The Sopranos pioneered the concept of TV as prestige entertainment. Superior acting, ambitious plot devices, and strong thematic storytelling elevated the medium to a place it hadn't gone before and cemented HBO's name as a powerhouse. Even though The Sopranos used the mafia as a backdrop for the show, fans of the series know they were drawn to the deeper, heavier subjects David Chase's story touched upon. With so many episodes that helped make it box office viewing, the time has come to remember the best entries in the six seasons of its reign. Here are the 22 best episodes of The Sopranos, ranked!
1. Season 4, Episode 13: “White Caps”
The fourth season finale brings the fireworks in ways The Sopranos usually reserved for the second-to-last episode of each season. “White Caps” brings several series-long plot threads to a climax, with two explosive domestic sparring matches between Tony and Carmela over infidelity and loyalty. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco broke barriers for what to expect from fictional spouses, and anybody who has lived within the walls of an abusive marriage will find the arguments in this episode eerily reminiscent.
2. Season 5, Episode 12: “Long Term Parking”
Adriana's struggle with the FBI comes to a heartbreaking close, with Silvio taking her to the forest and ending her life off-screen. Seeing characters we care about killing other characters we equally love can pose a major obstacle to a viewer. The Sopranos never hesitated to go the extra distance in painting its protagonists as morally decrepit dirtbags, and “Long Term Parking” reminded audiences of the horrors of the criminal underworld clouding Tony and company.
3. Season 3, Episode 12: “Amour Fou”
Tony Soprano had sexual flings with many different women throughout the series, but only his affair with Gloria Trillo inspired the mobster to fall into the depths of his violent depravity. The scene in which Tony suffocates Gloria after she threatens to spill the truth about their relationship to Carmela shows how seriously Tony takes his duel life. Still, the best moment from the hour comes in Tony's exclamation to a defiant Christopher: “You don't have to love me, but you will respect me.” Gandolfini's eyes work in ways other actors simply can't conjure. The actor delivers an absolute powerhouse performance.
4. Season 6, Episode 21: “Made in America”
The once-controversial series finale now gets met with critical acclaim at every turn. The sound of Journey's rock ballad “Don't Stop Believing” instantly draws viewers' minds to the closing scene of the series. Did Tony die, or did he live? The brilliance lies in the fact that it doesn't really matter. Tony's trapped existence leaves few options for a happy conclusion, and David Chase symbolizes it perfectly.
5. Season 3, Episode 11: “Pine Barrens”
Casual fans often get upset at the thought of “Pine Barrens” being the best episode of the series. While it might not be the ultimate choice here, the late third season romp through the woods with Christopher and Paulie hones in on the black humor the show so deftly implemented in its portfolio right from the jump. The closer connection audiences feel to Chris and Paulie at this point helps the entertainment factor go up several notches.
6. Season 1, Episode 5: “College”
Once upon a time, “College” furrowed many eyebrows at the executive offices of HBO due to a level of violence that normally wasn't seen on TV up to this point. Tony walks the two-life tightrope once again when touring colleges with Meadow, and ends up strangling a mob opponent without his daughter ever knowing. Her classic line, “Are you in the mafia?” lives in one-liner lore, deftly delivered by Jamie-Lynn Sigler.
7. Season 3, Episode 4: “Employee of the Month”
Lorraine Bracco turns in the best performance of her career in a traumatic episode surrounding sexual assault. When Dr. Melfi gets raped while leaving her office, the fallout of such a disgusting event tells several different stories. She knows Tony could end the life of her perpetrator with one word during their next session, but the decision to live with the pain rather than expunge it with quickness says a lot about her morality.
8. Season 6, Episode 2: “Join the Club”
The Sopranos loved to use dream sequences to tell a story in a different way, imbed thematic symbolism, and force the audience to think a little harder. “Join the Club” represents the show at its most creatively dense, blazing a trail for other programs that place their characters in afterlife states. Tony's brush with death would be emulated in other HBO shows like The Leftovers.
9. Season 6, Episode 20: “The Blue Comet”
The second-to-last episode of the series behaves in a typical fashion. Many loose ends get tied off, and characters make final appearances, but the payoff of previous foreshadowing truly makes the episode shine. Bobby's death happens in the blink of an eye, corroborating his previous prediction that when your time is up, “everything goes black.”
10. Season 2, Episode 13: “Funhouse”
One of Tony's biggest personal dilemmas crowds his subconscious in this episode. Big P*ssy has ratted on the crew for much of the second season, and Tony's discovery of the matter forces him to confront the ultimate “mafia over friendship” ethics code these men live by. The episode's revolutionary use of metaphor would lead other shows to implement their methods of this storytelling style.
