Season Swan Song For 'Sopranos'

Actor Steve Buscemi, left, who plays Tony Blundetto on the HBO series "The Sopranos," answers a question as fellow actors from left, James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano, Michael Imperioli, who plays Christopher Moltisanti, and Drea DeMatteo, who plays Adrea LaCerva, look on, during the Television Critics Association's Press Tour, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004, in Los Angeles. The new season begins March 7. AP

Poor Adriana: Scuttling on all fours across dead leaves in a forest until Silvio, Tony Soprano's consigliere, popped her with two shots.

That was Adriana's ghastly end on the most recent episode of "The Sopranos," underlining how business is business in a mob family — even for Ade, a terribly reluctant FBI informant whose own fiancé, Soprano soldier Christopher Moltisanti, set in motion the hit Tony ordered.

"The Sopranos" airs its fifth-season finale Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO Then 10 more episodes in 2005 will close this magnificent saga.

Exactly what awaits Tony, his New Jersey mob and the family at home is known to only one man: series creator David Chase. But mounting evidence ensures that few, if any, of these characters will dodge some measure of damnation. Or deserve to.

Just consider their accelerating moral slide this season.

Early on, Tony (James Gandolfini) welcomed back from prison his cousin Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi), who resolved to go straight, but quickly caved. Then, after joining the Soprano mob, he betrayed that cause, too, by settling a grudge against a member of another gang. "Tony B." has now put "Tony S." in the grim position of sacrificing him to appease New York boss Johnny Sack (Vince Curatola).

The season found Tony in turmoil over his separation from wife Carmela (Edie Falco), while their sulky teenage son, A.J. (Robert Iler), sank further into life as a hump. Spoiled daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Discala) became engaged to Finn, a squeaky-clean fellow college student whose health has already been endangered by his ties to her.

And in the most recent episode, Tony made a successful bid to reconcile with Carmela, vowing that "my mid-life crisis problems will no longer intrude on you anymore." Dubbioso. Nonetheless, Carmela has reclaimed her place in his world just in time, it seems, to join him as he swirls down the drain.

Ever since the show's first episode, when he had a panic attack beside his swimming pool, Tony has lived on shaky ground. This season, viewers got new information why.

He's been plagued by guilt since missing the heist that sent Tony B. away for 15 years. And, worse, his absence wasn't from a mugging hours earlier that put him in the hospital, as he always claimed, but, shamefully, because he had a panic attack after an argument with his mother — then collapsed and cut his head.

He is still pained by memories of high school sports, which inspires one of the season's most touching moments: He tries to reason with Alzheimer's-afflicted Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese), who keeps bringing up Tony's failures as a jock.

"Why does it gotta be something mean? Why can't you repeat something good?" Tony asks. "Don't you love me?"

And he discovers, to his shock, that his cherished childhood dog ended up in the home of his father's mistress and her kid, after his monstrous mother made his father get rid of it.

One measure of the greatness of "The Sopranos" is how Tony's increasingly stark image as a fiend is counterbalanced by these new revelations into what shaped the fiendishness.

From the beginning, Tony has wrestled with his tortured psyche in therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). But during a memorable episode this year, his psyche was laid bare in a 21-minute dream sequence that, among other startling sights, found Tony in his living room astride the racehorse that last season perished in a fire. From the sofa, Carmela laid down a condition for his moving back home: "You can't have your horse in here."

This season, as usual, "The Sopranos" has been rich with violence and blood, and, even more, with brooding tension. But, as always, it's been funny, too.

Poor Adriana (Drea de Matteo), tormented by her status as a snitch! She fretted herself into a case of irritable bowel syndrome. Sad — but funny.

Meanwhile, not-so-wise-guy Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) was good for an inadvertent howler, such as when he counseled Tony B. against doing business with Koreans: "Word to the wise: Remember Pearl Harbor!"

And maybe the funniest line of all came from serial screw-up Christopher (Michael Imperioli). Summoned by his Uncle Tony for a reaming, he came armed with excuses, but for the wrong offense: "This about the Easter baskets?"

"I don't even know what THAT is," Tony sighed. "And to tell you the truth, I don't want to know."

What is awaiting Tony this Sunday, and beyond, that he doesn't want to know? Viewers are itching to find out!
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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