A disturbing whack job and deep despair for Carmela -- Bruce Fretts says the series' best episode of the season sets up several major conflicts for next week's finale
The Sopranos
Credit: The Sopranos: Barry Wetcher
James Gandolfini

A disturbing whack job and deep despair for Carmela

Regular readers of this column know that I’ve come down pretty hard on ”The Sopranos” this season. Frankly, I’ve been surprised how many people have agreed with me on the message boards. I figured anybody fanatical enough about a show to read a weekly recap of it on the Internet would defend it against any attacks.

Then it hit me. These fellow critics aren’t naysayers trying to incite a backlash; like me, they’re true ”Sopranos” lovers who have been genuinely disappointed by such a subpar season. Because we know how great this show has been, we hold it to a higher standard and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best it can be.

And that’s exactly what the season’s penultimate episode, ”Eloise,” was: the best ”The Sopranos” can be. Sure, I could cite a few sins of omission in Terence Winter’s script (like, are we ever going to see Christopher in rehab?). But in the spirit of the holiday weekend, I’d rather give thanks for the episode’s dramatic bounty.

First of all, how great was it to see Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) again? Finally, we learned more about her sophomore year at Columbia. She’s living ”Three’s Company”-style with a female descendant of Spanish royalty and a male platonic friend, who, much to Tony’s dismay, is not gay. She’s dating an aspiring dental student (”Anybody bothers her, he’ll knock their teeth out — then he can put them back in, too,” Tony cracked). And she’s become a snob, condescendingly lecturing her incredulous mom (Edie Falco) about the homoerotic subtext of ”Billy Budd.”

The episode was another Emmy-caliber triumph for Falco. Even if you never bought her near-fatal attraction to Furio (and I didn’t), she made Carmela’s sense of loss palpable after his sudden move back to Italy. You certainly can’t blame him for flying the coop, since he almost pushed Tony into an airplane propeller in a jealous rage. Little did Furio know Tony was so drunk at the time, he didn’t seem to remember it the next morning.

Just as Furio was leaving, Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) came back into the Family fold. His flirtation with defecting to the New York mob abruptly ended when he bumped into boss Carmine at a wedding and discovered the guy had no idea who he was, despite the lies to the contrary that underboss Johnny Sack had fed Paulie. And when he needed a fat envelope of cash to put him back in Tony’s good graces, Paulie smothered his mother’s biddy friend, Min, and swiped her savings from under her mattress. The whack job ranked with the series’ most disturbing murder scenes ever.

Several major questions hang over next week’s season finale: Will Tony pick up on Johnny Sack’s hints and knock off Carmine? Will Uncle Junior win acquittal in his trial now that Tony’s goons have attempted to intimidate one of the jurors? And have we really seen the last of Furio? If David Chase wants to redeem the fourth season, he’ll resolve these cliffhangers (and he’ll have 75 minutes to do it, so make sure to set your VCRs accordingly). Then again, as Carmela told Meadow about her slow-to-commit beau, ”Some men have to move at their own pace.”

What do you think will happen in the finale?

James Gandolfini
The Sopranos
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