Monday, June 09, 2008

Onion rings and other things, one year later

A year ago tomorrow (give or take your feelings about leap years), "The Sopranos" came to an end, with that scene at the ice cream parlor that was either brilliant, awful, or just baffling, depending on your point of view. And even people who agreed on the quality (or lack thereof) couldn't always agree on what it all meant. After the jump, we'll talk about one person who had quite a lot to say on the subject...

Now, I've always fallen into both the "brilliant" camp and the "Tony lives" camp, but I've been open to the possibility that I'm wrong on the latter. Chase's "it's all there" quote from my morning-after interview certainly could suggest that there's a major development -- the death of the protagonist -- hidden within the onion rings, the rings of the doorbell, and the Journey on the jukebox.

And now a blogger has written nearly 22,000 words analyzing the final sequence and vehemently arguing that Tony did, in fact, take a bullet to the back of the head from the guy in the Member's Only jacket.

He makes a more forceful case than a lot of the "Tony's dead!" people did shortly after the finale aired. For one thing, he properly quotes the Tony/Bacala exchange about what happens when you get whacked (it's "you never hear it coming," and not "everything turns to black," as far too many people wanted to believe) and, by breaking down the editing of the scene, argues for the abrupt cut to black to be the end of Tony's point of view because he just died.

There's also a lot of talk about the Kevin Finnerty non-dream and Tony's ever-so-brief spiritual awakening, all the background figures at Holsten's, the nature of Phil Leotardo's death as foreshadowing Tony's, and much more.

That said, after having read all of it, I'm still not convinced, and not just because I insisted so vehemently a year ago that Tony survived. The notion of Tony being killed by a person unknown, for reasons unknown, at a time of relative peace in his empire -- if you take the truce with Butchie at face value, that is -- seems to violate a number of the series' rules. As much as I and others have analyzed -- and often overanalyzed -- the series, looking for hidden meanings, Chase always played fair with his storytelling. There were almost never hidden developments that occurred off camera, to be sprung on us when we would be most shocked by them. If a character turned rat, or started working with a rival mob faction, we learned about it as it was happening (except in a rare case like Pussy working for the feds, which happened so early that Chase and company hadn't worked out all of their rules yet, or when the character was so minor, like Ray Curto, that it didn't really matter).

When Chase says "it's all there," I like to think he's referring to the show as a relatively open book. There's deeper meaning in a lot of scenes, some more hidden than others (the dream sequences were designed to be easy to decode), but there's never anything where you're asked to fill in the blanks in terms of a story or character arc. What's on the screen is what happened, and when last we saw Tony Soprano, his life was relatively secure. I'll admit that Chase's discussion of Gerry the Hairdo's murder (which also unfolded silently) in several interviews gives me pause, but I look at that as Chase saying that this is the fate that could befall Tony at any minute of the day -- hence the notion that the worst fate for him is to have to go on living as the miserable bastard that he is, forever fearing that moment -- rather than him saying that it did happen to him here.

But that's me. 365 days later, does anybody else want to re-open this argument?

78 comments:

Chris said...

Cliff's notes, anyone?

One look at that guy's page and I knew I'd never read it.

I tend to think he lived and subscribed to the theory that he would be on edge for the rest of his life.

Adam said...

Mark me down for "brilliant," still, and that it doesn't matter whether Tony died. The structure of the final season was to give you a sense of exactly what each character's life was going to be like from that point forward, and living or dead, we learned all that needed to be learned about Tony.

TL said...

Against my better judgment, I started skimming through this 22,000 word tome, and frankly, there's some real howlers:

"'Life goes on' violates the shows basic structure."

Really? That was kind of the point of most things that happened over the six seasons. Moreso the way that he twists in the wind trying to argue that Chase saying that he didn't want to give faux-moralists in the audience the satisfaction of seeing Tony dead really only meant that he didn't want to show Tony dead on screen.

But most importantly, as you rightly point out, Alan, anybody arguing that Tony was shot has the burden of offering some way that it makes sense. There was nobody left at the end who wanted Tony dead or who had the means to make it happen. Furthermore, every other member of the Soprano family failed to reap what he/she had sown from the; why would it be any different for Tony?

Mark B said...

"You never hear it coming" is but one character's speculation. Why is this constantly cited as though it's a scientific fact? (Besides, when Bobby got killed, we certainly did hear it, and I think it was loud enough for him to hear as well.)

When Chase says "it's all there," I think he's messing with us, like when Lisa Simpson says that the state their Springfield is in is easy to determine "if you put the clues together."

Andrew said...

I find it kind of amusing that the guy uses a Chase quote where he says that "There was nothing definite about what happened" as evidence there is a definite explanation. Huh?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Why is this constantly cited as though it's a scientific fact?

Arguing the opposing side for a second, this is brought up for a few reasons:

1)It ties in neatly with the abrupt cutting off of the song, or of any sound at all.

2)It fits with the stylistic choice in showing the hit on Gerry the Hairdo, which Chase himself mentioned, while discussing the finale, in an interview for the tie-in book.

3)Tony flashes back to that exchange at the end of the series' penultimate episode. Since the series used its flashbacks very sparingly, it had to mean something -- though (to put my own hat back on here) that something could have been Tony remembering one of the few serious, respectful conversations he had with his recently-deceased brother-in-law.

KLE said...

I skimmed it; this guy needs an editor. Seriously.

I'm pretty much on board with a lot of his points. The most entertaining section was part IV, connecting a lot of Sopranos dots (symbolism and foreshadowing.

The section on Godfather references and parallels looked like it might be interesting, but was just too dense. I thought the whole guy goes to the restaurant bathroom reference to I was pretty obvious - didn't everybody immediately catch that as we were seeing it? Based on that alone, we were convinced Tony was done.

ddnnll said...

"There was nobody left at the end who wanted Tony dead or who had the means to make it happen."

Really?? A lifetime of murder and mobsterism, both by Tony's hands and by his words, and you can't believe there would be ONE person left with a reason to kill Tony?

"Furthermore, every other member of the Soprano family failed to reap what he/she had sown from the; why would it be any different for Tony?"

Because life is like that?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Really?? A lifetime of murder and mobsterism, both by Tony's hands and by his words, and you can't believe there would be ONE person left with a reason to kill Tony?

Unless you think Butchie was just shining Tony on with the peace accord so he could take over New York, then there's nobody within the narrative of the show -- particularly the narrative of those final two seasons (or two parts of a season) -- who wanted him dead, and certainly no one who wanted him dead and had the ability to contract the job out to a random guy in a Member's Only jacket.

kc said...

Personally, I thought the ending was perfect in its own way. I thought Chase was just paying his respects to The Godfather movies and all, helping to build the tension, juxtaposed against the seeming return to normalcy for the Soprano family, showing as you said what life is like never knowing when the grim reaper may come calling.

To me it was we the viewer who was wacked. Our time for ease dropping on Tony and family blacked out forever while like Tony's alter ego his/our worlds go on in parallel universes each choosing from the infinite probabilities. His journey and ours, possibly, but not likely, to intersect again in this reality.

Kinda new-agey, I know but I think Chase was showing us leading up to the finale that at any time-space point in our universe Tony's/our worlds could change and be completely different from the one we now know. One universe ends and we synch up with an already existing 'possible self' with a new cast of a characters.

