And the Answer You’ve Been Waiting for Is —

The SopranosIf you watched the series finale of “The Sopranos” tonight, then you know by now that creator David Chase has the sense of humor of some kind of sadistic auteur. The heavily anticipated denouement was startlingly, almost hilariously abrupt and unformed. If you haven’t watched it, no need to worry: there are no spoilers in this post — as if spoilers would have made any difference with this episode, anyway.

The only interpretation of the events that I can muster after recovering from my dumbfounded shock is: life goes on, and a series finale, while tremendously weighted with the audience’s expectations, is nevertheless only an arbitrary stopping point. The series ended just where it happened to end, outside of dramatic logic. Or at least, it ended according to the logic of Chase’s final, defiant assertion that this show was an artistic endeavor, not an entertainment enterprise — and in accordance with no other agenda.

That this complex and engrossing series could end this indiscriminately is undoubtedly a let-down to millions, but at least someone had fun. That someone was Chase, who in the final minutes seemed to delight in sending up the idea of nail-biting suspense, of an operatic climax that would bestow meaning on much that had gone before. We all wanted that, but it’s clear that’s not what Chase wanted at all — tomorrow’s New York Daily News might as well read “Chase to Fans: Drop Dead.” Me, I happen to think he got a huge kick out of sending countless people home from “Sopranos” finale-watching parties all over the country in a state of stupor, disappointment, even anger… if you ask me, that’s the kind of behavior that suggests the guy could use some therapy.

  1. Good insight, to be sure. But I’ll say this… the music supervision was still fantastic, right through the end. Journey?! Don’t Stop Believin’?!!! I thought it ramped up the tension perfectly and the message of the music tied perfectly to the surprise ending. My $0.02.

  2. Khoi,

    At first, I had the same reaction. But I think it’s much more open to interpretation than all of that.

    (Possible spoilers follow…)

    Remember Tony and Bobby in the boat? Chase even went out of his way last week to replay the scene where Bobby said you don’t see it coming.

    The screen went black when the shady guy came out of the restroom and popped Tony in his right temple. Thus the seemingly scared look on Meadow’s face being the last thing we saw before the (admittedly) tortuous 3 seconds of black before the credits rolled.

    Of course, that’s just my theory. The true beauty of the ending is that it is open ended and open to interpretation. Take from it what you will. If it was a non-ending, as you say, then that works too. This show always seemed to revel in the mundane. Giving us the big bloody ending we wanted would have been out of character for the show.

    In all, I thought it was great. Not satisfying in the least, but great.

  3. And this is the same reason I don’t watch David Lynch movies. Either I’m too stupid for them, or they are intentionally designed to make me feel like I am.

    Very good series. Had fun watching it through the years. Won’t miss it too much when it’s gone though.

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Khoi. I can see why he did it from an artistic perspective, but I still think it was unbelievably self-indulgent of Chase to end it that way. Basically, a big middle-finger to all his fans. Too bad.

  5. What is disappointing is Chase teased like he was going to bring an appropriate ending to the series in preceeding weeks, but then didn’t even try at the end. What a let down!

  6. ” still think it was unbelievably self-indulgent of Chase to end it that way. Basically, a big middle-finger to all his fans. Too bad.”

    Just like it was unbelievably self-indulgent of Chase to decide to write a series in the first place?

    Artists, musicians, writers… They create for themselves. They’re all self-indulgent for our benefit. I say bring it on.

  7. I agree with that sentiment: art doesn’t have to be please everybody, by any stretch. Still, I think the point here, for some people, is that Chase’s creative indulgence has come at the cost of good storytelling. In the end, I don’t think the finale amounted to much of an artistic achievement.

  8. That summation seems a little harsh.. one theory that I’ve taken particularly to is this:

    Go back and watch. Every time the door opens, we go to “Tony-vision” – that is, we see who comes in the door from his point of view. Right as Meadow is running through the door, we see her from Tony’s POV. It’s at this moment that the screen goes black, which felt so abrupt that I can’t help but feel that we witnessed Tony’s end exactly how he did.

