HBO is currently running a promo for the final episodes of “The Sopranos” that spotlights many of the yummy food items featured in the series during its long run. The spot is punctuated by a young A.J. exclaiming, “What, no &%$#@!! ziti?”
Now I understand the disappointment the young man felt.
Perhaps the final eight episodes will satisfy the narrative equivalent of that sumptuous pasta dish all gooey with cheese, garlic, oregano and tomato gravy. Because part one of the sixth season (don’t ask, it’s David Chase math) left fans with an empty feeling in the pits of their stomachs.
Like the many dishes consumed over the years — sfogliatelle, peppers and eggs, ricotta pie, to name but a sampling — the first episodes of “The Sopranos” final season were all over the gustatory map.
The most glaring hunger left unsatisfied was the one involving Tony and Phil Leotardo. While Tony is no Mister Rogers himself, Phil makes him look like a nurturing caregiver. Phil’s brutal killing of Vito inside a cheap motel for no other offense than being gay ratcheted up the tension between the two mob rivals.
That was calmed somewhat when Phil suffered a heart attack and had to be hospitalized. All of a sudden a kinder, gentler Tony reacted as if were on “Dr. Phil,” and urged the white-maned thug to have perspective on what’s important in life. Phil got all “Beaches” on Tony and started to tear up.
That won’t last, of course. Phil will be back, still angry at the world over his brother’s murder and an explosion at one of his businesses and determined to prove he’s as much a leader as ever. Already the word is out that someone in Tony’s inner circle will be the next to fall in the mob wars. FBI agent Harris stopped by Satriale’s, purportedly for a pork sandwich — and who can argue with his taste in fine meats? — and tipped off Tony toward the end of part one.
The Tony and Phil situation needs to be resolved. But it may not be, if recent trends continue. Chase, the show’s executive producer and creator, seems to take particular delight in stringing along viewers and then leaving them encased in cement at a construction site — figuratively speaking, of course.
Chase and his writer/producers bask in the image as story rebels who won’t conform to mainstream one-hour expectations. But the Tony-Phil buildup has led to a combustible point, and anything less than a definitive denouement will leave ardent Sopranos freaks forever lamenting the once-vibrant series that eventually ended up on a slab with a toe tag.
All in the familyThat isn’t the only story line that fans are hoping resolves itself in the final shows.
Tony's immediate family members have all been through personal travails and are now heading in new directions. Carmela wanted something she could call her own, and she fixated on the idea of building a spec house. Tony kept dragging his feet on the issue — until his wife started becoming too curious about the disappearance of Adriana, who, viewers will recall, hitched a ride with Silvio, but was not offered a ride back.
It will be interesting to see if the mere offer of Tony’s assistance with the spec house will cause Carmela to drop her suspicions about Adriana. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time in their long association that Carmela has been placated by the glitter of mob booty.
When last we left A.J., he had taken up with Blanca, a Puerto Rican single mom 10 years his senior. That came after Tony and Carmela became disgusted with him for getting fired from his job at Blockbuster and forced him to take a job at a construction site, where he met Blanca.
This new love might cause A.J. to finally find some purpose in his life, or the relationship could fall apart, thereby sending A.J. into the bosom of the “family” business. That latter option is something Tony probably wants to avoid at all costs — similar to Vito Corleone’s attitude toward son Michael in “The Godfather,” a film from which Tony has often derived life lessons. But there's a touch of vanity in Tony that might enjoy grooming his son to take over.
The story line with Soprano daughter Meadow is less clear, primarily because the show’s writers have developed her character — after some early flirtations with destructive behavior — into the most sensible and responsible of them all. When last we left her, Meadow was in California with boyfriend Finn, an unenthusiastic dental student. Maybe Meadow can coax Finn to eventually set up a practice in New Jersey now that Vito is no longer around to hit on him.
Then there's Carmela's nephew, Christopher. At the end of part one, the newly married man got involved with Julianna, a real estate broker and fellow drug addict. And after hiding the relationship from Tony, who also had eyes for her, he eventually came clean. Although Tony was stung, he wasn’t so upset that he sent Chris to join Adriana. Instead, he let it go. But who knows if he can continue to be so magnanimous when it comes to his male pride being compromised?
With various subplots involving an alarmingly infirm Junior and a perpetually agitated Bobby Bacala, a firm but persuasive Silvio and an increasingly capitalistic Paulie (who has other issues now that he discovered his mother is really his aunt and that he might have prostate cancer), “The Sopranos” is ripe for a lip-smacking farewell feast. Although Johnny Cakes are now officially off the menu, there is still plenty to look forward to. And whatever they serve up is better than almost all of the slop you’ll find at other joints.
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to MSNBC.com. He lives in Los Angeles.