Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reader mail: 'Sopranos' finale (3 years later), 'The Pacific' and more

Another reader mailbag column today, in which I again stand by my "Sopranos" finale theory, respond to complaints that "The Pacific" isn't really showing the entire story of the Pacific theater, and help out what must be one of The Star-Ledger's oldest readers with a bit of movie trivia.

63 comments:

Dr Smith said...

Cannot believe how wrong you are about the Sopranos finale, brah.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Cannot believe how wrong you are about the Sopranos finale, brah.

Yes. I've been told this before - once with more than 20,000 words. But the one telling me is David Chase, I stand by my belief.

Anonymous said...

Alan- you are oh so right about the Soprano's finale and I'm glad we've got at least one tv writer out there to explain things. I agree with you, but my personal spin on it is this- the ending is that life goes on, and for Tony, its always gonna be a difficult life, given the path he's chosen. A life where everytime somebody walks past him in a diner they might be there to take him out, where everytime his daughter is late for dinner, he's got to wonder if an enemy has harmed his family. I took it as Chase's way of saying, if you think I've glorified life as a gangster, you are mistaken- Tony's is not a good life.

I've been watching a little Soprano's on on demand lately. I'm a little surprised at how well they hold up.

Tim Windsor said...

Alan,

I have to say that the POV argument, and the editing pattern argument -- both in that link -- are awfully compelling.

I believe we saw Tony die.

Anonymous said...

Alan - I've always thought The Sopranos finale was brilliant in its ambiguity. It doesn't matter if Tony is dead or not...he might be then, because that fellow at the counter could be out for him. Or he could just be a trucker heading to the bathroom. Meadow's trouble parking the car might mean she avoids getting killed along with the rest of her family - or it might just mean she misses out on the onion rings. I thought this captured perfectly both the randomness of life--and the inevitability of violence, at some point, entering Tony's life.

Bryan said...

Dead or not (and I'm currently in the dead crowd but admittedly have flipped several times)has there ever been a finale as much discussed.

That ending, in its ambiguousness (which I hated initially), has kept that show, and it's characters, very much alive for me (no pun intended).

Larry Horse said...

I actually thought about the Sopranos finale this weekend...I was out to lunch with my parents on Sunday and "Don't Stop Believin'" played on the restaurant's sound system. I immediately advised them NOT to order onion rings, then contemplated the fact that I was, in fact, AJ in this scenario.

Steve said...

The 20,000 word commentary makes a lot of compelling points. To say it is thorough would be an understatement. However, I disagree with it and found it hypocritical. Anything he cannot explain away is pure speculation, yet 15,000 of the 20,000 words are pure speculation.

Tony did not die. It was, as you say, a representation that his life is never tranquil, never easy. That he will always be tense and will always have the anxiety that put him on the couch in Season One.

Anonymous said...

chase wouldnt be stupid enough to kill him. now he can bring him back for movies and make even more $

Bryan said...

chase wouldnt be stupid enough to kill him. now he can bring him back for movies and make even more $

never happen - if he brings him back for anything other than a prequel (which wouldn't really work) it completely ruins whatever it was he was trying to do with the finale.

Adam said...

The whole point of the Sopranos finale is that it doesn't matter when Tony dies; we now know all there is to know about his character and how his life will proceed from here. There is no more story to tell.r

Edward Copeland said...

Whether or not Tony got killed to me has been irrelevant over the passing years as I've caught some old episodes on A&E and have really come to agree with New York about the Sopranos: They are more a glorified crew than a family. If Tony were truly dead and Silvio is still in his coma, was there really anyone who could take the reins of the family? When you watch the scenes such as Patsy unable to do the usual protection racket with new corporate behemoths moving into the neighborhood, if Tony died, we may have been seeing the end of that New Jersey mob family in general.

j said...

What's really great about this is that David Chase made something that still provokes great debate and thoughtful commentary. I wouldn't be surprised if the scene was created in such a way to be interpreted as either Tony's death or as a commendation of his lifestyle. There is no right or wrong answer; take what you will out of it.

Chase ushered in a great new golden age of television storytelling that challenged the viewer. At some point in the near future I'll re-watch all those Sopranos episodes...I'm looking forward to it.

Chuchundra said...

I stand by my assertion that it doesn't matter whether Tony died or not in the final scene because the whole ending was a giant FU to the fans of the series. There have been a lot of electron sacrificed trying justify or explain the ending, but I think my take makes the most sense.

