Reviewed by Blake Kenny
Itís hard to dispute the fact that the Sopranos is one of the greatest television dramas to come along in quite some time. In my mind, the only other show that even comes close to itís level of entertainment is another HBO series entitled - ďSix Feet UnderĒ. Over the years the Sopranos has received countless awards and nominations - and Season 3, which Iím about to review was nominated for a whopping 22 Emmyís last year. The critics consistently praise the show for its ingenuity and unsurprisingly - each new season seems to out do the last. Thereís little doubt in my mind that some day, when the show eventually goes off the air, (to the tears of many hardcore fans) itís going to go down in television history as one of the most innovative, captivating and ground breaking seriesí to ever hit the airwaves.
So what is it about the show that gives it such power? Is it that fact that it offers everything that a big screen mobster flick has to offer, all rolled up into one perfect little package? In essence, I think ďYes!Ē. The show moves along like an involving soap opera, constantly calling you back to watch again and find out what will happen next. Yet it never stoops to the ridiculous level of discovering thereís some evil twin is involved or that Tony Sopranoís sister is actually is mother - or some other crap like that. The plotlines are intricate, the character development is intriguing, and the no hold barred approach is thoroughly addicting.
The show shirks away from nothing. The language is consistently fowl, the violence is relentless, and the odds of seeing nudity are constantly looming on the horizon. Somehow this bold approach to production has given the show a level a realism that is seldom seen in other crime dramas. Quite simply is deserves every ounce of recognition it has received thus far. The casting and the acting is absolutely flawless and convincing. Thereís not a simple weak character in the entire show. In every way, each hour long episode feels like a big budget movie, and each subsequent episode feels like a superbly crafted sequel. Itís simply a fantastic show - and I canít even begin to express how impressed I am to see something like this on TV. So read on and Iíll share with you my thoughts on Season 3 of the Sopranos.
SPOILER WARNING!!! Given the nature of this review, and my intensions to lightly go ever the plotline for each episode, itís safe to assume that this article is going to be loaded with spoilers. Iíll try my best to keep thing to a minimum, but thatís not going to be easy since each show has story elements that run into the next episode. Itís basically one gigantic 13 hour movie. So consider this official warning. If youíve seen this season, then by all means - read on! But if you havenít, you might want to skip down to the technical details and my final thoughts.
EP1: Mr. Ruggerioís Neighborhood
At the end of Season 2, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his goon squad were forced to wack Salvatore ĎBig Pussyí Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) after it is discovered that he might have turned tables and become an F.B.I. informant. Since the F.B.I. now believes their key informer to be shark bait, this episode starts with them trying to figure out how theyíre going to get more incriminating information on Tony Sopranoís illegal operations. After picking up a warrant from a judge the F.B.I. intend to infiltrate the Soprano homestead and plant a bug in his basement. The Basement is apparently the only room in the house that Tony feels is safe and secure to discuss family business.
Much of this episode revolves around the F.B.I. and their attempts to plant this bug. Each member of the Soprano household ends up under strict surveillance, including their maid. Theyíre carefully watched for days in order to learn the routine of their daily lives. The plan is to strategize the safest time to enter their home and set up the bugging equipment. Whether it's Carmela (Edie Falco) receiving tennis lessons or A.J. (Robert Iler) ditching high school. The family members are never to leave their sight.
A secondary plot in the episode involves Patsy Parisi (Dan Grimaldi) and his growing suspicion that his identical twin brother Spoons, may have been killed on an order given by Tony.
EP2: Proshai, Livushka
This episode begins with Tony face down on the kitchen floor in his bath robe. For those of you who are familiar with previous seasons of the show, youíre aware that Tony tends to have panic attacks and pass out whenever heís stressed about something. During a brief visit home from campus Tony learns that his daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) may be getting a little friendlier - in a romantic sense with Noah, (Patrick Tully) a boy from her school. The big problem revolves around that fact that the Noah is not only Jewish, but heís of African-American decent. As you probably know, a relationship outside of the family, especially with a different ethnic group is a big mob family no-no. Needless to say Meadow is a little upset with her fathers reaction and treatment of the boy, and as things turn out, this really puts a strain on their normally healthy, father-daughter relationship.
