There was an air of sadness as the paisanos in The Sopranos Waste Removal & Literary Society of Northern Jersey ate their last portion of Mama Carol's lasagna and eggplant parmigana for desert, at the conclusion of our annual advance screening of the new Sopranos at my house last week.
The gang was not in mourning for the one character who got whacked in the opening two episodes of the Sixth Season. We didn't even know who he was. It wasn't as if he was one of the cast members who have fan clubs. I myself am a Stevie Van Zandt groupie. For a bad actor like him to get six seasons out of a role and make more money than most of the greatest unemployed actors in the nation is an awesome achievement. Nobody could duplicate his performance as Silvio Dante, no matter how many acting schools he attended. If Silvio ever gets whacked that would make me feel bad.
No, the made-men in our cultural group were sad because this was said to be the last season. "It's over," said Greasy Finger Glenn, shoveling a fourth helping of Mama Robin's linguini broccoli rabe in Tupperware for the road.
The episodes left them up. The Sixth Season, the group consensus found, was off to a better start than the Fifth Season, which was DOA for the first four episodes, with Tony being shot and in a dream state. Tone for that first month looked like he was thinking he never should have that last veal scaloppini from the refrigerator before he went to bed.
Between mouthfuls, the mob was talking about the day of national mourning, the June 19th final episode, and #85, of the final Sixth Season. It would be a distraction, all agreed, welcomed by Pres. Bush. Take everybody's minds off Iraq and the Injustice Dept. It should be bigger even than the M*A*S*H finale.
But nothing could dispel the gloom in the screening room, as I call my TV den.
What makes you think it's over, I asked as the resident TV critic emeritus in the house?
Forks stopped in mid air, freeze framed. You could hear a soufflé drop.
"It's the last season," said Nat the thrush. "He said so."
How quickly they forget, I said, rallying the bloated troops.
What makes you think its suddenly going to end now?
Is there something magical about the number six? Does the Kabbalah say anything portentous about 85, as in the number of total episodes?
Gunsmoke ran for 20 seasons, 635 episodes, I continued my theorizing. Do you mean to tell me Gunsmoke is better than The Sopranos?
It's not as if the story has a logical ending in terms of reality. The Italian-American cultural sub-group, commonly known as the Mafia, has been a drama running since the 1920s in the U.S., and since the 1850's in Sicily. It's declared dead by Italian and American authorities, but never is.
It will end when the Mafia ends, or when people's interest in the doings of these disgusting slime ball immoral killers ends. Or when David Chase and HBO have made enough money from mining the same platinum vein, whichever comes first.
It's going to last forever, I reassured my crew. And I don't just mean in reruns or the bastardized version on A&E. Can you believe the balls they have editing the profanity out of this classic? Being a purist, I don't watch that shit on A&E but there must be a lot of dead air in some of those expurgated episodes. And cutting the pole dancers is sacrilegious. I pity those Freddy Scissorfingers at A&E having to watch the shows just to cut out the sex and violence. The whole censorship department is going to wind up homicidal sex maniacs.
Let's face it. In terms of story, the show really ended the third season. David Chase said he was rich enough by then. He was thinking of changing his name again to David J.P. Morgan Chase. But he was continuing with a fourth season because of his concern for the welfare of his staff. He wanted to make sure all the members of his creative team had enough take-home pay with the syndication fees. These guys have a lot of swimming pools to pay for.
The Sopranos hasn't been ars gratia artis since Season 3. It's now ars lucri artis.
Chase and HBO are also following the basic TV programming Law:
Quit while your behind. They always make as many episodes as it takes until the folks can't remember why it was so great to start with. If at first you don't fail, try, try again.
Without checking what the smart money says about it in Vegas, nevertheless, I will bet my last lira that we haven't seen the end of my favorite adult soap opera.
I know I said the same thing at the end of season 3, 4 and 5.
By June 10, HBO and Chase will be announcing they have a few more loose ends they want to tie up next year. What about that Russian in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, for example.
It ain't over the until the fat duck quacks.
"I don't know if anyone ever told you this, Marvin," said Christopher Longfellow, "but being a TV critic has made you cynical."