The Sopranos: Season 3 Review
By Colin Hart
Season two of The Sopranos was easily the series’ funniest season: a memorable chapter that doubled down as both great drama and great comedy. But it’s also easy to forget that the season ended on a severely depressing note — the execution of Big Pussy Bonpensiero. His death was a turning point for the entire series.
As a result, season three takes on a much gloomier tone than the lite-fare of its predecessor. Even the color palette is noticeably darker, reflecting the downward spiral that is slowly engulfing the storyline. Nevertheless, the experimental nature of the chapter makes for The Sopranos’ best season yet.
Off the set, actress Nancy Marchand, age 71, died of lung cancer. Her portrayal of Livia Soprano had been crucial to the show’s early success, and her untimely passing forced series creator David Chase to rewrite much of season three. Due to Marchand’s death, the season takes on a freewheeling, occasionally avant-garde approach. Yet one thing remains constant — the mournful mood that haunts every scene.
You wouldn’t know from the lighthearted premiere that season three would focus exclusively on pain and suffering, but tragedy is what shapes the course of the season. Still, The Sopranos becomes more compelling and more universal as a result. It remains above all a show about family, and Tony’s fear of losing his has never been more apparent.
Despite all odds, however, Tony manages to retain some sense of normalcy by the end. Even though the season finale acts as an ambiguous anticlimax, “The Army of One” manages to end a most violent year with a somewhat optimistic conclusion. It’s almost as if The Sopranos has become fully self-aware, passively observing itself with an omniscient shrug.
Even so, The Sopranos is at its best when it revels in standalone storytelling, and nowhere is this more evident than in “Pine Barrens,” the brilliant bottle episode in which Paulie and Christopher get lost in the frozen New Jersey wilderness. The installment is so legendary that it has taken on a life of its own, at times overshadowing the series itself due to its stature as one of the greatest episodes in TV history.
Yet for all its significance, “Pine Barrens” is only a fraction of what season three has to offer. When viewed as a whole, these thirteen episodes make up the show’s most artful chapter, the storytelling working hand-in-hand with the filmmaking. It results in another finely-woven tapestry that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
In the season one finale, Tony told us to remember the times that were good. By the end of season three, the last vestiges of the golden age are now gone, and there’s no turning back. Yet despite the slow trudge toward oblivion, The Sopranos itself is only getting better. It remains the greatest television show of all time.