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.
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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?"
For me, the answer is simple. While the hand that pulls the trigger, or tightens the wire, may come from a mobster—within or without his own circle—the impulse to pull that trigger must come from within his real family. If Tony's tragic flaw is his inability to escape the gravitational pull of his father's life, and the boundless anger and resentment of his mother, then his demise must come at the hands of someone closest to him. (It was, after all, the marital choices of the mothers of Oedipus and Hamlet that set them on their paths to their fates.)
How? There's a strong sentiment among Soprano-holics that Carmela will be Tony's undoing. She knows where the bodies are buried (and the cash as well), and it would not take many more of Tony's adulterous detours to end her patience—especially if she can end up with Tony's money. It's not that hard to imagine her enjoying the good life in Tuscany, perhaps with boy toy Furio at her side. But if David Chase is a creator of true wrath and vengeance, then Tony's fall must come at the hands of his children. Meadow Soprano—the lovely, overachieving embodiment of Tony's hope for something better— will be at the core. Perhaps she and her mother, in a grave act of betrayal, give up Tony to one of his gang rivals; perhaps ( la Sonny Corleone) Tony is told that Meadow's life is in danger, and rushes into a trap, where one or more of his mob family is waiting to dispatch him. And A. J., the perpetual disappointment, has to have a role in Tony's downfall, perhaps unwittingly dispatching his father to his ultimate sit-down.
But maybe there's an ending even truer to what Tony's life has come to mean. In a final scene straight out of an Ellery Queen or "Thin Man" mystery, the FBI gathers all the principals in a room where the corpse of Tony Soprano lies. As the agents look from one highly motivated suspect to another—from restaurateur Artie Bucco and his mob-hating wife, Charmaine, to Bobby and Janice Soprano Baccalieri, with their smoldering anger at Tony's humiliations, to Paulie Walnuts and Christopher Moltisanti to the just-paroled Johnny Sack—they realize that with so many suspects with so many good reasons to kill Tony, the case will simply never be solved.
And as they all leave the room, Carmela, Meadow and A. J. walk over to Dr. Melfi—and ask her if she does family therapy.
Mervyn Rothestein is an editor at The New York Times.