Death Is Not The End

tony_soprano.jpg"It was the only way he could have ended it. Possibly the best example of pop culture since The White Album by the Beatles." So claimed our literary editor Ken Krimstein. And yes, the blogs are buzzing today, most folks proclaiming how "awful" the final episode of this much beloved HBO series was for them personally.

Yes, the juxtaposition of the abrupt black screen as the final image of the series ending finale of The Sopranos, like Richard Hamilton's cover for the Beatles' White Album, forces users to conjure their own impressions of what is and what may never be. (We were all waiting anxiousily for a genius ending a la Mr. Alan Ball's award-winning Six Feet Under series finale, right? I know I was.)

But you know what? I agree with Ken. It was brilliant. Remember that The White Album was clever in its attempt to comment on the bombastic psychedelic rock and roll album sleeves that had dominated the rack space up to that point. And Mr. Chase has never played by anyone’s rules of engagement for his critically acclaimed and much beloved gangster series. But by forcing us to use our own imagination, -- imagine that -- folks are left very unsettled. The series had no real narrative closure for most people looking to be spoon-fed a pat ending. Moreover, there is already speculation that his open ending could pave the way for a big screen movie. (Remember The X Files, anyone?) Besides, there hasn't been this much gangster talk since Mario Puzo's The Godfather hit the bookshelves and then the silver screen courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola's award-winning screen adaptations so many years ago.

Can you imagine a Sopranos theatrical release directed by Martin Scorsese? I wonder if he and Chase could creatively collaborate. Plus Chase shot three alternate endings for his "Made in America" finale. Do you think that'll help sell a few DVDs? But getting back to the Sopranos' finale...

The beauty of this show has always been the thread of dead ends or dangling plot twists that Mr. Chase and his writers worked into each episode. Each episode kept you guessing as to what may or may not happen to each gang or family member and thus kept you longing for another fix, even when it was mediocre. It was the ultimate soap opera, albeit a New Jersey Mob-fueled version.

I suspect most folks would never have dreamed that Tony would have ended the life of his prodigy Christopher this season. Or that Tony's therapist would end her relationship with her most fascinating yet twisted client.

AJ's plan to enter the service to become a helicopter pilot? Yeah, like Meadow might one day defend her father against racketeering charges that probably would happen? Remember that gun the Feds found?

And Paulie Walnuts confession to Tony about his Virgin Mary vision, along with the gang's adopted cat's fixed gaze on Christopher's portrait at the Bada Bing, was brilliant. Paulie's old-school folk phobias are as old world as the mob's unflinching guidelines to an eye-for-an-eye rubout policy.

And the final tension-building scene with the potentially menacing characters hovering around Tony, Carmela, and A.J. in the New Jersey diner as Journey's song "Don't Stop Believin'" played in the background. Some blogs suggesting that Tony did get whacked. Remember what his brother-in-law Bobby said during the first episode this season? "You never hear it coming." And just as we see Meadow enter the diner, from Tony's POV... the music and scene ends abruptly as we witness a brutal jump cut to an ominous, deadly silent black screen that seems to hang there for an eternity -- ten seconds. Roll final credits.

Yes, as confounding as the ending -- Episode 86 -- may have been for so many fans, it also served as a reminder that it's only entertainment. And real life marches on, as boring as it may be for many of us now that the saga of The Sopranos has finally ended... or has it? 

Peace. Dusty 

dusty5a.jpg

Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!

What speculation?

Tony got whacked, as Chase says everything is there. Among other observations
1. You never know its coming or that it happens for that matter
2. Its not the guy in the Member's Only jacket, its the fact that its a "Member's Only" jacket. Remember Phil's biggest beef with the New Jersy gang was that they didn't do anything right - that they weren't really members.
3. Phil was killed in front of his wife and grandchildren, so there is no compunction to avoid Carmela or Tony's kids.
4. Tony's take that week was light from everybody - so maybe it was an insider job?

Little Feat

I loved the use of Little Feat's "All That You Dream" playing in the diner although I can't imagine any diner in New Jersey having one of their songs on a jukebox. Journey and Tony Bennett, yes. But not Little Feat.