Last season Tonyís mother Livia (Kathy Marchand) was busted at the airport with some stolen plane tickets given to her by Tony. In this episode Tony confronts his mother at her home and warns her to keep her trap shut about them. Fortunately for Tony he doesnít really have to worry about it much, when his mother suddenly passes away in her sleep. While a small part of Tony is upset over her death, the bigger part of him is relieved.
When it comes time to put Liviaís soul to rest, Tonyís sister Janice (Aida Turturro) flies out from Seattle and quickly begins preparations for a huge catered wake and tons of guests. Needless to say, Liviaís last wishes decree that there be no funeral services for her what so ever, but Janice is unable to accept or respect her dying wish. Simply put, things get a little ugly at the wake when Janice forces the quest to share friendly remembrances of Livia. (Itís should also be pointed out that Liviaís death in the show is in many ways related to the fact that the actress who played her - Kathy Marchand - passed away in real life.)
EP3: Fortunate Son
The day finally arrives and Christopher Maltisanti (Michael Imperioli) at long last becomes a ďmadeĒ man. In his mind, not only will this new rank mean greater responsibility within the family, but it also means more money is his pockets. Needless to say, he and his girlfriend Adriana (Drea de Matteo) instantly have plans to move up to a richer lifestyle.
Still, things arenít as easy as they seem and the money doesnít exactly flow in. Even though Christopher has been given total control and possession of one of the families most profitable underground businesses, this also means that he now has to pay Paulie (Tony Sirico) a 6 grand gratuity each and every week. Paulie, in turn has to pay one to Tony Soprano. Itís the basic pecking order.
Also taking place in this episode, Tonyís sister Janice has moved into their dearly departed motherís home. Immediately she turns her motherís live in housekeeper Svetlana (Alla Kliouka) out into the street. Along with throwing her out of the house, she demands the return of an old and valuable record collection. The thing is, the collection was given to Svetlana as a gift from Livia - and she has no intentions of giving them up. This situation turns ugly when Janice, whoís not exactly a reasonable person, decides to hold Svetlanaís prosthetic leg for ransom.
Tony Soprano sits young Jackie Aprile Jr (Jason Cerbone) down for a heart to heart talk. Reaffirming his own, and the late Jackie Srís wishes that he stay out of trouble, stay out of the family business and become a respected and legitimate member of society. As Tony and Jackieís father were once great friends, itís out of respect that Tony has taken on a sort of fatherly position with the young man. However, keeping Jackie out of trouble is easier said than done when Christopher, struggling to get the 6G together to pay off Paulie is forced to use Jackie Jrís help to pull off a heist.
EP4: Employee of the Month
While attempts to keep Jackie Aprile Jr away from the families business obviously didnít work so well last episode - things arenít much better in this one. Ralph Cifaretto, (Joe Pantoliano) who has been dating Jackieís mother Rosalie, (Sharon Angela) decides to take him along for the ride when he goes out to collect some money from a low-life who has refused to pay him.
Things with Janice and Svetlana begin to heat up when the Russian Mob is brought in to get Svetlanaís prosthetic leg back - by force if necessary. Looks like Janice is once again causing big problems for Tony - but what else is new? Sheís may be his sister, but sheís also a huge pain in hisÖ
Tony Soprano is a little stressed and perhaps annoyed when he learns that Johnny Sacks, (Vincent Curatola) boss of the New York City crime world has taken up residence in Tonyís backyard of New Jersey. Could his sudden relocation have anything to do with a 25 million dollar business development that Tonyís involved in?
