The final season of any show often feels like the last leg of a marathon to myself, it needs to be the season which brings everything to a head and closes the stories it wants to close (not all stories have to be closed, sometimes it's more interesting to leave threads hanging open). The Sopranos Season 6 Part 1 (here to referenced as Part One) in some ways manages to walk into this while also avoiding it. I'm not sure exactly how it gets away with being the first half of the last season, pacing and story-wise there's no doubt that it is half of a construct that is only completed with the second part. But it's also a dominant season with exceptionally strong moments that stand alone.
At the end of the last season Tony fled from Johnny Sack's home as the feds closed in on the head of the New York family. The final season opens with the episode 'Members Only' and delivers one of the biggest moments of the show - Junior Soprano - who started to slip with Alzhiemer's last season - takes a huge step further into his illness by shooting Tony at the end of the epsidoe, making this the second time Tony has been shot during the series. His coma, his experiences in it and the attitudes of the New Jersey crew form a huge part of early episodes.
One of the other main threads of the season follows the gradual decline of Johnny Sack and the rise of Phil Leotardo as a dangerous threat to Tony and his boys (Philly still unwilling to let Tony Blundetto's killing of Angelo go as he was unable to extract revenge from Tony B because Tony S had already killed him to spare the man being tortured to death - and to try and close the issue between New York and New Jersey).
Another character brought to the front of the season is Vito, one of Tony's highest earners - he moves from being a supporting character with a few unusual, interesting and notable traits (his rapid weight loss and suppressed/concealed homosexuality being the primary two) into the limelight when he is outed. I was rather surprised by the expertise and skill involved in the entire story. Vito comes across very strongly as a sympathetic and likeable individual during his time away from New Jersey, which is not to say that you'll forget this is the man who killed Jackie Jr. But you do come to appreciate him a a rounded personality.
The show is as tight and superb as ever, this season has a stronger direction than any before as it's building up towards the final block of episodes. Providing plenty of foreshadowing, metaphors and hints at the storm brewing between the New Jersey and New York families in the final part.
It's a great season that is followed by an amazing one.