My first thoughts after seeing that last scene, and I'm sure I speak for a lot of people, were, "WTF? Did my cable go out?". Is that really what Chase was going for there? Really really?

If I ever see Chase on the street, I plan to kick him in the balls.

Bryan said...

the final scene because the whole ending was a giant FU to the fans of the series

I understand what you are saying but also as a fan of the series I completely and utterly disagree. For me just because you dont' get whatever answers you want from a work of art doesn't at all minimize it or cause me to get angry. I've seen plenty of really good movies I absolutely hated (for some reason Trainspotting comes to mind, oh and King of Comedy) watching for some reason. I didn't get pissed at Scorcese though.

Chris said...

Bob Harris wrote a far more enjoyable piece about Tony dying, by the way. I think it's incredibly obvious that's what happened.

Having said that, we didn't see it, so other interpretations are OK. All I know is that last moment left me thunderstruck, staring at the TV....and the ambiguity of the moment makes it endlessly fascinating. In that way, the scene actually reaches the level of art.

Anonymous said...

The brilliant-due-to-its-ambiguity crowd are kidding themselves in my opinion. David Chase hates you. Go ahead and keep debating the so-called ending. He hates you all, and he proved it. Giant FU is absolutely right.

Chris said...

Those who are angry about the ending.....puzzling.

Anonymous said...

alan, or someone else, can you post the link to your theory about the sopranos' ending? haven't read it, would love to. thanks.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that the Tony is dead crowd didn't understand that the Soprano's was a tv show. You know, fictional, pretend, make-believe.

Brendan McCarthy said...

The interesting thing to me is, it seems at least, that this whole "Tony died" camp didn't form until some people [incorrectly] posted "facts" online such as:

--The man at the counter is named Nikki Leotardo. He's not, and is listed only as "Man in Members Only Jacket."
--The two African-American men in the diner are Tony's would-be assassins from Season 1, Episode 12. One assassin killed the other, and Tony left the survivor for dead.
--The biggest mistake of all: That Bobby says, "Everything goes black" when you die. He never said this.

It seems like these three "clues" initially ignited this argument. But they are untrue, and people ran with them anyway.

If you really think about that last scene, every one of Tony's fears for the way his life would end up have come true:

--He has no one related by blood to take over. AJ is an utter disappointment and Christopher is dead.
--He tells Meadow in "Mr. and Mrs. Sacramoni Request..." that all he wants is a grandchild. She is at the doctor re-upping her birth control. And she is also late. Tony's own child is treating him the way he and his sisters treated their mother: with less respect than he thinks he deserves.
--His two biggest job related fears are outlined for us (this is where Alan's POV theory comes into play): He could end up dead -- the Members Only guy represents what an assassin might look like and when he might strike. Or he could end up in jail -- we learn Carlo is about to testify.

And perhaps the biggest fear of all -- that he'll turn out like his mother. We watched all season long as Tony alienated himself from everyone. He manipulates Bobby into "popping his cherry"; he scares the bejeesus out of Paulie on the boat in Florida; a money/gambling issue comes between him and Hesh; he KILLS Christopher; his actions bring about the death and hospitalization of Bobby and Sil.

In the episode "Chasing It," we watch Vito's son take a shit in the shower, scaring everyone off. Tony essentially does the same thing all season long until he's completely alienated even around his family. Just like Livia.

She herself told AJ very early on that it's all a big blackness (which is referenced again when AJ is in therapy post-suicide attempt.) In Season 2's finale, "Funhouse," Tony's food poisoning forces him to come face to face with his subconscious -- and he awakens from this meeting crying, "It's all black, it's all a big nothing" (very paraphrased).

Couple all of this with the fact that Chase stated, "this show is not Lost, there are no esoteric clues," (paraphrased, again), e.g., Nikki Leotardo, Bobby's death "quote." In the "Kaisha" commentary, he also refers to the show as "the famous show where nothing happens," going on to say (paraphrased once more): "People seem to expect, because of American television conditioning, byzantine plots." Yes, he actually used the words "byzantine plots." He continues to say The Sopranos is not that type of show, it's a slow build-up, and the stories are simple and straightforward.

The black screen at the end is not Tony's death. It is his life.

NOTE: Have no time to proofread. Apologies for the grammatical/spelling errors, if any.