The main plotline of this episode revolves around Tonyís psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). When leaving work late one evening she is attacked and sexually assaulted in the stairwell of a parking garage. Needless to say this is a traumatic experience that not only causes problems with her home life, but with her mental state as well. Tension escalates when she learns that the offender - who had been quickly apprehended after the incident, has been released from custody on a technicality. There are decisions to be made when Dr. Melfi considers using her growing connection and relationship with Tony Soprano as a means to get not only justice, but perhaps - a little vengeance.
EP5: Another Toothpick
Things start of violently in this episodes when Bryan Spatafore, (Vincent Orofino) cousin to Jackie Aprile Jr is the victim of an unprovoked attack at the hands of a fella named: Mustang Sally (Brian Tarantina). To make a long story short, Mustang Sally decided to treat Bryan head to the same level of respect as the welcome mat of a golf course. Needless to say, heís injured severely and Tony gives Gigi, the new captain of Aprile crew the go ahead to deal with this situation however he sees fit.
Gigi (John Fiore) decides to pull an elderly hit man, dying from lung cancer out of retirement to deal with Mustang Sally. The only problem is, Junior Soprano, (Dominic Chianese) who is essentially the real boss of the entire family, even above Tony, doesnít want the man used for the job. Will Tony go over Uncle Juniors head? After all, what can Uncle Junior do about it? Heís been under house arrest since last season.
While traveling home with his wife, Tony is pulled over for speeding and is issued a ticket from and over zealous policeman (Charles S. Dutton). When bribery doesnít work Tony decides to use his connections in government to get the ticket squashed. This also results in the policeman being transferred off the streets. While this little side story has very little resonance in future episodes, it serves to show you the extent of Tonyís power and how his political affiliations, like his mob connections can make him nearly untouchable.
In conclusion, things take an unknown turn in Tonyís favour when his daughter Meadow, inadvertently frees him from the clutches of the F.B.I. wiretap.
The relationship between Meadow and Noah approaches the next level and things really start to heat up. It becomes much more apparent in this episode how much they truly care for one another. However, every relationship has its section of unpaved, bumpy roads when Meadowís obsessive-compulsive room mate Caitlin (Ari Gaynor) begins to cause friction in the happy couples lives. Perhaps even leading them to the break point.
Things arenít so easy for Tony either. After giving some good advice to one of the strippers at the Bada Bing Club, Tony finds himself in the awkward position of trying to keep things professional between them. One friendly word of advice has this stripper thinking that Tonyís her new best buddy. This situation is complicated by the fact that Ralph Cifaretto has been sleeping with her.
The fact is, Tracee the stripper (Ariel Kiley) isnít exactly the brightest. As if being mixed up with drugs and Ralphie isnít bad enough, she ends up getting pregnant with his baby too. Tony ends up unwillingly giving her advice again when she asks him what he thinks she should do about the baby. In the end it doesnít matter much, as Ralph isnít exactly what you would call a model father. While arguing one night we see just what kind of a guy he is when an upset Tracee starts challenging his manhood behind the Bada Bing.
EP7: Second Opinion
While it was somewhat of an underlying plotline in episode 2 - and even more so in episode 5, Tony learned that his uncle Junior had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. This episode concentrates to a great degree on Juniorís trip to the hospital for surgery. Even after having a huge tumour the size of a fist removed from his stomach we learn that perhaps the chief surgeon, Dr. John Kennedy (Sam McMurray) may not have removed enough of the healthy tissue around the tumour to totally eradicate the cancer.
When it comes to Juniors attention that he may have to go under the knife again, Tony insists that he get a second opinion. Junior unwillingly agrees to do just that, but fears the next doctor might recommend chemotherapy. Junior reluctant to undergo this type of treatment, claiming that the cure is almost worse than the disease.
Problems persist for Christopher as well. Paulie seems unable to lay off, forcing Christopher to strip down completely so he can be checked him for a wire. Not only that, but he is making Christopherís home life hell as well - by showing up in the middle of the night and essentially looting stuff right out of his living room.
