The Best Episode Of The Sopranos: "The Ride"

During the quarantine for COVID-19, a ton of new fans have been drawn to HBO's The Sopranos. The show has received critical and commercial success since it first aired in 1999. Now that the sample size of viewers has grown, it is time to discuss which episodes of The Sopranos are the best.

The best episode of The Sopranos is titled "The Ride". It features several intersecting storylines involving Christopher Moltisanti and Paulie Gaultieri and uses the ride as a metaphor for life, danger, and drug addiction.

The year 2020 was a big one for fans of The Sopranos. An official re-watch podcast starring Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa aired on YouTube and is still going on at this very moment. Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who played AJ and Meadow Soprano, respectively, started their own talk show podcast called Pajama Pants.

This fresh injection of The Sopranos culture in the time since the show ended in 2007 has seen a rise in recent years. Forums like Reddit and Quora have become breeding grounds for fan theories as well as discussions involving which episodes are the best.

A show like The Sopranos, which includes 86 episodes, 6 seasons, and an upcoming feature movie prequel called The Many Saints Of Newark, involves a world that is massive and complicated. Characters are connected to each other through all kinds of interaction, and since the show was an hour-long, each character was given a thorough examination.

Michael Imperioli and James Gandolfini from The Sopranos
Image Source: HuffPost

This makes certain episodes extremely memorable. Fans will say, "Remember the episode when Christopher mugged Lauren Bacall?" or "Whatever happened to the Russian in Pine Barrens?". These are references that diehard fans of the series will recognize immediately, but if you don't and these sound interesting to you, then this article could be a look into a show that could become your next favorite.

Set-pieces for certain episodes make them memorable. The Season 2 trip to Italy, or the Season 5 and 6 dream sequences are often cited as some of the best episodes. At the same time, there are tons of fans who appreciate the episodes more rooted in reality and grittiness such as when Christopher and Tony rob the bike gang.

Christopher Moltisanti from The Sopranos
Image Source: The Sopranos Wiki

My Favorite Episode Of The Sopranos

Depending on your favorite character, your choice of the favorite episode might vary. My favorite character, the one I related to the most, was Christopher Moltisanti, played by Michael Imperioli. His struggle with boredom, addiction, and a perceived lack of respect resonated with many young men of the time.

Indeed then, it is no surprise that my favorite episode of The Sopranos is Season 6, Part 1 episode "The Ride". This episode is one that can exist on its own and doesn't really require other episodes of the series for context. Enough information is given about each of the characters, that this episode is sort of a microcosm for the series as a whole.

Michael Imperioli stated on his podcast, Talking Sopranos that "A lot of people like The Ride." This was in response to his co-star Steve Schirripa's surprise when a guest mentioned that was one of his favorite episodes.

"The Ride" is an important episode for The Sopranos. The main plot involves Christopher Moltisanti, struggling with the news of his newly pregnant girlfriend while he resists the urge to fall back into his heroin addiction. Addiction is the bane of Christopher's existence and is one of the things that constantly brings him down.

Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti
Image Source: Showbiz

The Sopranos Season 6, Episode 9 Recap

Another main arc of the episode follows Chris' frenemy Paulie Walnuts. Paulie has a crisis as well during this episode, though he is with his faith in God, as he comes to grips with his mortality and the possibility of his life being a lie. This is because his adopted mother has recently told him she is his blood aunt, and that his actual mother was recently deceased.

This episode has a metaphor in the title. "The Ride" is a figurative nod to the ride of life, the twists and turns which we willingly participate in on our way to our destination. "The Ride", asks us what the destination is, and inquires why we are willing to subject ourselves to frightening events for excitement. 

Paulie is in charge of the annual Feast of St. Alzear and it is his job to make money off of the feast, while still making sure it runs smoothly. When a newly appointed priest recommends Paulie donate $50,000 rather than the agreed-upon $10,000, Paulie becomes angry. After that, the priest will not allow the statue of St. Alzear to wear his golden hat.

This hat has significance to the ride of Italians in America. When the Italians came over to America in the late 19th and early-20th centuries, they struggled to find their place in a racist society. They formed their own churches, and St. Elzear's golden crown was made from their own melted wedding rings.

Paulie's decision to skimp on the extra money is later perceived to cause an accident at the carnival. When Bobby's wife and Tony Soprano's sister, Janice are injured on the ride, Bobby is understandably upset and seeks out Paulie to make it right. Paulie, who has been going through his own dark times, is unsympathetic and threatens Bobby.

