Most top-ten lists are really a top-nine list, and an eleven-way tie for tenth. There are probably a good dozen episodes that could fill out this final slot, but there needs to be at least one place on this list for an ordinary Sopranos episode, with no big whackings or stunts, that just moves the plot another three yards downfield. (In a way, a list of best episodes is antithetical to the novel-like Sopranosdo you have a top-ten list of Dickens chapters?) This episode from early in season five advances several storylines, including the succession battle in the New York Mafia and cousin Tony B.'s doomed attempt to go straight by becoming a masseur. Meanwhile, Uncle Junior has started repeating a taunt at Tony's high-school sports abilities: "He never had the makings of a varsity athlete." As Junior is picked up by the police wandering Newark, looking for his dead brother, it's clear that the insult is just one more marble leaking from his head. But it's small comfort to Tony, who asks, hurt, "Why's it got to be something mean? Why can't you repeat something good?... Don't you love me?" Junior's words hurt Tony as badly as the slug he pumps into him a season later: in The Sopranos, the cruelest hits can come at the Sunday dinner table.
(Directed by John Patterson; written by Michael Caleo)