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A few more thoughts on fantastic finishes . . . and why The Sopranos wasn't one

It's Rags to Riches by a nose at the pulsating Belmont. AP photo

Great endings usually aren't debatable. We pretty much know them when we see them, whether it's TV, the movies, sporting events, concerts, novels or a superb cup of coffee at the end of a sumptuous meal.

Sunday night's finale of The Sopranos, detailed and dissed earlier on this page, came just a day after a truly fantastic finish involving two horses who weren't Pie-O-My. Rags to Riches' winning stretch duel with the favored Curlin made her the first filly to win the belmont Stakes in 102 years. She refused to let him have his way. And just when it seemed he would, she surged to win by a near photo finish.

Those are the kinds of denouements that leave you searching for superlatives. "Rosebud" at the end of Citizen Kane. The "group hug" to close out The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Boise State coming back from the dead to beat vaunted Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The magical, mystical burial of Six Feet Under.

It's kind of like the argument about who belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame. If you have to argue the point, then that player doesn't really belong.

The Sopranos' place is assured as an all-time great television series. In this view it's still the best ever. But the abrupt "We report, you decide" ending left a ring around its tub.

Creator David Chase wasn't expected to deliver a bloodbath. Those who think that's all we wanted have got it all wrong. But the episode came and went without any true high drama. Tony and Carmela have had some of the show's great, crackling moments together. But in the end they docilely ate onion rings in a nondescript diner. Then Chase abruptly snapped the umbilical cord, making many at first think their TVs had gone flat-line on them.

Alas, the problem wasn't with our sets. It was with an artiste who basically chickened out. Unlike Rags to Riches, Chase coughed up the bit. Isn't anybody out there getting tired of having to fill in the blanks? That's Chase's job, isn't it? He's the one who created this world. And he could have kept it spinning while at the same time giving us a jumping off point that felt cinematic and majestic. The Sopranos wasn't Dynasty, for crap sakes. It long had earned both the right and the privilege to go out with a figurative bang. Instead the match blew out before the charcoal got lit.

Imagine ending the Rags to Riches/Curlin stretch duel about five seconds before its finish. Gee, it's a shame to see either horse lose. They've put so much heart and effort into this thing. So why don't you just imagine how it ended? That way everybody can be their own storyteller.

Sorry, but it shouldn't have worked that way with The Sopranos. We can still sing its praises, just maybe not in a cathedral anymore.