Throughout this episode, Paulie is waiting for the results of a biopsy to find out if he has prostate cancer. Paulie is a man who loves his youthful features. He lifts weights compulsively even though he is in his 60s. At the same time, his recent faith in his own origin story has been shaken as a result of the shocking revelation from his adopted mother that she is actually his aunt. 

Changes in life are a recurring theme here, as Christopher is experiencing changes of his own. His new girlfriend, Kelli, is pregnant. He has been trying his hand at sobriety after going to rehab a couple of years back, but the new stress of taking the next step in his life causes him to relapse.

The whole episode is given a little more perspective during Tony's session with Dr. Melfi. He contemplates why people are willing to pay money to excite themselves with the danger of a ride. Melfi posits that perhaps the boredom of modern life requires us to seek out the excitement at any cost, even paying for risky rides which will entertain us.

Michael Imperioli points a gun at the vipers in The Sopranos
Image Source: YouTube

Christopher and Tony's Ride to Pennsylvania

Another large part of the episode features Tony taking Christopher with him on a ride to Pennsylvania to meet with an associate. On their way back, lost and annoyed, Tony decides to step out of the car to urinate. He sees a group of bikers stealing expensive wine in wooden crates from a local restaurant.

Christopher notices this too, and the two men agree to use the handguns they always carry in order to take the wine from the men. Tony has the Escalade backed up to the men, and Christopher draws down on the men with his handgun while Tony appropriates the wine into the back of their SUV.

When they escape, the bikers fire their own weapons at the Escalade, and Christopher leans out the window and wounds one of the men with a bullet. Christopher laughs and screams "I got him!". The two men are filled with adrenaline, and they find a restaurant to try the wine at.

Since Christopher is a recovering addict, he does not indulge in the stolen wine. Tony, on the other hand, makes a show of inhaling the scent of the wine and telling Christopher how good it is. Christopher is tempted but speaks of his willpower and a decision he has made to abstain from substances.

Tony pours Christopher a glass, noting how in Italy, wine is considered food. Not one to say no to his boss, Christopher drinks the wine. This eventually sets Christopher on the course to relapse, and later in the episode, he does so dramatically with heroin.

Christopher says how scared he was when the bikers fired their guns at him. Chris and Tony both recognize that stealing the wine was dangerous. Both men love "the ride" and enjoy putting themselves in danger.

Christopher's Ride With Addiction

Christopher starts this episode accepting the news that his girlfriend Kelli is pregnant. She offers to get an abortion, but he calms her down and tells her he will marry her instead. This is an odd move for Christopher, and it makes the viewer hopeful that this change in his life will help him become more stable and build a support system with his new family.

At The Bada Bing, Christopher shows his ring off, and the boys drink Cristal to celebrate. Christopher refuses the drink, and says "my son will be my strength". There is some foreshadowing here for future events in The Sopranos.

First of all, as is revealed later, Christopher does not have a son, he eventually has a daughter. This seems innocuous enough, but for those who have witnessed Christopher's downfall in the final episodes of The Sopranos, it is easy to see this as evidence that Christopher was doomed to fail in his fight against addiction. 

After the ride to Pennsylvania, Christopher and Tony head to a diner and enjoy the wine they stole from the biker gang. Christopher is forced to indulge and his "strength" wavers. Tony is the one who pours him the glass and convinces him to drink it. This sets up Christopher's relapse with heroin only a few scenes later.

Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti
Image Source: 25YL

While paying an associate of his for an assassination he carried out, Christopher pays him partly in heroin, as the associate is an addict as well. They begin to discuss their pasts as the man shoots up in Chris' car. Chris mockingly recommends Narcotics Anonymous to the man, of which he is actually a member. Later on, after seeing his friend nod out, he decides to ingest some of the heroin as well.

This leads Christopher on a bender which sees him hit the rock-bottom of the figurative roller coaster of addiction. Christopher passes out as the last festival lights are being shut off, allowing a stray dog to lick his face. This shows Christopher's lack of willpower as well as his fear of commitment. His last girlfriend, Adriana, hurt him tremendously, and though he knows Kelli is different, he is perhaps afraid that the woman who is now having his child is not the one he loves.

