The Beloved Spouse and I recently finished a trip through all 86 episodes of The Sopranos. This is our third trip through most of them, the first since the series went off the air, and it's interesting to see how our perceptions have changed.
First, I remembered Seasons Five and Part One of Season Six as not being as good as the rest. I didn't see that at all this time. The stories were consistently tight, and the pacing was solid throughout each season. Yes, Tony's coma dreams after Uncle Junior shot him went on a bit long, but my memory of things dragging when Vito's homosexuality drove him out of Jersey didn't hold up. True, that wasn't their best sub-plot, but it wasn't dead weight, either.
The greatest accomplishment of David Chase and his writers has to be making us care for seven years about people who are, frankly, bad people. Not evil; that implies two dimensions. Everyone in the show had their virtues, but they didn't make up for being duplicitous, whining, conniving bastards the rest of the time. James Gandolfini is brilliant week in and week out, but Tony is, as he describes himself more than once, a malevolent prick. Yes, he loves his kids and animals, and does occasionally go out of his way to be nice. Not to get all Biblical, but were he to be weighed in the balance, he'd be found wanting.
Carmela is worse than a whore in her way. At least with a whore you know it's a cash transaction. AJ sets new standards for being a whiny little pussy. Meadow had her snotty bitch period as a teen, but in the end is probably the most likable character. She grows and matures while everyone else revels in their dysfunction. Of the hoods, Bobby Baccalieri is the most sympathetic. He's a violent criminal, too, but his loyalty--to his dead wife, his children, to Janice, and to Tony--is touching.
I've had almost four years to think about the famous last episode and its ending. Time to place it in context, use what I've learned about story in the interim to better appreciate it, so i was looking forward to it again. It's still a chickenshit cop-out. Chase didn't know what to do, so he did nothing. Granted, after seven years of being relentlessly non-judgmental about his characters, he didn't want to turn the ending into a morality play. Fine. He owed his audience better. Even Deadwood had a more satisfying ending, and David Milch didn't know that show was going to end when it did. (Though it was Milch's fault it did end, the selfish bastard.)
Now Tony and Paulie and Sil go back on the shelf until we've worked our way through Lonesome Dove, Generation Kill, Deadwood, and The Wire again. (Plus whatever else strikes our fancy in the interim. Justified? Terriers, even though it was canceled?) We'll be back to visit with The Sopranos in a couple of years. I'm sure we'll see different things again when we do. It's that good a show.