Thanks to the recently released prequel film The Many Saints of Newark, a lot of viewers are rediscovering—or even discovering for the first time—the brilliance of The Sopranos (which scored record ratings on HBO Max in the wake of the film’s release). In case you don’t have time to binge all six seasons of the iconic HBO series at once, we went back through it to find the most entertaining episodes with some connection to the prequel. Whether you’ve already seen the movie or haven’t gotten around to it yet, we recommend going back to these episodes to fully appreciate Tony’s journey, from past to present and beginning to end.
Season 1, Episode 1
If you want to get a good feel for how Tony Soprano struggles in his “professional” life, then start right at the beginning. After a panic attack sends mob boss Tony to a psychiatrist, his ongoing therapy sessions become an integral part of his character development and an iconic staple of the series. Right out of the gate we find out about the tensions between Tony and his mother (not to mention Uncle Junior) and we also learn about Tony’s ability to show emotion for animals (the ducks in his pool) rather than human beings, a theme that would recur throughout the series. In this first episode David Chase promises to turn the gangster genre upside down and take us deeper into the interior lives of criminal underworld figures than we’ve ever seen before. After all these years, he’s still delivering on that original promise.
Season 1, Episode 5
While “College” might not be a specific link to Many Saints, it does provide one of the strongest reasons why The Sopranos was an instant hit and has stood the test of time. It’s frequently ranked high on lists of the show’s best episodes, and for good reason. Airing only a month after the series debuted, “College” uses a juxtaposition that we saw decades earlier near the end of The Godfather (the Sopranos writers always loved a good Godfather reference). In the 1972 classic, a baby’s christening is mixed in real time with vicious gangland hits. Here, Tony is playing the role of dad, taking his daughter Meadow to visit potential colleges. However, the trip takes a dark turn when Tony spots a familiar face—a former gangster turned snitch who is now in the witness protection program. It’s a masterful showcase of what The Sopranos does best, balancing the suspense and sensationalism of a crime story with a something as ordinary and domestic as a father-daughter road trip. Tony’s two worlds never stop colliding, but this episode pointedly set the stage for everything that came after.
Season 1, Episode 7
One of the first important trips down memory lane (at least one that we get to see) comes not too far into the first season. This episode deals with Tony’s worries about his son A.J. following in his footsteps. It solidifies that theme through flashbacks to Tony’s own childhood, giving us insight into his relationship with is father, John “Johnny Boy” Soprano. This episode could have been where the idea for Many Saints was hatched. In one of the flashbacks, young Tony gets a front-row seat to the lifestyle he would soon make his livelihood when he witnesses his father brutally beat up a guy in the neighborhood. In another, he secretly tags along (in the trunk of the car) on a trip to an amusement park with his father and sister. It turns out, Johnny Boy and his associates would meet up at the park to do business under the guise of an innocent day out with their kids. Tony arrives just in time to see his father getting arrested for breaking parole. As he tells Dr. Melfi, “You’re born to this s**t. You are what you are.” All of this history is revisited in Many Saints.
Season 3, Episode 2
The series went to great lengths to show the demons that Tony faced from his cold mother, and the movie goes even further to include some formative moments for Livia and Tony. With that in mind, “Proshai, Livushka” is another good episode filled with essential backstory. After Nancy Marchand, whose spirited portrayal of Livia made her a standout among the ensemble cast, passed away in between the second and third seasons the writers incorporated her death into the show. This is the episode in which Livia dies. To give her character some closure they used CGI and a body double to bring her back for one final scene (it doesn’t hold up very well, but it’s still an impressive use of the technology available at the time). Despite this sendoff, Sopranos fans know Tony’s mother’s death does little to soothe his worn psyche, and Janice’s attempt to get some closure of her own during a funeral gathering at Tony’s home turns awkward.
“For All Debts Public and Private”
Season 4, Episode 1
As you may have heard (or read in our rec) Many Saints isn’t centered on Tony but on Christopher’s father, Dickie Moltisanti. This is the episode that delves into how he died. Tony alerts Christopher that his father was killed by a cop and takes Christopher to the cop’s retirement party, where he plants the idea that Christopher should avenge his father’s murder. But when Chris confronts the cop he says he’s never heard of his father, that either the information is “faulty” or someone is deliberately lying about it. No matter to Christopher, who trusts his uncle and completes the task. The series never reveals whether this killing was justified or a matter of Tony preparing Christopher to one day take over the family business, but Many Saints finally shows us what really happened to Dickie.
“Sopranos Home Movies”
Season 6, Episode 13
Transitioning from the show’s first season to its final one can be a bit jarring, but as its name implies, this episode fills in some colorful missing pieces of the Soprano family history. Officially the first episode of the second half of Season 6, “Sopranos Home Movies” is a great character study of their dysfunctional dynamic. It all comes out during a drunken Monopoly game between Tony, Carmela, Janice, and Bobby. They tell stories of growing up, including one in which Janice recalls Johnny Boy shooting into Livia’s beehive hairdo as she was ripping into him just to “shut her up.” Tony isn’t thrilled with Janice spilling their family secrets and the board game turns into a full-on bloody brawl. As Bobby astutely observes, “You Sopranos, you go too far.” The episode’s title also refers to literal home movies, a birthday gift from Janice to Tony, a memento of happier times.
You don’t need to have watched these Sopranos episodes to understand what’s going on in Many Saints of Newark, but they all add something rewarding to the viewing experience. And even if you don’t plan on watching the film at all, these are still worth a rewatch. Trust us, you won’t regret it.