The Sopranos' Best Episode: Long Term Parking

Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. This week Doug takes a whack at The Sopranos by making a case for the intense “Long Term Parking” episode from Season 5. Read below, argue with us in the comments.

In the annals of pop culture, The Sopranos sits up there with some of the greats. Its role in the zeitgeist, its impact on the public consciousness and its “branding” is something few other shows have (or will ever) achieve. The Sopranos set a significant tone for how television has been made since and created a high-water mark to which other shows would strive (and mostly fail) to achieve. The show, even with its flaws, was a deeply beautiful and artistic show containing a singular, rather uncompromising vision. And so picking its best episode was no easy task.

Many TV critics (more influential and well read than yours truly) have weighed in here and their consensus is the first season’s “College” ranks as the mountain top for the HBO series. Tony and Meadow’s trip to visit schools, wrapped in with his happening upon a mafioso-turned-rat is a universal favorite. Other episodes like “Pine Barrens” or even the Pilot ranked up there too. And I thought each of these episodes was brilliant.

But in examining the series as a whole, the story it tried to tell, the characters it created, its woven nightmare of “family” and its greater plot lines I think a certain episode stands out among the rest. “Long Term Parking” signifies a “moment” for the series, a talking point in the greater “water cooler” scoreboard and a perfect microcosm of all the painful ways the mafia affected each and every character on the show .

There is one strike against this episode and I’ll chuck it in right now to get it out of the way. The episode doesn’t involve Dr. Melfi at all. She was one of the show’s lynchpins and to not have her included sucks, but hey it happens.

“Long Term Parking” is the penultimate episode of the penultimate season. It picks up with the DiMeo family at odds with the greater New York faction (which is at war with itself) because of Steve Buscemi’s Tony B having gunned down Phil Leotardo’s brother and injuring Phil in the process. The warring factions, encapsulated by Little Carmine’s hilarious and accurate assessment, “Retaliations,” counter attacks. We’re in a fucking stagmire,” is the kind of mafioso give and take many viewers used as the show’s guilty pleasure. This episode offered many of the small details about mafia life down to the shady Brooklyn sitdowns replete with expensive suits, cigarette smoking and overt threats of “getting whacked” and “retribution.” It’s just the kind of thing the mafia-as-entertainment lovers can get behind.

The episode also deals with the war at home, specifically Tony and Carmela’s marriage as they begin their reconciliation process, which is effectively a bargaining session having little to do with love and more grounded in convenience. If The Sopranos was about family, this episode encapsulated much of the dysfunction. Carmela and Tony see one another as means to their particular ends, with Carmela needing Tony’s money to fund a building project, and Tony wanting to maintain the facade of “happy family” life to be the complete boss. It’s this kind of relationship defectiveness that really was at the core of the show and this episode was a perfect summation of everything right and wrong with Tony and Carm’s marriage.

But the real story here is with Christopher and Adriana. The Sopranos was about a lot of things but at its core, the show always seemed to go back to how Tony’s sociopathic and narcissistic behavior destroyed everyone and everything in his wake. Christopher and Adriana are perfect examples of this with Christopher’s quote to his longtime girlfriend, “That’s the guy Adriana. My uncle Tony, the guy I’m going to hell for,” spelling it out better than I ever could.

When the FBI learns a murder happened at Adriana’s club they leverage that information, and her naiveté, to get make her an informant. In turn they want her to convince Christopher to accept a life outside of the mafia, in witness protection. As viewers we know this is the beginning of the end, but like the characters, are almost unwilling to accept that hard truth.

The final act of the episode, from the time Adriana tells Christopher she’s been compromised by the FBI is television at its best, most compelling and most difficult. Beginning with Christopher’s reaction, which starts with quivering dread, turns into almost homicidal rage (he practically strangles Adriana to death), moves into tearful regret (“I fucking loved you!) and finally devolves into gut-wrenching sadness is the second hardest part of the episode, but maybe the best few minutes of the show’s entire run.

And when Christopher leaves to “clear his head”, and Adriana packs we are almost ready to believe things might turn out okay. But then the call comes from Tony that Christopher has attempted suicide, and Silvio is coming to pick up Adriana. It’s here, again we as viewers, much like Adriana, know something is amiss and yet can’t quite put our fingers on it. We even dream of being with Adriana as her mind takes her down 95, away from New Jersey, away from the mafia, away from the sadness and away from her own personal hell.

But, we are jarred out of this dream along with her, and see her in the car with Sil as they get off at an exit and roll through the woods (definitely nowhere in sight of a hospital). Eventually they come to stop off the beaten path, and we watch Tony’s consigliere get out of the car, yank her out as she struggles for her life, chase her down as she crawls through the woods begging for her life, hear the gun shots ring out, and know it’s over.

This scene, in my opinion, is among the most disturbing, haunting and sad in the history of television. I don’t think that’s an overstatement. And though one scene does not a great episode make, Adriana’s death was the most jarring of the many deaths in The Sopranos run. Adriana was an innocent bystander, a childlike young lady guilty of nothing more than falling for the wrong guy and never having the wherewithal to leave. Her plight is the story of many side characters in the show. And though not all met their end like her, no one’s life was better from having been associated with the mafia. Above all, I think this was David Chase’s message and “Long Term Parking” hit that point home with crushing clarity.

The rest of the episode from Tony basically giving Johnny Sack and New York the middle finger (setting the stage for the final season) to Christopher dropping Adriana’s car in the airport parking lot, to him getting high to deal with the pain (only to have Tony beat the crap out of him, fittingly consistent with Tony’s ego) and ending with the image of Tony and Carmela taking a look at her new property, is a microcosm of the show. That even in the wake of the Adriana’s devastating death, the mafia world trucks on destroying everyone in its path with Tony silently lamenting her loss while also coming to grips with how he must deal with his cousin. More death and pain is on the way.

Its sad and painful look at mafia life makes “Long Term Parking” The Sopranos’ best episode; its greatest achievement. The episode is, at times, laugh out loud hilarious, unapologetically devastating, brilliantly acted, flawlessly scripted and a perfect embodiment of the series as a whole. It is television at its very best.

Doug Norrie

Doug began writing for CinemaBlend back when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles actually existed. Since then he's been writing This Rotten Week, predicting RottenTomatoes scores for movies you don't even remember for the better part of a decade. He can be found re-watching The Office for the infinity time.