'The Sopranos' finale: Fade to black

Jamesgandolfini_sopranos_240_002This is what I'm taking away from the finale of The Sopranos, which no matter what you think about how it ended is one of the great achievements in television history:

Those psychologists who did the study on the talking cure vis-a-vis sociopaths were right. Because for all that's happened to Tony Soprano in the time we've known him, at his core he hasn't really changed that much. This entire final run of episodes, to me, has been about showing that Tony can't escape who he is or where he's come from, and further, he may not want to all that much.

Life for him is always going to be like that final scene (and we'll get to that here shortly). Even when he's surrounded by the people he loves, and for whom he presumably does what he does, at least in part, he's always going to be on edge, nervous about what's coming through the door next.

And that's why the finale, which followed the show's patterns of relatively quiet endings after big fireworks the previous episode, felt about right to me -- even as I panicked when the screen went to black, grabbing for my remote to see if the DVR had dome something screwy. So let's delve into that sudden cut, right in the middle of "Don't Stop Beleivin'":

At episode's end, I got the following text message from my girlfriend: "I'm David Chase, and you're not." That cuts a couple ways, I think. On the one hand, I can understand people feeling like, as it's been put elsewhere, Chase stuck a middle finger in the face of a lot of dedicated viewers. On the other, who else but Chase would think to end his masterwork on such an uncertain note?

Dominicchianese_sopranos_240I'm reading it the way I outlined above: Life goes on, but Tony can never really be at ease, even after taking care of Phil, even after seducing A.J. back to his old, unexamined life, even after trying to reach out to Uncle Junior. But I'm intrigued by another theory out there, one that goes back to what Bobby said in the first episode this spring: "You never hear it coming." The sudden cut to black, which held for several seconds, then silence over the credits when the show has always had music there, could be taken as proof that, in fact, Tony didn't hear it coming. Curious to hear your thoughts on that.

I'm completely fine, though, with not having Six Feet Under-style closure with The Sopranos. That sort of finale fit beautifully -- perfectly, you could argue -- with a show about death. Chase and Co., though, have always been more about examining how we get through each day. I wasn't expecting a definitive ending, and I almost feel that to suggest one for Tony and either of his families wouldn't have felt right

The ending aside, Chase hit a number of sweet notes in the finale. A few of them:

  • Janice adamantly stating that she's a good mother and that she's "put Ma and all her warped s**t behind me," followed by "Not that I get any thanks for it."
  • A.J. and Rhiannon listening to Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" in his truck, which perfectly captured what it feels like to discover something like that, as well as the 19-year-old narcissism that it's speaking directly to you.
  • Agent Harris' glee at hearing that Phil got his. Once a Jersey boy, always a Jersey boy, I guess. Side note: Has there been a Sopranos whacking, at least since Ralph lost his head, as stomach-turning as what happened to Phil after he got shot?
  • As he's done throughout the series, Chase used a TV playing in the background to comment on the state of pop culture. Tonight's subject: the importance of the writer to quality television, courtesy of The Twilight Zone, and Little Miss Sunshine playing in Silvio's hospital room.
  • Paulie and his superstitions vs. the cat and Tony's job offer. 'Nuff said.
  • Tony's hijacking of the meeting with A.J.'s therapist to talk about Livia, as Carmela quietly seethed.

In college I went to hear Kurt Vonnegut speak, and he talked for some time about why Hamlet was so much better than, say, your average potboiler. Using a blackboard to illustrate his point, he drew a graph of developments in a potboiler (or maybe it was a romance novel) that looked like a row of shark's teeth, up and down and up and down and up. Hamlet, though, was pretty much a straight line. That's how we live, most of us, and that's why it's so great, he reasoned.

That's kind of how I feel about The Sopranos. And why I think it's one of the all-time greats. Even with that ending.

OK, your turn: What did you think of the way Tony went out?