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“Try and remember the times that were good” -- Series Finale

I don’t even know what to say right now. I really don’t. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I just didn’t appreciate what David Chase was trying to accomplish. Or maybe my expectations were simply too high. I don’t know.

People have been saying for years that “The Sopranos” peaked too early. I’m not sure if I agree with that or not, but I will say that this final season peaked too early. Last week’s episode was brilliant, maybe one of the finest hours of television you’ll ever see. Seemed the stage was set for a fantastic finale for a series so many of us have been following for so many years.

Instead, we got this. Look, I wasn’t expecting a 65-minute bloodbath tonight. That’s not even what I was hoping for. But I sure wanted some resolution, and I wanted some conflict. Instead, we get AJ telling his parents he wants to go into the Army so he can fulfill his dream of being a private helicopter pilot for Donald Trump, Meadow trying to parallel park her car for 20 minutes, Carm starting the plans for her next spec house, Janice trying to swindle Junior by telling him he was her daughter, Paulie bitching about a stray cat, and Tony shuffling through a tabletop jukebox.

What, the, hell?

Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I’ve been a patient fan of the show. People griped about the slow episodes and I said that Chase was building to something big. People called for more bloodshed and I said it was coming. Well, I guess those things did happen, but they happened last week, when Tony made a move on Phil and the NY family capped Bobby and Sil. What do we get this week? Onion rings and horrible Billy Baldwin screenplays. Well, Phil was whacked too, but I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning that key bit of information in passing since that’s just about how Chase treated it tonight: one second Phil’s saying goodbye to his grandkids, the next he’s shot in the head, and the next he has a car roll over his head (which reminded me of a "Six Feet Under" episode, by the way). And just like that, the primary conflict of this entire season is gone. Done. It was like Christopher’s death all over again: I felt robbed.

The thing is, I understand – or I think I understand, anyway – Chase’s intention with the final scene. The suspense builds as Tony walks into a crowded restaurant and starts skimming the jukebox, scanning past such cryptically placed tunes as “This Magic Moment” and “I’ve Gotta Be Me” before settling for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Every time the bell over the door rings, Tony glances up to see who’s walking in. Who is he waiting for? Finally, Carm enters and takes a seat. They scan their menus. The bell jingles again and AJ walks in behind an ominous looking dude who sits at the counter and glances over at Tony’s table a few times. Surely, this guy has bad intentions. Meanwhile Meadow proves that she may be the only person on the entire planet who actually that new Lexus that parallel parks for you by failing in her first three attempts to guide her car into the biggest parking space you’ll ever find in front of a crowded restaurant. AJ gripes about his new job before reminding Tony that he once told him, “Try and remember the times that were good.” The suspicious man at the counter glances over at Tony again and then stands up. Tony looks up…and watches the guy head toward the bathroom. The waiter brings a plate of onion rings and all three Sopranos at the table pop one into their mouths as Steve Perry belts out, “Hold on to that feel-ay-eee-aying!” Meadow finally gets her head out of her ass and parks her car before dashing across the street – is she going to get hit by a bus? The bell over the door rings and Tony looks up expectantly.

And that’s it. Cut to black.

…Wait, that’s it? Okay, fine, this is how we’re to assume Tony will live out the rest of his days – constantly wondering if someone is out to get him, looking up every time a bell over a door jingles, worried that someone like Carlo (who apparently flipped this week after his son was picked up for selling ecstasy) is going to rat him out to the Feds, all while balancing his rather mundane family life. I get that. I appreciate it. But couldn’t we have been given more to sink our teeth into? Couldn’t something of significance – I mean, besides AJ’s car blowing up because of his catalytic converter, of course – happen tonight?

Instead, one of the few memories I’ll take from tonight’s episode is the way agent Harris put his neck on the line to help Tony out by giving him info on Phil’s whereabouts. The best part, of course, is when he finds out about Phil’s killing and excitedly says, “Damn, we’re going to win this thing!” Sweet.

But sadly, that’s one of the very few highlights. We didn’t even get any real resolution with Paulie’s storyline, which I suppose could mean that he never betrayed Tony. Then again, maybe that means he did betray him and, like Tony, we’re never going to know about it. Or maybe it doesn’t mean squat. What do I know? Oh, and Sil is still alive, but does he survive? Again, who the hell knows?

I wasn’t looking for Chase to put a pretty little bow on the series tonight. I wasn’t looking for The Shocker of the Century. I wasn’t even really looking for closure, as the women like to say. But I wanted something more than this. I wanted an ending befitting of one of the most entertaining shows in TV history. Instead, we got stray cats, The Donald and Steve Perry. Oh well; remember the times that were good, right?

