THE SOPRANOS created by David Chase, with James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Steven R. Schirripa and Michael Imperioli. Final season premieres April 8, at 9 pm, on TMN. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
How will it all end? Betrayal and prison, certainly, as the show's ads boldly promise. What we don't know is the who, how and why.
The Sopranos is one of the best shows in TV history. It's The Godfather meets Everybody Loves Raymond, a seriously funny, dark family comedy with a rich Shakespearean undercurrent. To whack or not to whack is the key question as the series heads into its final nine episodes. It isn't so much how it ends as how it ends for Tony Soprano that drives our interest.
Online bookies have placed the odds of Tony sleeping with da fishes by the final curtain at 1-to-2. Tony's nephew, Christopher Moltisanti, is number one with a bullet at 2-to-1, while Tony's son, AJ, is a 15-to-1 long shot.
Tony certainly deserves to get clipped. The New Jersey don (James Gandolfini) has buckets of blood on his meaty hands, from Family friend Big Pussy to family friend Adriana. Once upon a time he even tried to off his smothering mother with, appropriately, a pillow.
But is a dirt nap in the cards? He's already survived a bullet from Uncle Junior that put him in a coma, so his getting killed seems a bit repetitive and anti-climactic. It would also be problematic because he's remained a sympathetic and often likable character for whom salvation and redemption seem just out of reach.
Yet the series is predicated on the fact that Tony must pay for the ruin he's inflicted on others. Even he admits that he doesn't like his chances. As he told his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), last season, there are two outcomes for "guys like me" - prison or death.
So which will it be, prison or death? Or neither?
The new season opens with Tony celebrating his 47th birthday and feeling his mortality (that it takes place at a cottage evokes the final moments of The Godfather II, when Michael Corleone stares out over the lake where he had his brother Fredo killed). Even shooting machine guns with brother-in-law Bobby Baccalieri (Steve Schirripa) and a B-day blow job from wife Carmela (Edie Falco) do little to lighten Tony's mood.
With good reason. The feds are circling, and crime boss Johnny Sack is dying, leaving Tony and the heads of the other families squabbling over who will take over. And there's always discontent within the ranks: Bobby being forced to make his first hit (and on a not-so-bad Quebec baby daddy at that), isn't sitting well, and the silver-winged Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) has always been a bit of a wingnut.
Meanwhile, a little closer to home, Christopher (Michael Imperioli) has finally finished his horror movie, Cleaver. Described as "Saw meets Godfather II," it stars Daniel Baldwin - he couldn't get Ben Kingsley, remember - as a too-familiar bathrobed and quick-tempered mafioso who meets a gruesome end. Naturally, Tony interprets this as Christopher's revenge fantasy for Adriana's death, and by the end of the second episode it's clear there's unfinished business between Tony and Christopher.
Of course, if Carmela ever finds out what really happened to Adriana, she may take a cleaver to Tony's head herself. Or Tony could do everybody a favour and off himself while in a Halcion haze. But don't be surprised if series creator David Chase delivers one final "fuck you" to the fans by having Tony live happily ever after, perhaps in some cushy witness relocation program in Boca Raton.
After all, we've seen how these Mob stories are supposed to go down, so it's hard to imagine what might provide a satisfying conclusion. Maybe if it had all been the imaginings of an autistic child.
WHAT TO WATCH THIS WEEK
FRIDAY, APRIL 6
Webdreams (Reality) The second season of the series about trying to make it in the online porn industry kicks off. 10 pm on Showcase
SATURDAY, APRIL 7
The Naughty Show (Comedy) The best offbeat, off-colour stand-up comedy Canada has to offer. With Nikki Payne and Mike Wilmot. 10 pm on the Comedy Network