The mood grows increasingly dark and foreboding with the creeping realization that no one will get out of here alive, even if they do survive.
The First Two Episodes Suggest That the Groundbreaking Series’ Final Chapter May Prove to Be Its Most Powerful
The first of the final nine episodes of The Sopranos gets underway with police banging on the door of the Sopranos manse as Edie Falco’s Carmela awakes with a start: “Is this it?” Yeah, this is it, all right, as James Galdofini’s Tony is arrested on a weapons charge from dropping his gun in the snow after fleeing from Johnny Sack’s house three years earlier. The noose is drawn tighter and the end becomes more inevitable as the mob boss contemplates his own mortality, admitting mournfully to Lorraine Bracco’s Dr. Melfi: “I know too much about the subconscious now.”

The final season of the groundbreaking series starts deliberately, as Tony and Carmela visit his sister, Aida Turturro’s Janice, and husband Steven Schirripa’s Bobby at the upstate lakeside retreat to celebrate Tony’s 47th birthday at the house he never stops reminding the two he got for them. They all get drunk, the girls croon out-of-tune karaoke, then they take part in a game of Monopoly that suddenly erupts into a violent sumo-like brawl after Bobby attacks Tony over a sly dig at Janice faster than you can say Joe Pesci.

A bruised and battered Soprano, looking a lot older than his 47 years, sulks the next day before quickly turning the tables, enlisting Bobby to prove loyalty by “busting his cherry” by performing his first-ever hit. A sullen Bobby returns to his family after the killing and embraces his daughter to the tune of “This Magic Moment” as Janice beams and the episode fades to black.

Once again, the connection between family and family business is brought home with twisted irony, as only The Sopranos can. Great use of soundtrack music, too, especially the James Gang’s “Funk #49” on the car radio, serving to heighten the tension between Tony and Carmela on the ride up. The second installment begins with a hilarious scene from Cleaver, the mob slasher movie produced by Michael Imperioli’s Chris, which is finally complete, though the title is tentative because apparently they’re being sued by the estate of Eldridge Cleaver. At the screening, everyone believes the brawny boss being played by Daniel Baldwin is based on Tony, which gets Carmen upset because he’s shown having an affair with the title character’s girlfriend, making the movie, as she ominously explains to Tony, "a revenge saga," referring explicitly to the still-missing Adrianna.

While Vince Curatola’s Johnny Sack is dying in a prison cancer ward, where he’s being comforted by Sydney Pollack’s orderly, a one-time oncologist serving time for murdering his wife, his N.Y. gang is killing one another off in an attempt to succeed Frank Vincent’s burnt-out Phil Leotardo, who returns from quadruple-bypass surgery and seven months of intensive therapy in no mood to defend his rule.

There is an air of finality to these first two episodes, a realization, as Tony admits, that guys like him are “80% likely to end up in prison, 20% on a slab.” The humor is still mordant and left field. In the first, Gandolfini does a spot-on W.C. Fields impression at the Monopoly table and Tony Sirico’s Paulie inexplicably quotes Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” when he hears of the death of a mob boss.

The second episode’s highlight occurs when Chris bullies Cleaver’s screenwriter into telling Tony the story was his idea, forcing the harried scribe to insist he based the character on “Broderick Crawford in Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday.” After Tony watches a video of the old movie, he confesses to Melfi that Chris' painting him as a violent, vengeful brute has hurt to the core. 

The mood grows increasingly dark and foreboding with the creeping realization that no one will get out of here alive, even if they do survive. As each of the main characters comes to terms with their individual destiny, they begin to comprehend their loved ones can offer little consolation. In the end, they learn the hard way that even family doesn’t matter…especially when you’re dead.

The first episode was written by Diane Frolov, Andrew Schneider, Matthew Weiner and Chase and directed by Tim Van Patten. The second hour (which airs April 15), written by Terence Winter and directed by Alan Taylor.

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