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Television: Ba-Da-Baaack!:

Sasha StoneMirror TV CriticThe final Sopranos season opens with a bang. Literally. Just in case there was ever any doubt, this is a tragedy. There will be no warm fuzzy endings for the mobsters and their families. This has never been a story of redemption, even if we’re conditioned to believe that the guy we like so much (who also happens to kill people) might find his way there, via his compassionate therapist, his loving wife and his own conscience, if he ever had one to begin with. James Gandolfini reprises the role of Tony Soprano in this unprecedented and unconventional television series for the final two seasons, with all of it coming to a bittersweet end early next year, in 2007. HBO has rewritten the rules with The Sopranos so much so that we’ve taken it for granted that it can be done as well as this. The network has since delivered one successful series after the next, but really, it was The Sopranos that started it all, proving that television can be every bit as good, or even better, than feature films.Brilliant Gandolfini delivers a fatter, more seeped in denial than ever, Tony. He gets on the scale, it says 283. He steps off, removes his shoes, removes his pants and gets back on again. Okay, 280. He can live with that. What Tony can and can’t live with runs through the whole series to chilling effect. Now we know, however, he is a mob boss on the decline. He has his wife Carmela back (the marvelous Edie Falco), buys her a new Porsche to “make her happy” while he puts off doing what she really wants him to do. His kids are quietly out of control, heading down dark paths that can lead to no good. And, in the end, Tony is nearly brought down by his own inability to accept the painful truth.Or is he? The season opener ends with a cliffhanger – Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese ) who is convinced the dead mobster “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero is stalking him, shoots Tony and then hides in the upstairs closet. The episode closes on Tony laying on the floor, gurgling and sputtering like a speared trout. What Tony has never been able to accept is that his mother and her brother-in-law, Uncle, hated Tony so much they wanted to have him killed. Tony, so smart, so cunning in his life’s work has no clue that his biggest threats are always the ones closest to him. Series creator David Chase swears this is the final season so there is going to be a lot of ground to cover. Someone or many someones will die before all is said and done, this much we know. These have always been doomed characters in a doomed but enduring business. Whether it mirrors real life or not, the fate of mob bosses in fiction is prison, witness protection or death. Somehow, it doesn’t seem likely we’ve come all this way with Tony only to see him go out with a wimper, so a hail of bullets it will have to be. After a two year break, it’s not easy getting settled back into the lives of Tony and Carmela. So much seems to have changed. All of Carmela’s furious angst has vanished, Christopher (Michael Imperioli ) is no longer shooting up and there are no bimbos around distracting Tony. So far. No more anxiety attacks for Tony, no more divorce talk for Carmela. Whether The Sopranos will end in Godfather fashion or not – with one family taking control of the streets by bringing down the other family is hard to say. The FBI are closing in, though every time they secure an informant he, or she, dies. What does seem certain, however, is that Tony will have to survive the gunshot wound and live out his final days as the ferocious beast we have come to love and know so well.The Sopranos will air the next four episodes beginning this Sunday. The other eight episodes, the final season, will air early in 2007 on HBO.

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