  9. Agree with that last comment wholeheartedly. Creative indulgence at the cost of good storytelling.

    I never got so intellectually invested in The Sopranos to really make me care that much about this ending, but if something like this happened in a series like, say, Lost, I would actually go so far as to say it was manipulative and disrespectful to the audience. You’d be drawing the audience in, week after week, with this giant mystery, making a name for yourself as a director and making money for your network, while leaving your audience hanging in the balance for years on end, only to end it with a big “Fuck you, we’re not revealing what actually happened.”

    Again, this is not exactly the case here… but just pointing out that it can happen. I don’t see disrespect for the audience in Chase’s ending, but it’s a fine line.

  10. Kev, that’s a really fascinating theory. I’ll go back and watch it again, for sure.

    Even if it’s the case, though, stick to my assertion that it didn’t add up to very much.

  11. That was exactly the finale that the series and the audience deserved.

    Why is closure inherently superior to openness? Yeah – Chekov, gun, etc, but that was the 19th century. Storytelling has evolved.

    This isn’t a mystery like X-Files or Lost (in which they better g-damn well tie up every loose end 🙂 It’s a story in part about the struggle to make meaning while living in deep denial. Any pat ending would have been superficially satisfying, but inferior. He did thow a bone with that one last fabulous whack job.

    Neither Chase, nor life, owes us answers before the end.

    (And the fact that he made millions of people jump up and check their teevee/cable box/pirated file is pretty funny)

  12. Let’s face it—there’s no way he could have ended it in a way that would have pleased everyone. Grand finales are often a letdown. But personally, I loved it. I love how much is left up to interpretation. I think there was actually too much going on to digest all in one viewing, and I plan to go back and watch it again (this time in HD).


    Look closely at the other people in the diner at the end. Every single one of them had a reason to off Tony. Did it happen? That’s up to you to decide.

  13. It’s weird that we’re talking about how the last scene was open to interpretation when there are details that make some interpretations unlikely.

    Who would want to kill Tony? He offed Phil and made his peace with NY, so who could that guy who went to the bathroom have been working for?

    I think the last moments were more like Final Destination: Death is everywhere around us and we can truly die at any moment in the most meaningful or meaningless way. Meadow could’ve gotten hit by a truck; Tony could’ve gotten killed by that guy who went to the bathroom; the guys by the jukebox (threatening by virtue of being black?) could’ve killed Tony either on purpose (but they had no motive) or accidentally.

    So what? Tony wasn’t nervous about any of it because it’s a fact of life, particularly for him. He could very well have died the next week crossing the street, but I’m not convinced he died at the diner. I mean, the guy got himself an FBI agent as an informant.

  14. Wow. Thanks to Kev to changing my perspective on the ending entirely. If I think about it that way, I can really respect Chase’s subtlety. Great interpretation.

  15. I don’t necessarily think we’re meant to believe that Tony got killed during those three seconds of silence. My interpretation — and I love that the ending is this open and rife with possibilities — is that while that may not be the end of Tony’s life, that that scene tells us everything we need to know about that character. He’s a fatalist and he goes through life expecting the next three seconds to be his last, which is one of many reasons why Dr. Melfi was probably right to dump him — he’s simply unable to see past whatever trouble he perceives on the horizon. Basically, for the first time in the whole series, we’re truly seeing the world through Tony’s bleak perspective.

    I’m curious: why are some people so convinced that the reason the show ended on an unresolved note is so they can cash in later with a movie?

  16. I don’t think it’s that he got killed during those 3 seconds, it’s that the black screen and the abrupt end of the music WAS simply Tony’s death. That black screen is eternal, not just 3 seconds.

  17. If Kev got it right, then I think the ending editing needed work… if something like that has to be explained, the director/editor didn’t do a very good job.

  18. Lame, lame, lame. What ever happened to classic story-telling protocol? Intro -> plot -> climax -> conclusion? I can completely appreciate artistic expression and deserving self-indulgence, but in the end, the most predictable ending was what we should have known was coming all along. Interpretation, allegories, ambiguity, clues, metaphors, references…THOSE have all become the easy way out. For me, a golden opportunity was wasted.

