In Season Three of HBO’s hit series, the federal wiretap begins as Livia dies and Meadow goes to college. But Tony faces challenges from some tough newcomers, such as hothead Ralph Cifaretto, New York crime boss Johnny Sack and a sexy car saleswoman.
Year 3, Show #1, Season #3 (Total Shows—1, Total Seasons—3)
THE GOOD: The Sopranos has always had a family focus, but I think the increased emphasis on families (the Sopranos, the mafia family, the Aprile family, and others) in season 3 is what makes it the best season yet. The minor gripes I’ve had about the show in prior seasons fall to the bottom of the river and join the dead bodies and we’re left with the great survivors. What I never really noticed about the show before is that, while the obvious attraction is to the mafia, the deeper and more inherent part of the show revolves around families. After you realize this fact, not only does the show become that much more interesting, but you get a newfound appreciation for the parts you thought were driving the show before.
My praise for The Sopranos has focused on three key areas: characters, mafia activities, and the quirks of Italian-American families. All of these areas continue to bring their A-game. To go in reverse order, I’ll start with my dwindling list of Italian idiosyncrasies. The two new words that came up this season are braciole (bra-j-ole) and paisan (pie-zon) (I’m really surprised paisan didn’t make it in the show earlier. Or perhaps I missed it the first time around). The important thing to note here is that while my list of new occurrences has decreased significantly from my extensive list in season one, that in no way reflects the amount of mannerisms the show portrays, just the frequency of new additions. Also keep in mind that there are many others that I haven’t written down (manicotti, goumada, and others) because they were never mentioned in my family. But the important thing here isn’t how big the list is, but the significance of it. The whole reason I enjoy this aspect of the show and think it’s vital to the show is because it demonstrates authenticity. Only true Italians could know the extent of all the little details in the show. And whether you’re from an Italian family or not, it doesn’t matter. Watching The Sopranos is like watching a documentary in that it depicts life accurately — it just happens that the events are fictionalized.
Next is the mafia activities. As with season two, season three brings us even closer to organized crime and in a large swath as well. Season 1 was like an introduction and season two was like a thesis statement. Season three starts to get into the body paragraphs and cover a lot of ground. Mafia activities this time around include dealings with the Russians, heists, more gambling (this time with sports betting), and night clubs. While it’s more of the same in terms of types of jobs, season three brings in a lot of new characters and broadens our horizons from Tony and his gang, to several of the other capos and made men in the organization, often times opposing one another. Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) and Jackie Aprile, Jr. (Jason Cerbone) are two great additions to the cast and have some interesting interactions with established members like Paulie (Tony Sirico), Silvio (Steven Van Zandt), and Christopher (Michael Imperioli). Ralph in particular goes on a bit of a roller coaster and goes from likable, to detestable, to mysterious over the course of the season.
But it’s really the focus on family that makes season three stand out from the previous two. Everything was much more cohesive this time around than before. My complaints revolved around inconsistent episodes with some weird clairvoyant dreams that Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) has or the story lines of his kids Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) being pointless and adding nothing to the story. Season three though eliminates all those little issues because everything meshes together. This is the largest, most expansive season yet with the New York families, led by Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) coming into play a bit and the factions within the family (with Ralph and Jackie Jr. being key players in one — or two — of those factions) also solidify more. It’s more intricate than before and the relationships between characters becomes more important.
However, it never feels overwhelming. In fact, it feels like a relief. By this point, we’ve been with the Sopranos for over 30 episodes. We understand the fundamentals and now it’s time to get into the juicy part of the London broil. For what feels like the first time, we start to see the consequences of some of the mafia’s activities. The FBI escalates their investigation and gets approval for wire taps and surveillance which present significant risks for Tony. Instead of just getting the tip of the iceberg, we can see the whole thing. There’s a level of significance that’s been missing until now. It’s not that the first two seasons are meaningless and can just be skipped, it’s that season three begins to show how all these characters and stories we’ve become familiar with are interconnected and are a part of something bigger. It no longer feels like events are building to the end of a season; it feels like events are building to a much larger ending, one that’s seasons away and a long journey to embark on.
THE TAKEAWAY: Season three of The Sopranos gives us a new perspective on the entire series, one that makes it much more interesting and appealing. The show maintains the details that have made it worthwhile to watch so far — characters, mafia activities, and Italian quirks — but it adds a much larger perspective that give the show a sense of consequences that was lacking before. Season three makes The Sopranos more than a show that’s just fun to watch, it makes it a show that you can’t stop watching because you start to take sides in what’s shaping up to be a story much larger than just one season; and you can tell conflicts that are brewing will come to a boil, soon.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5