Our probable 'Tony' is doomed to live constantly looking over his shoulder. Another probable 'Tony' is whacked in the diner. another probable 'Tony' becomes the boring suburban salesman etc., each living out their long or short own productive or non-productive lives in their own parallel universes.

dronkmunk said...

I thought the man made some compelling points in his piece. I be the only one who read it, though.

Ed said...

"Tony flashes back to that exchange at the end of the series' penultimate episode. Since the series used its flashbacks very sparingly, it had to mean something -- "

And this is the reason I think he got whacked. Not only was there a proper flashback during that episode, I'm pretty sure there were at least three other times it was brought up during the "Previously on the Sopranos" scenes at the beginning of the show. So I'm on board with the whole it had to mean something thing.

And is it just me, but do writers really like using the word "penultimate" whenever they get the opportunity?

Linda said...

I agree that the guy needs an editor, but honestly? I think he's got a lot of good points. I think the POV argument is pretty compelling, frankly.

I've never, ever believed that the point of the ten seconds of silence was some kind of "life goes on just as before, and this is Tony's way of life forever" thing -- that makes absolutely zero sense to me. Why the immediate cut to black? Obviously, SOME show rule is being violated there -- the show had certainly never randomly shown ten seconds of black screen in that kind of edit before. There's no way to reconcile it with the way the show had been up to that point; the point isn't whether anything changed, but just what changed. "Tony's dead now" is the most sensible explanation I've heard of why the show abruptly stops existing, essentially.

"The viewer got whacked" has also never made any sense to me. If we're agreeing that it had the sense of a whacking, why the viewer and not Tony?

I've also never bought the "there was nobody with a motive to kill Tony" argument. I mean, for some reason, Tony is aware of the Members Only jacket guy, and is looking at him, and Chase is drawing attention to him. If it's just "life goes on" and if there's nobody left with a motive to hurt him, what's that about? If there's no one who would have any reason to kill him, why would he be worried? If he's not worried, what's the point of Members Only guy?

To me, while there is PLENTY of wackadoodle stuff in that piece about how SUVs represent our dependence on foreign oil and whatnot, the basic argument that the intent is to convey Tony getting killed in a way that doesn't show him being murdered makes more sense to me than any other theory I've ever heard.

If Chase didn't insert the black screen for any purpose other than "messing with us" or "the viewer got whacked," then he's been awfully careful to continue feeding the idea that there is a specific event buried there -- did you get to the reference to Chase's comment about "it could have happened that night or any other night"? I think that was a pretty good one -- for no apparent reason.

If in fact it's just "the show is over, Tony's life goes on as before," then there's a lot of stuff that's in that final scene for absolutely no good reason except to be coy and cute and make internet people freak out, and it's not well done. If Tony died, it's been made carefully and it's well done. That's my feeling.

Greg said...

I don't think even Chase knows if Tony lives or not. I think he left it ambiguous on purpose. I don't know if he did that because he couldn't make up his mind, or he wanted people to discuss the series after it was gone or some other reason. But I think the scene was deliberately left open ended, and trying to find the answer is like trying to find Atlantis. Just my opinion...

ddnnll said...

I'm all for ambiguity and not having things spelled out for me, which is why I loved this episode. But I don't think ambiguity necessarily negates the possibility of a "right" answer.

For me, personally, the ending ONLY works if we accept Tony as dead. (And I think the ten seconds of black before the credits roll is significant.) I know there was no "set-up" for Tony's murder, but I think that's the point. The whole "you don't see it coming" is not just a red herring ... it's gigantic, glaring foreshadowing, and it's exactly what happened.

Personally, any other interpretation just makes the cut to black seem self-indulgent and manipulative.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was fantastic. What Alan is missing is that the writer makes a very convincing argument about why we never know who exactly killed Tony. The answer is that it simply doesn't matter. Tony's life left an infinite number of motive's. Any exposition of the set up to Tony's murder would ruin the vicarious experience. Tony wouldn't know, so why should we? Besides, the scene will lose its suspense if we are fully aware that a plot is in motion. Chase is a master of surprises.

Anonymous said...

"Moreso the way that he twists in the wind trying to argue that Chase saying that he didn't want to give faux-moralists in the audience the satisfaction of seeing Tony dead really only meant that he didn't want to show Tony dead on screen."

Actually the writer makes a great point about this and backs it up with actual quotes. This is the same interview where Chase drops the Torciano reference. Chase reconciles his problem (not wanting to show Tony killed)with the POV editing pattern. He can kill Tony while denying us the pleasure of seeing it.

"You never hear it coming" is but one character's speculation. Why is this constantly cited as though it's a scientific fact? (Besides, when Bobby got killed, we certainly did hear it, and I think it was loud enough for him to hear as well.)"

Nobody said its scientific fact. However, this is Chase's universe and it's his rules.

The big point people miss is that Bacala HAD to see and hear it. If Bacala "never heard it" then the flashback would just be seen as a remembrance about the nature of Bobby's death. The idea of the flasback as a "clue" would be lost if that was the case. Chase deliberately had Bacala see his killers to avoid confusion about the flashback clearing up the ambiguity of the end.

M.A.Peel said...

Well Alan, only because you brought it up: there is something that has always bothered me about the ending, completely apart from the question of Tony's state of life (I'm firmly in the "he's dead" camp.)

And that is how off in tone the scene is, once the POV jumps from him at the door to sitting in the booth. In the booth, he seems like Ralph Kramden. Gone is the hulking, dangerous mob boss. He goes out with a whimper. . .

I've posted on this over at my place (When Tony Was Ralph.)

Brandon said...

I'm not going to weigh in on either side, because I think it's intentionally ambiguous in sort of a choose-your-own-ending kinda way. In one of his post-finale interviews, Chase said that after seeing Planet of the Apes, he came away thinking that planet also had a Statue of Liberty, as opposed to the simpler answer that they were on Earth the whole time.

But more importantly, the POV argument makes no sense. Sure, it seems like we hear a doorbell, see Tony look up, and then see the entrance directly from his eye sockets, but we don't. If we did, we'd see Carmela, and AJ, and Members Only all look directly into the camera when they spot Tony, not just off to its left. No, the camera never once gives us Tony's exact POV, and only ever does so in dream sequences anyway. Therefore, the final sequence, with (presumably) Meadow's doorbell, Tony looking up, and the cut to black doesn't represent Tony himself cutting to black.

Not that he doesn't die anyway. I'm just saying that the POV touters need to take another look.

Anonymous said...

"But more importantly, the POV argument makes no sense. Sure, it seems like we hear a doorbell, see Tony look up, and then see the entrance directly from his eye sockets, but we don't. If we did, we'd see Carmela, and AJ, and Members Only all look directly into the camera when they spot Tony, not just off to its left. No, the camera never once gives us Tony's exact POV, and only ever does so in dream sequences anyway. Therefore, the final sequence, with (presumably) Meadow's doorbell, Tony looking up, and the cut to black doesn't represent Tony himself cutting to black."

When are POV shots 100% accurate? I would say in 99% of all films they aren't. Seriously, I'm not sure how anybody can argue those aren't POV shots.

Anonymous said...

