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Quiet ‘Sopranos’ finale offers no clues

“The Sopranos” has always been more satisfying when viewed continuously as an entire season, rather than one episode followed a week later by another episode.

Expecting too much from a single episode can be a mistake, because the shows work together, over time. Those who tune in every week to see, for example, unrepentant violence are destined to be disappointed. “The Sopranos” is not a series about a mob boss and his family as much as it’s about a man who happens to be a mob boss and has to deal with his family, both biological and extended.

Storylines and characters have a tendency to disappear, sometimes forever, but most often they reappear later, if only as a catalyst for something major and significant. As a result, watching “The Sopranos” from week to week can be frustrating, never mind waiting two years between seasons.

Still, after such a long wait, and with an eight-month wait ahead until the series concludes, viewers might have expected more from the finale to the first half of the sixth season. Instead, it ended on a weak note, with Tony and his extended family all gathered around the Christmas tree, as if they were stand-ins on a WB drama’s very special holiday episode.

“The Sopranos” returned from its extended hiatus with a literal bang when Uncle Junior shot Tony, but concluded this 12-episode run with no major cliffhanger, no preview of upcoming drama, and no light from inside the hatch.

It was a surprising decrescendo for the conclusion to the season that brought us Uncle Junior’s final descent into dementia; Tony’s time in coma and the series of symbolism-rich episodes that it brought us; Vito Spatafore’s coming out, sojourn to New Hampshire, and eventual death; and Carmela, Meadow, and AJ’s acceptance of Tony’s life and the benefits they derive from it.

Which threads will catch fire?As a whole, however, the season did unravel a number of threads, threads that will undoubtedly pile up and catch fire during the show’s final eight episodes. And the finale definitely contributed to those.

The Vito storyline was controversial, perhaps because Vito’s romance with a man in New Hampshire was unexpected, and was portrayed as unapologetically as the preceding five season’s parade of sex, drugs, and violence have been. Or perhaps it was surprising because the show has rarely spent so much time on a peripheral character.

But Vito’s outing and subsequent exile to New Hampshire was anything but peripheral, and served three extremely important purposes: It served as the first real test to Tony’s newfound attitude toward life, illustrated Tony (and every other male character’s) crisis of masculinity, and set up the war between the two families that’s been barely contained for years.

Tony learned of the most ominous and threatening possibility from FBI agent Harris, who told him, “someone close to you may be in danger. ... it’s under serious discussion at top levels.” Those “top levels” refer pretty much to Phil Leotardo, the trigger-happy stand-in New York boss who, like his boss, jailed Johnny Sack, is now out of commission. But despite Phil's hospitalization for a serious heart attack, his men are on the warpath after Tony had one of their businesses blown up as retribution for his captain Vito’s death.

And that’s only one of the festering problems. Christopher’s using drugs again, and he’s also cheating on his pregnant wife with Tony’s quasi-love interest and real estate agent Julianna Skiff.

Adriana’s mother tried to kill herself, prompting Carmela to question Tony about Adriana’s disappearance, encouraging him this time to hire a private investigator to discover happened to her.

While Carmela clearly senses that Tony knows what happened to Adriana, she allowed herself to be bought once again, as Tony cleared the way for work to continue on her spec house so that she would drop her other concerns.

AJ is is now involved with an older woman he met at his new construction job, although that woman is also involved, on some level, with his uncle Paulie. At her house, after her neighbors started making noise and taunted her, AJ was faced with a decision: Should he fall into line as his father did before him? AJ put on his shoes, went outside, and opened his trunk. Instead of pulling out a shotgun and capping the loudmouths, however, he bribed them with his expensive bike.

Later, after seeing a present AJ bought his new girlfriend, Tony said, “Should’a told me. I got a guy.” But his son rejected that way of life, telling his dad, “And I got a job.” That marked a sudden turnaround for AJ, who just weeks ago was enjoying his status as a Soprano. As Tony’s apparent successor, AJ is in many ways the pivotal character; perhaps his father will now follow him.

At one point, Tony was sitting on his couch, eating and watching TV as he so often does. The show was a History Channel-style documentary, and after an image of Abraham Lincoln appeared on the screen, the narrator could be heard saying, “For some people, depression is a form of forced introversion, and in Lincoln’s case it was extremely painful, but it’s out of that forced introversion…”

Tony already took a few bullets this season, but the documentary seemed to foreshadow his death, perhaps, like Lincoln, at the hands of a stranger. Many have speculated that the series will end with Tony’s death, or perhaps with the death of one of his family members. More likely, it will end ambiguously, refusing to answer our questions, and leaving the characters at unsettled points in their lives.

However it ends, the mid-season finale offered no clues, and now, for one last time, “The Sopranos” is making viewers wait yet again for all the pieces to fall together.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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