Ralphie was probably fun for the writers to incorporate into the show’s dynamic. But bearing in mind Tony’s affection for the horse Pie-Oh-My, it was Ralphie’s tacit admission of the burning of the stables that finally got him (SPOILER) whacked. Literally: he’s beaten repeatedly on the floor during the fight. The episode ends with another shock of sorts, as Tony wakes up after a night spent disposing of the body and pushes out into the bright light of day. What’s going to happen now? See you next week. This is episodic television at its best.
Season 3 Episode 11 “Pine Barrens” – So what happened to the Russian? We will break down the whole thing…next week.