9 - This is an amazing episode. The Sopranos, in some viewing circles has come to be known as a show that you can sleep through the first couple of episodes as they only set up the conflict later on in the season. While I couldn't agree less with that statement, I see their point. The "action" usually happens in the last couple of episodes, and if that is all you are there for, the beginning of a season is typically slow-moving. This episode while not heavy on "action" (despite a hit on Phil Parisi) is moved forward by plot, amazing acting, and great direction.
We open with a musical montage, done in an incredibly classy and tasteful manner using "It was a good year". Pussy's return into the foray is a great place to start the season, as this season focuses heavily on his intentions and Tony's reaction to these intentions. We get a GREAT early peek of Tony's "mob boss view", as I have come to call it. At a cook-out in the Soprano back-yard, the camera and audio slow down, focusing on Pussy as Tony watches him cooking sausage. It is such an amazing scene because this becomes a recurring Soprano tool used to illustrate Tony's thought process in regards to mob-decisions.
Tony's conversation with Melfi at the dinner stands out as some of the best work that pair of actors have done together. Melfi also stands up to Tony using a sentence which I think epitomizes the entire series, "How many people need to die for your personal growth?" That quote has such a bite to it and when Bracco growls it at Gandolfini, it is just a scene which is integral to both characters.
Finally, Gandolfini's scene with Carmela at the BBQ after he discovers Janice took the "for sale" sign down is an amazing scene to watch. Many times we see Tony's anger muster itself in mob scenes in front of the guys. Never with Carm. This is a first. Gandolfini punching the wall is an amazing touch and is so entertaining, that it becomes easy to forget that the reason he is acting so angry is due to his lack of therapy. As he is walking out the door, "That fucking BITCH!" is laugh out loud, hilarious, but also states volumes about Tony, Carm and their relationship.