I think it's worth noting what was said on the commentary to the penultimate episode of the final season of the Sopranos. Arthur Nascarella (who played Carlo) and Stevie Van Zandt (Silvio, of course) provided the audio track to "The Blue Comet." Since the commentary was recorded after the show (and, thus, after the furor over the fade to black ending) had concluded, they decided to comment on the final moment.

Nascarella remarked that at the table read to that final epsidoe, he asked Chase why he decided to end it that way. Chase remarked (and this is an inexact quote which conveys the essential meaning though not exact wording) that he "didn't want to show that crime paid, and didn't want to show that crime didn't pay." This was the frankest admission I had ever heard attributed to Chase regarding the ending, save for the one in Alan's column. This quote, in my mind, indicates an imprecise ending that was to be left up to the viewer's imagination. I was puzzled that the author of that immense tome that advocated the position that Tony died didn't come across that piece of actual evidence that undermined his case. The Sopranos was jam-packed with underlying tones and themes, but that essay is far too much work to get to a point that can never be proven, at least not with any real exactitude.

-Joe

Andrew said...

When are POV shots 100% accurate? I would say in 99% of all films they aren't. Seriously, I'm not sure how anybody can argue those aren't POV shots.

Quite a few movies go through the trouble of accurately reflecting a character's point of view when they're doing a point of view shot. The first film that comes to mind is "Silence of the Lambs" but I'm sure that there are plenty more.

If I may just put another (bigger) dent in the POV theory: in the final scene, the camera cuts to "Tony's POV" before Tony actually looks up when AJ and Members Only Guy enter. How can the shot be reflecting Tony's POV when he's staring down at his menu at the time? I'm amazed that the author could've put so much work into this piece but missed this simple fact.

Anonymous said...

"Nascarella remarked that at the table read to that final epsidoe, he asked Chase why he decided to end it that way. Chase remarked (and this is an inexact quote which conveys the essential meaning though not exact wording) that he "didn't want to show that crime paid, and didn't want to show that crime didn't pay."

But isn't that exact quote consistent with the point the author makes? By showing Tony's death all we get is the "Crime doesn't pay message" but Chase doesn't show Tony getting killed, he just strongly suggests it. That solves his problem and is perfectly consistent with that quote.

"If I may just put another (bigger) dent in the POV theory: in the final scene, the camera cuts to "Tony's POV" before Tony actually looks up when AJ and Members Only Guy enter. How can the shot be reflecting Tony's POV when he's staring down at his menu at the time? I'm amazed that the author could've put so much work into this piece but missed this simple fact."

No, the author makes a great point about that scene. "Members Only" Dude is the only patron shown outside the door before it opens. This suggests his importance and also furthers the writer's argument that the viewer is more aware of "Members Only Man" then Tony is. That is how Tony is able to get killed, the editing shows that Tony never sees him look twice in Tony's direction. All that matters is that once Tony hears the bell, the standard textbook POV shot continues (character looking-POV of character-character looking). That is exactly what happens.

Seriously, the author (who has to be some sort of a nut job to put all that together) did his homework. I went back and re-watched the scene with his analysis in front of me. The guy got it exactly right. How could that pattern be an accident?

Doug said...

[i]Quite a few movies go through the trouble of accurately reflecting a character's point of view when they're doing a point of view shot. The first film that comes to mind is "Silence of the Lambs" but I'm sure that there are plenty more.[/i]

So you're telling me that Jodie Foster had mini-camera's on her eyelids to get an 100% accurate POV shot? You're being silly. POV is created in editing. The shot is exactly the same every time Tony looks up.

Frankly, I don't know why the guy doesn't use this quote from Chase:

[/i]"Somebody said it would be a good idea if we said something about the ending. I really wasn't going to go into it. But I'll just say this: When I was going to Stanford University graduate film school, 23 years old, I went and saw 'Planet of the Apes' with my wife. When the movie was over I said, 'Wow, so they had a Statue of Liberty, too.' So that's what you're up against." [/i]

How could anybody read that quote and [i]not[/i] think Tony's dead.

Andrew said...

So you're telling me that Jodie Foster had mini-camera's on her eyelids to get an 100% accurate POV shot? You're being silly.

Well, no. You just instruct the actor to stare directly at the camera. The person whose point of view it's supposed to be reflecting isn't actually on camera, so they're not needed for the shot.

Lynch said...

No, the author makes a great point about that scene. "Members Only" Dude is the only patron shown outside the door before it opens. This suggests his importance and also furthers the writer's argument that the viewer is more aware of "Members Only Man" then Tony is.

If it's only meant to make the viewer aware of Members Only Guy, then why use the exact same angle that's supposed to be Tony's POV? Why not use an angle that differentiates it somehow? By using the Tony POV angle for a shot that's not actually reflecting Tony's POV, they break the pattern.

Anonymous said...

I guess I see your point.

However, once Tony looks up, that standard textbook POV shot continues. Why would Chase do this? Why even cut back to Tony?, we know "Members Only Guy" is about to enter. It's apparent to me that Chase HAS to cut back to Tony to continue the pattern. That pattern is never disrupted. The "same shot" of "Members Only Guy" approaching the door is objective and seems to signal that WE should be aware of this guy but Tony isn't (because he's looking down).

I do see your point though. You would think Chase would change the angle a little. Maybe it's there to remind us we share Tony's POV, much like the "jump cut" to Tony seeing himself sitting at the table which is really the viewer seeing Tony from the same spot where he was just standing, thereby connecting our POV to Tony's

Anonymous said...

C'mon guys, he's dead. Just face it.

nfieldr said...

I've been reading on this piece for a couple of days now (as I have time) and
I do agree that he makes some valid points. I can see Tony getting whacked as a possible scenario, but I'm still not convinced that it's the only possible scenario.

I mostly agree with kc, I think DC was deliberately building the tension in the final scene for the viewers sake. And, I immediately flashed on the Godfather when the MO guy went the head (sorry, ex Navy).

Antid Oto said...

Does it matter, really? I'm in the very tiny camp that decided the show ended after Season 5. I watched Seasons 6.1 and 6.2, but I decided that they were a waste of time and didn't add anything to what I knew at the end of Season 5. Only one character in the Sopranos got a serious moral choice, and she made it when she went back to Tony. Everything after that was anticlimax.

drake leLane said...

So Chase says "it's all there," and that he "didn't want to show that crime paid, and didn't want to show that crime didn't pay." Sounds like it's all there for us to interpret either way... endlessly. As Steve Perry* sings, "it goes on and on and on and on..."

I visualize the family eating red herrings at the table instead of onion rings.

*By the way, the new Steve Perry-less Journey album will probably debut in the top 5 this week, projected from sales in it's first three days (40K). It's not even on a major label... and it's already sold more than their last album did entirely. You have to think David Chase gets credit for a good chunk of that.

Linda said...

Once again with that Planet Of The Apes reference, Chase strongly suggests that there is a specific thing to "get," a specific "it was Earth all along" whammo ending, and it simply makes no sense to me for that ending to be "life goes on and the black screen basically means nothing."

So again, either Chase is intentionally trying to make people feel stupid by implying there's something to get when there isn't, or he's got more of an ending in mind than "they continue having dinner."

