Heading into its 86th and final episode tonight at 9 on HBO, The Sopranos will leave a lasting legacy of intricate characters, trenchant social commentary, laughter and pain.
Here are 10 important plot points that distinguished the show, helped present or develop topics, or illuminated some of the outstanding personalities in the series' fascinating population.
Underscoring the violence that was a Sopranos cornerstone, murders and their planning and ramifications make up the majority of items on the list. You got a problem with that?
1) While his darling daughter, Meadow, one of the most reasonable and well-adjusted people in the series, chats with admissions folks at Bates or Bowdoin or some other snazzy college on a tour with Dad to the wilds of Maine, Tony garrotes Febby Petrulio. The rat thought the Witness Protection (in Maine!) could save him.
The show's fifth episode demonstrated the duality of Tony's life, the way the demands of one family could impinge on the other, and the fact that he was inevitably trapped by both.
2) Tony's mother, Livia, and his Uncle Junior plot to have him put away. Creator David Chase has said he wanted to develop the theme of the toxic mother in response to conditions in his own life. Sadly, Nancy Marchand, who played Livia, died of emphysema and lung cancer in June 2000, just after the show's second season ended.
Throughout the series, Uncle Junior wavered in his judgment of Tony as a threat - and in his judgment overall, for that matter, as he slipped into dementia. But he got a hit together toward the end of Season Two. It did not go as planned. Tony grabbed the arm of one of the shooters, aiming the gun at his partner, who was killed.
3) Tony sleeps, and he speaks, with the fishes. In a trademark Sopranos dream sequence, this one instigated by some bad chicken vindaloo (Tony and Carmela would later go off on a sushi kick, but it was glorious Italian food that nourished the series), Tony has piscatorial palaver with Big Pussy Bonpensiero, whose voice emanates from a large carp on ice at the seafood shack. "You passed me over for promotion," the carp carps.
Subsequently, Big Pussy, once a trusted lieutenant and the big brother Tony never had, is iced, and at the end of the second season's last episode, he sleeps with the fishes. He was talking to the feds. A pattern is developing.
4) Ahh, but Tony does have a big sister, Janice, who steals his Russian girlfriend's cousin's artificial leg, holding it until Svetlana gives over Mom's coveted record collection. Nothing if not consistent, Livia, whose death closely followed Marchand's, had bequeathed it to the Russian, who cared for her as she declined after a stroke, primarily to rile her daughter.
Amusing absurdities abounded in The Sopranos, and this contretemps from early in the third season was one of the best of them, even if we already knew Janice was reprehensible and in full possession of the Soprano vile violent gene after shooting her boyfriend Richie Aprile in the second season.
5) Furio loves Carmela. Mr. Natty from Naples, imported old-school muscle, has the hots for Tony's wife, and she's feeling some reciprocal energy. Rationality rules, and, at the end of Season Four, Furio disappears.
Carmela's a climber, addicted in her heart to being The Boss' wife, though her soul longs for finer things. Father Phil and Vic the plumber (a real plumber, not some cool mob name) also caught her eye, and Principal Bob Wegler actually got her into bed. She's loving it, but he breaks it off, believing she's just using him to get help for her good-for-nothing son, A.J. Smart move, Bob, for the wrong reasons.
6) Paulie suffocates his mother's old-lady friend Minn Matrone when she catches him robbing her home. The deliciously insane Mr. Walnuts has already tried to peddle his complaints to Johnny Sack, and when he's rebuffed from a meeting with another Soprano rival, he figures he better make nice with the boss.
Minn's supposed to have an easy-pickings cash stash, so Paulie goes to rip it off and give a big cut to Tony. "You always were a little bastard," Minn gasps before expiring near the end of Season Four. Will Paulie's paranoia be Tony's downfall tonight?
7) Really stiffed. A disgruntled waiter complains to feuding (again) Paulie and Christopher about the $16 tip Christopher left on an $1,184 dinner check. Christopher hits him with a brick, Paulie shoots him dead, and the cathartic teamwork heals their wounds, temporarily. "One of us could of got hurt," Paulie muses.
The continuing jealousies and adventures of these two murderous children made up one of the show's key subplots. Everybody remembers their flash-frozen escapade in the snowy Pine Barrens (wherever did that indestructible Russian go?), but this incident from the fifth-season opener seems even more instructive.
8) In the same episode, a bear wanders into Tony's pool area, and Carmela and the hapless, helpless A.J. freak out. The wife has banished Tony - in one of the great domestic battle scenes of all time - for one too many indiscretions, but she can't get along without him.
Animals play a significant part throughout the show - the unfettered ducks that sent Tony into a panic over his responsibilities; Adriana's little Maltese, crushed dead inadvertently by a stoned Chris; the scorched horse Pie-O-My that led so artistically to the end of Ralphie's life. The bear, cleverly, disappears after Tony dispatches machine-gun-toting henchmen to protect the family leeches.
9) Silvio, who can be as brutal as any of them, pops Adriana as she tries to crawl away into the woods. A lot of people loved Ade, but this hit at the end of Season Five was a final reminder: There's no immunity for the ultimate crime of talking to the feds.
10) Dr. Melfi banishes Tony. After a chuckle-filled dinner in last week's episode that exposed her psychotherapist cohorts as unethical, unprofessional preening gossips, Melfi succumbs to peer pressure. By the rules of her world, her instant dispatch of Tony is more brutal and unjustified (even if the research she read were credible) than most things the mobsters had done.
The message is clear: In the greedy, lonely world of 2007 America, there is truly no one to turn to.
Jonathan Storm |Television
At 9 tonight on HBO
To comment on this article, go to: http://go.philly.com/askstorm. Contact television critic Jonathan Storm privately at 215-854-5618 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ jonathanstorm.