Ty Burr wonders why ''closure'' is such a dirty word in the fictional mob world of creator David Chase
James Gandolfini, Annabella Sciorra, ...
Credit: The Sopranos: Barry Wetcher
James Gandolfini

”The Sopranos” leaves many plotlines unresolved

Either David Chase is brilliant, or he has the worst case of attention deficit disorder in Hollywood.

Yes, I know Bruce Fretts has already dissected the Sunday night finale of ”The Sopranos.” I know that HBO is moving on to the new season of ”Sex and the City,” and the rest of us are getting on with our lives. But I have my own thoughts on the matter, and it’s going to be many months before we have new episodes to obsess over, so either bear with me or go post flames on the movie reviews boards.

Watching the third season of ”Sopranos” has been an exercise in exultant frustration: Each episode has spun out amazing new plot tangents while refusing to follow through on the old ones. Like many viewers, I was hoping that the season finale would wrap all those strands into a neat, bloody bow, and perhaps that was wrong of me — one of the great things about this show is the way it consistently confounds expectations that have been set by the tropes of conventional TV narrative.

Still, as the dust settled on the season finale, I mentally took stock on the storylines that were left hanging up there in the North Jersey smog:

Dr. Melfi’s rape Yes, the good doctor (Lorraine Bracco) decided not to tell Tony about the attack, but there were precious few reverberations from that shocking development in the episodes that followed, and that had the effect of making the rape feel like a cheap one shot shock tactic in the long view.

Svetlana vs. Janice The tussle over record albums and prosthetic legs between the late Livia’s caregiver (Alla Kliouka) and Tony’s sister (Aida Turturro) was downright hilarious — and it was over the moment Svetlana sicced Russian goons on her tormentor. Too bad. I didn’t miss Janice much the rest of the season, but Kliouka’s profane lollapalooza was a unique comic creation.

Meadow’s roommate’s meltdown As played by actress Ari Rucker, Midwestern naïf Caitlin was an emotional time bomb waiting to explode. She didn’t.

Adriana and the tennis pro Remember that scene in the first episode, in which it looked like Christopher’s fiancée (Drea De Matteo) was getting awfully flirty with a new instructor at the club named Birgit (Erica Leerhsen)? Imagine how much agita that could have given the Bada Bing boys if it had been allowed to develop even a little further.

Adriana and Artie Bucco Again, a plot point that popped up out of nowhere — who knew that Artie (John Ventimiglia) carried such a major torch for his best waitress? — and disppeared without a trace.

The mad Russian assassin The episode that stranded Christopher (Michael Imperioli) and Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) in the Jersey Pine Barrens was one of the most cohesively comic of the season. Surely their impossible to kill quarry represented a big old shoe that just had to drop? Think again — this must be what they mean by a Red herring.

Gloria’s fatal attraction A fine example of the way ”The Sopranos” can mess with a viewer’s head. We see Gloria (a career changing performance by Annabella Sciorra) cling too crazily to Tony, almost get strangled for her troubles, then get threatened with extinction by ”Sopranos” bagman Patsy Parisi. The very last shot of the episode shows Patsy get into his car and drive off, as if someone is watching him… Guess it was only us.

Oh, and that damn lamp in the basement Remember how the FBI spent much of the first episode planting a bug in Tony’s basement? And then remember how Meadow took said bugged lamp back to college? Don’t you think some comedy (or drama, heaven forbid) might have been found in what the agents could have overheard in the dorm rooms of Columbia?

There are plenty more examples, but you get the idea. And yet…

And yet, as the season recedes into the past, I’m starting to truly appreciate what Chase has wrought in the big picture. Despite all the byplay with Paulie and Ralphie and Jackie Jr., ”The Sopranos” this year was about women. Or, more precisely, their powerlessness in a world made brutal by men. What’s the invisible line that connects Dr. Melfi’s attack, Tracee’s death, Meadow’s romantic mistreatment at the hands of both Jackie Jr. and Noah Tannenbaum, Gloria’s brutal sidelining, and Carmela Soprano’s bone deep funk? That they are made miserable, physically and / or emotionally, by men. And that there is little they can do about it until, at the very least, they figure that out.

Interestingly, the three characters struggling most clearly toward some kind of articulation and resolution were Carmela, Meadow (especially given her freak out in the last episode), and… Tony. There’s the measure of David Chase’s ambition right there: that he can give us a hero who’s a murderous, unrepentant thug yet who’s trying mightily to develop some kind of conscience — and taking tiny baby steps toward succeeding.

I only wish that ”The Sopranos” had given as much attention to the finer points of narrative this season as it did to the bigger themes. Closure doesn’t have to be a dirty word — but why do I get the sense that Chase thinks it is?

James Gandolfini
The Sopranos
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