Christopher Moltisanti at St. Elzear Festival
Image Source: Pinterest

Obviously, Christopher's past issues with heroin, his seasons-long addiction, and then his stint in rehab during Season 4 established this quite well. Season 5, for the most part, was an improvement for Christopher, though, by the end of that season, Christopher has a relapse following the death of his fiance, Adriana. 

However, once Season 6 starts, he is under more stress and he seems ready to relapse at any moment. His interaction with Tony tempts him to drink the wine, which leads him down the slippery slope of addiction. This results in his eventual slide into heroin addiction, which is tragic considering the years he has spent battling it.

The Sopranos stars at an award show together
Image Source: Page Six

Tony Soprano and Christopher Moltisanti's Special "Bond"

Season 6A, Episode 9 of The Sopranos gives us a look back into one of the most controversial moments of the entire show. Adriana La Cerva, Christopher's fiance at the time, is murdered in Season 5, Episode 12 "Long-Term Parking". That episode has a gap in chronology, and it is hard to understand what happens to Christopher after he reveals that Adriana has been working with the FBI.

For instance, in that Season 5 episode, we never see Christopher speak to Tony about Adriana's betrayal. We see the after-effect, we see her die at the hands of Silvio, because of a scheme Tony obviously created. Tony and Chris do have a close bond, but they have also had a contentious relationship with many disagreements.

Though Christopher was headstrong and arrogant in Season 1, he does prove to be useful and Tony promotes him to make a man and eventually captain. Even though Chris is excited about the prestige of his position, his mafia lifestyle stresses him out and he contemplates leaving it at several points throughout the series.

After Christopher realizes being a mobster isn't all it's cracked up to be, he and Adriana speak about leaving together. This never happens though, and Chris' loyalty to Tony over all others, is what brings him to despair in his life.

Tony did Christopher a favor when he came over to his home and told him about Adriana informing on them. In Tony's mind he "hand-carried" this kid through the worst crisis he has ever had. Tony finds Chris ungrateful, but in an odd way, Chris actually hates Tony for ending Adriana's life. Chris wanted to take her side, but ultimately went with Tony, and he resents Tony for it.

There was a time when Christopher was to be the heir-apparent to Tony Soprano. In Season 6, Tony starts grooming brother-in-law Bobby Bacala for the spot, telling him that his previous choice has disappointed him. This makes Christopher jealous and is just one of the reasons he goes back to using heroin.

Tony and Christopher enjoy the wine together that they stole. Earlier in the episode, when Christopher says no to the toast offered by Sil, he says, "my son will be my strength". A few short scenes later, he partakes in the wine. 

At family dinner, when Kelli compliments the wine, Tony shakes his head with distaste. Tony says, "I was just thinking it lost some of its pop." This is in direct relation to his relationship with Christopher. It has soured due to the enormous stresses placed upon it by both men.

When Tony appears at Christopher's daughter's christening, they face off on the altar stage and the awkward air is palpable to the viewer. Tony laughing at Christopher in "Walk Like A Man" towards the end of Season 6, Part II, can be looked on as the last nail in the coffin of the saga of Tony and Christopher.

Flashback during The Ride from Season 6
Image Source: Screenrant

Kelli Lombardo Moltisanti, Wife of a Mobster

This is actually the first episode that Kelli appears in. Kelli and Christopher met at a crossroads in his life following the death of Adriana. Despite a relapse the night of the killing, Christopher has been in a better place as of late. Kelli and Chris's relationship is played off to be casual, so when Kelli shows up pregnant it is expected that Christopher will be skeptical as well.

Indeed, Chris does show concern, but refuses to let her get an abortion, instead suggesting that they get married. This is a leap for Kelli, but she loves Chris and so she is taken under the guise of his luxurious lifestyle. 

As a gangster’s wife Kelli was privileged to have many nice things. Her beautiful home is purchased by Christopher in this very episode. Christopher drives a Maserati and the top spot Tony gave him in the Soprano crime family allows him to live a comfortable existence.

Kelli loves Christopher, but later on, in Season 6, we are clued to Christopher’s affair with Julianna. This upsets Tony deeply, as he feels he made a mistake rebuffing Julianna's affections. He gets very jealous and confesses this to his therapist.

When Tony thinks he sees Julianna at the festival, we are reminded of his temporary tryst with Julianna, and Tony wishes he could have another chance. This is another one of the areas that the episode chooses to comment on Christopher and Tony's relationship.

