BY TOM GLIATTO
The first few hours of the final nine-week Sopranos season move slowly but with great, grim promise. No portentous hints that this is the windup of one of the most influential series of the decade. And none of the near-death fantasies that gunked up last season. It's just the Sopranos going about their business. Tony (James Gandolfini) tests brother-in-law Bobby Bacala (Steve Schirripa), sending him out on a hit job. Christopher (Michael Imperioli) finally screens his horror-Mafia movie for friends and family—the audience of mobsters makes for a fine, absurd gag—but one central character has an uncomfortable resemblance to a certain bowl-bellied thug.
If the acting and writing are dependably superb, the show still feels ready to go, whether or not Tony ultimately gets whacked. The Sopranos is a giant squid of an epic, with a theme or plot grasped in each tentacle. But since the death of Christopher's tragically muddled lover Adriana (Drea de Matteo, in one of the series' best performances), for me there's a sense of anticlimax. Her murder in the woods was somehow too awful for the show to recover from or fully digest. A dramatic agita, maybe. We'll see.