When Bay Area critics were giving predictions on how “The Sopranos’’ would end during a podcast this past week, I said “Quietly.’’
But I didn’t expect silently.
Written and directed by creator David Chase, the series came to an end after 8 years, 86 episodes and 18 Emmy Awards not in a hail of gunfire, not with mobster Tony Soprano dragged to jail, but with a blank screen.
Which probably made most people across America watching wondering if their cable and/or power went out just when they were going to learn the fate of their favorite mobster.
These days, viewers are used to dramas posing questions to string us along while we ponder if saving the cheerleader will save the world or if an island is really purgatory for plane crash survivors. Sometimes a drama is just a drama, and there is no real mystery to solve.
In expert fashion, Chase gave us a finale filled with juicy tidbits. Tony is out in the backyard raking leaves when he hears the sound of ducks. He looks above his head, but he and we see nothing.
Like the cat the crew adopts _ Paulie calls felines “snakes with fur’’ _ Chase toys with us in one of the funniest “Sopranos’’ episodes ever penned.
Classic Chase took us to a wooded area with the suicidal Anthony Junior parked with his girlfriend, the equally unbalanced high school junior/fashion model. We fear they are about to do each other in, but instead they were just there to do each other.
Except the car catches on fire and a $30,000 SUV plus some woodland goes up in flames. We spend some quality time with Tony and Carmela lecturing their son on his stupidity and almost forget we’re there to find out if Tony dies or goes to jail.
Traditionally, Chase likes the penultimate episode in a season to be the one that packs the biggest punch. The season finale generally has the characters reflecting the ripples felt in the aftermath.
Chase gave viewers some wonderful action moments last week, with plenty of bloodshed including Tony’s brother-in-law and crewmember Bobby getting gunned down in a train store and his right-hand man Silvio going out in a slow-motion shootout.
After the hit, the denizens of the Bada Bing came out in the glaring sunshine for the first time and then marveled when a passing motorcyclist went crashing down the street. Classic.
When last we saw Tony, he was holed up with the gang, the gun Bobby gave to him for his birthday clutched in his hands ready to go out in a blaze of glory if need be.
But it never came to that.
While trying to broker a peace between the warring families, Tony has to contend with a son who wants to join the Army and save the world. With Dr. Melfi exiting last week as his therapist, he seems to be bonding with son A.J.’s counselor much to the disgust of wife Carmela. In Sopranoland, all the therapist are beautiful women who speak in measured tones and wear short skirts showing off their great gams.
Meadow has decided to follow in her mom’s footsteps by marrying a mobster’s son and soon A.J. has bagged his idea of serving his country and eventually becoming Donald Trump’s helicopter pilot in favor of making a movie with his dad’s backing.
And Tony has a meeting with his legal counsel who tells him it’s 80 to 90 percent sure he’s going to get indicted for crimes he committed. But that “trials were made to be won.’’
It would seem that those who bet Tony would be going to jail in the finale had won.
In the closing moments of the finale, the family arrives one by one in a diner for dinner. The tension builds. Tony, the first to arrive, chooses “Don’t Stop Believing’’ from the tableside juke box. In the background, different people start arriving. A man in a baseball cap, looking just like the hit man who took out Phil Leotardo and others, walks in.
Maybe he does die. Maybe the entire Soprano family gets wiped out in a bloody hit. Our pulse is quickening.
Other men arrive. Are they federal agents working undercover? Are they other hit men?
We are reminded of the FBI agent who warned Tony of the contract being put out on his crew last week by New York mobster Phil. In the finale, the agent tells Tony where he can find Phil.
When he learns that Phil has been killed (shot after exiting a Ford vehicle carrying his baby twin grandchildren, which then rolls over his head while their frantic mother tries to get them out), the agent says, “Damn, we’re going to win this thing’’.
Does winning mean Tony’s toast?
In what looks like an homage to “The Godfather,” one of the guys we suspect is a hit man heads for the restaurant’s Men’s Room. The same place Michael Corleone went to get a gun out of the toilet to whack the two mobsters having dinner in THAT restaurant who had taken out his dad the Don.
Our toes are curling, our nails are in the sofa’s arm rest. Who will get to Tony first?
We don’t know. All we know is that after bumbling parallel parking while the tension became excruciating, Meadow sprints towards the diner door, Tony looks up and darkness falls.
Was there a hit? Was there an arrest? Or did the family have a nice meal of onion rings and conversation?
We’ll never know. And that, my friends, is why “The Sopranos’’ is the best drama ever.