One of the most talked about shows in recent memory, The Sopranos ends its run with final set of nine hour-long episodes. A show that never jumped the shark, this taught and riveting program was solid all through its run, and these last installments do a great job of wrapping up some dangling story lines and subplots. The Blu-ray presentation is wonderful, with strong audio and visual presentations, and while the bonus items aren't as extensive as one would like this is still an excellent set.
The Sopranos is the story a Tony Soprano, a man, like many of us, who has trouble balancing his home and professional life. The difference is that he's in the mob, the head of his own family in New Jersey, and his work involves illegal gambling, prostitution, and other activities that have him targeted by the feds. Things at home aren't much better with the demands that his wife makes on him and problems with his teenage son and college aged daughter. As the tag line for the first season goes, if one family doesn't kill him, the other one will.
Realizing that viewers would know that this was the last set of shows,
Chase built a lot of suspense into this final season. The question
that everyone was asking themselves is who would live and who would die.
The previous seasons reveled in killing off major characters, and never
the ones that you thought were going to get it, so how would this season
leave the Soprano clan?
There are a lot of moments like that in this season. Points in the story where you really don't know which way things are going to go, where anything could happen. Another tense moment comes when Tony and Paulie have to lay low for a while and head down to Florida until an investigation blows over. While traveling south, Paulie starts shooting his mouth off to some people in a hotel, and that gets Tony thinking; what other information has Paulie passed along? Could he have been the one that poisoned the New York mob against his cousin? While out on the ocean deep sea fishing, Tony questions his captain, and his answers aren't too convincing.
At the end of the first half of this season, it looked like things had finally settled down between Tony's crew and the New York mob. That all changes when the power structure changes in New York and things start to heat up once again.
As the season, and the series, draws to a close, the pace accelerates rapidly. Things come to a head with the New York group, and not for the better, and people die. Not necessarily the people that are expected or in the way you'd expect them to, which keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
This was a great way to finish off the show. There were a lot of interesting developments, and some truly touching moments, such as when the FBI agent who had been on Tony's case for years comes to talk to him in one of the concluding shows. The main compliant is that some things felt rushed. The way the situation with Dr. Melfi was handled was awkward and didn't ring true. This was very disappointing since she was the driving force in the shows first couple of seasons. AJ's character also goes through some rapid and not too believable transformations at the very end, which can be chalked up to wanting to wrap up that sub-plot but with nine episodes to work with, you'd think they could have handled it better.
Which brings me to the end of the final episode. If you were somehow able to avoid all of the press right after the show aired and don't want to find out what happens at the end of the show, skip down to the technical review here.
The show's ending was controversial but also wonderfully done. Tony and his family all meet at a local diner. Tony puts a song on the jukebox while a guy at the bar orders coffee and his daughter Meadow has problems parallel parking outside. A couple at a nearby table laughs, some people enter the restaurant, and after Meadow and AJ arrive the guy at the bar gets up....and walks towards the bathroom. The screen abruptly cuts to black and the show is over.
This final scene is suspenseful because of the way it's cut. The piece is edited to make viewers, who have grown up on a diet of movies that feel they have to telegraph every move, feel like something is going to happen. There's nothing sinister about someone having a cup of coffee, but focusing on the act in a movie means the director wants you to notice it. In this case Chase, who has never been one to telegraph what is about to happen, plays with the conventions of television and is able to create tension when there really shouldn't be any. He also ends the series the same way he ended the first season, the script of which was written before they knew if the series was going to be picked up for a second year: with Tony Soprano, killer, mob boss, and father, enjoying dinner with his family.
The nine episodes that make up the second half of the sixth season of The Sopranos come on four Blu-ray discs that are housed in a fold out case, just like the earlier seasons. The case is housed in a nifty slipcase with a magnetic door.
The Sopranos was originally broadcast in HD, so it's no surprise that this VC-1 encoded set looks great. The level of detail and sharpness of these discs rivals that of the cable broadcast if only slightly. The colors are not splashy and vivid, but natural looking which is good. The skin tones are warm and accurate and the blacks are spot on. On the digital side of things the image holds up well too. Grain isn't a problem and neither is posterization. This is a very nice looking set of discs.
This season set comes with an uncompressed 5.1 PCM track as well as a Spanish stereo mix. It's mildly disappointing that they didn't include a Dolby Digital Plus or even a DD 5.1 track. The uncompressed track did sound excellent however. The low tones of the opening song sounded much better than they did over cable, it was like I was hearing the song for the first time. Good use was made of the soundstage, especially during the action sequences where the gun play echoes from all corners of the room. When the action was over however, the audio still delivered with nice ambient sounds filling the viewing area. A top-notch sounding set. There are optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
This set has more in the way of bonus materials than part one, but not by a lot. There are four audio commentaries done by the actors. On the first episode, Soprano Home Movies, Steve Shirripa gives his thoughts, Remember When has comments by Dominic Chianese, The Second Coming features Robert Iler, and the penultimate episode, The Blue Comet is covered by Arthur Nascarella and Steven Van Zandt. I was rather disappointed that series creator David Chase didn't contribute to the commentary tracks this time around. I've found his commentary tracks to be a bit dry in the past, but I would have enjoyed hearing him talk over the final episode especially if he had answered some of the criticism of the ending of the show.
In addition to these commentaries there is a 17-minute featurette The Music of the Sopranos, which, as the title suggests, examines the music used to give the show atmosphere. This was alright, though not especially engaging. The final bonus item was great however. The 8-minute Making "Cleaver" was a tongue-in-cheek behind the scenes look at Cleaver, the movie that Christopher makes over the course of this last season. It was pretty funny and a nice way to round out the set. Unfortunately these two video bonus items are presented in standard definition.
One of the best TV shows on the air, The Sopranos quit the game while they were still on top. This final group of episodes does a great job of wrapping up the series. Though a few plot points seemed a little rushed, the show ended well, and on its own terms. This Blu-ray set is also great, with a wonderful image and fantastic sound. This is a must buy. Highly Recommended.