Oh, that David Chase. The creator of The Sopranos really set up his audience in the mob series’ finale. Let's put in this way: The last installment, "Made in America," certainly wasn't made in Hollywood. Or at least not yet.
The man who thumbed his nose at TV conventions -- making a hit series centered on a brutal thug who required psychotherapy to come to grips with his tinges of humanity, as well as maintaining two decidely, upper-middle-class families -- did it big-time with the finale.
Chase who always left story lines unfinished -- the fate of Dr. Melfi's rapist, Carmella's and Furio's unrequited lust and the robust Russian still roaming the Pine Barrens, among them -- also largely steered clear of sentiment.
After all, the final run of episodes saw Tony's self-pity and self-loathing fester into resentment for most of his longtime crew; his embarrassment quotient over his suicidal son escalate; and a heretofore taste for gambling burst into compulsion. After snuffing the nostrils of Christopher, who had outlived his usefulness, Tony flew west to his inform nephew's mistress about The Cleaver producer's demise before engaging in an interlude of sex and peyote hallucinations.
Indeed, as this season progressed, there weren't many reasons left to like Tony, whose consultations with Dr. Melfi also abruptly ended after research convinced her that her brand of therapy only emboldened the criminal mind.
There was also a rather large target on Tony's back that already claimed his brother-in-law, Bobby Bacala, and left consigliore Silvio Dante on life support. Heading into the 86th and last episode, our antihero had to evacuate his family from their mansion as a precaution, while he was left holed up in a safe house, an automatic weapon his companion in sleep.
But as the final hour unfolded, Chase was seemingly pushing the story to a relatively happy conclusion. Through the cooperation of an old family friend, peace was brokered with New York, as Little Carmine was finally ready to assume the leadership role. Tony's nemesis, Phil Leotardo, got his comeuppance with a slug and a tire over his noggin. (As Frank Vincent added another entry to his beat-downs in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull and Goodfellas, we salute Linda Moss for digging out the dirt on Phil's demise.)
Meanwhile, Tony and Carm were able to move their malleable mope of a son away from an aspiring army career in Afghanistan to fetching coffee as the development executive on Little Carmine's expanding slate of movie projects.
Plans were also being drawn for wedding bells to sound for Meadow, who found her soul mate and perhaps a future partner in a law firm with the progeny of one of Tony's own crew, Patsy Parisi.
Paulie Walnuts -- with a little cajoling, a threat of nepotism and presumably the blessing of a haunting feline -- reluctantly accepted a big promotion from Tony.
The big guy even went to see the estranged Uncle Junior, who showed few moments of lucidity -- a reference to "this thing of ours" sparked only a question of his past participation -- and little chance to emerge from his dementia.
Still, an indictment loomed over Tony's head.
Was Chase going to have the Soprano clan gather at Holsten's soda-fountain shot (spot on again, Linda) at the finish to learn that the protagonist was going states evidence and pull a Henry Hill?
Or would another rampant Internet rumor prove true and shadow the ultimate moment? Would Meadow's inability to parallel park -- oh, for the suburban inadequacy -- leave Tony, like Michael Corleone, grieving over a bullet meant for him?
Playing on all the foreboding, the gossip and, for many, the wont of some kind of happy ending for this essentially evil character, Chase played to a bigger fear than Tony Soprano coming after you -- that our TV service would crap out for a big event!
Instead of definitive resolution, Tony looked up as Meadow presumably opened the Holsten's door to the accompaniment of the words, "don't stop," from Journey's "Don't Stop Believing." The screen then went black -- the denouement of Tony and his family's fate undisclosed -- before the credits rolled.
Do storylines finally play out when the credits open on a theatrical coda to The Sopranos several years from now? No doubt many will look to chase down those answers.