Ultimately, though, I agree with those who have noted that what's on the screen is what's on the screen, and Tony is neither dead nor alive, because Tony is fictional. I'm only interested in what Chase was trying to suggest, and only he really knows that.

Anonymous said...

I think Chase "ended" the Sopranos with ambiguity so we would continue to discuss it forever...LOL.

While I can see that one ending might be that Tony has to live looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life, I think he died in that final scene. The abrupt cut to black is my rationale...and I'm sticking to that.

Matthew L said...

it simply makes no sense to me for that ending to be "life goes on and the black screen basically means nothing." So again, either Chase is intentionally trying to make people feel stupid by implying there's something to get when there isn't, or he's got more of an ending in mind than "they continue having dinner."

Speaking as someone who subscribes to the life-goes-on camp, I've never really felt that it's just a matter of "they carry on having dinner". I've always interpreted the cut-to-black as Chase saying "I'm finishing telling this story now, it's a bit of an arbitrary point to finish since Tony's fate isn't actually resolved, and a sudden cut-to-black mid-scene just highlights that fact."

The truth is, we know how Tony's story will probably end - there are really two options. He might be killed (and the final scene really showed that - whether Tony was alert or concerned, the audience basically saw everyone in the diner as a threat), or he'll be arrested (the guy who they refer to talking to the Feds may have the final clinching evidence, or mayy not, but one day the Feds will manage to make their case). And, to me, Chase is saying that we know one day he'll lose out, maybe in a few years, but Chase isn't interested in telling the story of Tony's eventual fall. All we need to know is that it will happen one day, the final scene sets that up, and then Chase says "I've finished telling the story". And the fact that it's mid-scene is irrelevant - it just highlights that ending at this point is just arbitrary.

After reading this guy's analysis (and yes I've read all of it), for the first time I can see that there is a strong basis for the Tony-dies interpretation. It didn't quite win me over, but it came close, and certainly had me questioning how I interpret the ending. It's an extraordinary piece of analysis, and the writer can be justly proud of it.

TL said...

If I can poke another hole in the POV-gospel, the 2001-esque jump cut at the beginning of the sequence (where it seems like Tony sees himself sitting at the booth) should be enough evidence that we shouldn't expect the editing to play by the classical rules.

TL said...

Really?? A lifetime of murder and mobsterism, both by Tony's hands and by his words, and you can't believe there would be ONE person left with a reason to kill Tony?

I can't believe that there was anyone with a reason AND the means to make it happen. There's always somebody who wants a mob boss dead. But part of the reason for being in a mob is that those people can't touch you without bringing hell down upon themselves. So sure, Jason Barone had an ax to grind; I'm also sure that his first broken kneecap taught him to funnel his anger elsewhere.

Linda said...

"And the fact that it's mid-scene is irrelevant - it just highlights that ending at this point is just arbitrary."

And this is what I'm saying; if the guy decided to end the series in a way that was arbitrary, that would be essentially the only arbitrary thing he ever did in the show's entire history, and it would also be...kind of a hack thing to do. Anything is possible, but he has strongly suggested that there is nothing arbitrary about the ending and there is indeed something you're supposed to get, and "it's all arbitrary" just doesn't make sense to me. And if it is "it's an arbitrary non-ending, because I am not interested in telling any more of Tony's story," then...that's poorly done.

Tom said...

Damn. A year passes and people still are so passionate about this. Well done, David Chase. Personally, I hated the ending when I first saw it, but in retrospect I think it was perfect.

A few thoughts:

Regarding Tony's flashback to Bobby musing that "You never hear it coming..." I believe Tony had that flashback while holed up in the aftermath of Bobby's murder. At the time, I took it as Tony's regret over knowing that Bobby took comfort in thinking death would be instant and painless, but in reality he very much heard it and saw it coming. Maybe Chase also intended this to foreshadow Tony's own death, but that foreshadowing is not necessary to account for the scene.

Regarding Chase's "Planet of the Apes" anecdote: This seems to me clear evidence that he's a firm believer that there's not a single "correct" interpretation of any story, even a in-your-face Rod Serling twist-ender of a story.

To that end, I think both the "Tony is dead" and "Life goes on" camp are correct.

What interests me is why the "dead" arguers are more vehement in defending their view. Unless, of course, there's a 22,000 word essay arguing "Life goes on" somewhere out there.

Susan said...

I agree with a lot of what Tom said just above my comment, and especially admire his interpretation of Tony's flashing back to Bobby's "You never hear it coming" moment.

I think it's deliberately vague and open to interpretation. However, I tend to fall into the camp of: he doesn't die; life goes on but the viewer doesn't get to see it; Tony will always live under threat.

If David Chase really meant to give the viewer the impression that Tony was killed, without actually showing it, there would have been many other ways to do that. He could have ended the show with a clear image of a gun being put to Tony's head, blackout. Or just shown the Members Only guy with a gun sticking out of his pocket. I believe that Chase didn't do any of that, because he didn't want to make that clear of a choice. As with the quote about the end of Planet of the Apes, he left it open to interpretation. And I like it that way.

Curtis L said...

You've gotta admire this blogger's thoroughness, but what he's trying to do is misguided. We can never "prove" that Tony died because we didn't see him die, and he's a fictional character, with no "life" beyond the series. I think that's what Chase meant by "it's all there."

Yes, we can say that "Chase builds an atmosphere of dread in the last scene, as though implying that Tony is about to get his. He also foreshadows -- through the chat with Bobby, etc. -- that death will come quietly and suddenly." But it's wrong to say this "proves" anything because there's nothing to prove. The show is the show and when it's over, Tony doesn't exist.

Ultimately, you're not going to get a better answer (as many have pointed out) than "Either Tony died or he didn't. It's ambiguous." I tend to think that either/or narrative ambiguities are cheap, unless they point to deeper thematic significance. And the theme here seems pretty obvious: it doesn't matter if Tony died that day, because he'll die someday, whether it's by bullet or heart attack. It'll be sudden, and it won't be redemptive. The Angel of Death is hovering over him in a Members Only jacket.

TL said...

What interests me is why the "dead" arguers are more vehement in defending their view. Unless, of course, there's a 22,000 word essay arguing "Life goes on" somewhere out there.

Same here. And along the same lines, I don't get why there is insistence that there was closure for a show that repeatedly denied it.

Tom said...

Regarding Susan's suggestion that Chase, if he had intended us to know that Tony had been shot, would have shown a gun...I dunno. That would have been a bit OTN.

On the other hand, I don't buy the argument that Chase's Tony looks up/cut to Tony's POV editing of the scene proves that the final cut to black is meant to conclusively indicate that Tony got whacked. Chase cut the scene so that the final image is of Tony (as Steve Perry sings 'Don't stop'). If the See Tony/See Tony's POV argument were conclusive, then the last shot would have been Tony's POV, then black.

And, for that matter, there's no one seen behind Tony in that last shot. So the Member's Only guy would have have been to Tony's side, some distance away, when he pulled a gun. More than enough time for some audible reaction from other patrons the split second before the cut to black.

But that would have provided a conclusive ending...

All of this is not to argue Tony wasn't shot to death in that instant. But it's by no means a certainty.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm glad people still want to argue this so passionately a year later.

