Short -- barely 49 minutes -- and anything but sweet, Sunday night's episode of The Sopranos was nonetheless one of the most significant in the show's 10-year run. Like a bolt of lightning over a cemetery that reveals a bony hand digging its way out of a grave, it revealed what creator David Chase regards as the ugly secret of life: God, if he ever existed, has taken the redeye to Vegas. There is no justice, there is no karma. You can get away with anything. You can even kill your own son.
No, not AJ. But Tony coldly murdered Christopher Moltisanti, the protege who's been like his son (granted, a lazy, stupid, self-pitying, bullying, racist, heroin-addicted son; but that's family for you) since the first night of The Sopranos. And guess what? The earth did split open to reveal the hellfire below; no cloven hoof plucked Tony up and plunged him headfirst into the drooling sulfurous mouth of Satan. He didn't even get so much as a hard look from Dr. Melfi.
It happened during the show's opening moments. Driving back from a contentious meeting in New York with Phil Leotardo, who is demanding more money after discovering that Tony's illegal dumping at his construction sites contains loads of asbestos, Christopher is fiddling with his CD player going into a curve and nearly crosses the road to hit an oncoming vehicle. Jerking his SUV back the other way, he flips it off a hillside.
Tony, though battered, is okay. But Christopher is immobilized; his ribs were crushed when the airbag deployed, he's choking on his own blood, and he begs Tony to get him out of the driver's seat: A blood test will reveal he's high on cocaine and he'll lose his license. Tony stares at him for a moment, then pinches his nostrils tightly shut. Christopher dies in seconds, his eyes locked on Tony's.
It's the perfect murder. Neither prying cops nor heartbroken Carmela (Christopher was her cousin) will ever figure out that it was anything but an auto accident. Tony's only punishment is having to endure a lot of cloying, hypocritical grief-babble from people like Paulie Walnuts who actually detested Christopher. In a confession to Dr. Melfi that's no less truthful for taking place during a dream, Tony admits: "I'm [bleeping] relieved...The biggest blunder of my career is now gone, and I don't have to be confronted by that fact no more."
Tired of playacting, Tony heads for Las Vegas, purportedly to inform and comfort one of Christopher's old stripper girlfriends. True to form, most of his sympathy is extended in a prone position. He and the girl take some peyote, which initially doesn't seem like a great idea: The first stop on Tony's voyage of psychotropic self-discovery is a toilet bowl, where he can gaze upon his own vomit. (Talk about cheap symbolism.) Later, though, the two of them wander the casino, where Tony repeatedly hits his number at roulette. Karma, it seems, is not a bitch but a party girl. The episode ends with Tony out in the desert like a wiseguy version version of Carlos Castaneda, watching the sun rise and cackling as he shouts, "I did i!" You can almost hear the faint echo bouncing back: And you got away with it...
Final scorecard: One murder and one stroke victim -- Paulie Walnuts' mother keeled over after a visit up to New York from the nursing home to see Jersey Boys. (Another Frankie Valli allusion!) Oh, and one beat-up Somali immigrant kid, knocked from his bicycle when one of AJ's junior mafia pals opened the door of his car without looking. When the kid protest, the whole pack of thuglets, including AJ, jumped him. Later, though, AJ suffers the guilt pangs that eluded his dad. "Can't we all just get along" he asks his shrink. Wonder if there's a medication to treat somebody with delusions that he's starring in a Lifetime show?
Sunday night's biggest winner: Christopher, the hack screenwriter, finally said something that was both trenchant and prescient. Just before his car went off the road, he told Tony: "Life's too short." No kidding.
Sunday night's biggest loser: Paulie, screwed by Christopher one last time. Because the funeral viewings of Paulie's mom and Christopher were scheduled for the same time, hardly anybody showed to console Paulie. "It's a fundamental lack of respect and I'm never gonna [bleeping] forget it," fumes Paulie, who has conveniently forgotten that he was so enraged when he discovered last season that his mother was really his aunt (his real mom was a nun, which in retrospect was a pretty good clue about the whole God-is-dead business) that he threw her TV out a second-story window. Kids.
WIN A ZILLION DOLLARS: Well, okay, that's an exaggeration of about $99 gajillion. But honest, we're giving away a set of DVDs of The Sopranos' first six seasons, and we've extended the deadline for the contest to May 18. All you gotta do: Tell me how the show will end. RICO indictments? Shallow graves in the woods? Sexual reassignment surgery for Paulie Walnuts? Email me your idea of how it all will end at ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com.