Monday, June 11, 2007

In the end, it's all a big nothing.

Initial reaction to The Sopranos finale:

What the fuck?! My cable!

Don't lie. Your reaction was the same.

8 years for us to learn that Meadow is lousy at parallel parking? You're fucking with me, right, Chase?

After it settled a minute, I was struck by how deeply divisive this seemingly closure-less finale scene would be. There would be those who would proclaim it Great Art and Pure Brilliance. And there would be those who felt cheated and thought it sucked and lacked closure and marred the series. And there would be a third category who felt a little of both.

One thing is certain. This series that was both shotgun shine bright and bad moon dark hadn't capitulated and had closed with an ending every bit as controversial as any of its storylines or characters.

Truly, it wasn't lacking so much closure. The feds are still closing in on Tony, same as always. But he won the battle with Leotardo and they've fallen back into business. Carm's fight is over, she's content being a material girl. AJ has become the master manipulator to carry the torch of Livia, showing both his father's willingness to do what needs done and his mother's ability to shut out the morality and spirituality and be content with living the lush life. Earlier in the episode he lashed out at people for being fucked and living in a dream and went on a disjoined discourse about consumerism and superficiality. But eventually, he happily sinks into that very lifestyle. Meadow's deep river of denial cuts to depths unknown as she unwittingly sticks the knife in her father's heart by telling him she's not a doctor because of seeing him treated unfairly by the justice system so often. They are the quintessential American-made children, with nurture and nature colliding to make them the only people they ever could be.

In the "unresolved" category, Chase did hang Chechov's gun on the wall in the first episode of the season when Bobby gave Tony that massive machine gun/grenade launcher. And in the previous episode, we saw Tony fall asleep cradling it. Of all the mob films that had been referenced and subverted through this series, it definitely conjured images of Tony Montana's "little friend."

But it never got used. Though, fittingly, that final scene couldn't have been more stamped with a DePalma feel unless Chase had actually used a split screen at some juncture. Thankfully, he refrained.

The episode itself, the first one since the premier episode to be both written and directed by David Chase, was filled with hilarious moments:
Paulie and the Christopher cat!
Agent Harris!
Tony using AJ's leggy therapist as a stand-in for Melfi!
Uncle Jun telling Janice that Janice is a lousy kid!
Phil's head getting squished and the puking bystander!
AJ banging a high school girl!
Paulie seeing the Virgin Mary at the Bing!

And there are many potential ways of looking at the ending.
Philosophical -- the angsty existentialism had finally tipped into nihilism
Religious/Literary -- the ninth circle of Dante's inferno had finally, inexorably been reached, with Phil getting sold out and one of Tony's crew flipping on him.
Psychological -- parents fuck us up.
Filmic -- Film school Hitchcockian suspense 101 for the sheer delight of it.
Contemplative -- Uh, did Tony get whacked? What with the replay of his and Bobby's conversation, about how you never see the one that gets you coming, and in the end it's just silence. Livia's repeated refrain of "it's all a big nothing" haunting the final season. The whole series was about Tony, and the sudden quiet and black could signify...
Hopeful -- Who was left to wanna whack Tony? He's fine. Chase is a dick. AJ recalled the first season dinner at Vesuvio by admitting Tony was right when he told him we should "focus on the good stuff."
Redundant -- Does EVERY season have to end with the family sitting down to eat together?

In the end, I guess Chase gave us the only ending that hadn't yet been presented in mob fiction. As the song by Journey says:
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on.

Don't stop

For me? I think those final minutes were a true taste of Tony Soprano's POV. Back when we met him, he was under so much stress he'd pass out from it. We understood on an intellectual level the shit he was dealing with. But that final scene found Tony pretty much back where he'd started the show, only this time, it wasn't a rational presentation of his life. This time, we felt the stress of it. And it was nothing. It was a dinner at an ice cream parlor. But everyone around was suspicious, everyone made us edgy and nervous. What the fuck was Meadow doing? Who was the guy at the counter? Is that a Fed in the trucker hat? Are those kids going to cause trouble? Where the fuck is Meadow? Why is that Members Only guy getting up? It was nearly heart-stopping, the tension. But it's just dinner, man.