One point about Chase's Planet of the Apes story, which I was present for the telling of: while I can understand how somebody might have seen that movie in 1968 and not immediately grasped the implication of the Statue of Liberty's appearance, it's still a much, much more obvious clue to the movie's "solution" than anything in the Holsten's scene points towards Tony's death.

So either Chase feels he made things far clearer than many of us did, or the story was another part of his ongoing enjoyment over people debating the ending.

Anonymous said...

There is no answer.

Stop reaching for the Holy Grail.

"Let it go, Indiana!"


Chris

drake leLane said...

What interests me is why the "dead" arguers are more vehement in defending their view.

Because death is the ultimate final answer. I'm kidding just a bit... psychologically, though, I think there's some connection. Once you've gone down Death's road, you'll find no easily discernable exits or u-turns.

Having just seen Kung Fu Panda, count me in the camp of "there's no secret ingredient" ;)

Withnail said...

Here's the thing about the POV shots -

the first one is the one that I knew would mean that this scene is going to be played - and needed to be looked at - differently than the rest of the show.

Look closely:

We see Tony enter the diner.

We see his POV of the diner - and the patrons in it. And the empty booth.

We see Tony looking -

and we see TONY SITTING IN THE BOOTH.

This might not seem important to some, but trust me - what that was, was Tony Looking At Himself. By the Rules of Cinema.

from that moment on POV was VERY important.

kc said...

It can be both arbitrary AND mean something because Chase has presented us with the ultimate paradox ending.

Tom said...

Withnail, I absolutely agree that the establishing shot of Tony entering the diner and 'seeing' himself is very important -- but I think there's more to it than an attempt to establish a rhythm to the scene in order to show Tony's assassination. The images get to the crux of the entire series. They show that Tony is self-aware.

The main dramatic question throughout "The Sopranos" was never 'will Tony survive,' it was 'will Tony face the truth about himself?' He's an intelligent, sensitive man in therapy -- who also happens to be a murderous gangster. His inner conflict was the driving force of the series.

The final scene of the Sopranos finds Tony triumphant in his career. He's killed Leotardo, come to terms with Butchie, tied up the loose ends in his own organization (Christopher) and now he's at last able to relax and enjoy his reward. Which is...

A diner meal with his horrible wife and their thoroughly messed-up offspring. This is it...the 'good times' he promised AJ all those years ago.

Of far more interest to me than the unnamed, vaguely threatening characters coming and going in that final scene is the music Chase included. "All that you dream" plays as Tony enters the place and confronts himself (and his future). Waiting for his family, he flips through the selections on the jukebox. One choice would reflect that Tony acknowledges that his life has been an empty, narcissistic, violent attempt to impose is will on the world. But Tony passes over "I Gotta Be Me/In A Lonely Place." We all know what he chooses instead.

To me, whether Tony died or not is entirely beyond the point. What matter is that he has chosen damnation.

Jeff V said...

Here's my take...

http://jvsports.blogspot.com/2008/06/david-chases-accomplishment.html

Dennis Wilson said...

At the end of The Sopranos series, Tony Soprano is Schroedinger's Cat, both alive and dead until someone opens the "box."

Dennis Wilson said...

At the end of The Sopranos series, Tony Soprano is Schroedinger's Cat, both alive and dead until someone opens the "box."

Anonymous said...

Tom, you said,

"On the other hand, I don't buy the argument that Chase's Tony looks up/cut to Tony's POV editing of the scene proves that the final cut to black is meant to conclusively indicate that Tony got whacked. Chase cut the scene so that the final image is of Tony (as Steve Perry sings 'Don't stop'). If the See Tony/See Tony's POV argument were conclusive, then the last shot would have been Tony's POV, then black."

The question you have to ask yourself is does Chase want the final image of the series to be an awkard looking shot of Meadow coming through the door and THEN the cut to black OR does Tony HAVE to be the last image we see?

I think Chase wanted Tony to be the last image we see. So he creates the POV editing pattern so that it isn't necessary to show Meadow for a second or two before the cut to black.

Instead, the cut to black happens at the exact spot where we should see Meadow as already laid out four prior times in the pattern.

"And, for that matter, there's no one seen behind Tony in that last shot. So the Member's Only guy would have have been to Tony's side, some distance away, when he pulled a gun. More than enough time for some audible reaction from other patrons the split second before the cut to black."

Chase has Tony's face fill the screen in that final shot so that we cant be sure if somebody is behind him.

Did Phil Leotardo's wife react?, did Silvio or his goomah react to the Torciano murder? They all had delayed reactions. The final shot of Carmela and AJ (just seconds before the blackout) is of them both looking DOWN at their menus. Chase logistically set it all up perfectly. Besides, none of the patrons are expecting a whacking in the diner.

Brendan said...

You should all listen to Alik Sakharov, the show's DP, on the American Cinematagropher's podcast. I've seen a million posts about the "rules" as far as shots go, and in the podcast he notes that they purposely broke many of the "rules of cinema" in this scene alone (i.e., completely breaking the line when the Members Only guy goes to the bathroom).

I'd also like to point out the numerous references to being left hanging on throughout the final string of episodes, but I don't have the time right now. But, to name a few: Carmela's "Is this it?" in the premiere, Tony talking about the piano over his head, and even right down to Melvoin not being able to get the ketchup out of the bottle in the finale.

I think this is a comment on modern, post-9/11 American society. We never do know what happened t the Arabs, do we?

And, from that same "it's all there" interview:

--"There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clear trend on view -- a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela's future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn't really matter."

--(When asked if the ending matched his plans): "As I recall, it was just that Tony and his family would be in a diner having dinner and a guy would come in. Pretty much what you saw."

--"Is there a purpose [to life], you mean? Everything I have to say about that is in the show. Go look at Albert Camus's Myth of Sisyphus. It's all there: Life seems to have no purpose but we have to go on behaving as though it does. We have to go on behaving toward each other like people who would love."

(That last quote remind anyone of a certain "Remember the good times" line in the episode?)

So here we have Chase talking about Tony's future, yet you'll never see this show up in an argument for his death. Then you have a rather mundane summary of the finale, certainly nothing to set off any alarms.

Then comes this quote about the Camus book. To quickly summarize: Sishyphus is doomed to an afterlife of carrying a boulder up a large hill, only to have it fall and the whole process reset. It's my belief, if we take "The Sopranos" as a personal work of art, that this is David Chase's thesis statement. Or, to translate it into Sopranos terms, "It's all a big nothing."

Season 6 (if you count it as one long season) opens with Carmela dreaming of Adrianna, telling her how she's worried all the time. How many other times do we hear this sentiment throughout the series? How many times does Tony exclaim, "I did [insert whatever here] and for what?"


One of Tony's first lines of dialogue is "I came in at the end." He's constantly worrying about his downfall. Death or jail? Death or jail? Well, in that last scene, we're shown how possible either of those endings are at any moment. Tony thinks Carlo could testify, and then we're shown how vulnerable he is when a sketchy guy walks in the room.

I think the point of the last scene is this: We worry, and worry, and worry all our lives, and then before we know it -- BAM. It's gone. You know what Phil Leotardo's talking about before he dies? Prescription pills. Another one of those minor things we fret about all our lives. In an instant, he's dead. Or, in the case of Johnny Sac enjoying a morning cigarette with Tony on a cold winter day, you could go to jail.

