In the Christmas-themed semi-season finale of ''The Sopranos,'' negotiations break down, and Tony has to approach Phil; meanwhile, AJ and Christopher find new love

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated January 13, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Credit: James Gandolfini: Barry Wetcher

”The Sopranos”: Mob war and peace

What, you were maybe expecting a showdown, a confrontation, a resolution, a great big whacking? Are you nuts? What TV show do you think you’ve been watching, Prison Break? Not so much a season finale as a graceful recapitulation of themes before a six-month intermission, this gentle, compassionate, pause-button episode opened with a severed head — Fat Dom’s on ice, ready for disposal, i.e., famiglia business as usual — and ended with a Christmas gathering, and the business of family. And in between, just about everyone we’ve ever known (short of Artie Bucco and Hesh — where’s Hesh, speaking of ”Hanukkah people”?) was accounted for, and every theme of the sixth season, too.

Tony, who survived a bullet to the gut fired by his uncle in the season opener, held on to his intention to treat every day as a gift, and got to impart a little of his hard-won wisdom to hotheaded Phil Leotardo — only the latest in the grand tradition of wiseguys laid out on hospital beds over the years on The Sopranos. (Phil’s wife, did you notice, was as loving to her man as Carmela was to the comatose Tony.)

And speaking of Carm, the would-be real estate developer got her effing spec house after all, didn’t she? All she had to do was push and push and push about Adriana’s ”disappearance” in that naïve, look-but-don’t-see way she has of dealing with her husband’s line of work, and suddenly Mr. S had smoothed the way for Mrs. S to get the building permits she needed. Anything to get her off the ”Ade” trail. (I suppose it’s possible that Carmela is naïve like a fox, and that she knows just what she’s doing when she conjectures about Adriana to Tony, but…nah, don’t you think she’s just content to remain in the dark and take her husband’s wads of cash to Paris?)

I loved the abortive mediation meeting between Tony and Phil, presided over by the Mafia’s own Mr. Malaprop, Little Carmine, who noted that ”certain incidents have expired recently.” And I loved Bobby’s brief holiday-season meeting with Junior in the old man’s psychiatric joint, where, in Dominic Chianese’s spare and affecting portrayal, we could actually see the worldly, proud man Corrado Soprano used to be as the present-day Corrado does battle with dementia and loses.

Most of all, though, I loved the contrast between the depressing downward personal spiral of Tony’s weakling nephew and the quality-of-life upswing for Tony’s exasperating son, each man’s fate linked to a woman. In Christuhfuh’s case, of course, the temptress is the troubled real-estate babe Julianna, she of the beautiful brunet ringlets, bright mind, and (so we learn in a tasty end-of-season plot twist) addict’s taste for narcotic oblivion, a craving right up Chris’s alley. For a romantic, a fantasist, a movie-lover, and a moral weakling like Chris, life just doesn’t measure up to Hostel, Saw, or ”the penguin movie,” let alone to Coppola’s sacred ”One” and ”Two” (as in Godfather). No wonder Julianna (a fabulous performance, don’t you think, from Julianna Margulies?) captivates him with her movie heroine looks — and no wonder he fails her, too, as he fails every woman he’s ever been with.

AJ, on the other hand, experiences a passage into adulthood right before our eyes when he spots the beauty called Blanca coming out of the construction trailer. (She’s a vision so lovely, she’s shot in movie-cliché slo-mo.) Did Tony’s tough-love talk with his son in the previous episode really inspire such a character change in the petulant kid? This AJ works hard at his laborer’s job. (Of course, there’s no Vito around anymore to spook AJ the way Vito spooked Finn under his hardhat.) This AJ obeys his father at home. And in the presence of a sexy, older, Dominican single mother of a 3-year-old son, this AJ finally becomes a man. Will the relationship last? (The movie backdrop to their romance couldn’t be more charmingly chosen: the chest-waxing scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin.)

The two Middle Eastern men of dubious Mob provenance who hang out ogling the girls at the Bing; Ginny Sacrimoni sitting by Phil’s bedside, coiffed in her perpetual black bubble of hair; federal agent Harris warning Tony, off the record, about a possible threat to one of his associates; Paulie boasting unconvincingly about some girl he supposedly once banged; Silvio now and forever the sidekick and never the asthma-suffering boss; Meadow on the phone pretending to her parents that her relationship with Finn is okay; Janice Soprano (or should I say Mrs. Bacala) taking charge of her stepchildren; Carm’s father, Hugh, taking inventory of the presents under the Soprano Christmas tree: The gang was all here, bound together, however fleetingly, with the kind of holiday spirit drummed up by It’s a Wonderful Life (which Bobby Bacala Jr. was watching, slack-jawed), and the kind of moral labyrinth exoticized by Casablanca (which Bobby Jr. was also watching, slack-jawed.)

”There’s plenty for everybody,” Tony tells Phil in his hospital bed. Will the truce last? What do you think we can look forward to in the last eight episodes of this incalculably deep and wise drama?

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