I don’t follow the Lakers. Paris Hilton is a hotel as far as I’m concerned. And politics: When they win, what exactly do I win?

I have only one rooting interest: The Sopranos.

Tony and Meadow and AJ and Paulie?

A religion.

So like many of you I watched the final episode last night. And I gotta say: brilliant!

Why? Because Tony does what we want all heroes of stories to do: He “arcs.” And though we don’t get the certain “payoff” of his death, the ending creator David Chase picks instead is far more satisfying.

When we first meet Tony Soprano, he is having panic attacks. He’s a mob boss in Jersey, his family is a mess, and so is his other family, and finding just the right therapist is tough. In the course of eight years worth of shows, Tony finds a shrink – and Prozac – puts up with his dysfunctional tribe (he being the most dysfunctional), and gets, well… better.

And unlike many who feel the last episode, in particular the last five minutes, is unresolved, I disagree. As one critic this morning said: “Tony’s life will go on, we just won’t get to see it.” And despite the need to see him gunned down picking up the paper in his driveway by the goth son of Vito Spatafore who escapes from Outward Bound and comes back to kill the guy what sent him there (that was my bet for the ending), this finale is much more tense for having none of that.

That diner. That corny Journey song. The tension of Meadow parking her car. The series of scary hit men types coming in and out of the unfamiliar cafe where the family has gathered for onion rings, come on! Perfect! It put us in Tony’s chair for one last time, weighing family ties against real life or death judgments.

What I love about The Sopranos, and particularly last night’s episode, are the references to other movies, particularly The Godfather. The light snow flurries that sprinkle Tony and the New York crew’s scenes match the chill weather when Al Pacino and Diane Keaton first see the news about Don Corleone’s assassination. And last night’s final scene is a reflection of Al’s big moment when he takes out the police captain and the mob boss. By showing the hit men types in Tony’s cafe heading to the bathroom, getting the distraction of Meadow’s parallel parking problem – that parallels the roar of the El going overhead in the moments leading up to Al becoming a “made man” – it all leads to a superb tension based on the cliches we’ve come to expect in mob fare. It is so much smarter to veer near the cliché – and then step back. It shows that one of Chase’s key insights is our cultural awareness of movie and TV moments, and how we expect “real life” to match. It is a technique he uses throughout the series, and is in evidence last night too as other tv and movie references are used for tone; I saw clips from Little Miss Sunshine and The Twilight Zone that seem to comment on the situations they are part of; the ever-present tv is always on in The Sopranos – and is always used as a brilliant counterpoint to the scene going on in the foreground.

So, what better way to say goodbye than not getting what we expected!

The fire that destroys AJ’s car – how non-mafia can we get? And I have to say – That Cat! It looks like poor Paulie may never completely get rid of Christopher, as the cat implies, he may be Chris’s reincarnated, and vexing, spirit. Fabulous!

And the overall story is just right. The best ending is… no ending. Tony changed, survived, and still has his bad eating habits (how this guy didn’t get a warning from his doctor on his cholesterol level is the biggest unresolved “hit” of the series).

Bravo, David Chase. Thanks for the memories, and jeesh, don’t stop believing,

Abso-friggin’- lootely!