Sorry I didn't answer Jeff's Big House query in my first effort, but I had hoped to come up with a better reply than this. My wife says she might be able to do five minutes for me; my daughter is sure she'd be able to hack the full five minutes, maybe even a few minutes more.
To move away from our country's sad and sorry year in Iraq and get back to The Sopranos: While the New York FBI finally accomplished something in the season's finale—making a racketeering case against Johnny Sack and the entire New York family—the writers wrote in a bad FBI boo-boo in the brief car scene meeting between informant Raymond and his New Jersey FBI handler that could spell big trouble for Chris next season. The agent committed a major no-no—letting information go out rather than come in—when he asked if Adrianna got whacked. Only three people know about that: Tony, Silvio, and Chris. Tony knows he's not an informer, and it's unlikely he would suspect Silvio talked about a murder he committed himself. But if he gets wind that the FBI thought Adrianna was dead a few days later (and who knows how Raymond might let that slip, even without giving up that he's an informant), Tony just might begin to wonder about his drug-dependent nephew Chris.
One of Tony's best lines came in his reply to Carmela when she told him that Adriana has "left" Christopher. Tony replied: "He keeps it all bottled up. Then they wonder why they get chemical dependency." I also chuckled at Silvio's "Claude Rains" when he saw Christopher in a floppy hat and sunglasses—it looked more like a Woody Allen disguise to me. The humor—often very macabre, but always clever—is one of the show's greatest assets.
As Dana mentioned, at least the creators and writers addressed one of Jeff's ongoing concerns last night: who and what the bear symbolizes. Tony comes crashing though the backyard underbrush with about the same girth as the bear and this time Carmela lets the bear in the house, setting up the final season (when perhaps it will be his wife that does Tony in, one way or another). All along I thought the bear represented the atavistic threat (by way of Tony's id and the Mafia) to Carmela's fantasy of normalcy (the kind of normalcy that includes Tiffany's and Mercedes, of course).
The debate before the final episode was whether Tony B. or Johnny Sack would get it. Turns out both did, sort of, and this is the morsel that passed for suspense in this tepid finale. Last week's truly suspenseful plot in which the best bod in the mob got clipped made last night's somewhat clumsy effort to wrap things up feel a bit flaccid. Turns out Johnny Sack, someone whose toughness we could be proud of, is, when it comes down to it, just a venal wimp. (Could you believe that he complained to Tony that he would have to explain things to his underling, Philly Leotardo?) To top it all off, Tony had to be inspired on a visit to Paulie Walnuts' house by a painting (clown with horse on velvet) to do what everybody in America knew he had to do. By the way, what IS the story with Paulie Walnuts? He's looking and acting more and more like a tedious old lady: the ironing, the complaining, and (in an earlier episode) a fiasco with Tupperware; there's also the puffy hair that some women of another generation tended to wear.
Tony's moral dilemma over feeling guilty for his cousin's time in the slammer always seemed just a bit much to me. They never showed great affection for each other, and if Tony can murder Adriana without missing a beat, then the family cancer that Tony B. was should have been easy for him to excise. It isn't like Tony B. was a boon to the gang or to this year's plot turns. He had two moods, sullen or violent beyond obvious motivation. Besides, and I think you may have brought this up before Jeff, his death was not unexpected: Buscemi's characters always end up in the wood chipper (remember Fargo?).
Next season, whenever it occurs, will likely prove interesting. Not only will the writers have to demonstrate that The Sopranos—the gangsters and the show—aren't running on empty, but there are still some compelling complications that need to be unraveled. When and in what form will Christopher's self destruction manifest itself? When will Dr. Melfi realize that, for the most part, she has been little but expository contrivance for the past two years?
Something is brewing with A.J. and his newfound interest in event planning or club management. Seems like a great set up for Tony to bring A.J. into the family business. Maybe Tony will let him manage Adriana's club or back a similar venture, especially if he doesn't get into college. Nothing on Meadow and Finn, but that could also be great fun next season, especially when Vito plans Finn's bachelor party.
And how will the true evil genius in this story—Carmela—make her exit? Carmela ends the season looking ravishing in bed with her architect's plans. With that blond bouncy hair, her newly revived interest in Tony's well-being, and reading interior design magazines for her real estate investment, she seems almost like a Mafia version of a Stepford wife. (True, taking your husband for $600,000 is not very Stepford.) Once Carmela is financially secure, will she realize she's sleeping with the bear and either kill him or rat him out?
Finally, thanks to Jeff; Dana; Jerry Shargel; George Anastasia, who filled in for me in mid-season; Amanda Fortini; and the entire Slatestaff, for making my viewing of America's favorite gangsters on one of America's best TV shows—one that is really about much more than just gangsters—an extra-special treat this year.
In the end, the fact that we're all here analyzing every detail and nuance of a television show speaks volumes about how good The Sopranos really is, and why, come hell or high water, we'll all be back watching, whenever it returns.