EP8: He is Risen
Problems between Tony and Ralph Cifaretto continue to escalate as Ralph seems to be showing less respect for his boss as the days go on. Obviously heís still angered over Gigi being made captain of the old Aprile crew over him. Not only that, but the incident involving the stripper Tracee from a previous episode is still weighing heavily in Tonyís mind. Tony canít help but feel that Ralph is somewhat of a lose cannon. Not only that, but when Tony uninvites Ralphie, Rosalie and Jackie Jr from Thanksgiving day dinner - Ralph start to consider taking action against Tony that wouldnít go over to well within the crime family.
Things between Ralph and Tony are quickly resolved when Gigi, the recently appointed captain of the Aprile crew un-expectantly dies of heart disease. Tony reluctantly finds that he has no choice but to bump Ralphie up to captain - which makes Ralph happy and seems to have quelled the bad blood between the two - at least for the time being.
After a recent break-up with Noah, Meadow runs into Jackie Jr at a house party. The pair get to talking and even though they have known each other most of their lives, they suddenly realize they have far more in common than mobster fathers.
The Thanksgiving Day weekend leads to a scheduling problem at the offices of Dr. Melfi. Tony learns that he has been accidentally booked for an appointment at the exact same time as an attractive Mercedes car sales-woman. In a kind gesture Tony gives up the slot to the women, and canít help but wonder why such an apparently perfect woman could possibly be in need of a shrink.
EP9: The Telltale Moozadell
In this episode the relationship continues to blossom between Meadow and Jackie Aprile Jr. Tony is pleased to see that Noah has disappeared from the picture and that Meadow has started to date someone from a family that he both knows - and respects. While Tony has done his best to make sure that Jackie stays out of organized crime and out of trouble, heís especially adamant about it now that Jackie is dating his daughter.
When a New Jersey nightclub owner figuratively looses his shirt when he gamble off more money and he can afford to pay, Christopher and Furio (Frederico Castelluccio) decide to take ownership of his club in order to settle the debt. As a surprise, Christopher hands ever the clubís management duties to his fiancťe - Adriana. He and Furio intend to stand on the sidelines as silent partners.
While A.J. might be doing well in football, it seems he may be doing himself more harm than good when heís caught vandalizing school property. Tony and Carmella are forced to take his punishment into their own hands when they learn that his school plans to take no disciplinary action against him. With A.J. quickly becoming a key player in their football teams success, it seems that the schoolís zero tolerance policy isnít exactly zero at all.
After making efforts to get together with the Mercedes car salesperson Gloria, (Annabella Sciorra) Tony slowly starts to see a different side of her. Not only is she a bit of a free bird, but sheís showing signs of both increased attachment to Tony, and maybe a little more dependence on him than heís willing to accept. Little does Tony know the real reason why Gloria visits Dr. Melfi - but heís gonna find out.
EP10: ÖTo Save us all from Stanís PowerÖ
With Christmas fast approaching, the gang finds themselves haunted by the ghost of Christmas past. Tony and his crew are given continuous and unwelcome reminder or their past friend - turned traitor, Salvatore ĎBig Pussyí Bompenseiro. A Santa Claus costume, pulled from a box of holiday decorations reminds Tony about last Christmas, when Big Pussy wore that very suit. In fact, Tonyís has been thinking about Big Pussy a lot lately, and upon seeing this suit he comes to realize that he may have been wearing an F.B.I. wire for as many as 5 years. Tonyís entire crew, when thinking back about sees that all the sign indicating that he may have been turned were always there, but they were just to blind to pick up on it.
On the home front things with Jackie Aprile Jr are starting to rub Tony the wrong way. Even thought heís sat Jackie down a number of times and insisted that he stay away from trouble; Tony keeps finding him hanging out in all the wrong places. Not only disrespecting Tonyís wishes, but disrespecting Meadow as well. When Jackie gets busted by Tony again, this time getting a lap dance from a stripper, Tony comes to the conclusion that Jackie needs another taking too, but this time with his fists.
