PRO: There’s still time for true greatness to be shown

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There was a second, watching the latest episode of “The Sopranos,” when I leaned forward, ready for one of those do-you-believe-that? moments that make the HBO series so addictive.

It was when A.J., Tony Soprano’s ungrateful kid, tried to do what he thought would make his father happy. A.J. visited his great-uncle Junior in his nursing facility, with a nasty-looking knife, and with intent to kill.

The act was supposed to avenge Junior’s shooting of Tony, which occurred at the end of this season’s first episode – and was the last time I leaned forward while watching the 2006 vintage of “The Sopranos.”

But this time, as Junior and A.J. faced one another, A.J. accidentally dropped the knife, and had to be picked up at the police station by Tony, who used his juice to keep his son from being charged with attempted murder.

No harm, no foul. But also, no climax. I expect large-scale, long-range conflicts and resolutions from “Sopranos” creator David Chase, so I see this season, which rapidly is coming to a close, as Tony’s post-gunshot battle with his own nature. He now counsels peace and patience, where before he might have taken action.

A pre-gunshot Tony Soprano not only would have cornered and killed runaway closet-case Vito weeks ago, but also would have suffered one snarly remark too many from acting New York mob boss Phil, and wasted him, too.

Perhaps the most fitting way for “The Sopranos” to end, and it’s my guess as well as my hope that Chase is heading this way, is for someone close to Tony – either at work or at home – to betray him, with dire consequences worthy of this operatic story and character.

Paulie, going off all loose cannon, as he has already done this season, would fit that bill, but that would be too easy.

The ruthless Silvio, suddenly making a power play after seeing one too many of Tony’s softer sides, would be more surprising and effective.

Christopher, butting against Tony in a generational battle of temperaments, would be satisfying, too. But the Chris-goes-to-Hollywood episode returned Chris’ addictions and reduced his potential as an antagonist. If he still agonizes about Adriana’s death, he’s not showing it.

Tony has worked hard to separate his two worlds, but a collision between them is my best bet for giving “Sopranos” its most potent sendoff. Carmela, Meadow, A.J. – something one of them does, or has done to them – could be the key to the show’s stretch run. That’s why, when A.J. targeted Junior, I wasn’t necessarily hoping for a dead uncle – but I didn’t want another dead end.

I’m still behind “The Sopranos,” and my boss is using part of our space today to ridicule me for it. But I find myself having to take a longer and longer view, and believing, insisting and hoping that all these dominos, eventually, will fall, and in a flurry that will make it all not only worthwhile, but unforgettable.

David Bianculli: davidbiancullicomcast.net

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