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The Ending Of The Sopranos Season 4 Explained

It's tough to single out any one season of "The Sopranos" as the best, but the fourth season is a strong contender. It contains some of the show's most memorable and powerful moments and was plenty praised at the time of its release. James Gandolfini (playing Tony Soprano) and Edie Falco (playing Carmela Soprano) both won Emmys for their work in the season, along with the show's writing team and Joe Pantoliano, whose Ralph Ralph Cifaretto was somehow one of the funniest and deadliest characters introduced in creator David Chase's New Jersey-set mob drama (via Emmys). 

The fourth season of "The Sopranos" also presents some of the darkest turns in the show, leaving many of the main characters in the most uneasy positions we've seen them in yet. Chase has said since the episode ended that Season 4 ("Whitecaps") was one of the more significant chapters, explaining it represented a major turning point for Carmela in her relationship with Tony. In his words, "['Whitecaps'] got a lot of stuff that was bothering me out of the way. Carmela was way too passive for too many years. That was a real cathartic experience" (per Los Angeles Times). 

Season 4's finale provided an explosive ending for all of these morally conflicted characters, at least emotionally — but especially Carmela and Tony. 

Tony fails to save his family

Throughout all of "The Sopranos" we watch Tony struggle to balance his family life with his mob one. He professes constantly to be a family man, despite his brutal crimes and the numerous instances in we watch him behaving as if he has no familial responsibilities, especially to his wife, Carmela

By the end of Season 4, Tony makes a big swing to keep his family together. As tensions are high with Carmela, he shows her an expensive beach house, which he says he wants to be a vacation spot where the family can be together. As usual, the rest of Tony's life complicates things. Carmela receives a call from Tony's former mistress Irina Peltsin (Oksana Lada), which is bad enough, but Carmela is also informed Tony slept with Irina's cousin, Svetlana (Alla Kliouka), a woman Carmela has actually met and interacted with. This is the last straw for her, and they separate. Tony and Carmela get into two heated arguments over the state of their marriage, one in which Tony actually has to stop himself from hitting her, throwing his fist into a wall after hesitating, realizing how far he's fallen. 

Worse is the only reason Irina calls is because Tony beats and scares away her new boyfriend, his business partner Assemblyman Zellman (Peter Riegert) in Season 4 Episode 7 ("Watching Too Much Television"). As sorry as one can feel for Tony, it's his mistakes that ultimately rip a hole in his family. 

Tensions with New York are brewing

Tensions between New York and New Jersey are bubbling in Season 4. In the finale, things have a chance to get better as Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) offers an olive branch to Tony: kill New York boss Carmine Sr. (Tony Lip) so he can take over and relationships will be smooth. It's a huge ask and one Tony ends up backing out of, feeling Sack is too eager to take control. What could also be gnawing at Tony is the fact that Sack was ready to start an all-out war this season over a joke told about his wife by Cifaretti in Season 4 Episode 4 ("The Weight"). 

Sack is displeased with both Tony and Carmine's response to that situation, and his own reaction to Tony backing out of the hit on Carmine shows he's still just as vindictive and emotionally out of control as ever. It's a sign of bad things to come for the relationship, as Tony continues to treat New York families as equals, rather than leaders he should be taking orders from. Carmine says in "Whitecaps" that he will be around for awhile, but we know Sack has already put a target on his back and with Tony refusing to go along, he has an axe to grind should he ever become boss, which is almost guaranteed considering Carmine Jr. (Ray Abruzzo) spends his days sipping Arnold Palmers, making B-movies like "Cleaver," and enjoying the Florida sun. 

Chris is on an upswing, but still a concern

One of the most tragic characters in "The Sopranos" is Chris Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli). We see Moltisanti often express disappointment with the mob world and wanting something else — even showing a passion for film. Moltisanti's biggest enemy, however, is himself. In "Whitecaps," he is released from rehab and recommitting to Tony and his position in the family. Tony even recruits him to choose the hitmen to take out Carmine Sr. before Tony backs out of the deal (leading to those two disappearing, so to say). We still see Moltisanti lashing out at others and dissatisfied with his life, though, like when he yells at his girlfriend Adriana (Drea de Matteo) for simply having a glass of wine.  

To add to his worries, Moltisanti has no idea Adriana (Drea de Matteo) is continuing to inform to the FBI. Moltisanti talks about being more honest when he's out of rehab, but his girlfriend is so afraid of him, she won't even reveal the situation with the FBI, which would have been a relatively easy fix to begin with considering she was only taken in on a possession charge. 

Moltisanti has many highs and lows throughout the series, but Season 4 ends with him on a relative upswing on the surface. There is still trouble brewing under the surface, though — potential bad news for Tony who has relied on him for a lot, including secretly helping him dispose of Cifaretto's body in Season 4 Episode 9 ("Whoever Did This").