It was true to the series, as it followed the previous season's same rhythms. We were poised for a bloodbath, but as usual, the major and shocking violence came in the penultimate episode, with Phil and AJ's SUV being the only victims of graphic injury and death this week.

Uncle Jun got his final say, with Tony trying to jar some of his pride back into place by whispering to him that he used to run the mob in North Jersey. Addle-brained Junior's response? "That's nice."

Tony, he couldn't get out of there and away from Junior quick enough after that.

These final nine episodes were clearly patterned after Dante's Inferno, with Chase & Co. doing a masterful job at locking the various characters, rhythms and plotlines into those sinful themes. Just as the "Made in America" title worked to show non-mob overviews of our societal decay, the mobbed-up implications rang out throught the finale and this entire season to showcase this descent.

Limbo was well represented by the lake house visit, and lust and doomed lovers were handled poetically by Johnny and Ginny Sacrimoni, while Carm got pissy about Tony's dalliances being portrayed on the big screen in Cleaver in episode 2. Circle three of gluttony culminated with Doc Santoro literally reaching over and helping himself to Phil's food, and Phil ends up whacking the guy who reached too far and for too much. Paulie, playing the fool in this episode, he got spared from Tony's suspicions and paranoia after giving T a plate of rigatoni.

In the fourth episode, avarice played a key role when Tony destroyed his only true friendship to Hesh over a money dispute, as Tony was losing his ass at the gambling game. Episode five was all about the sullen and slothful, as AJ sunk into depression and Christopher couldn't deal with Paulie insulting his father-in-law, and he sank into an alcoholic stupor and whacked Tim Daly.

Then, just like in Dante's masterpiece, the shit really started to hit the fan. Episode six was the one where Chris got killed by Tony. That's Dante's circle for heretics and liars. Tony couldn't stomach Chris's deceit over his drug problem any longer, and then Tony had to hide from everyone what he'd done so he jetted off to Vegas. The violently wrathful? The seventh episode is when Tony went ballistic on Coco for insulting Meadow and where AJ tries to kill himself.

In the eighth episode, the frauds and liars come to front, with Phil making a final stand and starting a war with Tony, reasoning that Tony's crew doesn't respect tradition and conduct things in an upright manner. We see Agent Harris tip off Tony, and most damning, we see Melfi, a doctor who's taken an oath, dump Tony in a time of crisis, claiming she can no longer help him. (I guess it's clear where Chase stands on psychiatry. I have to ask, does anyone know -- is he a scientologist??)

Tony's life, sometimes it feels like hell on earth, but as in Dante's Inferno, you have to keep hoping to make it to the next plateau and hit purgatory or eventual paradise.

Pretty clever, really. Same as the final ending scene of the series. Clever. Always clever, this show. Did it leave you with the warm fuzzies? No. Did it leave you despondent? No. It left you feeling the way you always did about it, the way a life in this thing of ours will leave anyone, the way anyone's life, when truly lived, examined or not, will, hopefully, keep them. On the edge.

So I'd like to know. What'd you think? Brilliant of Chase? Or dickheaded bullshit to pull that abrupt shit and actually make us find the meaning of it all in a Journey song? (Fucking Tony and classic rock, paired with his sentimental tendencies. Passing over Tony Bennett and settling on Journey. Perfect.) Was it meant to be artistic? Or as a final "fuck you" to fans who became too enamored with the show? And, mostly, 100 years from now, when we're all dead, will people still be watching this thing?


Don Capone said...

It ended the way it should have—all the Sopranos safe and alive. They were the center of the series, and are the only ones who truly mattered. Everyone else was disposable. The ending was one big tease, keeping the tension high, putting us in Tony's shoes. Who is a danger to my family? That guy? Or that guy? Or that guy who just walked in. This is the way Tony lives his life on a daily basis.

trudi said...


