NEW YORK – At least there were no talking fish.
Just a lot of talking — and not nearly enough action — as The Sopranos ended its third season last night on HBO.
Last year, it was the bizarre sight of a fish talking in Sal Bonpensiero's voice that had Sopranos fans scratching their heads over the final episode of the second season.
Last night, it was the finale's almost total disregard for about a dozen plot points laid out in 12 previous episodes that made me wonder if the very talented people who make The Sopranos get stumped somehow when confronted with the task of crafting a season finale.
They got it right at the end of the first season, which closed with Tony and his crew rubbing out three enemies and consolidating his power.
But this year and last year, the finales left me wanting more.
Sure, there was one killing last night — Jackie Jr. — but that was no surprise.
Like Big Pussy last year, you knew Jackie Jr. was going to get it. Nice touch, though, having fat Vito Spatafore do the honors. It proves he can do something besides eat.
But what about the Russians? It was just two weeks ago that the Russian ex-commando vowed to kill Paulie and Christopher. I don't want to wait a year to see if he makes good on that threat. That's too long!
And what about Gloria Trillo? Many viewers figured she'd be back in the finale, perhaps to wreak havoc on Tony's marriage by revealing their affair to Carmela. I guess Patsy Parisi's ultimatum last week really worked.
And then there was Uncle Junior singing. Many Sopranos fans are well-aware that the actor who plays him, Dominic Chianese, has a lovely singing voice and enjoys singing traditional Italian songs while strumming a guitar.
But until last night, you had no clue that the irascible gangster he plays possesses the same sensitive soul. In three seasons of The Sopranos, I can recall no scenes in which Uncle Junior listened to or sang or otherwise enjoyed a single piece of music.
Suddenly, he's a confident-enough singer to get up in front of a group of relatives and sing his Sicilian heart out. More power to him — but I just don't believe it.
Ending the episode with his singing didn't seem to be a particularly creative way to cap a season that was among the finest any TV show has ever had.
In the end, the thing that was most dissatisfying was the way last night's finale left you with more questions than answers. Ending a season with unresolved plot lines is a device that's overused on network television and unworthy of a show as artful as The Sopranos.
Too much of last night's show seemed aimed at setting up story lines for next season. With network TV, it's bad enough you have to wait 31/2 months for the new season to begin. With The Sopranos and HBO, you may wait a year or more.
By then, I hope I still care if Paulie forms an alliance with Johnny Sack or whether Christopher really loves Tony.
And finally, where in the world was Hesh Rabkin last night? Now I have to wait a year to see him again.