By the way, Chase and Little Steven did a fantastic job off using music to heighten dramatic cues since day one.

Also, I'm not sure the guy in Member's Only jacket is Phil's nephew Nicky Leotardo as some have suggested. Who then shot Tony behind the ear as Meadow enters.

I read a post today on a blog that suggested that a nuclear blast killed everyone in the dinner in a flash.

The point is Chase has created a fantastic ending that has folks dissecting every aspect of his show.

Clues and Cues

The guy in the Members Only jacket is, indeed, Phil's nephew, as noted in the credits at the end. As well, where did you get the idea that someone shot Tony behind the ear? We don't know that, nor did anything specific suggest that. We simply see Tony's face as he looks up and over at the door, expecting Meadow.

Re a nuclear blast, I hadn't heard that. What WAS suggested - partly from speculation, partly from the fact that just before Meadow enters we hear the roar of a plane engine either taking off or landing - was that the terrorists Tony ratted out to the feds hijacked a plane and that, strictly by chance, the plane crashed into the diner, killing everyone.

There is another interpretation that no one has suggested, but that makes as much sense as anything else. It may be that the entire scene in the diner is a dream Tony is having - which would offer one (psychological) explanation for the presence of everyone who has taken a shot at Tony, or might. The very fact that he seems "blase" about this - and don't think for a moment he is not completely aware of his surroundings, and all the dangerous characters - and based on how many times Chase has fooled us with dream sequences, it may well be that the diner sequence is a dream that serves as a "cautionary tale" for Tony.

Peace.

Brilliant!

Althougth the discussion on the HBO Sopranos community site has been overwhelmingly negative - with most saying they will cancel their HBO subscriptions, and others calling for death and destruction upon Chase and the writers - I think this is selfish, and sour grapes.

The episode was brilliant. From the opening shot of Tony’s face in repose as he awakes to “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (a clue to the ending?) to the closing shot of Tony’s face as he looks toward the door, with “Don’t Stop Believin’” playing (another clue?), this was among Chase’s best writing and directing jobs, and a perfect capper to the series. [BTW: No one has yet mentioned the fabulous irony of a "Pussy" cat staring at a picture of the only other Soprano crew member in whose death Tony had a personal hand.]

That Chase also brought into that diner almost everyone in the series who had either taken a shot at Tony (the two black kids who winged him in an early episode) or had reason to (the guy at the counter, who is Phil Leotardo's nephew; the two kids who shot Bobby, possibly others) only makes it more brilliant. But does this portend death for Tony? Or is it simply a reminder - to both Tony and us - that death is ever-present?

As for speculation, given the history of the series I doubt that Chase would have permitted the murder of the entire Soprano family. I doubt anyone would have "bought" that, including Chase himself. But killing Tony in front of his family? Possibly. Still given Tony's amazing ability to “survive,” I believe that, had Chase intended to "act" on the "menace" he so brilliantly created, “something” would have happened at the last moment to prevent Tony's being killed.

I had always thought that the best, most appropriate ending for the series would be for Tony to be sitting by the pool as some ducks fly overhead and land nearby. This, of course, would have "reversed" the first episode, in which the departure of some ducks “causes” his first fainting spell, and he begins therapy with Melfi. Indeed, I almost thought Chase was going to do this when Tony was sweeping the leaves by the pool a few scenes before the end. [N.B. Melfi's cancelling of Tony's therapy was the only thing in the final two episodes that I simply didn't buy, and I thought was too "pat." A truly professional therapist is not going to cut off therapy simply because a study or two suggests that there may be less value (or even no value) in that therapy, or even that the therapy might have "reverse effects." Melfi is smart enough to have spent more time assessing this, rather than simply stopping the therapy suddenly.]

Kudos to Chase & Co. for giving us the most fabulous television series in the history of the medium. Long live Tony and the rest of the Soprano family as they continue their fascinating lives without us.

Peace.

David Chase Comments on Ending!

This is from a David Chase interview conducted by writer Alan Sepinwall of The Star-Ledger and posted yesterday:

"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," he says of the final scene. "No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God," he adds. "We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people's minds, or thinking, 'Wow, this'll (tick) them off.' People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them." "Anybody who wants to watch it, it's all there," says Chase...

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