“We decapitate and do business with whatever’s left”

“Where did I lose this kid?”

Jamey is on a much-deserved vacation this week, so he asked me to step in and cover the blog. I’ll do my best to fill his considerable shoes.

I was hoping for a barnburner tonight, the kind of episode where the blog would pretty much write itself, but instead a good 35-40 minutes were devoted to AJ, my least favorite character on the show (save for Livia, but she’s been gone a while now). Normally, he’s just a whiny, spoiled kid, but now that he’s doing some of that fancy book learnin’, he’s a whiny, spoiled, kid. Tony’s reaction to AJ’s spiel about the virus spray on the meat underlined his own inner conflict about his son’s future. On one hand, he has always said he doesn’t want AJ to turn out like him, but when the kid tries to branch out, he threatens to put his head through the wall.

“Twenty years, he won’t crack a book. All of a sudden he’s the world’s foremost authority.”

Did anyone really think that AJ’s suicide attempt would be successful? Since we lost Chris last week, the odds were against another main character dying so quickly, and honestly, AJ hasn’t been able to follow through on anything. Once the cement block hit the pool floor, he freaked out, and it looked for a moment that he might somehow die accidentally at his own suicide attempt. Tony’s just-in-time arrival made for a very powerful scene. It’s obvious that he loves his kid, but at the same time AJ’s troubles are a giant pain in his ass, both at home and on the job.

How will the suicide attempt affect Tony’s work? It can only be seen as another sign of weakness (in what has become a pretty long line). Pauley’s take was priceless:

“Ask me, it’s all these toxins they’re exposed to. It fucks with their brains. Between the mercury in the fish alone it’s a wonder more kids aren’t jumping off bridges.”

""? Fucking Pauley is fantastic.

Tony talks to Melfi about the suicide attempt and she suggests that it might have been a cry for help - that subconsciously he knew that the rope was too long to keep him submerged. Tony’s reply was classic:

“Or he could just be a fucking idiot. Historically, that’s been the case.”

Regardless, Tony understands that his cursed genes have a large part to do with AJ’s troubles, so he’s empathetic to a certain point, but that doesn’t stop him from getting into it with Carmella once AJ is committed. Is it just me or does it seem like their marriage is once again holding on by a thread? I had to laugh when Tony gave her a watch (out of guilt?) after he took care of Chris’ “business affairs” in Las Vegas. Business, Carm? You sure are a trusting soul. (Or more likely, you’d simply prefer not to think about it.)

Later, in therapy, Tony starts talking about how mothers are buses and all we want to do as children is get back on the bus, but it can never happen. After Melfi says that the theory is insightful, Tony quips, “Jesus, don’t act so surprised.” It’s clear that Tony wants Carmella to accept some of the blame for how his son turned out, and this might be his way of disowning the kid. When Melfi asks if he’s ashamed of AJ, Tony replies, “Yeah, I am. Coward’s way out, right?”

Aside from this week’s depressing depression, the brewing conflict between Tony and Phil finally kicked into high gear. Once Phil rejected Tony’s asbestos-related offer, it led to T pulling a couple of jobs that were designated for Phil’s men and then to that idiot Coco accosting Meadow while she was having dessert in Little Italy. It was funny to watch Tony try to calm his daughter and wife down when you just knew that underneath the surface his blood was boiling and that Coco was about to get one serious beatdown. I wasn’t expecting Tony to go all “American History X” in the restaurant, but it was even more surprising that Coco survived the attack.

It’s clear now that Carmine’s failed peace accord will lead to further escalation, though I think his line to T – “you’re at the precipice of an enormous crossroad” – had more than one meaning. It was strange to hear Phil spouting his obscenities from the safety of his ivory tower. It’s doubtful that he’d be so bold if he were standing face to face with Tony, but even so, you could see from the look in T’s eyes that there is no going back.

With just two episodes left, there are still a number of unanswered questions: Will Tony once again hear from the two suspected terrorists? Will AJ’s stint in the hospital do anything for his outlook on life? Will Tony continue on his existential journey and finally find happiness? Will his marriage survive? And most importantly, will he survive the coming war with Phil?

Game on.

Another one bites the dust

"Things are about to change"

Okay, four episodes to go and David Chase has set up just about every possible storyline imaginable. “Things are about to change,” we were promised tonight during the preview for next week’s episode, and it sure seems like we’re on the cusp of something big.