Julianna Margulies on The Sopranos
Image Source: The Sopranos Fandom 

Season 6, Episode 9 Cast

In a show like The Sopranos, where the emphasis is placed squarely on character development, the performers take center stage and hold the audience's interest in their individual subplots. The Season 6, Episode 9 cast is listed below:

  • James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano
  • Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi
  • Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano
  • Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti
  • Dominic Chianese as Corrado Soprano, Jr. *
  • Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante
  • Tony Sirico as Paulie Gualtieri
  • Robert Iler as Anthony Soprano, Jr.
  • Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Meadow Soprano
  • Aida Turturro as Janice Soprano Baccalieri
  • Steven R. Schirripa as Bobby Baccalieri
  • Frank Vincent as Phil Leotardo
  • John Ventimiglia as Artie Bucco
  • Ray Abruzzo as Little Carmine Lupertazzi
  • Dan Grimaldi as Patsy Parisi
The Sopranos Season 6 Poster
Image Source: Nerd Infinite

The Music Of Sopranos: "The Ride"

This episode features ominous natural carnival music for the Feast of St. Alzear. This makes some scenes surreal and almost offers a throwback to Tony Soprano's "funhouse" dream during the Season 2 finale. In addition, rock music plays a large part in the episode.

When asked about the top 10 The Sopranos episodes of all time, Michael Imperioli said about "The Ride" and its music: "It features a montage where he’s at a feast and he’s high, and the song Dolphins by Fred Neil plays. There’s something very lyrical and beautiful about it, and weird."

When Tony and Christopher escape the shootout with the bikers, "All Right Now" by the British rock band Free plays loudly. The carefree song adds substance to a scene in which both Tony and Christopher are having a good time together. 

Folk music plays a heavy part in the aesthetics of this episode as well. The most famous song from this episode, "The Dolphins" by Fred Neil, plays during Christopher's time at the fair while he is under the influence. The euphoric and distorted scenes of Christopher with the dog under the open lights of the festival showcase how far gone he is.

There is even a flashback to Seattle with some garage rock music by Rocky & the Riddlers. Their song "Flash and Crash" plays at the Bada Bing while Christopher shows off his ring to his friends.

Paulie in The Sopranos killing of Mikey
Image Source: Alchetron

"The Ride", An Extended Metaphor

The ride means different things to different characters. Adriana went on one final ride the night of the flashback in this episode. Christopher tells Kelli Lombardo Moltisanti that he will take her on a trip to Atlantic City to do a quickie wedding.

When Domenica, and her mother, Janice Soprano, are on the ride together at the festival, the ride comes apart. Tony seeks advice from Dr. Melfi on what attracts people to dangerous activities.

Tony speaks about the ride causing you to throw up. This is a nod to Chris shooting up in his Maserati. He opens the window because he is sick from the drugs. Tony shows insight and says we do this because we are bored. 

When he mentions the human condition, he trails off and is robbed of his original thought. Drug addiction is a distraction from boredom. Tony sees boredom as a very real threat to depressed individuals. So what happened to Tony's bright outlook earlier this season when he recovered from a gunshot wound at the hands of his Uncle Junior?

Indeed, Tony agrees that every day is a gift. He asks, "Does it have to be a pair of socks though?" This is a line that many viewers relate to, in the post 9/11, highly commercialized and the social-media-driven world we live in. Tony begs us to ask ourselves what we are really doing.

Christopher has always had a problem with his arc. He feels that he is just not worthy of an interesting or rewarding life. When he was offered the chance to escape with Adriana, we, as the viewer knew it could be a fresh chance. However, Chris is too locked into his ways, and when he sees a family at the gas station that looks to be on hard times, he reminds himself that he could be that guy if it weren't for his mafia connections.

On the last day of the feast, Domenica cries even though she was traumatized by the ride. She wants to go back on it. Tony comes to her and twirls her around like a ride. His family looks on and loves it.

While everyone is on their own ride and struggling a large part of the way, Tony shows us that we can give comfort to those in need. When he spins Domenica around, he gives her the excitement she had previously received from the ride.

Like the ride, Tony is dangerous too. His involvement in Christopher's life, has, at times, spurred his drug addiction onwards. Tony is a destructive individual, and his hand has ended lives before.

