It was back in the first season of The Sopranos (episode two) when we first heard Silvio Dante (Steve Van Zandt) do his impression of Michael's emblematic line from Godfather III "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." (For comparison, here's Pacino's even hammier original version.)
This season, the theme is back. But with a much darker twist. Now there's no "they" there. Now when you try to get out, you simply hang a youie and head back in. On your own.
We see the old pattern in the opener of the current season, Eugene Pontecorvo requests early retirement. Tony pulls him back in. Gene manages to get his family out at an extremely high personal cost. And I'll leave it dangling there to avoid spoilers.
But that was before Tony's come-to-Buddha coma. Since his great awakening, Tony has loosened the reins. It doesn't make things any easier.
When Christufuh wants to go to Hollywood to rise above the petty crime of New Jersey, Tony okays it. But Chris falls back into his coke and booze addictions and winds up mugging Lauren Bacall for a goodie bag. No Way Out.
When Vito Spatafore (a great earner, by the way) is discovered dancing in a gay club and flees, Tony lets him go. Other associates want to pull him back in and put him down, but Tony lets him go.
By the happy fate of an auto mishap, Vito finds himself in a gay-friendly New Hampshire town. He falls in love. Becomes a hero in his new community. And can't stand it.
Just when we thought he was out, he pulls himself back in and heads back to Jersey. On the way, by the damning fate of a second auto mishap Vito finds himself doing a gratuitous murder of an innocent, law-abiding citizen. (The staging is reminiscent of Vito's Season Three whacking of Meadow's beau, Jackie Aprile Jr., outside the Boonton Projects.) Love doesn't conquer all.
The moral bookkeeping of David Chase is as relentless and confining as Larry David's. It just grinds more slowly.
(And a tip of the Hatlo Hat to Wikipedia's Sopranos Timeline)