AJ’s not taking the breakup well. Okay, so that’s an understatement. It was interesting watching Tony try to talk to AJ about what he was going through, especially when his advice is to get a blowjob and go to a party at a strip club. I mean, how funny is it that Tony forced his 20-year-old kid to go to a strip club? “I’m not debating this with you.” Okay, fine, if you insist, Pop. Tony did throw some decent advice in there, though, something along the lines of the old “there are other fish in the sea” pep talk. AJ wasn’t biting, not until his new therapist put him on anti-depressants, anyway. Once that happened, well, life is apparently all good again. AJ’s going to parties, boozing it up with a bunch of frat buddies, and helping said frat buddies pour sulfuric acid on a welcher’s foot.

That’s the ironic thing in all of this: so AJ had his heart broken. Fine. It happens. Granted, if your kid starts talking about killing himself, you’ve got to get him some help. But while Tony’s heart was definitely in the right place, pushing him to hang out with some of his guys’ kids was clearly the wrong choice. He’s talked before about how he doesn’t want AJ to follow in his footsteps and get involved in the kinds of things he’s doing, but that’s exactly what seems to be happening. AJ got a kick out of the way that kid reacted when he learned that he was Tony Soprano Jr., and he was wired when he got home after the sulfuric acid incident. There’s clearly something there that he’s drawn to, and while Tony may think that depression is in his blood (“My rotten fucking genes have infected my kid’s soul,” he tells Melfi), it’s clear that emotional problems aren’t the only thing AJ’s inherited from dear old Dad.

And right about now it’s time to admit that I was wrong about Chris: he hasn’t already flipped. In my defense, that was just one of my theories, but it became clear tonight that he’s still siding with the good guys…whoops, make that the bad guys, I guess. Anyway, it also became clear tonight that it’s a very real possibility that Chris will flip at some point. Hell, he was kicking around that very idea tonight with his AA buddy J.T., right after he nearly spilled the beans about Adrianna and Ralph Cifaretto. J.T. knew he was in trouble when Chris started talking about that stuff, and he tried like hell to get him to shut up and leave. Chris finally agreed to go home, but not before shooting J.T. in the head. Damn, didn’t see that one coming. I kept expecting something to happen, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting . Chris grabbed the doorknob with his hand in his sleeve when he left, but it won’t take too much digging for the feds to figure out who may have been involved with this, considering everyone knows J.T. wrote the screenplay for Chris’ movie. Is this going to be the heat that’ll turn Chris against Tony? At this point, it’s clear it wouldn’t take much pushing to get Chris to turn, considering how much bad blood there is these days between him and Tony.

Sorry to jump backwards (that’s what happens when you write without thinking), but is this tension between Chris and Paulie finally going to come to a head? Those two have been at each other’s throats for years, and I thought for sure there was going to be some fireworks tonight. We came close, but aside from Chris tossing Paulie’s nephew out of a window for robbing his father-in-law and Paulie then turfing the shit out of Chris’ front yard (which was hilarious, by the way – does anybody have a funnier pissed-off face than Paulie Walnuts?), it all blew over. Chris decides to have a drink with Paulie in a show of good faith, and that’s when the trouble began. Paulie started busting his balls again, made some pretty low cracks about his daughter, and Chris, who already felt disconnected from the group because he doesn’t hang out and drink with them anymore, didn’t appreciate everyone laughing at him so he bailed. But, damn – I was expecting more there. In fact, I kept waiting for Chris to smash his rock glass into Paulie’s face. Instead he killed his AA buddy.

Finally, how uncomfortable do you think Tony was giving agent Harris that information? Sure, it had nothing to do with him and he was doing it mainly because he hoped cooperating with them on the terrorism stuff would pay off down the road should he ever be convicted of any crime...but still. It’s the feds, T! They’re the bad guys. Okay, the good guys, whatever.

Just what Tony needs: another vice

"You gotta wonder what's next."

At one point during tonight’s episode, Tony told Beansie that things were going great, but he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Excuse me? Things are going great? Not only are the feds up your ass more than ever, but your brother-in-law beat the snot out of you two weeks ago, you said last week that you thought your cousin wanted you dead, and this week you very nearly dropped one of your oldest, closest friends over the side of a boat. Again. If this is “going great,” I’d hate to see Tony after a bad day.

I’m sure some people will complain about this episode’s apparent lack of action, but think about what’s been accomplished now: Tony had the brawl with Bobby, the backlash from which we still haven’t seen; Tony’s convinced that Chris despises him and Chris thinks Tony’s pissed about his movie; and now Tony apparently thinks Paulie is so much of a liability that he’s giving serious consideration to whacking him. Three episodes in, and Tony’s at odds with three of his guys. If I’m Sil, I’m watching my back.

