Phil is onto something here: There seems to be nowhere for The Sopranos to go but down, and as they spiral into their endgame, the show can only get grimmer and harder to watch. The Ralphie-whacking episode seems exemplary in that regard: As filmmaking, it was brilliantly executed; it got across with a terrible clarity what it feels like to have crossed moral categories, to have gone from innocent to guilty, without meaning to (that may sound odd, given how many people Tony has killed, but even he knows that killing Ralphie is of another order of magnitude, whereas all his other murders were just "business"); and it seemed to put Tony beyond redemption. I don't know what the writers can do with him from here on out except maneuver all the other characters into a position to kill him off. It's depressing to watch that; it's got a dead-man-walking feel to it; and I don't know if I can follow the Sopranos into the fifth season, though given that there's almost nothing else out there that's as good, I probably will. I love Phil's idea of Tony continuing on as a strictly psychic presence, although I don't know if there's anyone else who could carry the weight of the show as he does.
That's why it was such a delight to see Carmela come into her own as a fully flawed human being. Sure she's had crushes before, but she always maintained some semblance of self-control whenever the love object wasn't around. This time she's truly lost it. I agree that she demonstrates a surprising lack of self-awareness and seems shockingly willing to destroy her relationship with a daughter who has finally turned into everything she, Carmela, wanted her to be, but I have more hope for Carmela than I do for Tony or anyone else on the show, for that matter. Maybe the thwarting of her deepest romantic desires will finally force her to confront how unhappy she is. Of all the characters on the show, she seems like the one with the greatest capacity for moral development, and if there are going to be any real surprises—if anyone besides Meadow is going to manage to save him- or herself—I'd put my money on Carmela.