Dennis said...

Alan: I wasn't reading your work at the time of that finale but my explanation of the ending on the night of the show's end nearly mirrors yours.

I'm not sure if we're right - though I certainly believe we are - but it's good to be in good company:)

I'm not sure if it was the last ep or the second to last ep where Tony's eating a hamburger and his lawyer's telling him they are closing to bringing him to court on a RICO charge.

My idea was there would never be any peace for Tony; despite his latest enemy being wiped out there would always be wolves - but imaginary and real - at the door.

Josh said...

Reading these kinds of comments (nothing against them, just the various opinions being expressed) reminds me that, when May 23 comes, I need to not freak out if I hate the ending of Lost.

I will be shocked if the ending doesn't divide people in the same way, as with Battlestar Galactica, and I'm just constantly hoping that it doesn't end with something as similarly...frustrating, I guess, as the Sopranos ending. Of course, I've never seen The Sopranos, so maybe all of this will just help me temper any anger I may have.

The Scorcher said...

Pretty thoughtful points by Brendan McCarthy, and I agree mostly. However, I disagree that there are no little esoteric clues. I have not seen anyone mention the other Journey song on the little jukebox-"Any Way You Want It."
Seems to me that's a pretty good way to leave a show whose ending would never satisfy a large number of people.

Bryan said...

The interesting thing to me is, it seems at least, that this whole "Tony died" camp didn't form until some people [incorrectly] posted "facts" online such as:


etc. etc,

Brendan, for me at least, that is a false assumption - I was in the death camp long before I heard any of the "incorrect facts". While the ones you listed are certainly false - and I agree this is not Lost- there is such a thing as foreshadowing and while Bobby does not say "goes to black" he did say you don't hear it coming (or something to that effect).

I'm just as puzzled at you all in the life camp as you all seem to be to us in the death camp. Why is it so odd that Tony would die? His way of life makes it very likely he will be killed. He's in the middle of a major war, many of his men have been killed. Even if he wasn't killed in that instant it's very possible he is when he leaves the restaurant or when he starts his car or the next day on his way into the Bing or whatever - so what's the difference if it was then?

There were 3 major conflicts in Tony's life (I think, someone will correct me I'm sure if I'm wrong) his real family, the cops and the other family (NY). The tension created in the shows about the other family was created because of the possibility of Tony being killed and those were a significant number of episodes (oh yeah I just remember the other thing Tony and Bobby discussed - one of them said you either wind up in jail or dead) So again, why is it so odd he would be killed?


(I do agree with you though about Tony's fears)

Chuck Notheshow said...

I liked the guy who saw the movie 80 years apart. Hope I can do that with something like "Willie Wonka" (the original) which I BEGGED my mom to take me to when it first came out.

Also, Tony's alive, but screwed. Alan's right.

Hatfield said...

I think Alan's point in teh article about the storytelling style is the most important one. On the show, we always knew when something bad was gonna happen, or at least that someone was gonna get whacked. But at the end of that episode, Phil is dead, Butchie and the rest of NY seems to have made peace, and Tony's back to worrying about his own shop (promoting Paulie, Carlo flipping, etc.). So while his lifestyle dictates that it's entirely likely he could be killed by someone at any time, sending some outsider or having NY renege at the last second of a show that's been on for 86 episodes would be cheap. If it's what Chase meant to do, fine, but that's even less fair than the cut to black.

Andrew said...

Wikipedia has this Chase interview in the footnotes for "Made in America" -- seems pretty obvious that Tony died, why else would Chase refer to those two scenes?

"R.Belzer: I was working with Steve Schirripa recently, we were judging Last Coming Standing for NBC and we were talking about a lot of things and he was saying he heard all of these theories for the show that had nothing to do with your intention and wasn't anything the actors thought, like little hints along the way, like a word, like when Tony and Steve are on the boat at the lake and they say "you never know it's gonna happen" or "you never know it's gonna hit you." -

D.Chase: That was part of the ending. -

R.Belzer: Oh, it was? See, what do I know? Were there other things in previous episodes that were hints towards it? -

D.Chase: There was that and there was a shooting which Silvio was a witness, well he wasn't a witness, he was eating dinner with a couple of hookers and with some other guy and there was some visual stuff that went on there which sort of amplified Tony's remarks to Bacala about you know "you don't know it's happened" or "you won't know it happened when it hits you". That's about it."

