Being head of the Northern New Jersey branch of the DiMeo crime family is no bed of roses for Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in Season Three of HBO's The Sopranos. Tony's headaches begin early on with the dangerously unstable, sexually deviant and recklessly profane Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) returns to the organization after a lengthy absence. Though there's no love lost between the two men, Tony arranges for Ralph to take over the illicit business operations of the late Richie Aprile, who'd been bumped off in a fit of rage by Tony's treacherous sister Janice (Aida Turturro) the previous season. Also causing trouble is another new arrival on the scene: Richie's nephew Jackie Aprile Jr. (Jason Carbone), nicknamed "Little Lord F**kpants" because of his pathetic inability to live up to the standards and expectations of his celebrated criminal family. Though Tony tolerates Jackie Jr. and somewhat admires the boy's efforts to live a clean life away from Uncle Richie's influence, things quickly go south when Jackie becomes involved with Tony's daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lyn Sigler)--and also tries to emulate his no-good uncle, turning into a pariah by planning--and bungling--a robbery on his own. Blood kin or no blood kin, Ralph has to "deal" with Jackie Jr., arranging with all-purpose henchman Vito Spatafore (Joseph R. Gannascoli) to handle the dirty details. Elsewhere, Tony's protégé Christopher (Michael Imperioli) has been fully embraced by the Family, despite his ongoing war of wills with veteran capo Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico); Tony's analyst Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) the identity of her rapist a secret from Tony, so that she won't have anyone's murder on her conscience; and the FBI comes a-cropper planting an electronic bug in the Soprano mansion. One of the Season Three story arcs was to involve Tony's spiteful mother Livia, who was to have testified against her son in a federal trial. The death of actress Nancy Marchand (Livia Soprano) put an end to these plans, but through the magic of CGI Livia makes one final "appearance" to make her son's life even more miserable than usual.
by Hal Erickson synopsis