“It's good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” - Tony Soprano, The Sopranos pilot.
First airing way back in early 1999 (20 years ago today, in fact), many agree that The Sopranos ushered in a golden age of television, paving the way for such modern classics as Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, and many others. With the rise of Netflix and Amazon, legions of couch potatoes have a wider choice of quality TV than ever before, all at our grubby fingertips. We’ve never had it so good.
However, over ten years since David Chase’s epic mob drama ended, there’s a nagging feeling that the best really is over. True, we’ve had some great shows since, but for my money nothing has come close to the impact of The Sopranos. The show boasted bold storytelling, a strong cast and of course, James Gandolfini’s unforgettable performance as the complex, tormented father and mafia boss that doomed everything he touched. These are just some of the elements that place it head and shoulders above all the other pretenders to its throne.*
Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this. In honour of this television behemoth, let’s count down the ten greatest episodes of The Sopranos.
*Disclaimer: for sake of argument, let’s just pretend The Wire never existed. Capiche?
10. The Test Dream
Kicking off our list is perhaps the show’s most off-kilter episode. Coming towards the end of the fifth season, The Test Dream may not have had the full-throttle spills, thrills and kills that other episodes did, yet it remains one of the show’s most memorable offerings. It begins with Tony checking in at the Plaza Hotel, where he enjoys some lavish room service and the services of a prostitute - a rather quiet evening in by his standards. He falls asleep, and we are taken on a surreal journey into the big man’s psyche through a twenty minute dream sequence.
The show had given us a window into Tony’s dreams before (as we will see later in this article), but never to this depth. It’s fair to say Tony had a lot on his plate at this point of the series - there was the breakdown of his marriage to Carmela, ongoing tensions with the New York family, and his erratic cousin Tony Blundetto becoming an ever-growing liability. These anxieties filter into his dream - at one point his teeth fall out, which according to the dream dictionary, symbolises a loss of power. The audience is used to watching Tony vocalise his problems in Dr Melfi’s office - here we are seeing how he deals with them internally, and it makes for compelling viewing.
The Test Dream perhaps comes closer than any other film or TV series in depicting the messy absurdity of dreams. The cinematography is suitably quirky, with characters talking directly to the camera and a memorable visual when, after Tony is being nagged by Carmela to get dressed, he points to a television that is showing him doing just that. Likewise the cameo of Annette Bening (complete with Tony’s goofy reaction) perfectly captures the randomness of dreams. In a lesser show this type of storytelling would feel like a gimmick - not here. Indeed, Tony’s dream foreshadows at least a couple of key events that would affect the direction The Sopranos would go (more on that later). The Test Dream is a unique achievement that lingers long in the memory.