The Sopranos is back this week, sort of. With The Many Saints Of Newark finally making its way to theaters and HBO Max October 1, there’s not much time to do a full-on reunion with New Jersey’s first family of waste management and disposal. But since it’s a prequel, you don’t need to do much homework anyway. In place of a full-on rewatch, we’ve selected five episodes to help ease you back into the world of tracksuits, gabagool, and existential dread. These aren’t necessarily the best episodes—though they are all crushers. All five deal with Sopranos history and will hopefully provide context for the film. After all, as Dr. Melfi puts it, “Understanding root causes will make you less vulnerable to future episodes.”
2 / 7
The first episode after the pilot, “46 Long,” gives audiences a taste of how the DiMeo crime family operates day-to-day. At this point in the series, Jackie Aprile (Michael Rispoli) is boss and Junior Soprano (Dominic Chianese) and Tony (James Gandolfini) are capos of their own crews. Whether they’re stealing DVD players or finely tailored suits, money flows up from the soldiers through the capos and to the boss.
“46 Long” delivers a solid introduction into the “organized” part of “organized crime.” Director Daniel Attias plants his fish-eye lens at the table outside Satriale’s and gets into the weeds of how business is done. The episode provides a tight refresher on how the family works, who the players are, and how they run their crews. Plus, you get Paulie (Tony Sirico) ranting about Italian cultural appropriation at a coffee shop.
3 / 7
This episode might be the most interesting companion to the movie. With extended flashbacks, “Down Neck” bounces between 1967 and 1999, exploring Tony’s relationship with his father, Johnny Boy (Joseph Siravo), and his own son, A.J. (Robert Iler), while giving us a proto-version of Many Saints in the process. Back in 1999, creator David Chase didn’t have Jon Bernthal and Corey Stoll, who play younger versions of Tony and Junior in the film. But Siravo and Rocco Sisto—who plays Junior—deliver rock-solid, early interpretations of the characters they would reprise a handful of times during the show’s run.
The time spent in 1967 is the real money here. An adolescent Tony spies his father beating a man half to death, getting arrested, and arguing with Livia about leaving the life behind. If Many Saints didn’t exist, “Down Neck” might’ve served as our most thorough look at Tony’s childhood and how Johnny Boy and Livia (Laila Robins, in her second and final turn as Young Livia) damned their son to a life in crime.
4 / 7
The one where Christopher gets made.
The pomp and circumstance that one might expect from a “made man” ceremony does not exist in “Fortunate Son.” This is The Sopranos, so everything needs to be a little tackier, a little sadder, a little more pathetic. As such, Tony takes Christopher (Michael Imperioli) to a typical New Jersey, wood-paneled basement to prick his finger and burn a picture of St. Peter in the palm of his hands. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the good times being over, as Tony frequently whines.
“Fortunate Son” also hosts another Johnny Boy flashback sequence. This time, through Tony’s innocent eyes, we’re privy to some light dismemberment in the backroom of Satriale’s. Johnny Boy traumatized Tony during the incident, instilling violence as a consequence and a means to food, wealth, and sex. It all leads to Tony’s first panic attack, so surely this vital scene informed Michael Gandolfini’s performance. To quote Tony, “All this from a slice of gabagool.”
5 / 7
“For All Debts Public And Private”
“For All Debts Public And Private”
“For All Debts Public And Private” is an essential episode for many reasons, but for our purposes, one stands out: the history of Dickie Moltisanti. Throughout the series, Tony rhapsodizes about his relationship with Dickie, hoping to re-create that bond with his son, Christopher. In this episode, however, Christopher finds out how things ended for his dad.
Tony coldly introduces Christopher to his father’s supposed murderer and encourages him to take revenge. Whether or not Tony is telling the truth about Detective Lt. Barry Haydu (Tom Mason) is up for debate. Nevertheless, whatever events transpire in Many Saints are fully put to bed by the end of “For All Debts Public And Private.” All debts paid.
6 / 7
“‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation,” Tony says after a night of Paulie’s incessant reminiscing. Wiseguys are supposed to have tight lips, and Paulie telling his life story to fellow members of the hotel buffet line is a liability.
It might be the lowest form of conversation, but The Sopranos loves to reminisce. And “Remember When” is all about how we see the past with rose-colored glasses and mythologize our pasts. Tony’s not immune to nostalgia; he’s spent a good deal of time in therapy at war with the past. With Many Saints, we’ll get to see those prime years that Tony and Paulie yearn to return to, and whether or not they really were such sunny days.
If nothing else, in this episode, Tony Soprano becomes the first person to get sick of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has a pretty funny small role.
7 / 7