Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family
MILLIONS of fans of the mafia series The Sopranos anxiously awaited the hit drama's final episode on Sunday amid a flurry of speculation over the fate of its top mobster, Tony Soprano.
Viewers were left last week with a final scene of Tony climbing into bed at a hiding house, clinging to a massive assault weapon after his New York rivals gunned down his top captain and sent his consiglieri into a bullet-ridden coma.
With the last of 86 episodes of the award-winning series set to air at 9pm (local time), the media was abuzz with predictions about how the psychotherapy-seeking New Jersey mob boss and his dysfunctional family's saga would end.
"I think he lives," former FBI special agent Joe Pistone, whose life as an undercover infiltrator of the mob was chronicled in the hit movie Donny Brasco, told Fox News television.
Another mob expert, Bill Bonanno, son of the notorious real-life New York mafia kingpin Joseph Bonanno, concurred. "I think he lives because (show creator) David Chase would like to bring him back some time," he said.
Chase reportedly filmed three different endings in order to keep secret the finale of the series which began in 1999 and has aired on the cable channel Home Box Office, or HBO.
Chase said he knew "about three years ago" how the story would end, and that "from the beginning, my goal was always to do a little movie every week," according to the Washington Post. "It has all been planned out, we always knew exactly where it was going, but within that framework, we left a lot of room for each episode to have its own character and to invent stories that would fit in with the continuing story," he said.
However, Chase has ruthlessly upset expectations throughout the long-running mafia yarn, killing off popular characters like mob girlfriend Adriana LaCerva (Drea de Matteo) and letting a Russian foe escape a gunbattle in the snowy woods, never to resurface.
Over the last eight years, mob watchers have come to adore quirky characters like Tony's right-hand man Silvio Dante, played by Steven Van Zandt who in real life strummed guitar alongside rock legend Bruce Springsteen.
Tony's therapist Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco who starred as mobster-turned-rat Henry Hill's wife Karen in the movie Goodfellas, and Tony's blond money-grubbing wife Carmela, portrayed by Edie Falco, are also fan favorites.
Tony is played by James Gandolfini, who has admitted that he is ready to let the character go after years of whacking enemies and friends, having sex with mistresses, lounging in his Bada Bing strip club and trudging down his driveway to fetch his newspaper in his open bathrobe. But however bloody, cruel or treacherous Tony has been over the years, his character is cherished by fans and the twists and turns of his storyline have largely won over the American public.
"I think America has witnessed an erosion in kinship with each other and an erosion of honor," said Bonanno. Regardless of what happens with the characters, "people still see a sense of morality there."
The New York Times described the series, which has won 18 Emmy awards, as "widely proclaimed as the greatest drama ever created for television."
For Pistone, the public just adores the mafia lifestyle, and its sheen will never wear off. "I think people really go for the mob and the movies and the Sopranos show, because the average guy is a working stiff. He comes home he has the same hours every day. He sees the Sopranos, he sees guys that don't go to a 9-5 job."
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