Guns on the Wall

I agree with John Podhoretz's complaint about this week's Sopranos (beware of spoilers if you click through), but I don't think the implausibility he points out significantly marred what he rightly calls a great episode. I do, however, want to associate myself with Alan Sepinwall's comments this week, which get at something that worries me as well:

... I really do hope something is coming of all this. Since this final season began, I've been warning everyone that Chase and company may not be going for an earth-shattering conclusion, but more of a life-goes-on finish. But the writers have spent so much time over the last five episodes hinting that some apocalypse is coming - whether it's Phil making war with New Jersey, Tony taking out Chris or vice versa, the FBI completing their RICO case, Muhammed and Ahmed up to no good - that if none of that comes to pass, every bit of anger from the fans is going to be justified.

There comes a point when the storytelling stops being daring and unconventional and starts being sloppy and cruel.

Obviously, part of the genius of The Sopranos lies in how it confounds expectations (though if I read one more piece that references the missing Russian from the "Pine Barrens" episode as an example of this tendency, I swear ...). Over the years, Chase and company have taken Chekhov's dictum about the gun on the wall in the first act that needs to be fired by the third and said, well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't, and it's more dramatic if the audience doesn't know which it is. But as Sepinwall suggests, if the final season of your show has about a dozen guns on the wall, all of them obviously cocked and loaded, you more or less have to pull the trigger. If you don't, you'll have sacrificed the very sense of realism that The Sopranos has labored so hard to build - and as Jonah says, you'll leave the audience with the suspicion that you never had any idea what you were doing to begin with.