So I'm willing to concede that the black could represent death, but I don't think Tony died right then. But my actual belief is that black is just how Chase, like Livia, sees life. All you can do is remember the good times.

Brendan said...

Whoops. I was way off on cinematographer wasn't I? That doesn't help my credibility much...

Kalman said...

I spent a good chunk of my day yesterday reading this blog. I have been firmly in the "life goes on" camp since the moment the credits rolled. I went into this essay with my beliefs having been entrenched and calcified over the course of a year. I didn't want to believe it. But now . . . I do.

The POV points and the war against terror stuff was all interesting, and persuasive. But above all, this essay crystalized for me what Chase was going for—that Tony had his shot at redemption, and passed. And so, just as Phil reverted to old, violent form, and paid for it by being whacked in front of his family, so too, did Tony.

Best of all, all that Kevin Finnerty stuff finally makes complete sense to me!

Anonymous said...

"You should all listen to Alik Sakharov, the show's DP, on the American Cinematagropher's podcast. I've seen a million posts about the "rules" as far as shots go, and in the podcast he notes that they purposely broke many of the "rules of cinema" in this scene alone (i.e., completely breaking the line when the Members Only guy goes to the bathroom)."

Actually this interview only confirms most of what the author said. They do "break the line" when Members Only Guy goes to the bathroom. It is the only shot (1)from an angle to the left of the booth where we see Tony's left shoulder and Carmela's right shoulder and (2)where the camera moves with a dolly tracking shot.

So the real question is why is this shot so different? I think the answer is obvious. "Members Only Guy" going to the bathroom, behind Tony is the most important shot of the scene (besides the 10 seconds of blackness).

Now notice when the interviewer asks Sakharov if the scene is shot that way to suggest Members Only has an unobstructed shot at Tony from outside the bathroom, that if Meadow was on time she would be sitting in that aisle seat and Members Only would have no shot at Tony. Sakharov doesn't fall for the question but answers that every detail, every shot and every movement was done by Chase for a reason in that final scene.

The first two quotes from Chase that you mentioned are cited in the article. The author (very acutely) reconciles that statement (which in of itself ties Tony's future to "that night") with the Torciano reference in the same interview.

The second quote suggest one true threat. It seems to put to rest that many of patrons in the diner are meant to be threats or symbolize Tony's paranoia.

The third (and I had to re-check the interview in the Sopranos book) is not referring to the ending but to Chase's sensibility in general and is not inconsistent with Tony dying.

Matthew L said...

And this is what I'm saying; if the guy decided to end the series in a way that was arbitrary, that would be essentially the only arbitrary thing he ever did in the show's entire history, and it would also be...kind of a hack thing to do. Anything is possible, but he has strongly suggested that there is nothing arbitrary about the ending and there is indeed something you're supposed to get, and "it's all arbitrary" just doesn't make sense to me. And if it is "it's an arbitrary non-ending, because I am not interested in telling any more of Tony's story," then...that's poorly done.

Okay, "arbitrary" is probably the wrong word for it, except to the extent that all storytelling is arbitrary. The storyteller has a story they want to tell, and they select the elements to tell that story. But part of any storytelling is that the character has a life outside of the story - they don't just blink into existence every time the writer calls them into a scene. They have a backstory that we never get to see, if they don't die then their life continues once the story ends, and even in the story we only get selected highlights, the key moments of that period covered by the story (The Sopranos covers eight years in 83 hours. That's 70,045 hours of Tony Soprano's life that we don't see in the period covered by the show.) So there is a degree to which that selection of moments is arbitrary.

In the same way, (in a simplistic way of viewing the show) the decision of David Chase was to tell the story of the rise of Tony Soprano - as Tom pointed out above, "the final scene of the Sopranos finds Tony triumphant in his career". But David Chase could easily have told the story of the fall of Tony Soprano, in which case we start with triumphant Tony at the diner, and then follow him to his death or incarceration - a completely different type of story. Or he could tell the story of the rise and fall of Tony Soprano - again, another different type of story with a different focus, albeit one with strong similarities to both those other stories. It is an arbitrary decision by David Chase to tell this type of story as opposed to that type of story, and the type of story he is telling dictates which moments in Tony's life he decides to tell.

So it's not that he's saying "I'm not interested in telling any more of Tony's story", it's that he's told the part of Tony's story that he wanted to tell. But there is more to Tony's life than what we've been told, and the sudden cut-to-black-silence is just a radical way of him saying "the story that I am telling is finished, even if Tony's story has not". We've had most of the loose ends tied up, we've had the important part of the diner scene (the part that actually establishes the two ways his story may end), we don't actually need to see Meadow come in and eat onion rings because that's not relevant to the story. So we cut right at that moment.

Does that make sense?

Tom said...

Anonymous -- yes, Chase chose to end the series with a close up of Tony, and not Tony's POV, as the rhythm of the scene would dictate.

The obvious reason for doing this is that Tony is the main character of the story.

Another reason is that had he shown Tony's POV -- Meadow entering the diner -- he would have had to chose to either show her smiling and carefree, or shrieking in horror.

In either case, we would not be having this conversation a year later.

The ending was unambiguously ambiguous.

Algernon said...

Ok, I haven't seen anyone yet mention that "Man in Members Only Jacket" was actually filmed coming back from the bathroom and walking up to the table before the blackout. But the scene was removed during editing because it would "stack the deck toward one interpretation" (paraphrased). Sorry, no link, but I remember reading that in several places last summer.

The general paranoia / "this is Tony's life, looking over his shoulder" argument that Alan and (I believe) Matt made last summer has not held up, given the number of unique things about Members Only guy in this scene. If it's a "life goes on" ending, why so much attention to this one bit character? Why is he credited that way, why is his name a callback to the first episode of Season 6, why does the camera follow him to the bathroom?

For the "life goes on" explanation to work, David Chase would have had to have created Members Only Guy to be nothing more than a huge red herring meant to trick his audience. I don't think Chase did that -- he said "it's all there."

The blackout was a brilliant way to have "Tony dies" without being cliched.

Daniel said...

To me, the biggest hurdle for the "Tony dies" camp is the penultimate scene in the series. Why include the scene with Junior, dying slowly alone and unmourned, if not to reflect on one of Tony's likely fates? Why negate that in the next scene? And is Tony dying really a particularly interesting end to the series? It certainly doesn't fit with Chase's usual MO, which is generally to show his main characters slowly fading away.

Kalman said...

"Why include the scene with Junior, dying slowly alone and unmourned, if not to reflect on one of Tony's likely fates? "

This is answered by the essay. The author notes, correctly, and quotes Chase alluding to the series' thread that the bad guys choose their fate; they "get it in the end." Phil gets a hole in his head before his melon gets squashed, in front of his wife and grandkids. Johnny Sack dies of cancer, in prison, unable to even hug his wife and daughters. Uncle Ju dies alone, imprisoned and insane. And Tony meets his own very brutal end, in front of his whole family. This is what becomes of the mighty mob bosses.

Dying alone, in prison, suffering from disease was, indeed, one of Tony's possible fates. So was getting whacked. It ended up being the latter.

