It was hard for me to find a center in last night's episode, as it seemed more like a patchwork of possible plots setting us up for the 75-minute finale. But if forced to choose one, I agree that Judith has found a fertile target in her comments on Carmela. What surfaced has reared its ugly head before. Carmela's tiffs with Meadow have been comparably mean-spirited over the years, and we've seen periodic episodes of oedipal tension in which Meadow can readily charm her dad before her mother's jealous eyes. Nor is this the first time Carmela has invited trouble from other men. There was the flirtation with Father Phil in the first season and with her wallpaper-hanger during the third.
What made Carmela especially noteworthy last night however was that her actions—while consistent with her tragic character—seem more desperate and severe. For example, her rebuke of Meadow came in the context of her daughter's overtures of warmth, love, and bonding. It's what she's been waiting for all these years, but she becomes furious at her unwitting daughter for having what she cannot, the possibility of love with a legit guy. This portrayal of self-destruction is also exemplified in her flirting with Furio, one of her husband's workers. Unlike an earlier Carmela with her erstwhile suitors of yesteryear, she has ratcheted up the ante. As Judith notes, this time the game, if played out, would be for keeps. Tony or Furio must die, or one must flee, as Furio (thankfully) does. Carmela, like so many characters on the show, is doomed to do what her personality determines, only more so, and with ever endangering consequences as the vicissitudes of her aging reveal the ultimate dreaded limitation in life.
As to Judith's nomination of Paulie Walnuts for the "funniest psychopath," that's a tough call, with Silvio and certainly Uncle Jun hogging their share of show's best lines. Paulie exhibits a feature common to psychopaths, and that is their lack of very much superego (conscious) supplanted by their excessive ego (reality-oriented perspective) being organized for the pragmatic necessities of the moment. When offering to take his mother's friend to lunch with his mom did nothing to quell her accusing him of robbery, her murder became the next pragmatic step. The real tragic figure was the mother's friend who still saw Paulie in his boyhood shorts and thought that she could call his mommy to have him reprimanded. Talk about your basic lapse in judgment!
Two final impressions haunt me. Are we arriving at the end of our romance of The Sopranos? Have the writers achieved their goal, to show that there is nothing more here than hopelessly fixed tragic characters that readily will kill one another in a moment of necessity? Were we lured by our own hunger to believe that they could change for the better, only now to have to face this dismal truth? Finally, will Tony get dispatched in next week's episode and perhaps return in the fifth season in dreams and flashbacks of other characters? The series is winding down, but to what? It seems just the "same old shit" keeps floating back up to the surface, and that in itself is the truest statement Chase and his crew can ultimately leave us with.