  19. Ralph, was that a plea for the predictable?

    No thanks. So many stories are crassly telegraphed and tedious to those of us who don’t appreciate knowing the end before the middle’s done. Let us have our occasional victory!

    If I read you wrong, my apologies.

    Kudos to Kev who mirrors my own mind. Oh and down with Lost!

  20. I think two very reasonable readings are possible, and both of them are immensely satisfying (to me): firstly, that we’re dropped into Tony’s psyche and get to experience the conflicting emotions of optimism (“I survived!”) and paranoia (“They’re coming to get me!”) that he will live with until the end. Who can he trust? Is it worth going on?

    Secondly, there’s Kev’s theory, which is totally supported by evidence throughout this final season, and which should satisfy anybody hoping for a “resolution”. It would have been cop-out for Chase to pursue anything like a conventional finale, and this reading of the ending — the death of Tony — is both simple, in a narrative sense, and complex, in a filmic one. Really, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Should he have handed over to Aaron Spelling so everything could be blown up? (Actually, I guess that option was out of the question).

  21. I enjoyed it. I couldn’t believe it ended like that, but after stewing for a few seconds it made me smile.

    I couldn’t have imagined it ending with Tony going out Phil Leotardo style.

    I can’t imagine any ending other than the one we had.

  22. I take back my view on Kev’s theory. I’ve heard people claim that the guy at the counter was Phil’s cousin, that other people in the restaurant were characters from previous episodes, etc but none of those theories ever come with any proof. IMDB doesn’t even list any other Leotardos besides Phil, his wife, and his brother. The origin of the “Phil’s cousin” theory seems to be Jonah Goldberg, a well-known blowhard and the son of Lucianne Goldberg, the woman who “advised” Monica Lewinsky about what to do with her stained dress).

    Anyway, the very foundation for what is being called “Kev’s theory” here is, in fact, wrong: The last frame is NOT Tony’s eye view, but a shot of Tony himself. It’s OUR point of view that is cut to black, not Tony’s. Kev, you may want to check the tape. Er, DVR.

    My current favorite theory: David Chase whacked *us*.

  23. Mark my words: There will NEVER be a Sopranos movie.

    I loved the ending. Building all that tension and leaving the audience with it was brilliant. Life goes on after the cameras go away. I don’t think a difinitive ending would be more satisfying.

  24. To jump back in here: I wasn’t crazy about the ending, but I didn’t hate it, either. And while it’s amusing to look for it, I’m not that concerned with any hidden meaning there might have been in the edits, or in the characters in the restaurant, etc. It’s fun to try and decode Chase’s intentions, and I respect his desire to bring an expectations-defying artfulness to the closing, but it strikes me as a red herring.

    What concerns me more is that in all the rancorous debate and discussions about what happened, we’re really only talking about the last five minutes or so — and not the episode as a whole.

    As a finale, the whole hour was pretty lackluster. There was a lot of Chase’s usual, less-than-rigorous storytelling that he tries to pass off as realism. (E.g., “It’s a gang war! Oh, now it’s over.”) None of it was particularly gripping or particular exemplary storytelling. I suspect if you re-cut the show to omit that final scene and somehow try and watch the remaining 55 minutes or so not as a series finale but as a ‘regular’ episode, it would come across as one of the least interesting, least entertaining and least artistically successful installments we’ve seen. Whether Tony got shot at the very end or not, that larger shortcoming seems like a pity. The show deserved better.

  25. What makes the final scene great is that there is no closure! Tony Soprano has always been a dichotomy. He’s constantly conflicted with his life – and now the fans are conflicted as well. It fits. Chase leaves us with a final scene open to interpretation. There is no right or wrong answer. In fact, there are many clues pointing to alternate outcomes. face it, no ending would have pleased everyone. This way, each fan can write their own ending, find their own closure and then debate why they are right and everyone else is wrong.