Anonymous said...

From: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20152845,00.html

"Sure. But I must say that even people who liked it misinterpreted it, to a certain extent. This wasn't really about ''leaving the door open.'' There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clean trend on view — a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela's future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn't really matter."

So yeah Tony doesn't get murdered that night but he still might or maybe will end up dying in prison. Also for me an ending where Tony is whacked along with an obvious Godfather reference with a sudden cut to black is too cliche... it's too "Planet of the Apes".. it's too obvious.

Brendan said...

So yeah Tony doesn't get murdered that night but he still might or maybe will end up dying in prison. Also for me an ending where Tony is whacked along with an obvious Godfather reference with a sudden cut to black is too cliche... it's too "Planet of the Apes".. it's too obvious.

This is essentially how I feel about it. David Chase is one of my writing heroes, but I'll be the first to admit that if Tony was killed, without motive, by a faction of people who were not developed on the show making decisions about Tony off-screen, then that's bad writing. It just is. It's the equivalent of a child telling a story, how they go on for what feels like hours, then as they're about to get to the punchline, they say, "Wait. Hold on. I forget this really important part from the beginning." Only, you know, in child-like, grammatically incorrect terms.

As I said, I will concede that the cut to black is meant to represent death, as in Chase is saying, "Yeah, this is how it could happen. He could be eating there, worrying about Carlo testifying, then get shot in the head." Considering Chase stated, "There are no esoteric clues," I simply can't accept that it happened that night.]

When else, in the entire history of the show, were we given visual clues that actually foreshadow an upcoming event? And you can't use the "eggs equal death" argument, as the writers have vehemently denied it to be true. There are countless times we're left hanging throughout the series (Valery, Furio), yet we're never given puzzles to put together to figure out what happened. It's hard for me to imagine that the same guy who chose not to include an original score, who made it a strict rule that camera movement was not allowed in the therapy scenes, all because he says that in life there is no score or dolly movement to tell you "Hey, this is important." So, a show that prides itself on being just like life, with storylines popping up then quickly burning out, with no help for the audience as to what's important, with no history of "esoteric clues," suddenly changes everything in the last five minutes?

It all comes down to opinion, and I'm fine with that. If you want to see Tony dead, I can't argue. We were certainly left to debate it. I guess the only thing that really confuses me is how or why people think it fits into the show. What does it add? Why is Tony getting killed in this scene brilliant? This is an honest question -- I'm not one to start fights about this. I've heard/read many people say, in effect, that Tony getting killed after the abrupt cut made the scene satisfying. I'm truly curious as to how this can be true. To me, if it's true that he was killed, only then would I feel completely cheated.

Brendan said...

Ugh, I have to stop writing these comments in between customers. Keep losing trains of thought. This sentence was meant to read: "It's hard for me to imagine that the same guy who chose not to include an original score, who made it a strict rule that camera movement was not allowed in the therapy scenes, all because he says that in life there is no score or dolly movement to tell you "Hey, this is important," spelling everything out with easter egg clues."

EssPee said...

I thought the analysis was incredibly interesting and thorough, even if -- as the discussion here shows -- it's not anywhere near as definitive as the writer seems to think.

Of course, I was already inclined toward the "Tony dies" interpretation. But one of the things I've long found most aesthetically and emotionally satisfying about this reading of the final scene is the way it shatters the denial Tony's small-f family has adopted in order to enjoy their wealth and privileges without guilt. Carmella, Meadow and A.J. are all thoroughly corrupted at this point, so how better to rub their noses in the sordid reality of Tony's business than by seeing him shot to death right before their eyes -- not by the state's goons or an addled uncle, but by a hit man whose gun clatters to the floor as he heads straight out the door?

Another problem with the "life goes on" reading is that it leaves Tony -- and, to a lesser extent, members of his family -- free to continue spreading havoc and destruction on innocents. Chase spent most of the final season reminding us that most of these often-likable characters are in fact monsters. An ending that implies they'll get to carry on until some undetermined future event -- a conviction, a heart attack, a bullet or whatever -- brings it to an end undercuts one of the primary themes of the series, which is that everyone is complicit, everyone is guilty, and everyone gets theirs in the end. Why should Tony's immediate family get off scott free?

I'm a lot less worried about the unanswered "plot" questions raised if Tony was in fact whacked. As the blogger himself notes, setting up an explanation for the hit earlier in the episode would amount to unwarranted foreshadowing, making it impossible to establish that no one -- including the viewers -- "heard it coming."

I also think the final scene intentionally marks a radical departure from the plot-centered narrative that drove the show up to that point -- mostly because nothing really happens in that scene in a narrative-plot sense. Sure, there's a little exposition about Carlo and the trial, but that conversation could have come up anywhere and at any time -- there's no reason it has to happen right here in the midst of this elaborately constructed scene.

So I think the final scene leaves conventional narrative behind specifically to focus on overarching theme and metaphor and to set up the final shock (to us and, presumably, to Tony and his family). It's no accident that many people in the diner remind us of earlier characters -- I liked the idea that this represents Tony's life "flashing before his eyes."

I mean, Tony really isn't particularly wary in Holsten's. He looks up from time to time, but is otherwise more occupied with his menu and Carmella and A.J. once they arrive. If this scene is supposed to indicate his own "personal hell," it looks like a fairly pleasant one. Tony's victorious in the war with New York, his wife and kids are successful, Meadow's getting married, and they're all joshing and -- importantly -- not bickering. Any potential problems are comfortably far off in the future, and Tony is so relaxed he doesn't even sit with his back to the wall.

I don't think for a second that my interpretation is any more conclusive than anyone else's, but it's a whole hell of a lot more gratifying to me than "life goes on," which is an ending that could have happened at any time under almost any circumstances. By contrast, given what we know of Chase's desire not to feed the bloodlust of his viewers, Tony getting whacked couldn't have happened any other way.

Anonymous said...

We have no storyline evidence that Tony was going to die that night. I think people had already anticipated Tony's death and therefore view the final scene from that perspective. Also to come to that conclusion you have to fill the gaps in yourself with an exhaustive and lengthy analysis.

There is an aesthetic argument to be made that the "cut to black" ending simply meant that's the end of the story being told. Not the end of the protagonist. Take for example "No Country for Old Men" which had a similar ending. No one assumes this meant the immediate death of Tommy Lee Jone's character but it did represent death; an eventual death along with the "death" of the narrative. This is the end.. that's all that had to be told. It's very simple but yet has great aesthetic value.

It's not a great leap to view the ending in "Made to America" in the same way. It has aesthetic appeal to it. As a "Tony is whacked" interpretation seems to be grasping at straws. It feels ad hoc and cliche.

Linda said...

It's not definitive to me, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that to me, the decisions in the final scene are careful and intelligent if they are intended to convey that he gets killed by Members Only. Otherwise, I think -- as some have noted -- that it's a red herring and a tease, for which I don't have much use. In other words, there's enough in there that obviously suggests that scenario that either that scenario is intended, or a fake-out is intended. I'm not much for fake-outs.

But if the explanation is that the reason for the drastic decision to go black so abruptly that people thought their cable went out simply that "the story is over," then...I don't believe it. I understand it, but I don't believe it.