Brendan McCarthy said...

Scorcher,

The esoteric clues statement is from Chase himself. He states this in The Sopranos book that came out the holiday season after the finale. Yes, I am dorky enough to ask my girlfriend to buy it for me.

Bryan,

You're right that I am making an assumption there, and I do apologize. The reason I generalize like that is because it feels as though every time I talk to someone who believes Tony is dead, they'll say something like, "OK, this is totally crazy, and you really have to pay attention to all these things: That guy at the bar is Phil's cousin..."

And they go on to repeat all of those extremely incorrect "facts" that appeared online sometime between 10:01 that Sunday night at 9 am the following morning. It's just amazing how rampant these things spread, and how quickly they become fact. Someone made those things up, completely from imagination, and I still meet people today who believe it.

As to why I don't think it happened that night, it just feels so counter to how Chase told his stories the previous 85:55 of the series. The show kind of followed the Vonnegut rule of writing: forget suspense, tell the audience everything they need to know. Of course by doing so, it still created suspense. We knew for almost all of "Funhouse" that Pussy would be caught (for that matter, we knew all season long he was a rat), knew what they were going to do to him on the boat, yet were still clenching our teeth, uneasy. The only exception (that I can think of) is Adrianna, but it's not like she died and then we discover she's a rat. We knew for nearly two seasons.

So for Chase and co. to suddenly change their writing style completely, and in the final scene of the show, simply doesn't make sense to me.

I can agree that the black is meant to infer death -- as in, when it happens, it'll be as random as sitting in a diner eating onion rings. I just can't buy that he died that night. Tony killed Phil with the blessing of another New York boss and Phil's own underboss. That was the end of that story, plain and simple. Really, who else is out to get him? And for the love of god, no one say the Russian.

I always love this debate though. Thanks for your responses, guys.

Michael K said...

So funny; I was just thinking about this episode too. May also have been a "Don't Stop Believin' " trigger.

Anyway, "Adam" above is the closest. There's an old thing they teach fiction writers that says you should open your story at the "latest" possible moment and end at the "soonest", relative to the story you are trying to tell and what it is about. In other words, get in right before the relevant action starts, leave as soon as it's over.

The series began just before Tony's first panic attacks and visit to therapy. It ended right after he gave up his therapy for good. Taken as a whole, "Sopranos" was never about whether Tony would live or die or whether he would defeat his mob rivals. It was about his panic attacks and going into therapy: could he reconcile in himself the two lives ("families") he was living and change (in the therapy sense of the word) to a better person. The series, and what it was about, was resolved when Tony finally left Melfi and therapy (I forget if it was in the last episode or the one right before). The resolution to the series was clear: Tony didn't (or wouldn't) change. Were he to have been clearly shown living or dying, you would have undercut the real theme and had a different story/moral: if he lived, it would have been "evil prospers, there are no consequences for being bad"; if he died it would have been "we all get a comeuppance unless we change". Neither one of those fit with the show we watched for all those years. The "ambiguous" "ending", may have been the only way to convey the real theme- "people don't change".

A final note. There were always two camps of "Sopranos" viewers: those who watched for the mob elements above everything else, and those who didn't. I suspect if you were able to poll peole based on which camp they were in, you would find a much higher disappointment factor among those who watched primarily (or solely!) for the mob stuff.

Alan Sepinwall said...

He's in the middle of a major war,

No he's not. War's over, Tony (and Butchie) won. No one that we know of has an immediate desire to kill Tony.

Certainly, the Chase comments to Belzer (which I've seen before) could push the needle towards "he's dead," but (as Brendan notes) that runs so counter to the way he wrote the show for the previous seven seasons that I'm not buying it until Chase himself comes out and says that much more overtly.

And then I'll be asking him why he decided to change his narrative style so drastically in the show's final 10 minutes.

Bryan said...

Brendan,

BUT IT WAS THE RUSSIAN!

ha - I think though you bring up an interesting point in that you think the death ending would be counter to Chase's writing style and I get that. There's nothing more infuriating to me than a bad twist ending or an unreliable narrator we don't know's unreliable til the very end, etc. BUT - I really and truly don't consider the death ending to be contrary to the rest of the series. I could go on and give you some reason but I have to leave it at that because I really do have to try to get some work done before I leave for the day.

Good talk Russ.

Bryan said...