1) Tony got wacked. Chase dropped more foreshadowings than Alan Ball.
It was a NARM moment.

2)How will an Elliott lover/Sopranos fan ever be able to listen to a Journey song without flinching?

3)The most disturbing scene to me? The appearance of Donna Pescow. My youth went up in flames right before my eyes.
Time took its toll on her. Only an appearance by Karen Lynn Gorney would have proved to be more depressing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

Great analysis and commentary by you as always.

My opinion of the ending is mixed. Yeah, it was unexpected, makes me think about it, was both funny and poignant, and perhaps deep, but...but...but...

But I just can't shake the feeling that it wasn't Tony who got whacked---but the audience. Concerning T and Bobby's previous convo about the bullet that takes one down, that everything goes black and quiet---that's what happened to US. Tony and his family are still alive and well in all of our imaginations, along with the endless possibilities that could be their fates. It is WE, the audience, who got shut out. And for that reason, and that reason alone, I dislike the ending. And isn't that what Chase wanted? I mean you don't whack someone you give a shit about. And you know, I could live with Chase being apathetic about his audience's expectations. Every true artist has to be true to themselves and their story, despite audience expectation.

But I don't think this was apathy, or sticking to one's artistic integrity. This seemed personal to me. He whacked us, his fans, almost as if he's disgusted by us for liking the show so much. And if that's the case, then I think Chase finally made the twisted memory of his own evil mother proud.

But whatever, you know? I still love the show a lot, and I won't let this ending sully the memory of it for me. It was a great run.

J. Scales

trudi said...


A blog with as much passion as yours and an interesting take:

Ellen's Husband said...

As always, loved your commentary. Dead on, as usual. Chase was toying with us for sure. One thing about Meadow's parking. Was she driving a Lexus ES (the car that can parallel park itself)? Or did she not pay up for that option?

SusanD said...

Don -- I'm still miffed about Silvio though! He's not disposable. And apparently neither is Walnuts.

trudi -- Donna P was so funny, checking out the china.

Jackson -- I understand why you're miffed about it. I was miffed, too. The thing to consider is, though, Chase did whack a lot of characters he cared about. I, personally, don't think it was so much about showing disrespect or contempt for the audience as was giving them the ultimate thrill of involvement. He made it as intense as possible. We'd be voyuers of this world, but for the last four minutes, he made us participants. So I liked it. Maybe in time I'll be mad about it, though, when I get to really missing Tony.

Ellen's husband Mike -- HA HA HA! I hadn't even thought of that Lexus that parks itself thing. That's way too funny.

Ellen said...

I suppose you've heard the theory that Tony was killed and the whole episode was a kind of death dream? Does it make you want to re-watch the whole episode for Sixth Sense-like clues? I'm not saying I buy this interpretation, but the first thing I noticed was that when the show opened Tony awoke in fully made bed, while the previous episode ended with him on a naked mattress.

Anyway, I wasn't disappointed with the ending. To me, the Sopranos are living happily ever after ... as it should be.

SusanD said...

Hiya Ellen! I've heard the theory that this whole season has been a dream and tony died when Uncle Jun shot him. I think there's a lot of "Dallas" fans out there.

Some people also make a big deal that Tony was watching himself in the diner, like Schrodinger's cat (which doesn't exactly fit, but, whatever) but that's just a strange angle cut, and I think it was just to start jangling the POV to get us more jittery. But I don't really know shit, either. But I liked it.

SusanD said...

Hiya Ellen! I've heard the theory that this whole season has been a dream and tony died when Uncle Jun shot him. I think there's a lot of "Dallas" fans out there.

Some people also make a big deal that Tony was watching himself in the diner, like Schrodinger's cat (which doesn't exactly fit, but, whatever) but that's just a strange angle cut, and I think it was just to start jangling the POV to get us more jittery. But I don't really know shit, either. But I liked it.