It's not, to me, about "camps" or getting in big fights about it; the last couple of days are the first time I've discussed this since about three days after it happened.

For me, Chase saying that he intended all along that they'd be eating dinner and "a guy would come in" and that's how the show would end? That's a done deal, for me. For me! Not for everyone, but for me, that sews it up.

Anonymous said...

Esspee,

I just wanted to say that was a great post. You clearly are a person who understands what the show has always been about.

You're right, the conventional narrative is left behind to focus on "overarching theme" and "metaphor" in the final scene. That's really what Chase has always been interested in. Plot mechanics aren't really important to him. That's why the identity of the killer or his motivation just isn't important for his purposes. I doubt even Chase knows himself or even cares.

The supporters of the "there was nobody with a motive or means to kill Tony" argument will endlessly miss the point.

Anonymous said...

I just rewatched the final scene again. The POV argument clinches it for me. Tony is killed at the end causing the fade to black from his POV. No other explanation for the fade to black and silence fits. Brilliant scene by Chase. It is all on the screen.

TL said...

I also think the final scene intentionally marks a radical departure from the plot-centered narrative that drove the show up to that point -- mostly because nothing really happens in that scene in a narrative-plot sense.

Sorry, gotta note that nothing really happens in "Made in America" generally. The NY/NJ war is ended quickly and relatively painlessly, Phil is easily dispatched. Almost the entire episode was devoted to character moments and issues.

Brendan said...

@ esspee

To quote Christopher, "I don't feel that way." Well, I agree with everything up to Carmela and the kids having their noses rubbed in Tony's blood. Because I don't think Chase would even want to imply this. To suggest a scenario like this is to suggest Chase judges his characters. To suggest that means the good guys would have won in the end. If Chase had been judging Tony all along, "The Sopranos" wouldn't have been a success. It's the fact that Chase, using Writing-101 techniques, has forgiven Tony for who he is before the start of the series allows us to actually see Tony as a human being. It's very much like David Simon's approach to the characters on "The Wire." He looks at them from a humanist's standpoint, going so far as to say he "loves" them.

What, I believe, Chase actually does is follow each character's story to a logical conclusion. These bad guys who have gotten what they deserved, as you have implied, did so under the logical circumstances happening at the time.

I'm baffled at your suggestion that Chase wouldn't allow his characters to go on wreaking havoc. Paulie? Agent Harris?

Also, as far as people getting what they deserve, would you say that to Artie Bucco? The lawn guy who repeatedly got thrown around? The waiter Chrissy and Paulie killed? Melfi, after her rape (which I should point out -- the guy GOT AWAY)?Cossette?

A huge, huge theme of the show is, quite simply, life is not fair. Never was this highlighted more than the scene in "Luxury Lounge" which has Artie confronting Tony about the fact that Tony could bang a stripper, no questions asked, and totally get away with it. That right there sums up the show in a way.

I think looking at Tony dying as "getting what he deserved" is a rather judgmental viewpoint. This is a character study, we aren't supposed to be judging. We have to drop our own points of view about the world and people when watching a show like this. Yes, in real life, Tony Soprano should get what he deserves. But because you think that, doesn't mean it happened in the fictional world, created by the ever-cynical David Chase, of "The Sopranos."

As far as this being a "radical departure," in Chase's own words, this is "the famous show on which nothing happens."

Michael Whalen said...

really understand The Ending of The Sopranos, however, we must first acknowledge that there are in fact several endings, & that the final diner scene is just the last of many curtains being drawn on this sprawling saga.

I think that Christopher’s murder and Tony’s triumphant proclamation of “I get it!” brings many things to a close. His trip through therapy and the hope of some enlightenment ends at that haunting moment in the desert. He is so deluded and spiritually vacant at that point, it’s clear the emotional/psychological journey he began ends here.

That scene also bring the long awaited punch line to season 6, which could be described as “Tony get shot by his uncle, and kills his nephew.”

We’ve been waiting for the answer to the question “How does Tony ultimately respond to the shooting?” We get our answer when he becomes for Christopher what HIS uncle was for him.

(BTW, his "I get it!" moment stands in stark contrast to Bobby's similar moment at the lake house with his little girl. "This magic moment...")

“Blue Comet” ends with what many saw as a cliffhanger - Tony in bed with a big machine gun, waiting for his enemies, but I think it too was another curtain being drawn on the story.

We are meant to ask “What is Tony’s reaction to this disaster (Bobby & Silvio shot)?” The answer? He goes to sleep. He has achieved the comfortable numbness that is the only answer to his emotional problems. He will not change, so it is a victory in a way for Tony that he can endure the last pillars being kicked out from under his little NJ empire without panic, or despair, or any real feeling whatsoever.

Notice that at this point, as “Blue Comet” ends, even Dr. Melfi has gotten off this ride. Tony can have no comeback from this disaster. He is now in permanent decline. Only we stick around for one more episode, just because we have to see what, if anything, can happen now.

The classic arc of The Gangster Genre has been completed by the 2nd to last episode: the rise and the fall. This has been The Gangster's arc since Cagney, all the way to Henry Hill. Tony is now in permanent decline.

I’ll leave “Made in America” to be discussed by others, but I want to point out the social commentary involved in Tony pulling himself out of his tailspin by employing his “war on terror” card, still stashed up his sleeve.

It’s agent Grasso, and Tony’s terrorist tip, that does Phil in and solves Tony’s Phil problem.

Tom said...

Well said, Michael Whalen!

I'd just like to emphasize that Tony's epiphany in the desert brings the entire series full circle. The story began with Tony seeking therapy in order to deal with his tangled relationship with his mother; Tony, clinging to a shred of decency, fought against her raging, cynical nihilism while also trying to thrive in his father's criminal world. By the time he ate peyote and sat in the desert, Tony had successfully squelched the impulse that had initially led him to seek help from Dr. Melfi, and had come to completley accept Livia's understanding of life.

It's all a big nothing.

The rest is anticlimax.

Darian said...

For the record, I loved the finale. Worshipped it, even. But truth be told, I think it's just the greatest pun in history. I think David Simon was just telling us all that it's the Journey that matters, not the destination. Some day, I actually want to ask him if that was intentional.

Darian said...

David CHASE. All this time and I'm still mixing the HBO David's up.

Titus said...

The ending was flat-out brilliant. We will probably still be debating its precise meaning 10 years from now because it was, in fact, constructed so reasonable people could not agree on its precise meaning. Chase has kept both conclusions alive because it serves his purpose.

Tony once told Melfi that guys like him either end up "dead or in the can." Both possibilities are laid out for us in the final scene, arguing that either way, Tony is doomed. No matter what, Carmela is just another "housewife-whore" (Chase's words). AJ and Meadow are headed toward a better place in life than their parents.

Did Tony die? Honey, everybody dies. The big news at the end is that he is simply doomed. To me, the final shot belongs frozen at the end of a documentary; we can argue about the details but we know with absolute certainty that, for Tony, this is the end.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the author added some images of the final scene. Very helpful.

Anonymous said...

personally i think patsy parisi had tony whacked he was acting all funny the last time you see them together. He escaped a hit that left silvio in a coma and not expected to survive. If so he would have taken out paulie and silvio as well by default.