Paulie Gaultieri's Wild Ride

For Paulie, the ride is a much more specialized and broad subject. His life is winding down, and though he doesn't regret his past so much, it is the shattering of his origin story that causes him to feel as if he is losing his identity.

Throughout the episode, Paulie is waiting for the results of a biopsy, to see if he has prostate cancer. Paulie says "I would rather face 5 guys with shivs than fight something I can't see", and I think many sufferers of disease can sympathize with that.

Before we knew a lot about the COVID-19 virus, people were scared too. Add on to this the fact that Paulie is also likely a sufferer of OCD as well, and it is shown that each character has their own problems. Paulie worries about his body excessively. 

He is deeply vain, and this is shown in the episode where he is lifting his weights. At the end of the series, Paulie almost turns down the position of captain offered to him by Tony. While many fans still debate what really is behind his decision, I take the less cynical approach and link it back to this episode right here.

After all, Paulie, if sick with cancer, is somewhat warranted in his worry and despair. This would hurt him physically the same way his mind and emotions have been hurt with the lies of his adoptive mother. Paulie later comes around to the fact that he needs to make up for his actions, and he and his mother reconcile as the episode closes.

When Paulie sees the Virgin Mary at the club, he decides that his adoptive mother must have been right about him needing to repent for his sins. This should remind fans of that episode where Paulie went to see a psychic, and it was revealed that he carries around many spirits of dead men with him.

Paulie feels guilt for his life as a mobster, but he still believes. Paulie later tells Tony about the Virgin Mary in the final episode. Tony laughs it off, and Paulie is understandably hurt. 

Even though Paulie hangs on through to the end of the series, the reminder to Paulie of his mortality is something that many characters on this show struggle with. Carmela refers to the "piano" hanging over Tony's head every day. The mobster lifestyle is treacherous and full of betrayals.

Paulie is mainly nervous that bad karma will give him cancer. He thinks making up with his mother might show that he is a good person, and he himself deserves forgiveness for his sins. Paulie also wakes up at 3 AM, which is the time Mikey Palmice allegedly told Christopher would be their downfall. That scene took place in a dream as well, when Christopher was on the cusp of life and death, much the same way he is in this very episode.

Drea de Matteo as Adriana La Cerva
Image Source: Historica Wiki

Adriana La Cerva, Gone for Good?

As mentioned before, this is the only episode that lets us into the Season 5 finale in which Christopher tells Tony about her cooperation with the government. 

While at the feast, Liz La Cerva, Adriana's mother, confronts Carmela and says Christopher killed her daughter. Carmela is in denial because of Liz's former alcohol abuse but Liz says she has not had a drink in years.

Liz says Adriana has never called her mother, and Carmela points out that they had a rocky relationship towards the end. Liz talks of the FBI and what they said to her about Christopher.

Carmela's interest is piqued in this situation. She confronts Tony but is reluctant to share her opinion. Tony is able to lie effectively by saying Christopher has not killed Adriana. Tony was in charge of Adriana's murder so he can say with conviction that Chris did not do it.

This is ironic, but also a good example of just how far Tony has slipped down the moral compass. In the later seasons, he is a shadow of his former self, and is hell-bent on greedy power grabs and not taking disrespect from anyone, including the New York families.

Some say Adriana's death is the loss of hope for Tony's recovery through therapy. Indeed, Tony's hero journey, if the show really ended as depicted, is actually rooted in his therapy. He does get somewhere with it, but ultimately, the therapy does him no real good. It just becomes another con to him, and his lie to his wife confirms this. 

From Luxury Lounge The Sopranos
Image Source: IMDb

Why People Love "The Ride"

Stars, fans, and critics of the show have all praised "The Ride" for its use of extended metaphor and character development. The cast as well as the music is on point and it features one of the most memorable intoxicated sequences of all time as Christopher stares off into the night sky at the feast.

With its focus on multiple characters all going through some ride of their own, it really shows what a well-thought-out episode of television can do. It can rival feature films and possibly overcome them, especially at the one-hour interval that The Sopranos did so well.

While many people have other favorite episodes, and they are justified in their reasons, I have always loved "The Ride" the most. It reaches into a special place inside me and I remember that day in 2007 when I walked to the mailbox alone to grab my Netflix envelope containing the disk that held that special episode. The nostalgia for me is very deep and watching it today, I still get pulled back into my favorite episode of my favorite show of all time.

Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

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