The 1999 debut of The Sopranos inaugurated a golden age for American dramatic television that continues to this day, and the final episodes, broadcast this past spring, set an example for a satisfying conclusion that other series would be well advised to follow. Some casual viewers (and even a few longtime fans) dismissed the grand finale as a cop-out, but those who did missed the point of David Chase’s narrative vision. The homestretch begins ominously, with an episode devoted to the awkward working relationship between Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his brother-in-law Bobby Baccalieri (Steven R. Schirippa) that suggests the chickens are coming home to roost. Over the eight subsequent installments, several beloved characters meet with final, apt fates that make it seem no loose end will be left untied. But at the last minute, Chase, ever a critic of his audience, reminds us that life isn’t as tidy as fiction. Since the beginning, the title has apparently referred to Tony’s criminal “family” as well as his nuclear one, but the final scene (which nicely parallels the conclusion of the first season) makes it clear that as far as Chase was concerned, everything came back to marriage and parenthood. Together, Chase and his fellow writers (including Terence Winter and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner) produced the legendary Great American Novel, and it’s 86 episodes long.