Putting pride aside, the Mafia don takes care of his biggest problem -- and gets other troubles taken care of for him, says Liane Bonin

By Liane Bonin
Updated January 13, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

The Sopranos

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Things are looking up for Tony

I expected bloodshed, a little mayhem, and some backstabbing worthy of a presidential campaign on this season finale of ”The Sopranos.” What I didn’t expect was seeing Tony Soprano lumbering through the woods to a bouncy Van Morrison song, knowing that all of his recent troubles had been swept away by a well-timed FBI sting. Is this guy made of Teflon or what?

Certainly the cards were stacked for General Tony to fall on his own imperial sword. Studying a History Channel documentary about doomed and mutinous Nazi leader Irwin Rommel while sucking down yet another bowl of ice cream (if the feds don’t get him, his cholesterol will), Tony seemed less interested in the show’s cautionary tale than picking up some helpful tips for leading his grumpy troops.

God knows he looked everywhere else for a few friendly pointers. The ol’ ”it’s lonely at the top” adage hit home with a vengeance this week as Tony felt the stifled rage of his consigliores as he stubbornly defended Tony B., not out of any true loyalty to his cousin, but simply to thumb his nose at the increasingly arrogant Johnny Sack. Watching a humbled Tony try to pick Uncle Junior’s befuddled brain for fresh ideas was one of the show’s finer funny-sad moments. On the bright side, the one guy who might be able to offer Tony some strategic assistance is no longer the petulant, scheming power player who gave Tony so much grief in previous seasons. But knowing that Junior, despite improvements in his medication, finds ordering a fruit basket to be a complex task left no doubt that Tony is truly on his own.

Silvio never really gets enough credit on the show, usually grabbing our attention with that awful ‘do and the suits he apparently stole from Morris Day and the Time. But lately he’s been the go-to guy for taking care of family business, whether that be offing Adriana in the woods or giving Tony a harsh dose of reality, no disrespect intended. Telling Tony that there are ”seven deadly sins, and yours is pride” took guts and loyalty, but I have to admit, it was almost too Oprah-level insightful for a guy who has no problem offing a snitch, stealing money, and basically being a scab on the backside of society. But then again, Silvio has always seemed like a guy whose heart is, weirdly, in almost the right place. In the barbaric world he lives in, there are still ”family” values, and Silvio has been nothing if not devoted.

It seemed like Silvio’s heartfelt plea for Tony to do, um, the right thing by making Tony B. a ”sacrifice bunt” and kowtowing to Johnny Sack’s authority would only end in Silvio getting a tire-iron makeover when he least expected it. But combined with Dr. Melfi’s tough-love rant about Tony’s sentimental reasoning, the harsh truth finally inspired our lumbering Mafia don to put on his general’s cap (and some latex gloves) and take care of business. Seeing Tony B. fly through the air with a bullet in his brainpan was almost a relief. After all, we’d just seen Phil Leotardo, whose grief has clearly pushed him over the line from sociopath to, well, really really angry sociopath, turn Tony’s driver Benny into day-old hamburger. Like it or not, Tony B. got off easy.

That Tony’s attempt to quench Johnny and Phil’s bloodlust fell far short of their sadistic expectations promised some last-minute twists as the finale came to a close. Maybe Johnny Sack would off Tony, an angle even our high-IQ hero saw as a likely possibility (and man, wouldn’t next season be a trip without him?). I would have bet money that we’d be seeing Christopher’s head in a duffle bag, or at least catch Paulie Walnuts, whose horse-painting theft was finally uncovered, facing off with Phil and his lackeys. War seemed not only imminent but impossible to avoid.

And then the feds came barreling in, a dose of deus ex machina in matching windbreakers. For the entire Patrile crew to be swept off the map should mean that Tony and Phil’s face-off will take a backseat to bigger problems for the New York crew. Watching Tony run through the snow like a wounded bear in a torn overcoat was undoubtedly memorable, but for the season to be tied up in such a tidy bow was a disappointment. (Yes, we get it — he’s like the real bear from the beginning of the season.) Maybe Tony deserves a happy ending, however brief, but somehow bringing the feds in to distract our dueling chieftains felt like a cheat, as if someone had dropped a bomb into the middle of the chess game we’ve been watching for most of the season.

I have no doubt, however, that when the show returns there will be more ugly, convoluted messes that won’t be so easy for Teflon Tony to slide out of. But I sure hope they’re weightier than whether that brat AJ (Carmela, take away his phone privileges!) can be a good events planner.

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