Friday, June 15, 2007

Ciao, Sopranos

Look. Anybody who has problems with the ending of the final episode of The Sopranos either Just Didn't Get It or is working too hard to interpret it (and wouldn't have liked any other ending either). I heard some nitwit on NPR psychologizing David Chase, how the success of the show caused its creator to resent the audience, so the ending was just a big fuck-you. No.

The ending is perfect. Here's why:

1. Ambiguity. Gotta have it. To wrap things up clearly and neatly would be a betrayal of the entire series. Our last image is Tony looking up from his onion rings as the door to this little Jersey diner opens. Did Meadow just walk in? Is the front door the only door opening? Or has that suspicious-looking guy re-emerged from the bathroom like Michael Corleone in a Members Only jacket? Who are those other guys who came in before? Who, or what, is Tony looking at?

2. Family. It's about the mundane details and tensions of family togetherness. This has always been the heart of the show. Not the Mafia, not the idea of a gangster in therapy, but Tony and Carmela and their kids.

3. Dread. It's about how all those quotidian details play against a backdrop of peril. Who can honestly say, however annoyed or momentarily confused you may have been by the sudden blackout, that your heart wasn't pounding at the end of that sequence? It was masterfully written, acted, shot, and cut. That mounting sense of dread, where every moment, every move, seems to portend something--how often does television pull that off? Roughly never.

4. The Blackout. What's the beef about this, really? That the suspense wasn't resolved? This isn't the last episode of 24--for that matter, it's not The Godfather III. It's the last episode of a show that took no prisoners, that never pretended to some moral apologia for its conflicted characters. It was ruthlessly existential. Remember when Bobby and Tony had that conversation about getting whacked, how you probably don't even hear or feel anything? (I wonder how many references to numbness there are in the show? There's a thesis in there somewhere.) The blackout is an argument for Tony's final comeuppance. BUT. If it's just Meadow finally arriving for dinner, and the guy in the bathroom is just some guy, it's just as good an argument that this family's life, the dread surrounding it, Tony and Carmela and all their unresolved issues, the kids' journeys...don't stop. Life goes on.

5. Don't Stop. As a comment on a previous Sopranos post reminded us, this show had the greatest music, the smartest use of music, of any TV show ever. Some of it is Tony's music--the classic rock and '80s pop music that he and Carm grew up on. Here, Tony flips through the tableside juke's selections, passing up Sinatra for Journey, "Don't Stop Believing," a smarmy little romantic tale set to overproduced guitar & synth. The lyrics are deftly interwoven with the scene so that the "small-town girl" line coincides with Carm's arrival, and the "city boy / born and raised in south Detroit" line gets overlaid with dialogue and doesn't distract. The song builds. The scene builds. Little references seem to apply variously to the Members Only guy, Meadow trying to parallel park and run across the street into the diner, etc. But mainly it's the feel. The way they use songs on this show, even when the lyrics offer a pointed message, the feel is really the thing.

6. Respect. It's the opposite of a fuck-you to the audience. It's the kind of ending that makes people leap up out of their seats. I looked over at Penny, and she was all Home Alone: hands to her face, mouth open. We both said, "Oh My God." What a thrill. Did the blackout really confuse people into thinking their cable went out? The music cue seemed to make it obvious: We stop on the line "don't stop." And then we don't stop, because we get to make up the rest for ourselves. In my version, the guy comes out of the bathroom and he's nobody. Meadow sits down. The family has dinner. They have a conversation, probably at least one argument. And then they go back to all the rest of their problems. And because Tony is who he is, the anxieties don't stop.

I hear they shot two other endings. I wonder if that means they shot them with different songs, like a Sinatra version? Maybe Tony gets hit in one, or maybe it's a mess that leaves a leatherette booth full of Sopranos shot full of holes? Or maybe the feds show up, just as the family's ordering...

A feast of possibilities. Greatest show on earth. And it's over. Boo-hoo, and bravo.

(Oh, can you imagine how bad this show will be, cut up and dubbed to rebroadcast on Bravo? Yeesh...)

We return now to our regular programming. Despite my interest being somewhat piqued by John From Cincinnati (great writing, superb casting--is that surfer kid splendid as an emotionally-cramped 13-year-old, or what?), I think I'll be getting more writing done on Sunday evenings. And that's a good thing.


Mol the Doll said...

My official stance on the Sopranos ending is "neutral." For me, the weak link in the show's conclusion was A.J.'s flaky decision to join the military and then being easily talked into film school instead.

But wait a minute. What if the inevitable Sopranos movie is a Truffaut-like "film within a film," directed by A.J.?

That's what I'd be working on if I didn't have greeting cards to write.

scotland said...

I've mentioned never seeing this series,but have enjoyed commentary appearing on this blog. The song goes ever-ever on type ending you've hipped me with seems to be a wise choice for a conclusion. The general trap, the comfort zone of predictability, centripital mental state of humans, put us in a position of imagining and expecting the way in which a tendency is realized. This is a psychological dilemma based on past experiences and personal whims and wants. I'm a firm believer that life is ultimately going to surprise us, no matter who we think we are, or how much we think we know. It's not a question of what is or isn't predictable, but one of why it is or not and then a question of how.
From time to time I like to see around the edges of everything I take for granted as being predictable,then direct and express the who of my moment at this fracture in percieved reality. It's near here that I find something that reminds me each moment and my connection with it is significant and requires my involvment. Thanks for all your writing. SPH

djayt said...

The fact that the episode has gotten so much attention is the final proof, isn't it?

Any other ending would have been discussed for a little while and dismissed, this has taken on the scope of Anna NIcole's baby's parentage. It's that big!

If indifference is the opposite of love, then this show was truly, madly, deeply loved.

Jasph said...

Absolutely, DT. I don't know if you saw that long analysis that Tina sent me, where the guy looks at the family dinner as a Catholic mass for a funeral, along with other symbolism suggesting, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the blackout is Tony's death.

It was a marvelous, obsessive piece of art criticism, beyond anything I'd ever be capable of developing. But I came away thinking: still, we don't see the end. So, literally, we don't stop. Everybody gets their own what-happens-next.

Scotland! The question of how remains. And as always, the way you "express the who" is unlike anybody else, and that includes Pete Townshend.
Hope you and Abraham have a great summer.

Mol, brilliant movie concept. I'll cater, using the pork store as home base. "What, no fuckin' baked ziti?" Ho-o-o-o-o! And every night, it's ice cream sundaes while we watch dailies.

Denise Chevalier said...

Yim, digitally record "Rescue Me" and watch it in place of your Sunday Sopranos. It's a humorously disturbing show!

mol, I'd be surprised if A.J. could direct one of those big fat onion rings into his mouth. Unless time spent almost underwater with a cinder block raised his I.Q.

You know, you can use blog preferences to show date but not time on posted comments, she said at

Anonymous said...

scoll down to where it starts:
I finally got around to watching the much-debated Sopranos finale last night.

he does a pretty good job.....