My biggest complaint, I think, is the show’s inability to remain disciplined within its serial format. There have been too many conceits of authorship over the years that have rung hollow in the hyper-realistic milieu that creator David Chase has mandated.
The problem, I think, is a lack of consistent planning in recent years. In its early seasons, Chase seemed to lay the groundwork for plots with great meticulousness, constructing a world that seemed intricately detailed and scrupulously considered. Every detail mattered. There’s perhaps no better example of this than the offhand, seemingly inconsequential mention of an old desk lamp stashed in Tony Soprano’s basement in the first season that becomes a key focal point of a major F.B.I. operation in the third season. That level of care and attention to detail was practically unprecedented in series television until “The Sopranos” debuted, and it’s perhaps what drew me into Chase’s world so fully.
Lately, that mindfulness has seemed missing. Even when David Chase and his writers knew that the show would end after six seasons, it still felt very much as if the scripts didn’t. In recent years, characters have conveniently shown up in the first show of a season, and then again conveniently gone away in the season’s last show. New characters are introduced when required by the plot, and presented as if they’ve always been around. And then there’s the suspicious ability of the main characters to avoid truly life-altering consequences of their otherwise dangerous actions. In a dramatic that’s predicated on a highly articulate sense of realism — and in a television show that has benefitted so much from its reputation for that realism — these have seemed like too-frequent occurrences of artistic cheating.
The Never-ending Stories
In fact, this is the problem with series television in general: without a clear understanding of where it will end, it’s very difficult to maintain quality along the way. It’s probably the reason a show like “Lost” (which I’ve never watched) has run into so many problems, and why when it was announced earlier this year that “Lost” would end in 2010, there was a public sigh of relief that some finality would begin informing the show.
It’s also why shows that have had short runs, like the original, BBC version of “The Office” and HBO’s own, soon-to-end “Deadwood,” have been so thoroughly rewarding. Those series never had the opportunity to drift aimlessly when faced with the gaping maw of their unknowable expiration dates.
When a show has its own finale in sight, its writers tend to make every plot line and point count, and that feels as if it’s been the case with “The Sopranos” over the past two or three episodes. Last night’s entry, in which some key deaths occurred and the rug seems fully pulled out from beneath Tony in a way that might finally have some realistic consequences, was gripping and sad in a way that hasn’t been true for a long time. It became pretty clear to me that, if David Chase ultimately wants to do right by this beautiful creation of his, then next Sunday, when the last episode airs, he’ll kill off the character of Tony Soprano.