EP11: Pine Barrens
When Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) falls ill and is too worn out to go make a cash collection from a Russian named Valerie, (Vitali Baganov) Tony decides to send Paulie and Christopher to collect in his place. Unfortunately things get complicated when Paulieís lack of respect for the man turns into an unplanned battle for their lives. Fortunately our goodfellas come out on top, forced to kill the man in the process. No big problem right? A quick drive out to the middle on nowhere with a shovel and their problems will be buried forever A least this was the plan until the discover that the supposed corpse in their trunk isnít dead.
From here on out their problems only get worse as the Russian escapes and leads them deep into the woods where they inevitably find themselves lost, freezing and starving. With absolutely no sense of direction, despite Paulieís military background, our 2 friends are forced to spend the night in an old abandoned van; as is often the case when trapped alone with someone for too long, they quickly turn on one another.
On the home front, Tonyís relationship with Gloria is starting to go downhill. Tony discovers that Gloria suffers from terrible mood swing and can go for sexy to psychotic in an instant. Needless to say, she can be a little temper-mental.
Ahh yes, then thereís the young lovers: Meadow and Jackie Jr. When Meadow also falls ill, (there must be something going around) Jackie decides that the best thing he can do for her is to bail out so she can get a good nightís rest. This bothers Meadow somewhat - and when the same thing happens the next night, she comes to suspect that perhaps heís cheating on her.
EP12: Amour Fou
Obsessed with becoming a criminal big shot, Jackie Jr bites off a little more than he can chew in this episode. When Ralph tells Jackie a story about how his Father; Jackie Sr and Tony pulled off a daring robbery when they were young - Jackie Jr canít help but be impressed. With this heist, Tony and Jackie Sr found themselves on the fast track to becoming Ďmadeí men. Unfortunately this story only serves to influence young Jackieís plans, and for those of you who have been watching, heís not exactly the sharpest pencil in the box.
With plans laid out, Jackie and a few of his friends attempt almost the exact same thing that his late father did - sticking up an illegal card game. However, Jackie wasnít expecting to see Christopher and Furio seated at the table when he and his buddies charged in with ski masks and heavy artillery. Things quickly get out of control when Jackieís friends - who are a little excitable as well as wired on ecstasy make a huge mistake. Their smooth plan quickly goes from simple to extremly complicated as a hail of gunfire ensues.
Tony is just about at his wits end with his mistress Gloria Trillo. Since last episode heís decided to dump her. This comes to no surprise as events over the past few episodes have firmly established that sheís a nut job. This only causes bigger issues when she threatens to tell his wife Carmella (Edie Falco) about them. Tony sees red. Not only that, but he comes to realize that sheís almost exactly the same as his wacky, deceased mother. When it becomes clear that Gloria might not let this relationship die so easily, Tony has no choice but to have one of his goons give her a personal warning to stay away from him - at the receiving end of a shinny, black glock
EP13: Army of One
As we reach the final episode of the season we find that Jackie Jr has gone into hiding, primarily because Christopher knows he was involved in the botched robbery from episode 12. Tony is put into the difficult position of figuring out how best to deal with the situation. Tony decides that heíll leave it up to his newly appointed captain Ralph Cifaretto to deal with. This is a difficult issue for Ralph, since he has been dating Jackie Jrís mother for the entire season. Still, heís made a commitment to the Soprano crime family and he knows what needs to be done. Could this spell the end for Jackie Jr?
At home, things are just as complicated. Tonyís wife Carmella has been giving the methods in which Tony puts food on the table a lot of serious thought, but more importantly, their son A.J. is in trouble with school again. Could A.J. be in need of a little military discipline?
Overall this final episode contained a lot of closure for the season, and since Iíve undoubtedly spilled the beans on a number of key issues already, Iíll keep the rest to myself.