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Shock to the system: Little electricity as The Sopranos pulls the plug

Last supper: Tony and Carmela wait at a diner for the kids in The Sopranos' last set piece. No one got hurt and Dad ordered yummy onion rings for the table. Too bad viewers weren't better-served.

In the end we deserved better.

Not a big bang of a shootout necessarily, but a more tangible sense of closure. Instead, The Sopranos left with its fly open.

Creator David Chase put his masterwork to bed Sunday night with a lax finale that plodded toward a prolonged and palpably tense diner scene. Would a gunman suddenly rise to whack Tony -- and maybe Carmela and A.J., too -- while Meadow endured a parallel parking crisis?

The camera cannily picked out several potential hit men as America's collective terror alert went off the charts. Tony, Carmela and A.J. bit into their first onion rings and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " played on a tabletop juke box. Geez, you could hardly swallow.

But then Chase abruptly cut the cord, with the lyrics recycling to "Don't Stop" while Tony looked up to see Meadow hurrying in. Click -- just like that -- to a last silent rolling of the closing credits as the raging debate began over whether this was one of TV's all-time letdowns.

The show's 86th and final episode, subtitled "Made In America," had underachieved from the start. The Sopranos isn't supposed to make you look at your watch, but the first half-hour lacked any urgency or electricity. Instead there were too many brief scenes of little impact. Even A.J.'s second close brush with death, this time unintentionally, seemed like a cheap attempt to literally light a fire under the proceedings.

Phil Leotardo later went down for good while he was with his wife and two of their little grandkids at a gas station. Chase needlessly rubbed it in. First a little-seen subordinate gunned down Tony's chief nemesis. Then Leotardo's SUV, still in drive, slowly ran over his skull while his wife watched in horror. They passed on the idea of having Phil next break wind and explode a gas tank.

A.J. also made a false run at joining the Army before Tony all too easily bought him off with a job as a gofer on a film written for Cleaver star Daniel Baldwin. Meadow proceeded with plans to be an idealistic defense attorney, with Tony's eyes lighting up at the prospect of her earning $170 grand a year.

It seemed for a while that Paulie Walnuts might either be a snitch or Tony's eventual assassin. But we learned, barely in passing, that one of Tony's lesser vets, Carlo Gervasi, would be singing to the feds. Odds were 80 to 90 percent that Tony at some point would be indicted, his attorney told him.

Tony also had a brief button-up scene with his sister, Janice, before visiting comatose lieutenant Silvio Dante in the hospital. So much busywork, so little momentum. The night's best scene had Tony visiting his late father's now thoroughly demented brother, Uncle Junior. He wanted the old man to keep his money out of Janice's hands, but that was like telling a monkey to keep the change.

"You two ran North Jersey," Tony told him.

"We did?"


"That's nice."

The finale's climactic diner scene apparently was meant to reinforce The Sopranos' series-long fealty to family. Instead it seemed forced, with Chase more intent on running a series of almost diabolical misdirection plays.

Yes, we get it that Tony could get it at any minute. But this seemed cheap and manipulative. Who was that guy sitting by himself in a nearby booth? And what about another customer who went by himself to the restroom -- a la the Godfather -- while Meadow continued to battle a tight parking space?

MIght she get to the diner just in time to witness the horror of her family spattered in blood? But no, this all seemed to be Chase's way of playing one last big game of "Gotcha" before slamming the door shut.

The Sopranos remains a singularly great series. But Sunday's finale only served to set up a sequel. Life goes on for Tony, Carmela, Meadow and A.J. Life isn't fair, though, for devotees who wanted and merited a rousing sendoff. Hate to say it, but this was nothing of the sort.