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TV REVIEW: The end is near for 'The Sopranos'

Not Sil.

That's all I could think during the white-knuckled final minutes of last Sunday's episode of "The Sopranos."

For a long time, I've thought it would make sense for Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) to die as the series closed (and that's just a guess, I have no inside information).

But I never really pondered the thought that there could be a lot of carnage around Tony as the series' end approached.

Are you, like me, wondering if this episode might be better than next Sunday's series finale? Ever notice that many programs (and so many prior seasons of "The Sopranos") have a second-to-last episode that is much better than the actual finale? I wonder if that'll be the case here.

Regardless, Sunday's second-to-last episode was a classic. As long as you ignore most of the A.J. (Robert Iler) stuff. (Yeah, yeah, the sins of the father are visited on the son. I get it. Enough already.)

But back to Silvio Dante. The dapper, understated linchpin of Tony's crew. Always the one with the perfectly timed shrug. The brow wrinkled just enough for Tony to sigh, "What's wrong?" Silvio wasn't a shouter or a tough guy or a bundle of rage (in other words, he's not Paulie Walnuts).

He was everything Tony needed in a confidante. Wise, trustworthy and loyal. And, as played by the talented Steven Van Zandt, dryly witty when circumstances allowed.

I don't want Sil to be dead. As Sunday's episode closed, doctors didn't think he'd regain consciousness. His near-death is bringing it home to me, finally - "The Sopranos" is ending. For real. Who allowed this to happen?

OK, truth be told, I have long thought that the sixth season (which includes the most recent batch of episodes and the group of episodes before that) has had too many sluggish moments, but hey, it's still "The Sopranos." I can't not watch. And the last few episodes have been really good.

Since the shocking death of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), a lot of momentum has built up in Tony's world. A world in which all due respect must be paid, but also a world in which no sins are forgotten. The Russian in the forest from so many episodes ago? He's forgotten. But all of Tony's sins have come home to roost now.

Hence Tony finishing out last night's episode sleeping with his gun, just as John Wayne might have in some heroic Western.

On the chalkboard in A.J.'s classroom in a recent episode, a quote from Wordsworth: "Getting and spending, we lay waste to our powers."

Somehow that doesn't strike me as a harbinger of good things to come for anyone in the "Sopranos" family.

And I'll certainly miss the absorbing give and take between Tony and his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), which, as of Sunday's episode, also appears to be over.

How many silent reaction shots has Bracco filmed over the last eight years? It has to be more than a hundred. But she never made them less than fascinating. But that's nothing compared with scenes in which her character sparred with Gandolfini's - that's some serious, world-class acting there.

Some other things I'll miss:

-The way Paulie Walnuts says, "Eow!," the all-purpose interjection on "The Sopranos," which can be used in any number of sentences: "Eow! There he is!" to "Eow! Did you just disrespect the Bing?"

-The show's opening credit sequence, one of the all-time greats.

-Gandolfini as Tony and Edie Falco as Carmela. Honestly, have two actors playing a married couple ever done more absorbing work or been more perfectly cast?

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