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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
The one-of-a-kind series deserves a better send-off than David Chase gives it.
By ERIC DEGGANS
Published June 11, 2007
So this is how it ends: with a big, raised middle finger aimed straight at the TV audience.
At least, that's how this viewer felt just after finishing Sunday night's finale for The Sopranos - a confusing, hodgepodge of a story that felt less like an ending and more like creator David Chase's passive-aggressive shot as all of us who so loved his sprawling mob series.
And what did we ever do to earn such disdain? Yeah, the questions about missing characters and long hiatuses were probably annoying, but it was just another symbol of how important Mafia boss Tony Soprano and his collection of distinctive companions had become to us.
TV had never given us a series quite like this before - complex, entertaining and counter to every conventional television formula. Watching each installment was like sitting down with a suspenseful novel or a fine indie film every week.
And it deserved a better send-off than Sunday night's episode.
We never saw Tony get whacked - though the final scene, featuring shadowy guys in a diner eyeing the family just before the credits rolled, offered lots of portentous imagery.
Instead, we saw Tony doing what he always does: riding an unlikely combination of luck, charm and streetwise savvy to victory over New York boss Phil Leotardo. (But did we really need to see the SUV roll over Leotardo's head after he got whacked?)
Chase seemed to delight in forcing us to spend the most time Sunday with the series' most annoying character, Tony's dysfunctional son A.J. - distracting us with his whining about the war and aborted plan to join the Army.
It was entertaining to see how Chase brought the Soprano family back to its old ways after so much disarray. Once again, Carmela was eyeing improvements to a house she planned to sell, as Tony was using a meeting with A.J.'s leggy, buttoned-down therapist to try re-creating his classic bond with longtime therapist Dr. Jennifer Melfi.
But she wasn't quite Melfi. And this didn't quite feel like a Sopranos episode, as the often-leisurely series hopscotched erratically from scene to scene, touching base with characters that needed wrapping up (though Tony's final visit making peace with his Uncle Junior was another quality touch).
Like so many series creators before him, Chase seemed so intent on confounding expectations that he created a finale that met none of them.
In the days leading to this episode, I heard a bucketload of superior ideas for the finale from fans: Melfi turns Tony in; Paulie Walnuts cuts a deal with the New York mob and takes out Tony; Tony flees to Italy and rebuilds his crew.
Too bad Chase wasn't listening to his fans. Because that kind of devotion deserved a better reward.