NEW YORK (AP) — Tony Soprano carries on.
The much-awaited conclusion of HBO's "The Sopranos" arrived last night in a frenzy of audience speculation over the fate of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano: Would he live or be killed? Would his family die before his eyes at the hands of his enemies? Would he go to jail? And what of his vindictive rival, Phil Leotardo? Would the Brooklyn boss, who had ordered a hit on Tony, prevail?
In the end, the only ending that mattered was the one masterminded by "Sopranos" creator David Chase. Playing against viewer expectation, as always, Mr. Chase refused to stage a mass extermination or put the characters through any major transformation — or even give viewers closure.
The most decisive development: Leotardo (played Frank Vincent) was crushed in a quick but classic "Sopranos" scene: Pulling up at a gas station with his wife, Leotardo made a grand show of telling his two young grandchildren in the back seat to "wave bye-bye" as he emerged from his sport utility vehicle. The next moment, he was on the pavement, shot dead. But there were few other tidy resolutions. This much-anticipated farewell, the series' 86th episode, was brilliant but perversely non-earthshaking — just one last visit with the characters whom millions have followed since 1999. Here was Bobby Bacala's funeral (the Soprano soldier was shot dead on Leotardo's orders last week). Here was Tony (series star James Gandolfini) paying a hospital visit to his gravely injured consigliere, Silvio Dante. (Leotardo put bullets in him, too.)
Tony's ne'er-do-well son A.J.(Robert Iler) continued to wail about the misery in the world and voiced a fleeting urge to join the Army. Daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) harped on her plans to be a lawyer. Tony visits his senile Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) at the nursing home.
"You and my dad, you two ran North Jersey," Tony prompts him. "We did?" says Uncle Junior with no sign of recognition. "That's nice."
The finale displayed their lives continuing unaffected by the series being done.
Not that Mr. Chase didn't tease the viewer with the threat of death in almost every scene. This was never more true than in the final sequence. On the surface, it was nothing more momentous than Tony; his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco); Meadow and A.J. meeting for dinner at a cozy family restaurant.
Tony drops a coin in the jukebox to play the classic Journey power ballad "Don't Stop Believing." Every moment seemed to foreshadow a disaster: Suspicious-looking people coming in the door or sitting at a nearby table. Meadow on the street having trouble parallel-parking her car. With every second, the audience was primed for tragedy. It was a scene both warm and fuzzy, but set every viewer's heart racing, for no clear reason.
But nothing would happen, just a family gathering for dinner at a restaurant. Four people among many.