11. Season 5, Episode 5: “Irregular Around the Margins”
The Sopranos often hit viewers with a major episode in the middle of the season, and “Irregular Around the Margins” represents that trend well. Tony and Adriana start to flirt and get closer than usual, and Christopher's suspicions surrounding the relationship only heighten his already miserable mental state. Gandolfini and de Matteo's chemistry surprises here.
12. Season 1, Episode 12: “Isabella”
The Sopranos made it crystal clear that the main theme of season one surrounded Tony's mommy issues. His depression and anxiety amalgamate in the form of an attractive woman living next door, eventually revealed to be a figment of Tony's imagination. We also get one of Tony's most famous fighting moments when he evades multiple hitmen out to kill him. This episode truly let audiences know that The Sopranos had arrived!
13. Season 6, Episode 13: “Sopranos Home Movies”
The most underrated relationship in the show revolves around Tony and Bobby. The mild-mannered Baccalieri usually has to have a lot of buttons pushed to resort to violence, a surprising trait considering his standing in the mafia. It turns out that protecting Janice can force Bobby into a more riled-up state, and the two men infamously fistfight in what is supposed to be a fun family excursion.
14. Season 2, Episode 12: “The Knight in White Satin Armor”
Everyone seems to criticize Tony's mob lifestyle, but only until they find they need to leverage his services for their gain. Janice takes advantage of her brother after shooting Richie Aprile in the chest, killing him unexpectedly in one of the show's only shock value deaths. The only negative to the episode remains the removal of Richie from the series, as he served as one of Tony's best antagonists.
15. Season 4, Episode 9: “Whoever Did This”
Ralphie and Tony's rivalry climaxes in the most fitting way possible: Tony believes Ralphie killed his horse, Pie-O-My. The animal represents Tony's nurturing side, something many psychologists claim other real-life psychopaths have in common with the anti-hero of The Sopranos. The fact Tony will kill a person for a pet says all we need to know about his mental state.
16. Season 1, Episode 13: “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano”
The value of family gets craftily juxtaposed here when Tony wants to take out his mother for putting a hit on him earlier in the season. He ends the episode by spending time with Carmela and his children at Artie's restaurant. The iconic scene of Artie confronting Tony over the cause of the destruction of his business also demonstrates the restraint Tony has for his childhood friend.
17. Season 5, Episode 8: “Marco Polo”
The Sopranos always used incidental characters better than most shows. Carmela's parents arrive in the story mid-season at a birthday party for her father. The intention of the episode should be to learn more about the relationship between Tony and Carmela at this point in the show, as the pair have been separated most of the season, but they still share an odd bond.
18. Season 6, Episode 19: “The Second Coming”
Two monumental fatherhood events happen here: Tony saves A.J. when he tries to drown himself, and he nearly kills a mobster for flirting with Meadow. The patriarch of the Soprano clan admires his daughter, and he pities his son, but one undeniable truth stands out: he loves his children. That fact makes fans overlook some of his other deadly sins.
19. Season 4, Episode 10: “The Strong, Silent Type”
The Sopranos stages one of the all-time chaotic yet brilliant interventions in TV history. Christopher has hit rock bottom, but talking about heroin addiction with the likes of block-headed mobsters such as Paulie and Silvio certainly doesn't turn the situation around for the better. And Adriana becoming distraught over Chris sitting on her dog never fails to deliver a laugh!
20. Season 2, Episode 5: “Big Girls Don't Cry”
Another Christopher-centric episode builds the tragedy of the character through his acting and writing dreams. Outside of the mafia, Chris always aspired to become a screenwriter and work in film. Seeing how those desires flourish and flounder in a college course for fellow creatives surely made most fans wish the downtrodden Moltisanti could overcome his obstacles and carve out a better life.
21. Season 6, Episode 1: “Members Only”
The Sopranos uses its final season premiere to focus on a nearly irrelevant character stuck between two worlds: Eugene Pontecorvo. One of Christopher's lackeys, Eugene tries his best to win over the boss, but can't overcome the large shoe of the FBI. His final suicide scene demands the audience's attention. In Tony's storyline, his relationship with Uncle Junior comes to a close after the senile old boss pops a cap on Tony, thinking his nephew an enemy.
22. Season 6, Episode 17: “Walk Like a Man”
What a shock! Another Christopher episode rounds out the list, showing the devastating fall of the secondary protagonist in the series before his death in the next episode. Chris realizes all of the mistakes he's made are for not, and the symbolic picking up of a small tree in his yard at the closing credits, set to the bone-chilling song “The Valley,” lets the audience know there may still have been a sliver of life in the basically-dead capo.