    (Possible spoilers) I thought it odd the Sopranos were eating onion rings at a diner. I like to think the Cat was Ade. Lots to contemplate – Loved every minute of every season!

  26. Folks seem to have forgotten that authors (creative people in general) only “owe” their audiences that which they feel is their best product. Chase has done that for a long time and did so again with the finale. That we, collectively, as an audience, feel somewhat “cheated” is basically our problem, not his. Is there any possible ending that would have received widespread acceptance? Given the depth to which this series has embedded itself in American culture that would seem impossible, in my humble opinion. It was well-written, well-acted and held our undivided attention for a number of years. After all is said and done, it was entertainment in its purest form. Perhaps we should just enjoy that fact and move on with our lives.

  27. The ending was a gift. A gift to all the viewers. It let the viewers determine the fate of one of Tv’s best characters.

    If you loved Tony you went with the “Life goes on” ending. Everything for Tony seemingly returning to normal.

    If you liked Tony but felt morally that he needed to pay. He was whacked in your eyes. it’s almost a social study of your friends and co-workers.
    The ending didn’t disappoint any viewers. Both side of the moral equation are happy.

  28. Khoi,

    This is my point exactly! The ending was great for everyone. Chase simply cut the baby in half. In his only post-finale interview he explained that it was meant to be ambiguous. There is no right or wrong way to see it. If you were rooting for Tony & his family of hypocrite-ostriches, then you can believe that they had a nice dinner & went home, having dodged another bullet (pun intended). If you you wanted to see that karma was instant, that crime doesn’t pay and Tony got what he deserved, then you can hope that when the snappy, Members Only (Phil’s nephew?) guy came out of the john, he popped Tony Godfather style. Myself, I would have loved to seen them ALL get mowed down. I had had enough of all of the social commentary & hypocracy over the last few years!

    Tony, well, I had hoped that he would give in to his soft side but he was too far gone. Carmela was almost just as bad. Meadow? Her, “When I saw you unjustly hauled away by the government…” line about made me throw up! And AJ… how I wanted it to be HIS head that got ran over!

    My problem with the finale was the seven tenth’s that led up to the “climax.” Very poorly written IMO. It was scatter-brained and all over the map. He tried to do too much in too little time. The last couple of seasons have been like this; too much time spent on superfluous B.S. leaving way too many loose ends.

    It has been painfully obvious that the writing has gone down hill and that it was indeed time for it to end. They went through the motions and thats it. I’m not just a “shoot-em-up” guy either. I thought that in the season finale a couple of years ago, when Tony & Carm broke up was some of the most compelling writing/acting I’ve ever seen. But the series seemed to lose it’s identity. It used to shock & awe on a fairly regular basis. I guess it’s just too difficult to keep that kind of an edge. Taking a season or two off now & then didn’t help either. As far as Soap Opera’s go, I felt that Six Feet Under was a far more superior show.

    Anyone thinking that there will be a Sopranos movie should go out into the Pine Barrens & search for the dead Russian & ask him what HE thinks…

  29. John, wasn’t a plea for the predictable — just about the opposite. My plea was for a “choice.” Any choice. Martians from outer space, possessed killer cats, anything!

    The only thing that proved predictable was that nothing was decisively chosen at all. IMHO, ‘choosing’ an ending may have proven too difficult for Chase and his entourage, for whatever reasons, and so perhaps the obvious answer emerged. Let’s leave it open ended. Boo…

    Sure, it may have been ‘we’ the viewers who built up expectation of some great closure, and have no right to second guess his artistic license. But where’s the line b/w art and entertainment? Chase himself said this to the Star Ledger… “People get the impression that you’re trying to (mess) with them and it’s not true. You’re trying to entertain them.”

    I for one was not entertained. I accept and appreciate the ending, and am happy to move on 🙂
    And in case you haven’t guessed, I also despise LOST!

  30. I’m going to venture it was us* getting whacked, our consciousness and view into that world abruptly sent to black.

    We hung out with those mobsters for 8 years? It was bound to catch up with us…

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