Now that The Sopranos is gone, Judge Ryan Keefer wants to know what the deal was with those stupid ducks?
Our reviews of The Sopranos: The Complete First Season (published August 14th, 2001), The Sopranos: The Complete Second Season (published March 28th, 2002), The Sopranos: The Complete Fourth Season (published November 11th, 2003), and The Sopranos: Season Six, Part I (published November 1st, 2006) are also available.
For the sake of tying up the proverbial loose ends in the characters' lives and storylines, David Chase capitulated and gave the world another brief glimpse into the world of suburban New Jerseyians (and resident crime family) The Sopranos. With Tony (James Gandolfini, All the King's Men) at the helm, he tries to maintain the delicate balance of his home life and the life that tempts him with money and earns him a comfortable living. The last episode ends with one of the more talked-about final scenes in recent memory. So several months removed from its end, does The Sopranos make any more sense? Is it worth revisiting now?
Facts of the Case
The last eight Sopranos episodes are spread out over four discs, down from their normal episode runs of twelve shows each season. The episodes are:
• "Soprano Home Movies"
(Try as I might, there is the distinct possibility that I might be talking about things that could be considered spoilers. In fact, you must have been living under a rock to either a) Not have seen the series finale or b) Weighed in with some opinion on it. So there's your warning Johnny.)
I mean, under the guise of giving everyone one last chance to shine, I felt that The Sopranos was a bit too, I don't know, self-congratulatory? The first few episodes were just looks at getting some of the more supporting players involved in the mix one last time. Bobby (Steven Schirrpa, See Spot Run) in "Sopranos Home Movies" being the a prime example of that. Or Christopher (Michael Imperioli, Summer of Sam) and his dream of getting to Hollywood realized in the B-horror film Cleaver, replete with star Daniel Baldwin. Or the scenes would border on silliness. Junior (Dominic Chianese, The Godfather II) sending a letter to Dick Cheney, urging him to view his case of accidental gunfire, reeked of a joke that was so old it was buried. In "Chasing It," the episode did little for story advancement and could be considered a big waste of time.
But the template remained the same. Not too much was accomplished, and in some cases, nothing more than an hour of talking to Tony, while back in New York, rival crime boss Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent, Raging Bull) still itching to do something to Tony, with a family war on the uptick. Sadly, the Phil/Tony conflict had been the theme of Part One of Season Six, without any real payoff. At least with the show ending, there would be some payoff to it, right?
You bet, and then some. Phil hit and hit hard, with some Soprano family members being wounded or in some cases killed in the process. The end of "The Blue Comet" episode was the same as "Made in America," with Tony falling asleep and waking up with an automatic assault weapon within reach. The thing that what was frustrating about this show was that even though it was pretentious enough to take these long-arse vacations in between filming a paltry dozen episodes or less each season was that there were still some moments of great drama and touching emotion. Junior's "Dick Cheney letter" was stupid, but his de facto departure from the show was more resonant in how sad it was. Later in the series, a final meeting with Tony (with Junior in the throes of dementia), serves as a closure that Tony will never receive from the last part of his childhood. It's touching and symbolic of everything else wrong with the elder Sopranos, and maybe Tony was scared of moving past the last part of that legacy.
Then you have the finale. Where were you when it happened? For me. it was three minutes before four in the afternoon when I got the news. Why four? Because I was on vacation, hence the time difference. I get a text on my phone from my friend Rob:
"OMG, did u see that? Such a rip-off!!"
Yes, I know he texts like a teenage girl, but that's not the point. He almost spoiled a day where I was looking at the afternoon sun with my wife, and I almost spilt a $10 Smores flavored Martini (yes, I drink fru fru drinks on every vacation, but that's not the point). He was in New Jersey on business at the time, so I'm guessing a lot of other people were saying "Ooohh!" at the same time around him, but I had to cuss him out for mentioning it at all. But I found out that he wasn't specific enough, so I dodged a bullet and didn't find out what happened in the finale, and enjoyed my dinner with gusto. That's how I found out about the finale without actually, you know, finding out about it. I watched it when I came home on the DVR.
For all the talk about seeing old "whackees," or some sort of modern-day salute to The Last Supper, what do we know about the finale, other than there were some really good onion rings there? For my money, the series was never really about finality in the first place. You slipped into the lives of Tony, Carmela (Edie Falco, Oz), A.J. (Robert Iler, Daredevil) and Meadow (Jamie Lynn-Sigler, Dark Ride) eight years ago when Tony was an underboss to Junior, Carmela was the quiet yet loyal wife, Meadow was the teenage girl, and A.J. was groomed for a traditional life with promise. And now, Tony has advanced to being boss of New Jersey, Carmela is still at his side, despite a severe bump in their marriage, Meadow is quietly plugging along deciding on whether to be a doctor or a lawyer, and A.J. turned into a screwup who says he's joining the Peace Corps. They're all plugging along, doing whatever they can to make it through the day, because that's what they are, an everyday family with problems, despite whether or not their father can get almost anything he wants, be it money, girls or power, convincing theories aside. To quote Chase (from the book The Sopranos: The Deluxe Edition), it really is about "tiny bits of progress," rather than fell swoops of judgment or abrupt action.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I find myself directing some residual hate towards Part I of Season Six on this. Considering the fluff that appeared there, combined with some fairly wasteful episodes in Part II, I think that Chase could have compressed everything into a fifteen episode run that could have closed things out. Past that, I haven't liked the time spent on Paulie (Tony Sirico, Goodfellas) since Season Four, and a whole episode devoted to that was a bit of a waste in this season. But as I mentioned earlier, it's chock full of excess.
Significantly better than the first "part" of Season Six, many people still seem to want to view The Sopranos as leaving with a whimper instead of a bang. That does tend to fly in the face of what the show was about over the last few years, much to a lot of people's chagrin. There isn't one real standout episode here aside from "The Blue Comet," but collectively it does bring quite a bit to the table. If you've bought all the other seasons before, there's no reason to stop now (get it?)
Final scene inclusive, it's a not guilty verdict rendered by the court, as long as I can try one or two of them rings.
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Scales of Justice
• Making Cleaver: Behind the Scenes of Christopher's Horror film
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