Year 3, Show #1, Season #6 (Total Shows—1, Total Seasons—6)
THE PLOT: Tony Soprano faces a myriad of new crises at home, at work, and from the law… leading the New Jersey mob boss to doubt the allegiances of many of those closest to him.
THE GOOD: Watching the final season of a television show always means much more than just that season; it encompasses the entirety of the show. While you can focus on individual story lines that pertain to just season six, the final season of The Sopranos also has the retrospective aspect to consider as well. All-in-all though, this final season is a good representation of what made The Sopranos such an entertaining and successful show, not to mention having what is considered one of the best endings in TV history.
The Sopranos has always had a level of uncertainty about the show that I never really recognized until now. My big focus for previous seasons has been on the family and how that was (and is) the most important part of the show, but the uncertainty element is probably even more important. One of the biggest plot points and characters I haven’t really mentioned at all is that of Tony’s (James Gandolfini) therapist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) who Tony sees originally because he suffers from depression and has panic attacks. It becomes evident though by this final season that the therapy isn’t included necessarily for medical reasons, it’s main purpose is to cast a more human light on Tony and his actions in the mafia. The therapy sessions serve as our window into his thoughts which in turn cause us to relate and feel for the objectively bad things going on (murder, robbery, extortion, etc.).
But what really struck me about this final season is, to use the word again, uncertainty. I don’t mean this in terms of twists or shocking revelations that come at the end. I mean it in more of an ongoing sense. Sure, there are some big twists and unexpected occurrences at the end (including a large tally of deaths), but it’s more about what’s next. A recurring theme in The Sopranos is that we don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens. There’s a lot of split-second decisions like Janice (Aida Turturro) killing Richie Aprile (David Proval) in season two, Furio’s (Federico Castelluccio) departure in season four, and Christopher’s (Michael Imperioli) decision about his fiancé Adrianna (Drea de Matteo) among others (most including deaths).
Many people complain about open-ended shows and not tying up all the loose ends of various plot points and The Sopranos is a big offender in that regard. I was surprised with the amount of hints in the finale, “Made in America”, which at least gave a direction for several story lines that I thought creator David Chase had just forgot about, the biggest of which being the FBI investigation which all but stopped after season four. In addition to the FBI, there’s also many questions as to what’s going to happen to AJ and Meadow with their futures and relationships, what’s going to happen to the crew now that many of their big capos are dead, and countless other loose ends.
While we don’t get definitive answers, we do get quite a few clues for the likely directions that will unfold afterwards. And this goes back to the uncertainty element. One of the reasons there was a lot of initial backlash to the end (which I won’t spoil here, but you’ve probably heard about it before) is that it leaves this uncertainty; it doesn’t tell you what happened and what will happen. It leaves it not so much open to interpretation, but open to the imagination. Having the benefit of knowing how the show ended helps me to see the pure genius behind David Chase’s decision. The ending says that it’s not the end of the story, just the end of the show we’re watching. We’ve seen the parts we were meant to see starting with Tony as a capo and ending with him as the boss, a family that has matured, and many faces that have come and gone. Much more happened before we tuned in and much more will happened after the last of the credits rolled in “Made in America”. Just as it is in life, the future is uncertain and stories have to end eventually. With The Sopranos, we don’t find out everything that happens and there are plenty of nitpicks that could probably fill a large book. But that’s the nature of the show, and it’s something that becomes very apparent in this final season.
THE BAD: Aside from some of the loose ends and open-endedness that I mentioned before, there really aren’t any outstanding problems with this last season. Part One (season six was split in two parts, of twelve and nine episodes, airing in 2006 and 2007) was criticized for Vito Spatafore’s (Joseph R. Gannascoli) story of needing to go into hiding because it was revealed he was gay. I don’t think it’s one of the best character developments the show had, but it was still great to watch. Vito hiding in New Hampshire did take away a bit from the show, but it was the consequences that unfolded back in New Jersey that has me questioning why this was criticized. Both the direct (how to deal with the Vito problem) and indirect (what happened after the Vito problem in Part Two) consequences were quite substantial and were much more far-reaching than just simply having johnny cakes in a diner.
THE TAKEAWAY: Back in season one, I mentioned how The Sopranos is often regarded as one of the best television shows of all time. Now having completed the series, I can concur with that statement. While I won’t go so far as to say The Sopranos is my favorite show of all time, it definitely ranks among my top ten, possibly top five; the reasons why are both similar and different.
As I’ve mentioned time and again, the three characteristics that make The Sopranos unique are the characters, the mafia, and the Italian-American lifestyle. While the first two may seem quite general (characters especially), they still remain unique to this show. Pick any of my favorite television shows, the first thing I’ll remember are the characters. You see so much of them it’s like they become your friends and family and when you finish a show, it’s upsetting because you don’t get to see them anymore. So while saying this show has great characters might seem like a cop out, if you’ve seen the show you know how hard it is to say goodbye to people like Tony, Carmela, Paulie, Sal, the the countless others that make this show what it is.
It’s the third characteristic I listed, the Italian-American lifestyle, that makes my pick for this different. Most if not all of the other shows I consider my favorites (Breaking Bad and Battlestar Galactica have to be top two) are much more appealing. They have action and visual candy to bring you in and keep you hooked in what I would consider a blockbuster way. Both these shows have much more depth and thought to them than a standard blow-‘em-up summer blockbuster the numbs the brain, but they have a certain level of that easy entertainment to reel you in. The Sopranos for the most part lacks that. Yes there’s plenty of murders, violence, and other action-packed mayhem that occurs, but it’s used in short bursts rather than in a sustained way. What really got me hooked and made The Sopranos so special for me was seeing many of the things that took place in my family happen on the screen. Everything the characters said and did, from how they said things like proscuitto and mozzarella, traditional Sunday dinners, yelling as a form of normal communication, and gravy for pasta (not calling it tomato sauce), not only made the show authentic and feel extremely genuine, but it appeal to me at a much more personal level than stories like a chemistry teacher cooking crystal meth or the annihilation of the human race ever could.
The Sopranos may appeal to you for different reasons or even not at all. It is without a doubt the most graphic and violent television show I’ve ever watched (even more than Game of Thrones) and can be uncomfortable at times. But behind all of this is sheer power to move you to places you’ve never seen before. It also served as the foundation for shows like Breaking Bad to follow in its footsteps and is responsible for the renaissance in TV that we’re seeing today. Many great reasons to watch the whole show, and season six is a particularly great ending to a wonderful series.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5