The season ends with a whimper, not a whack
''According to psychiatrists, during its first three years 'The Sopranos' has influenced more Americans to enter therapy,'' Jimmy Fallon reported on this weekend's ''Saturday Night Live.'' ''While this year, the show has influenced more Americans to become boring.''
The joke earned a groan from the studio audience, but it was hard to tell if that was because it wasn't funny or because the truth hurts.
''Whitecaps,'' the 75-minute fourth-season finale, was a lot of things, but at least it wasn't completely boring. In fact, it served as a microcosm for the entire season: occasionally brilliant, frequently tangential, and frustratingly anticlimactic.
But let's start with what was good -- no, make that great -- about the episode. I can sum it up in two words: Edie Falco. I thought she couldn't top last week's performance, but she reached a new summit as Carmela finally called Tony on all of his crap and kicked him out of the house. The breakup point came after a call from Tony's ex-mistress, Irina, informing Carmela that her husband had slept with Irina's one-legged cousin, Svetlana.
Falco summoned profound rage and sorrow, but most miraculously, when Carmela told Tony she'd been fantasizing about Furio, it came out not as a vindictive attempt to arouse jealousy, but as a final, futile plea for communication.
As heart-wreckingly powerful as Falco's work was, the script's overemphasis on Carmela and Tony's crumbling relationship made it seem more like Ingmar Bergman's ''Scenes From a Marriage'' than David Chase's ''The Sopranos.'' One of director John Patterson's key shots, in which the couple looks out the windows of the beach house they want to buy, seemed lifted out of Woody Allen's ''Interiors,'' itself a Bergman homage, making the episode feel doubly derivative.
That down-the-shore house, Whitecaps, provided more than just the teleplay's title. It also gave recidivist ''Law & Order'' guest star Bruce Altman the chance to play another obnoxious attorney, the seller who refused to refund Tony's $200,000 deposit after his marital unrest rendered pricey real-estate purchases untimely. No question Altman does this kind of role well, but did he really merit the season's final scene (when Tony's goons tried to break his will by blasting Dean Martin from a boat behind his house)? Couldn't his screen time have been better given to Tony Sirico's Paulie Walnuts? Paulie's flirtation with the New York Mafia, which once seemed so central to the season, became almost a tossed-off afterthought in the finale.
The cross-Hudson tensions weren't wholly ignored -- they just amounted to nearly zilch. New York boss Carmine finally caved on the Esplanade deal, so Tony called off the hit that Johnny Sack had authorized against his own godfather. Christopher did have the two guys he'd hired to do the job whacked, but we barely got to meet those characters, so their murders packed little emotional wallop.
That wasn't the only dead-end subplot. Chris' stint in rehab was squandered by the writers, who should've allowed us to see him working on at least one of the 11 steps he said he completed before his release. Fiancée Adriana's snitching to the feds has so far yielded nothing more than a few innocuous parking-lot meetings. Janice and Bobby's affair apparently came to fruition off screen, as they were shown nuzzling and crooning ''I Got You, Babe'' to each other. The reason for this Sonny & Cher-abration? Uncle Junior's ridiculously protracted RICO case resulted in a mistrial. Which, in a sad way, seems the perfect end for such a stalemate of a season.
What did you think of the ''Sopranos'' finale?