It was pretty cool to hear some of the stories Tony, Paulie and Beansie were sharing this week, and that picture of young Paulie was awesome. I wasn’t entirely sure what Tony was trying to accomplish on the boat, but it seemed like he kept harping on the joke Ralph told about Johnny Sack’s wife because he was looking for a reason to off Paulie. When Paulie flat-out denied that he told Johnny about the joke, T thought about going through with it anyway before deciding to chuck a bottle of beer at him instead. Still, judging by what Tony told Beansie and by how annoyed Tony seems to be with Paulie these days, it certainly seems like Paulie’s living on borrowed time.

Fortunately, the potential problem with the Willie Overalls killing from 1982 (apparently Tony’s first) blew over, but after Sil told T the good news, he said, “You gotta wonder what’s next.” Maybe it’s not the most optimistic outlook, but it definitely seems to be a realistic one. The feds may not be able to pin Willie Overalls on Tony, but that won’t stop them from digging up something else on him.

Speaking of which, did anybody else think the girl Tony hooked up with was asking too many questions? Seems if you’re “laying low,” as Tony told Paulie earlier in the episode, you use your aliases even around the ladies. The blonde Tony slept with seemed awful interested in the people at the table the night before, and she said something that made it sound like she’d been talking with Paulie too. Something to keep an eye on, maybe.

How great was it to see Junior back in action? Sure, it’s not quite the same now that he’s hopped up on meds in that criminal loony bin, but he’s clearly still a little ‘oobatz.’ That Asian kid that was hanging around Junior was trouble from the get go, and I figured he was going to attack Junior at some point, but I wondered if he would actually kill him. Turns out he just beat Junior up pretty good. How exactly Junior’s arc this week relates to the overall storyline is a bit unclear, though I’m thinking it was a way to show just how far someone of Tony’s stature (and Junior’s before Tony) could eventually fall.

Finally, I guess we should discuss the drama in New York, where the guy who whacked the guy everyone thought was going to take over for Johnny Sack got whacked himself (got all that?). This time, Phil was behind the hit, and for a good reason: you just don’t take food off another guy’s plate. I’ve always known that, but now I know just how dire the consequences can be if you break that rule. Keep your fork to yourself. Lesson learned. DID have his fiancee whacked

"A sucker punch is a sucker punch."

“Woke up this morning, got yourself a gun.” Damn…still the best theme song on TV.

To say that the final run for “The Sopranos” started off with a bang would be a gross understatement. Where David Chase takes these last nine episodes is anybody’s guess, but it certainly looks like we’re headed for some fireworks.

I’m not real sure what the point of the “popcorn fart” weapons charge was, unless it helps push the FBI’s RICO case against Tony over the top. Still, the fact that he dumped the gun in question nearly three years ago in a snowy field would seem to make it pretty unlikely that this weapons charge would gain much traction at all. Now, if Bobby, who finally popped his cherry in this episode, was foolish enough to use hollow-tip bullets when he whacked the dude in the laundry mat (after Janice told him to get rid of any hollow-tip bullets he had, no less), then maybe there’s some connection here to Tony, but even that seems like a major stretch.

Of course, the main story in this premiere episode was the brawl between Bobby and Tony. Geez, maybe we should’ve included Bobby in the instead of Tony. You knew something was coming when they showed just how much Tony, Carm, Bobby and Janice were drinking that night, and Janice, as always, couldn’t help but get Tony riled up almost from the moment he arrived for his birthday weekend. You’ve got to respect Bobby for defending his wife and all, but…come on, dude! I mean, when Bobby punched Tony, I said, “Oh shit!” I don’t care how smashed you are – you don’t sucker punch the boss of the family, not if you value your life. That was the definition of a knock-down, drag-out fight, and it’s clear that Tony won’t (can’t?) let this go anytime soon. The question, of course, is what are the ramifications?

Tony seemed like he was ready to give Bobby a bigger role in the family, maybe even have him replace Chris as his eventual successor. I say that’s out the window now, but you never know. Tony still seems to be in a reflective state of mind following last season’s near-death experience, staring peacefully out at the water and saying how nice it was at Bobby and Janice’s lake house. Maybe Tony gains some perspective, this all blows over and Bobby slides back into Tony’s good graces. Of course, if you’ve watched enough of this show you know that that’s almost certainly what happen, but we’ll see.

There wasn’t much else beyond the brawl, although judging by the conversation Tony had with Bobby in the boat before the fight and the fact that Tony hung up on Chris when he called to wish him a belated happy birthday, it’s safe to say Chris is sitting firmly in T’s doghouse.

…and yes, I’m still hanging on to my theory that Chris is going to flip. That is, of course, if he hasn’t already.

(Oh, and does Carm know how to wish her man a happy birthday or what? .)

You say you want some resolution? Tell me about it.

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