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Tuesday March 28, 2006 3:51 pm

The Sopranos: Mayhem

Sopranos: Mayhem

Watching Paulie Walnuts barge in on Colombian money launderers in the opening moments of this episode evoked memories of Eliot Ness busting Al Capone in The Untouchables. Of course, Paulie doesn’t look much like Kevin Costner, and Ness didn’t limp away with a million in cash and a wounded nut-sack. At “Mafia General Hospital,” Carmela and her children waited impatiently for Tony’s vitals to stabilize.  Did viewers believe for a nano-second that Tony would die?  Let’s get real.  Without Gandolfini’s full participation, Season Six of this series wouldn’t have happened.

In Costa Mesa, coma dream Tony, who is still being mistaken for Kevin Finnerty, receives a legal summons from the Crystal Monastery.  Costa Mesa is in Orange County, not in Los Angeles.  The Crystal Monastery is the kind of place found 30 miles north of the OC line, usually near Pacific Palisades or Santa Monica.  The monks refuse to believe that Tony isn’t Finnerty, and I think Soprano had his doubts as well.  Confused and discouraged, Tony rerturns to his hotel.  In the bar, he reveals his Alzheimer’s diagnosis to an empathetic bartender.

Carmela encounters Dr. Melfi in a market, blowing off the therapist and her offer of help.  Both characters seem out of place padding around a grocery store. This meeting goes beyond coincidence and into the realm of grand improbability - like seeing Dynasty‘s Alexis and Crystal Carrington chewing the fat around the Hair Color bin at the Pic ‘N Sav. Tim Daly’s return as J.T. Dolan, the screenwriter with a gambling monkey on his back, reminded me how much I enjoyed the actor’s short-lived 2005 series Eyes. When Christopher’s goons forcibly kidnap J.T., mid-lecture at the Writers Guild of America, East, we know Daly wishes he still had Wings. In a car meeting, J.T. learns the reason for his abduction: Christopher wants him to write a Saw meets The Godfather kind of screenplay.

After Carmela shrieks at AJ for speaking to the press, she meets professionally with Dr. Melfi. Edie Falco will get her next Emmy the old-fashioned way: she’s earning it, big time.  Another returnee we’re happy to see is Meadow’s boyfriend Finn. The greedy Gabrielle relentlessly prods Silvio to step into Tony’s boss-man shoes.  In families such as the Sopranos, Gaby’s brand of ambition is usually rewarded with a bullet, or with cement Stilettos.  She gets off easy, but Silvio is rushed to “Mafia General” with a life-threatening asthma attack.

Paulie takes a hiatus from clipping store coupons and bellyaching to visit Tony.  During Paulie’s visit, Costa Mesa Tony plans to attend the Finnerty Family Reunion in order to confront the real Kevin.  But comatose Tony lapses into cardiac arrest as Paulie rambles on.  Dream Tony is reluctant to enter the Finnerty reunion.  Who wouldn’t be?  The Greeter is ghoulish Steve Buscemi, the same actor Tony whacked last season as his cousin, Tony B.  And death hasn’t improved his appeal.

From both Costa Mesa and his hospital bed, Tony hears a voice imploring, “Daddy, don’t go!”  It’s Meadow.  Tony survives cardiac arrest and comes out of his coma.  The producers won’t be wasting any more of Gandolfini’s pricey payday on comatose bed scenes.

Glumly, reluctantly, Paulie and Vito fork over Tony’s cut of the Colombian cash to Carmela.  Gabrielle’s ambition for Silvio is put on hold with Tony’s recovery.  Silvio’s survival remains to be seen.

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