‘The Sopranos’: When Tony and Meadow Came to an Understanding in the Groundbreaking ‘College’

The most loyal fans of The Sopranos tend to have a list of favorite episodes, broken down by type. In one category, they’ll put the most enjoyable; in another, they’ll stash episodes featuring characters close to their heart (say, Uncle Junior); and in a third category they’ll have what they consider the all-around best.

As far as the greatest, you have to put “College” (season 1 episode 5) among the top episodes of the early seasons (if not the whole series). In that installment, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) takes his daughter Meadow (Jamie Lynn-Sigler) on a tour of northeastern universities.

At a stop in Maine, Tony spots Febby Petrulio, a former mob associate who ratted on the organization before going into witness protection. And Tony starts planning to deal with the rat. The problem is, he’s got his daughter with him.

But that’s not the only major development in “College.” In the episode, Tony and Meadow level with one another about bad behavior in their lives. And the trip represents one of the high points in their relationship.

Tony Soprano comes clean about ‘some illegal gambling and whatnot’

Tony Soprano kills a snitch in 'College'
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) takes care of a family problem in ‘College’ from ‘The Sopranos’ Season 1. | HBO

After a lifetime of finding clues to back her theory up, Meadow hits her father with a most direct question in the car. “Are you in the mafia?” she asks. At first, Tony tries to dismiss it. Then he tries to laugh it off. And after that he pretends to be offended. Finally, he owns up to it (at least a little bit).

“Look, Mead’, you’re a grown woman (almost). Some of my money comes from illegal gambling and whatnot,” Tony tells her. When he asks how she feels about it, Meadow says she sometimes wishes he were like other dads. But then again some of them (she cites an ad executive for Big Tobacco) “are full of sh*t.”

When Tony asks how he’s different, Meadow gives him some credit. “You finally told the truth about this,” she tells him. And when Tony tries to walk back his admission (he brings up “legitimate businesses”), Meadow shuts him down. “Don’t start mealy-mouthing,” she says.

For fans of mob movies and TV, the scene really stands out. Not only is it well-written (Chase and writer James Manos won an Emmy for the script); the performances by Gandolfini and Lynn-Sigler are remarkable.

Meadow admits to taking speed during the hectic time at school

'Sopranos' stars James Gandolfini and Jamie Lynn-Sigler
James Gandolfini poses with Jamie-Lynn Sigler at ‘The Sopranos’ season premiere screening, February 2001. | Evan Agostini/Getty Images

The Sopranos worked so well (and continues to attract fans) because of this family dynamic. After Tony comes clean about the dark side of his work, Meadow decides to open up about trying crystal meth during her hectic time at school.

“A couple of weeks ago, me and some friends, we were doing speed,” she tells him at dinner. “We did kind of a lot of it for awhile.” At first, Tony starts to flip out, asking her where she got it and warning about the dangers of the drug. When Meadow gets frustrated by his reaction, Tony asks why she told him in the first place.

“You were honest with me today,” she says. After wondering how he could have missed it (“right under [my] nose”), he stops to appreciate her admission. “I’m glad you told me, in spite of everything,” Tony says. “I’m glad I did, too,” Meadow replies. “I’m glad we have that kind of a relationship.”

Later, the episode takes one a whole new dimension when Tony strangles Petrulio after an extended cat-and-mouse game. In those days, you didn’t see the main character of a show kill people with his bare hands. But the father-daughter scenes are almost as important to the series.

On the April 27 edition of the Talking Sopranos podcast, Steve Schirripa (Bobby Baccala) recounted a story Lynn-Sigler about Gandolfini encouraging when she felt nervous shooting these scenes. “Just look me in the eyes and talk,” Gandolfini told her. She did that and then some.

Also see: Michael Imperioli Said He Based His ‘Sopranos’ Character on a Real-Life Mobster