After 8 years, The Sopranos sleeps with the fishes

THE much-awaited conclusion of The Sopranos arrived on US screens on Sunday night in a frenzy of audience speculation — but Irish audiences have to wait a few more weeks yet.

Will New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano live or be killed? Will his family die before his eyes? Will he go to jail? Be forced to enter witness protection? Will Brooklyn boss Phil Leotardo, who had ordered a hit on Tony, prevail?

In the end, the only ending that matters is the one masterminded by Sopranos creator David Chase.

As it happened, the only big development in the finale was that Leotardo was crushed. Otherwise it was perversely non-earthshaking — just one last visit with the characters we have followed devoutly since 1999.

Here was the funeral for Bobby Bacala, Tony’s soldier and brother-in-law, who was shot dead on Leotardo’s orders last week. Here was Tony paying a hospital visit to his gravely injured consigliere Silvio Dante, also targeted by Leotardo.

Tony’s ne’er-do-well son AJ continued to wail about the misery in the world, and voiced a fleeting urge to join the army and go fight in Afghanistan (Tony persuaded him to get involved in filmmaking, instead). Daughter, Meadow, harped on about her plans to be a lawyer.

Tony visits his senile Uncle Junior at the nursing home.

“You and my dad, you two ran North Jersey,” Tony prompts him.

“We did?” said Uncle Junior with no sign of recognition. “That’s nice.”

Despite suspicions to the contrary, neither Paulie Walnuts nor Patsy Parisi sold out Tony. And neither was whacked. Dr Melfi, who kicked Tony out of therapy last week, made no last-minute appearance.

The finale displayed the characters continuing, for better and worse, unaffected by the fact that the series is done. The implication was, they will go on as usual. We just won’t be able to watch.

Of course, Leotardo hit a dead end after Tony located him with the help of his favourite federal agent. The execution was a quick but classic Sopranos scene: Pulling up at a gas station with his wife, Leotardo made a grand show of telling his two young grandchildren in the back seat to “wave bye-bye” as he emerged from his SUV. The next moment he was on the pavement, shot in the head.

Then you heard the car roll over his head. Crunnnchh! Quick, even comical, this was the only violence during the hour.

Not that Chase didn’t tease viewers with the threat of death in almost every scene.

This was never more true than in the final sequence. On the surface, it was nothing more momentous than Tony, his wife, Carmela, Meadow and AJ meeting for dinner at a family restaurant.

Every moment seemed to foreshadow disaster: Suspicious-looking people coming in the door or seated at a table nearby. Meadow on the street having trouble parallel parking her car, the tires squealing against the curb. With every passing second, the audience was primed for tragedy. It was a scene both warm and fuzzy yet full of dread, setting every viewer’s heart racing for no clear reason.

But nothing happened.

Then, with a jingle of the bell on the front door, Tony looked up. Did he see something awful — something he certainly deserved — about to come down?

We’ll never know. With that, The Sopranos cut to black, leaving us fated to always wonder what happened next.

The Sopranos is on RTÉ Two, Thursdays at 10pm.

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