So . . . let the carping begin.
For whatever reason, series finales always come in for a lot of complaints. Run a regular, day-in-the-life-of-the-workplace episode (Hill Street Blues, save for Bundtz's firing), and everyone complains. Change the uber-reality of the show's world (St. Elsewhere), and everyone complains. Run a glorified clips show, complete with a curtain call for the extended over-the-years cast (Seinfeld), and everyone complains.
Go the it's-a-wonderful-life route (Dallas), and nobody cares.
So we have tonight. As soon as the opening credits ran, as soon as I read "Written and Directed by David Chase," I knew there was going to be no whacking ala the Christening Massacre in The Godfather, nothing like the post-Lufthansa massacre in Goodfellas. I started with the previous Sunday, where--for the first time, save in a musical montage in The Godfather--we were treated to the first actual witnessing of mob guys going "to the mattresses," a pathetic sight if ever there was one. All their big talk, all their swag, all their guns, and here they were: a collection of frightened, flabby old men hiding for their lives, then ordering pizzas like a group of 12 year-olds on a sleep-over.
My worst feeling was in the show's first few seconds, when Tony was asleep--adrift, perhaps--in what looked like a casket. I thought, Oh, no. Tell me the show won't go the Sunset Boulevard route, with Tony dead and all of us wondering: What Brought Him Here?
Because we know, damnit.
Okay. Crisis averted.
I've been thinking, these past few days, about the influx of great TV going on the past dozen years or more. Just counting the shows that made it: The Simpsons, The X-Files, The West Wing, The Gilmore Girls, Frasier, Seinfeld, Cops, 24, Lost, NYPD Blue, Southpark, The Restaurant, Grey's Anatomy, The Practice, Boston Legal, Friday Night Lights. And this doesn't even count a few other shows that came and went: A terrific reality-based high school show called Yearbook, just this past year the black Groundhog Day on ABC, that lasted six weeks. Anyway, just thinking. What these shows had, in large part, was a sense of the intelligence of their audience, the idea that things could be said but not explained. So tonight, when Tony complained that AJ was taking something and "Making a molehill out of it," when of course he meant the opposite, we were meant to catch on without being told.
In the first half, three things:
1) The FBI guy (the Flonaze dude), himself with marital problems, treating Tony almost as a moral equal . . . than showing us why, as he has his own girlfriend, in the person of a hottie armed Special Agent; and goes out of his way to basically allow Tony to set up Phil, whom both families now realize is at the heart of their problems.
2) AJ, constantly thrown into the presence of women who, in the normal course of events, would be untouchable. A month ago it was his literature professor (but of course Chase went Russian Dude on us, and dropped her without comment); then a 15 year-old fashion model, then another hottie psychologist. So he gets Rhiannon (on which, more soon).
3) This was Astro-Girl's catch. Patsy's wife, played by . . . Donna Pescow*!, whom John Travolta dumped for the Manhattan chick in Saturday Night Fever, and who we now, at this late date, we catch checking the service on the bottom of the plates. Class with a capital K.
Now, three last things from the second half.
1) AJ in the Army, then not. Those who thought AJ would go the way of Fredo weren't watching the past month (mei culpa). It now appears the pool scene of a few weeks ago was the metaphor for his life; perpetually, AJ will be fished out of trouble. After a season of whiney self-pity, followed by a torching of his SUV, he has A) a movie job; B) a Beamer; C) A horny fashion-model girlfriend. Some people fall upwards.
2) The Jersey FBI office, which--thanks to the Middle East? the Stockholm Syndrome?--has gone from Tony's rival to his friendly rival to practically his ally, announcing, "Damn it, we're going to win this thing!" This is the Stockholm Syndrome writ large.
3) The one killing: Phil. This was a delicate matter, with Phil's captain Butchie finding what was, to him, a delicate middle--essentially, giving up Phil, conceding that New York will not lift a finger if Phil dies, but not going that one extra yard and revealing his location.
4) Finally, the last scene. I thought the show would go out one of two ways: either a blaze of glory, or else everything back to normal, with Carm dishing out the baked ziti in the dining room with Janice and the kids and Rhiannon in tow. What we had was a strange, wonderful, middle: Tony with "Don't Stop Believin'" on the jukebox; Carm in after him; then AJ with his pissing and moaning; then Meadow with her parking space. An indictment over a stupid gun charge hanging over Tony. One menacing guy at the counter. Two black guys entering. Then . . . blackness, silence.
What a perfect evocation of the dread that has hung over this family, and this Family, since the first day.
Well, brilliant, anyway.
*(Update: Helpful reader corrects: Donna Pescow, not Prescow.)