Back To School
Season 1: "College"
A father-daughter road trip with Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) to check out a potential university turns into an off-the-cuff whack job when Tony happens to spy a Mob informant at a gas station. In between touring the campus with Meadow, he tracks the rat down and brutally strangles him. In that one scene, Gandolfini gives viewers a startling glimpse into Tony's duality as loving family man and cold-blooded killer.
Tony Loves Melfi
Season 1: "Pax Soprana"
During a session with his shrink Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), Tony beams at her like a lovesick puppy, and tells her seductively, "I'm in love with you. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is. I dream about you. I think about you all the time. I can't get excited about any other woman." When she politely but firmly rebuffs him, explaining his feelings aren't real, simply a byproduct of therapy, Tony instantly morphs from charming Casanova to ice-cold viper. Gandolfini's chameleon-like transformation is shocking, making us realize Tony's easy-going charm and seeming gentleness are nothing more than a mask he puts on to achieve his own selfish ends.
Season 1: "Isabella"
In a climactic season-one scene that echoes the famous assassination attempt of Vito Corleone in "The Godfather", Tony realizes he's being set up to be whacked, and Gandolfini's eyes convey caged-animal desperation as he manages to fend off two hired goons with a combination of dumb luck, brute strength and sheer will. A masterful performance in an iconic episode.
Season 1: "I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano"
After learning that his mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) was behind the attempt on his life, Tony goes to the hospital to confront her, picking up a pillow that, presumably, he will use to suffocate her. Before that can happen, however, he learns Livia has just suffered a stroke, and he leans in close as she lay on the table. In a whisper filled with menace, he tells her, "I know what you did. The only son, the middle child...I heard the tapes, ma, the @#$%ing FBI tapes. Don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about." Sparks fly in this first-rate scene between two extraordinary actors — made even more impressive by the fact that Marchand doesn't speak a word, although her eyes speak volumes.
Season 2: "Funhouse"
Some dodgy Indian food gives Tony a bad case of food poisoning, resulting in a bizarro dream sequence on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore. Gandolfini does some amazing work here during the dream sequences, sending Tony through pretty much the full range of human emotions. Along the way, he douses himself with gasoline and explodes, chats with a talking fish (who's actually Big Pussy) and undergoes a twisted therapy session. "You know what the worst part of this is?" dream Tony asks dream Melfi? "This is one of those situations where I know that I'm dreaming." The dream is ultimately the catalyst to his realization that Pussy (played by Vincent Pastore) is a rat, and it's breathtaking to watch Tony steel himself for the task at hand after deciding he has no choice but to murder his best friend.
"Kill Me Now"
Season 3: "Amour Fou"
Tony's affair with car saleswoman Gloria Trillo (Annabella Sciorra) takes an ugly turn when Gloria's increasingly erratic behaviour escalates and she threatens to tell Carmela about their affair. When he slaps her, she says, "Poor you," and Gandolfini's eyes open in horror at the realization that Gloria is exactly like his mother. As their fight becomes more heated and more physical, Tony becomes engulfed in rage, clamping his beefy hands around her throat and choking her until she begs him to kill her. This is where it gets way too freaky for Tony, who shambles out of there like a confused zombie.
Scenes From A Marriage
Season 4: "Whitecaps"
The deeply damaged relationship between Tony and Carmela comes to an explosive head in the season-four finale, with both Gandolfini and Edie Falco delivering performances of such searing intensity the scene is at once difficult to watch yet impossible to take your eyes off of. Tony's anger has rarely been this electrifying, especially when he punctuates his point by punching a hole in the wall.
Season 6: "Kennedy and Heidi"
Early in the episode, Christopher (Michael Imperioli) is at the wheel when he and Tony get in a car wreck. Tony was wearing a seatbelt, and emerges shaken but OK; Christopher, on the other hand, is seriously injured, and coughs up blood. When drugged-up Christopher asks him to call for a taxi ("I'll never pass a drug test"), Tony looks in the back seat and sees the infant car seat, impaled by a tree branch. Shaken and seemingly disoriented, Tony gets out of the car, staggers over to the driver's side and holds Christopher's mouth while pinching his nostrils until his cousin suffocates and dies. Gandolfini manages to convey grim determination while expressing the horror of what he's doing without saying a word.
Goodbye To Junior
Season 6: "Made in America"
Gandolfini does some of his finest work in the series finale, punctuated by this scene in which Tony visits Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese), whom he hasn't seen since Junior shot him. Holding a grudge ever since, Tony is shocked and saddened to see his frail uncle, whose dementia (which led to the shooting in the first place) is now so advanced that he has no idea who Tony is. When Tony tries to explain that Junior and his father, Johnny Boy, once controlled Jersey in "this thing of ours," Junior smiles wanly and says, "That's nice." Realizing no revenge he could inflict on Junior would be worse than what old age has already dealt him, Tony leaves without saying goodbye, struggling to hold back tears of both rage and sadness.
Fade To Black
Season 6: "Made in America"
The controversial fade-to-black scene in the season finale is also a demonstration of Gandolfini's acting chops and his familiarity with the role. A family dinner at an ice cream parlour becomes an exercise in cinematic tension, and Gandolfini's casual paranoia, eyes scanning the door whenever anyone enters, is as subtle as it is compelling.