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Monday morning jamook: April 22 on 'The Sopranos'

Either David Chase was trying out for a job with Western Union Sunday night, or he was telegraphing some pretty clear hints of where the six remaining episodes of The Sopranos are headed. The repeated Hbo_sopranosreferences to people who talk too much, and what happens to them (hint: it doesn't involve graceful expiration at home in bed) were so frequent that they turned into a kind of grim mantra.

It started with the opening scene, when Paulie Walnuts show up at Tony's house to warn him that someone has told the cops about the 1982 murder of a delinquent bookie -- Tony's first mob killing, carried out under Paulie's supervision. Unsure what evidence the police may find with the corpse, Paulie and Tony do what comes naturally to murderous sociopaths: They head for Miami. (Or, more precisely, North Bay Village, Hollywood and Hallandale, where some scenes were shot.)

Along the way, Tony's impatience with Paulie's garrulousness -- sometimes merely annoying, sometimes actually dangerous as he gives away their destination to strangers and even jokes about old murders -- turns into a seething anger. It also makes him wonder if Paulie might have been the one spilling secrets to Johnny Sack and the New York family back around in Season 5, but try as he might, Tony's unable to bait Paulie into admitting it.

Tony also seems to be realizing for the first time what the rest of us have known since back in the Clinton administration: that Paulie is an idiot. He's horrified to glimpse Paulie through the window of a hotel room, crouched in front of a TV and laughing maniacally at an old episode of Three's Company -- which, in my opinion, is by itself grounds for inflicting slow and painful death.

The thought certainly crossed Tony's mind. With the news that the informer who steered the cops to the bookie's body has blamed the murder on the now-deceased Richie Aprile, Tony suggests they celebrate by renting a boat for some sportfishing. Paulie, recalling that he helped Tony kill their former pal Big Pussy Bonpensiero on a boat after they learned he was an informer, is nervous. But Tony, though he casts some yearning looks at knives and hatchets aboard the boat, ultimately holds back.

Paulie clearly senses how close he came to sleeping with the fishes. Safely back at home, he's visited by Big Pussy in a dream and -- recalling that in his final Moments, Big Pussy was so scared he collapsed into a chair -- asks him: "When my time comes, tell me: Will I stand up?" Paulie awakes before hearing the reply.

Almost as loud as the drumbeat of informer references Sunday night were the repeated references to advancing age. When Tony tells Carmela he's going to have to lie low for a while -- to dodge an old gambling charge, he says -- her frustration is palpable: "This is what life is still like, at our age?" Later, when a Miami mobster sets Tony up with a young blond, she regards the dinner-table chatter about the 1960s as something akin to tales of dinosaurs. "I wasn't even born yet," she notes innocently, to devastating effect.

But it's Uncle Junior for whom the hourglass is really low. The medication they're giving him at the nursing home to which he's confined have made him lucid enough that he's organizing illegal card games among the other inmates, not to mention fleecing them to the tune of $5 a can for bootleg Coca-Cola. ("The real kind, not that diet [bleep]!")

He's even acquired a lieutenant of sorts, a young Chinese-American named Carter Chong who's been institutionalized with some kind of anger-management problem. (Imagine the squirming that must have gone on at HBO in deciding whether to air an episode with this character barely a week after the Virginia Tech killings).

Chong not only assists Junior with the myriad difficulties of running a poker game where the players are prone to Alzheimer's blackouts and psychotic breaks, but even handles his correspondence as he seeks a pardon for shooting Tony last year. "Dear Vice President Cheney," begins one. "As a powerful man all too familiar with accidental gunplay, i am writing in the hope that you will intervene in my case..."

But Junior's posturing as the capo of the cuckoo's nest is undercut by his tendency to wet himself or interrupt tough-guy speeches with complaints that his new medication makes him drool. When the doctors warn them that if he keeps skipping his meds they'll kick him out, his meek compliance so enrages Chong that he gives Junior a savage beating. The episode ends with Junior, encased in casts, slumped in a wheelchair and stroking a pussycat, the vulgar allusion anything but unintentional.

Final scorecard: One murder -- Phil Leotardo, who last episode said his health problems had sapped his ambition to succeed John Sack as boss of the New York family, changed his mind and whacked acting boss Doc Santoro who vulgarly ate off Leotardo's plate during lunch. Just because you're in the Mafia doesn't mean you don't need manners. Two fabulously violent nursing home beatings, one by Uncle Junior of a patient who ratted out his poker game, one of Junior by Chong.

Sunday night's biggest winner: Carmela. Paulie Walnuts was so grateful to Tony for not killing him that he sent Carmela a $2,000 espresso machine to replace her dinky, defective one. Yeah, Paulie, that'll save you.

Sunday night's biggest loser: Rutgers University. That guy Junior beat up was a Rutgers English professor institutionalized after he stabbed his dean. Man, first Don Imus, now this.


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Great review, keep 'em coming, this season is shaping up nicely.

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