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Season ends strongly for 'Sopranos'

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.
Sunday night, "The Sopranos" finished its fifth season with an hour that was as artful as it was eventful. There was a bloody parking-lot beating, a shotgun murder, and an early-morning FBI invasion that came out of the blue. But there were also thick layers of moral irony, psychological insight, and symbolic imagery, the literary strokes that have always distinguished the HBO series.

It was as rich an hour as fans could expect, coming directly after the stunning episode in which Adriana was killed. Series creator (and Sunday night's co-writer) David Chase cleverly brought the season full circle, as Tony Soprano ambled home through his backyard in the final bittersweet moments. He was a dead ringer for the bear we saw ambling through the same yard in the season's first episodes, harassing Carmela's well-being. But his rage was gone Sunday night, in a torrent of relief and "Glad Tidings," the Van Morrison song that played as the show glided into the credits.

After all, Tony had narrowly avoided alienating his entire crew, who were bitter about his protection of his cousin Tony Blundetto, and he'd escaped on foot from an FBI attack on Johnny Sack's home that will probably end the growing battle with New York. Also, he and Carmela had avoided divorce and reunited, and they'd just learned that A.J. just might not be a total zero, since he'd expressed an interest in event planning. Tony can relax, at least until the show returns for its final 10 episodes sometime in late 2005 or early 2006.

Chase beautifully wrapped up the season-long arc that found Tony favoring Tony B. despite Tony B.'s serious resentment and rage issues. In the course of the hour, we saw Tony go through a series of revelations about how to deal with the explosive Tony B. situation and satisfy the blood lust of Johnny Sack and Phil Leotardo. After a therapeutic conversation with Silvio, who told him, "Frankly, you got a problem with authority," and a small epiphany looking at the painting in which Paulie had turned Tony into a general, he came to his senses. His debt, he realized, was to his loyal soldiers, and not to some romanticized image of family. He proceeded to take out Tony B. quickly, to protect his crew from revenge, and to save his cousin from excruciating torture by the New York people.

It was a great sequence of "Soprano" moments, watching a man understand that his moral obligation was to blow away his cousin as fast as lightning. He became his heroic self, after listening to Dr. Melfi urge him, "Own your feelings." He fully inhabited his role as boss, which was ever more important as Uncle Junior becomes increasingly "squirrely," as Tony put it.

The most emotional scene came toward the end of the hour, when Tony and Christopher meet in an airport motel. They begin to put down Adriana, who betrayed them to the feds, but their self-justifying talk culminates in a teary hug. Ultimately, they know what we know: She was really just an innocent kid.

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