The above picture is allegedly from a scene in Sunday's Sopranos grand finale. Granted, with David Chase, you have to be careful with what seems to be real in his world. But from three pictures released by HBO, it certainly looks like we're going to get one more scene with Junior. At this point, we're all in with wherever Chase takes us, and the last four episodes of the series have shown that he has an actual end in mind, no matter how twisted it could be (and oh by the way, Steven Van Zandt is on record saying, "It's going to be controversial, it's going to be talked-about..."). Everyone's expecting the show to be like Ted Williams final at-bat (which of course was a home run). It can't be expected to make everyone happy, although last week's episode "The Blue Comet" seemed to do just that.
Ever since Tony played that cold hearted game of "Gotch yer Nose" with Christopher in the now infamous "Kennedy & Heidi" episode, shit got serious in terms of some grandiose ending. I thought Christopher killing JT Dolan, the poor sap who was forced to write "Cleaver" and was working on a "Law and Order" script at the time, was going to bring out something big. But that now seems like not only the tipping point for Chrissy to spiral further down the rabbit hole with his drug problem, but an inside joke amongst the writers.
No other television series can lay claim that they were doing some of their best work in their final episodes. Certainly not "Cheers" or even "Seinfeld", even though co-creator Larry David came back from oblivion to write the latter's series finale, which at the time was greeted lukewarm and certainly didn't deliver on the laughs that David consistently brought that show and now does with "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The big difference with the Sopranos is that David Chase has been there for every single scene of every single episode. He's gone on record saying he wanted to end the series after season 3. But it's now clear that he had an ending in mind all along.
It was teased about in every season since the third. However, Johnny Sack and Tony were never going to really go to blows because they were too good of friends, and just when Johnny was letting becoming boss go to his head, he gets thrown in the can by the Feds at the end of season 5. When John died of cancer earlier this season (after spending time with Sydney Pollack, who gave perhaps the best guest starring role in the series), nobody in New York was going to play well with Tony. Especially Phil Leotardo, who'd had it with Tony's shit since season 5.
So our last image of Tony was lying on an unmade mattress with a machine gun, waiting to blow away anyone who came through the door. This series has always been about character, and it's in Tony's character that no matter how he ends up this Sunday, he's going to see to it that Phil dies. You don't whack T's brother-in-law and consigliere(who might still be breathing) without him seeking massive revenge. Remember, this is the guy who wanted to smother his own mother with a pillow after he learned about her wanting to take him out. There's no way Phil lives past Sunday. I'm expecting his exit early in the hour.
Most critics think no matter what, The Sopranos is going to live on like a great novel through the DVD collections. The early episodes, which were filmed as far back as 1997, still hold up. So we can still go back and watch James Gandolfini's facial expressions when he comes from getting a blow job (which, from my memory, happens at least three times, only one of which he received from Carmela). My hunch is that this series is going to have a shelf life like no other show. Alan Sepinwall of The Star Ledger has picked his Top 10 episodes, and he admits to the brilliance of many of the episodes that didn't make his list. I'm sure HBO will keep the series on In-Demand for as long as it can (and why we still can't watch Larry Sanders episodes on Demand while Sex and the City is still available is one of life's great mysteries). I don't think the end is going to define the series, however The Sopranos always had an arc that linked all of the episodes. It rewards viewers who pay careful attention, even to minutiae such as lyrics in songs played as background music.
At any rate, I hope Little Steven is right, that the ending is going to be a water cooler event. The Seinfeld Finale didn't get the conversation it warranted the morning after, because ironically enough, the death of Frank Sinatra bumped it from the headlines. People were certainly buzzing on the Monday following Chrissy's demise and even more so after last week's episode. I'm thrilled that Chase found a way to get one final scene between Tony and Uncle Junior, because Gandolfini and Dominic Chianese are so great together, and nothing could be tied up without one final confrontation between those two. And come somewhere around 9:10pm Sunday, I won't have any more appointment television. And neither will HBO, no matter how hard they push "John From Cincinnati" (which is getting scathing reviews by the way). At least not until the final season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", which is supposed to air sometime this fall. When that's over, for the first time since "The Larry Sanders Show" debuted on the network, I'll seriously consider whether keeping the network on my digital cable is worth it. Because right now, there's no worthy successor to the Sanders-Sopranos-Curb reign.
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