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The Sopranos: The Final Season

After more than eight years and six seasons, the saga of the New Jersey crime family will come to a close after nine more episodes.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Sopranos, Mar/Apr 2007

(continued from page 10)

"Tony takes his daughter to hunt for a college and winds up killing a mobster who was on the lam—every father's dream," says Della Femina. "Tony maintains his happy home and still manages to have affairs with Russian hookers—every father's other dream."

Well, maybe that's not the whole story; not when you have a cast of characters as rich and complex as any in popular fiction. Not when you have the pitch-perfect balance of sudden violence and off-the-wall humor. (Tony's crime buddies, and Tony himself, are somewhat out of phase with current events and the English language. Tony hears Dr. Jennifer Melfi note that "revenge is a dish best served cold," and puts it this way: "Revenge is a dish of cold cuts." On the subject of current events, Bobby Bacala notes, "Quasimodo predicted all of this.")

But the college-tour murder episode—one of the most acclaimed in the program's seven-year run on HBO—does hint at the power of this saga to draw in not just the largest audience for any cable drama, but one of the most fanatically devoted that any drama, in any form, has won. The episode captures the dramatic pun at the heart of the series: the fact that Tony Soprano is a "family" man, in both senses of the word (and that both families are weighing him down).

You see the effects of his twin burdens in the opening shot of almost every new season. Tony, clad in T-shirt, boxers and a bathrobe—Coriolanus with a gut and an ever-receding hairline—shuffles out the door of his home to fetch the morning paper. His closest relatives include a sometimes demanding wife with aspirations of financial and sexual independence, a perennial screwup of a son, a sister bearing New Age platitudes and 80 or so extra pounds, an uncle who has twice almost killed him (one time, under a delusion that Tony was someone else—maybe). More than that, there are his parents: a father whose mob career dictated the path Tony would take, and an embittered, ice-cold mother who set in motion his near-assassination.

"After all this time," says his shrink, Dr. Melfi, "you still can't accept the fact that you had a mother who didn't love you."

The travails of home provide one powerful reason why "The Sopranos" began with Tony reeling under a panic attack, sending him into one of the most fascinating patient-therapist exchanges since Freud dusted off his couch.

The other reason is his other "family." Like the father of an enormous, feuding brood, Tony must deal with the resentment and jealousy all around him. But unlike his blood family, the rage of this family, if unchecked, would not stop with Oedipal fantasies and a fistful of ProzacÉwhich is why Tony cannot reveal any hint of weakness. When his recovery from a gunshot wound leaves him looking weak, he responds by finding the strongest associate at his headquarters and administering a brutal beating.

So compelling has "The Sopranos" been that even before David Chase, the show's creator, announced the impending end of the series—sometime in June—a cottage industry has grown around The Question: what is the right ending for this saga?

There are those who argue for a reprieve, a dramatic pardon: Tony in a villa in Tuscany, reaping his ill-gotten gains. And it is true that not every mob protagonist dies violently. Don Vito Corleone dies of a heart attack while playing with his grandchild in The Godfather. Henry Hill, Ray Liotta's character in Goodfellas, survives—mope-ishly to be sure—in the witness protection program.

But for me, Tony Soprano is doomed by the very size of his creator's achievement. If this is a genuine tragedy, Tony cannot escape his fate, any more than Hamlet and Ophelia could have run off and opened a bed-and-breakfast outside of Copenhagen. The question is not: "Will Tony die?" but "How—and at whose hands?"

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