Talk about starting with a bang. Last night’s Sopranos premiere broke with the show’s traditional slow-building intro by jam-packing two hours of plot into 60 minutes and capping the episode with one of its most startling violent acts: de-fanged, housebound and Alzheimers’-suffering ex-mob boss Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) shooting New Jersey mob kingpin Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in the chest at close range. It was vintage Sopranos, expected yet somehow surprising, and twisted and pathetic rather than superficially exciting. You always figured Tony might get shot, but not like this. It was downright humiliating, especially when director Tim van Patten cut to a God’s-eye-view shot of fat, bloody Tony lying on the kitchen floor, laboring to hoist his bathroom-scale-certified 280 pounds high enough to grab the wall phone and call 911.
Tony can’t die, of course; at least he can’t die this soon. Series creator David Chase can go on all he likes about how every cast member is fair game, but you still know he’s not going to kill his leading man with 19 episodes left to go. So as powerful as that shooting was, it still feels a bit like wheel-spinning. (Michael Imperioli’s Chris Moltisanti survived a less embarrassing shooting incident in Season Two.) But it’s still a shocking development, one that sets the stage for Chase and his writers to indulge their David Lynch-Dennis Potter fixation by pulling Tony out of this world and putting him into another one. The lead sentence from one of my Star-Ledger colleague Alan Sepinwall’s Sopranos preview pieces now makes sense: “There are going to be more dreams. Deal with it.”