No he's not. War's over, Tony (and Butchie) won

As soon as I reread that on the post I knew I was gonna get called on that but I didn't want to trash the whole thing.

I don't know - you guys got me twistin AGAIN- I'm gonna have to go back and watch it again.

Dan said...

Bryan,

No one said that it is impossible that Tony was killed. But the main problem with the "Tony died" theory is that people automatically assumed that Tony MUST have died during the unseen events in the diner. We don't know that... we don't know what happened at all.

Medrawt said...

I don't care whether Chase intended us to think Tony died, or lived, or what-have-you. I don't think it matters; whether Tony lives another ten seconds or ten years, the story's over.

OTOH, I'm amused that some people think the final scene was an FU to the show's fans; everything after Season 1 was an FU to the show's fans - or, at least, Chase's least flattering conception thereof. With each passing year I felt like the series grew more overtly cynical about the motives of potential viewers, and more overtly pleased to mock them for it. (Whether this was fair or not, I dunno.)

Mike F said...

agree with Alan...we're just supposed to realize that he's got to live with him and his family being at risk every moment of every day...that's the burden he has to live with...and we've seen the consequences for many seasons from panic attacks to inability to enjoy the spoils of his victories to the paranoia and having to take out friends

the whole series is Tony having to do one thing after another that should and do make his life miserable...from having to kill Big Pussy to his cousin to the split with his Uncle Junior to offing Chris...its all one big pile of shit...plus his kids and wife have mixed feelings about him and his and their safety is more at risk on a minute to minute basis than the rest of us

that's his burden...life is great, but its not

TL said...

And then I'll be asking him why he decided to change his narrative style so drastically in the show's final 10 minutes.

Alan, this comment is a perfect summation. Having Tony die in this way, as Brendan also noted, just runs counter to the way Chase told the 80-some episodes that proceeded.

And I still have never heard a plausible explanation of who could have contracted a hit on Tony that has any support in the narrative. If you're going to murder your main character, you need to set someone up with some motivation to do it, otherwise it's just a cheat, an ending you've pulled out of your @ss. I don't buy that Chase would simply cop out and say (as all this theory's supporters do), "There are lots of people who might want Tony dead...."

Anonymous said...

As an avid fan of Alan's I have to say I'm a little surprised he hasn't come around after reading that manifesto.

By the way, that site has been updated since Alan last discussed it. Dozens have images have been added (I love the visual comparison to the back wall of Holstens and the Inn at the Oaks). I urge you all to read it. If you're still not convinced after reading it, nothing will. The Belzer-Chase discussion is actually available to listen to as well.

I think it makes a very good argument as to why Tony's murder had to be different than any of the others. It also offers a very close reading of all the Patrick Parisi scenes in the finale and makes a very viable argument that he may be behind the hit.

Steve,

20,000 words aren't needed. The author just discusses every possible clue there is. The POV pattern is enough for me. The length of the explanation doesn't undermine the depth and logic of the analysis contained therein.

Brendan,

The "esoteric" clues quote has been taken out of context. When the full quote is read it suggests that there ARE clues but Chase doesn't think they're all that complicated. Read it again:

Question:Are they wasting their time? Is there a puzzle to be solved? [to the end]

Chase: There are no esoteric clues in there. No Da Vinci Code. Everything that pertains to that episode was in that episode. And it was in the episode before that and the one before that and seasons before this one and so on. There had been indications of what the end is like. Remember when Jerry Torciano was killed? Silvio was not aware that the gun had been fired until after Jerry was on his way down to the floor. That’s the way things happen: It’s already going on by the time you even notice it.

Question: Are you saying…?

Chase: I’m not saying anything. I’m not trying to be coy. It’s just that I think that to explain it would diminish it.

The full Toricano scene is also available on the site. Very compelling, if not downright unassailable evidence.

Mike said...

I know what happened... nothing. The scene went black, nothing was inferred and nothing was filmed so nothing happened. That's the way they chose to end their show and that's what they did.
I remember when the Matrix sequels came out and I went on a few forums and read countless theories on what happened, what was happening after the credits rolled and what it all meant and after about an hour I said to myself everybody's wrong because if it wasn't filmed it never happened.

It's like in Pulp Fiction when Esmeralda Villalobos was looking for meaning in Butch's name and he says "I'm American honey our names don't mean sh*t". Sometimes Butch is just Butch, suspicious characters, onion rings and a scene fades to black.

thefax said...

