Friday, June 02, 2006

Best gift for ‘Sopranos’ fans? End season with a bang

Friends of mine: Soprano Crime Family

Now that everyone has had their midlife crisis, maybe we can get back to some bloodshed on "The Sopranos."

As HBO's top drama ends its sixth season, it seems obvious the show's writers fell into a funk. HBO is not releasing screeners of the finale, but the hour will have to be one heckuva caper to redeem the last three months. OK, there was that belated whacking last episode, a fitting cap to the "Brokeback Mafia" saga that should have ended at least six episodes earlier, for Goomba's sake.

Everyone suffered from existential crises. Tony (James Gandolfini) struggled to regain face after being shot by his uncle; Vito (Joseph Gannascoli) was yanked out of the closet by his leather chaps; Artie (John Ventimiglia) festered as his restaurant floundered; Paulie (Tony Sirico) learned his aunt, the sister, was his mother; and Carmela (Edie Falco) had an epiphany in Paris yet was back to folding laundry in New Jersey. As Tony complained to Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), every day is a gift, but does every gift have to be socks?

It was hard to escape the sense that the writers were marking time until the show's final season (eight episodes in 2007). Two episodes with Tony in a coma - in a 12-episode season?

Only a show like "The Sopranos" could make a gay mobster seem so perverse yet get away with two hetero hoods, Tony and Christopher (Michael Imperioli), declaring their love for each other as they bonded over the memory of Tony’s decision to whack Christopher’s fiancee, Adriana. But let's hold off on the lime; there's still life in this body.

David Chase began this series as a triangle between a middle-aged mobster, his therapist and his psycho mama, Livia (Nancy Marchand). Marchand's death in 2000 prompted major revisions, but fans may yet get a payoff that resonates with the show's themes of family and betrayal - one starting to seem obvious yet deviously brilliant.

The key to the end may lie in Tony's increasingly tense relationship with son A.J. (Robert Iler). As the show's writers have underlined this season, A.J. is Livia: The Next Generation, self-absorbed, hateful and incapable of feeling compassion for anyone. As Tony told Melfi in the last episode, he hates his son. On some level, Tony recognizes the family resemblance.

Who to bring Tony down but family? Family has gotten him almost killed more than once.

One can imagine A.J. committing some petty crime and being collared by the feds. As instincts kick in, A.J. saves himself by giving the government all the evidence they need to put away his father.

It would be the ultimate coda to this novel-like series about one mobster's efforts to keep himself and his families - criminal and biological - afloat on an ever-shifting tide of blood.

How perfect would it be for A.J. to do what no Soprano ever has - finally sing?

Thanks to Mark A. Perigard

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