By Don Kaye
With the arrival of the final episode of "The Sopranos" ever, it's time to settle down with a huge bowl of
Artie Bucco's meat sauce and pasta, a nice bottle of wine and a smoking
automatic to reflect back on five and a half previous seasons of one of the
greatest series ever to hit television. To try and find the greatest moments in
the series is like trying to bookmark the ten best pages in "Crime and
Punishment," but we've done our best, starting from the bottom up and including
the first 12 segments of Season 6 in our search. Oddly enough, some of them
involve murder ...
10. "Tony Asserts Himself"
A mob boss can never show weakness, and this is made all too clear after Tony (James Gandolfini) is shot and nearly killed by a delusional Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese). As members of his own family jockey for position and power, and the New York crew watches and strategizes from afar, Tony does ultimately recover -- but realizes he must show who's still boss. Still physically frail, he nonetheless picks a fight with his own muscle-bound bodyguard, thoroughly kicking the guy's butt before heading to a bathroom, where he doubles over with pain and vomits. Nevertheless, as he icily surveys himself in the mirror, it's clear that the boss is back.
9. Janice Shows She's A Soprano
We learned pretty quickly after Tony's sister, Janice (Aida Turturro), came home from Seattle that underneath all her new-age crap beat the heart of a true Soprano. But we never knew she had the trigger finger of one too. While Tony plotted to whack nemesis Richie Aprile (David Proval) -- who also happened to be Janice's fiancé -- little did he know that one punch from Richie would send Janice to the cupboard for a handy gun to put her hubby-to-be on the fast track to hell. Incidentally, Tony's reaction when he enters the kitchen to see Richie dead on the floor -- a mixture of shock, relief and "I can't believe what I'm seeing" -- is acting of the highest caliber by Gandolfini.
8. "I Heard The Tapes, Ma"
The first season finale of "The Sopranos" is when Tony's relationship with his elders -- namely Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) and his mother -- doesn't just take a turn for the worse but goes down in a flaming crash. Hearing the tapes on which Livia and Junior discuss whacking him, Tony heads to the hospital where his mother has just had a stroke. Bending over her stretcher, he whispers sweetly, "I heard the tapes, Ma," and is answered by a hideous smile that only a Gorgon could love. Even at her lowest, Livia somehow gets the upper hand.
7. "Vito Comes Out"
It's a pretty safe bet that there are homosexuals in organized crime, just like every other walk of life, but it's also safe to say that that the ignorance, machismo and bigotry in that particular culture doesn't exactly make it gay-friendly. "The Sopranos" boldly addressed this with the story of Vito Spatafore (Joseph Gannascoli), whose life is changed forever when a couple of guys on collections spot him in a gay bar. From there, tragedy seems almost inevitable: Although Vito tries to start a new life in rural New England, and even briefly falls in love, he's too hooked into his other "life" -- the life of crime, that is. His attempted return to the Soprano family business, and the reactions of those who were once considered his friends, only leads to a bitter and violent end.
6. Big Pussy Goes Overboard
"Why'd you do it, Pussy?" That's what Tony asks lifelong friend Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) aboard his new boat when he, Paulie (Tony Sirico) and Silvio (Steve Van Zandt) confront Pussy with the truth about his rathood. Everyone's got problems, and Pussy's no exception: Aside from one of the most unfortunate mob nicknames in history, he has money issues that drive him into the arms of the FBI and, ultimately, a watery final resting place after his best friends in the world shoot him down.
5. Melfi's Choice
The irony of Dr. Jennifer Melfi's (Lorraine Bracco) rape -- by a punk in a deserted stairwell -- is that when violence does enter her life, it's not because she's had a mob boss as a patient for years, but purely through a random act of brutality. But when the kid gets off on a technicality, Melfi doesn't seek out the kind of justice she could easily get from her ready-to-rumble patient. In other words, she doesn't go over to the dark side, and her attacker goes un-whacked.
4. Ralph Cifaretto Comes Apart
Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) was a thorn in Tony's side for the better part of two seasons, with his random violence and not-so-random insubordination. But mess with an animal? When the stable housing Tony's beloved racehorse, Pie-O-My, burns down, killing the horse, Ralph's attitude about it -- "This is a hundred grand apiece (of insurance money)" -- sends Tony over the edge and Ralph to an early grave. Or rather, graves: His piecemeal disposition remains possibly the show's grisliest moment.
3. Goodbye Adriana
After five long-suffering years as Christopher's girlfriend, with the last two even more agonizing as the FBI forced her to wear a wire, Adriana (Drea de Matteo) finally met a lonely and undignified death, crawling on her hands and knees somewhere in the swamps (OK, the woods) of Jersey with Silvio in hot pursuit. More importantly than just the end of the series' rock-and-roll Jersey bad girl, this scene showed just how cold-blooded the often-goofy Silvio could really be.
2. The Big Showdown
Carmela's put up with Tony's wandering ways for years, but when an ex-goomara calls to say that Tony still loves her, that's enough. They've fought before, but this time it's for keeps. Tony comes as close as he ever has to actually hitting Carmela (he doesn't, but he puts a nice-sized hole in the wall not too far from her head) and the two of them go at it with as much intensity as any full-scale going-to-the-mattresses mob war. Years of resentment and anger boil over, with Tony leaving home as a result. But as we all know, Carmela is no Kay Corleone -- nothing can ultimately keep her and her husband apart.
Picking the single best moment in the history of "The Sopranos" is almost as difficult as getting the drop on Tony himself. "College" -- the fifth aired episode of the show -- is a compendium of them. Tony's daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) confronts him about his business, Carmela confesses to her priest that she's afraid of being punished for the life she's chosen (and then nearly seduces the padre for good measure), and Tony himself, the doting dad on a tour of colleges with his little girl, takes a quick break for an act of vengeance against a rat. It's this moment -- Tony Soprano's first on-screen killing -- that shows us just how dangerous, and dangerously complex, this man really is.