Exceptional beginning to the end

 

The Sopranos

Sundays, 9 p.m. on HBO

The Sopranos can’t end well — and I mean that in every sense except quality.

As the series begins its final nine episodes, the authorities are crawling up Tony Soprano’s butt. The New York mob remains unhappy with their Jersey boys and Tony’s family members are showing their disrespect. The man himself isn’t as spry as he used to be, particularly after taking a bullet last season.

Sorry to be so cryptic, but you should have a chance to savor and be surprised by every moment.

HBO sent the first two episodes, and both are exceptional. The first is almost a play captured on film — a good half of it centers around four characters celebrating Tony’s 47th birthday in the mountains. Next week, we see the results of Christopher’s (Michael Imperioli) moviemaking and, in an unrelated storyline, we experience some of the best makeup work you’ll ever see on a TV show.

Since this is where the series ends, the writers are having even greater fun than usual with wordplay. “Is this it?” Carmela (Edie Falco) asks when she hears banging at the door. “That’s the last time I’m going down for the paper!” Tony explodes after unannounced guests show up. (Fans know that several seasons started with Tony waddling down the driveway to retrieve his newspaper.)

Despite year-plus breaks between seasons, The Sopranos has been by far the best drama on television since its 1999 debut — as nuanced as it was violent and as much about interpersonal family dynamics as it was about organized crime. It’s never wrapped up stories neatly, and there’s no reason to expect that to happen now.

Past seasons have dealt with the miseries of others. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling it’s the Soprano family’s turn. Can’t wait to find out.

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