First of all, it's sort of depressing that The Sopranos has been gone for three years.

Second of all, Tony doesn't die in the finale. Simply, we don't see or hear him die. We can debate whether or not the blackout represents/symbolizes his death, but he certainly doesn't die in the episode (it's a fine point, but an important one.)

FWIW, I've always agreed with Alan's reading, that the ending conveys the sort of tension that Tony always and forever lives with. (That was a running theme of the final season in general.) So I don't find the DaVinci-Code-type readings that "prove" he's dead remotely plausible (they would be so out of step with the show's style, and at best they only suggest that Tony is forever surrounded by images and reminders of death, not that he himself dies), Attempts to justify them ("Tony's murder had to be different") increasingly amount to special pleading.

Finally, to the gentleman who noted that there seemed to be two camps who watched the show--one camp primarily watching it for the mob stories, the other not, with the mob fans primarily disappointed in the ending--that does seem to be the case, David Chase thought it was the case, and a lot of the final season was meant to tweak the mob fans. I would guess that a higher proportion of "Tony died" folks are in the mob camp, in part because they felt the show needed to end with a wacking.

In summary, what a great finale. I miss the show.

Gridlock said...

2 things from me, both agreeing with previous posters;

1) I think we finally got to a place in The Sopranos where Parisi figured he could get away with slotting Tony. He let that anger burn inside him for 7 years. Contrary to an earlier promise though, it was cinematic.

2) LOST wishes it could get away with such an ambiguous ending. Network notes dictate it shall not be.

Chase produced what he produced, Alan can take one meaning, I take another, we all have 86 hours of excellence to agree on.

The Mayor said...

thefax,

I think the more hardcore, and passionate fans of the show believe Tony died and the more casual fan believes Tony lived. It has nothing to do with whether you liked the show only for the whackings. Why? because it is mostly the hardcore fans who chose to follow Chase's words-"It's all there." Only a hardcore fan could write that lengthy thesis; and only a hardcore fan can truly understand it (especially the Kevin Finnerty stuff). The casual fan simply doesn't want to do the work. They want to revel in a certain intellectual superiority that they enjoy "ambigious" endings which the end of the Sopranos (even with the implied death of Tony) certainly is. Alan certainly falls in the hardcore fan category and even admits that the Tony is dead theory may just be the right one.

By the way, I'm still waiting for an alternate explanation as to Chase's words to Richard Belzer other than Tony died.

Also, it's not a fade to black and credits. It's a cut to black (mid-scene) followed by 10 seconds of black silence and THEN the credits. That is a critical distinction.

As far as the last scene representing "Tony will live on but be miserable," I strongly urge you to watch the scene again or read the site posted in the link. Tony is as happy as we ever see him in the final scene. He's comfortable and is with the only people he truly loves.

I'm suspicious that that explanation was written and or endorsed by Chase himself or somebody close to him (the author remains anonymous).

So Alan, you've had access to Chase before. Maybe you can get that theory to him or perhaps just get another interview!

I have one more bold prediction: On June 10, 2010, the three year anniversary of the finale, Alan will finally fully change his mind.

I'm really enjoying getting into this again.

Anonymous said...

An outstanding analysis of the Soprano's finale:

http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/the-sopranos-definitive-explanation-of-the-end/

Very persuasive.

Gridlock said...

"so Mr DaVinci, is she smiling or does she have toothache?"

vortexgods said...

Basically, until we get more episodes, Tony is alive. Because if we didn't see it, it didn't happen.

Ok, that out of the way, is the sudden cut to black, where the black is held for a long time, meant to imply death? I don't know. The controversy is because of what it really represents, a lack of closure.

This, of course, is what people want, closure. Long before the ending, people were very opinionated about how it should end.

Normally, it was Tony dies and some grim fellow from the FBI probably says, "Crime does not pay!" Or, another popular one, Tony goes to prison, maybe the judge this time says, "Crime does not pay!"

Partly, I think that a lot people didn't want a "problem comedy," which is what I would call the Sopranos ("problem comedy" was used in my Shakespeare classes for plays like Merchant of Venice or Measure for Measure. Plays that had many elements of traditional tragedy, but didn't have a cathartic resolution.)

There was no catharsis in the Sopranos ending. Tony Soprano is not a tragic hero. We saw a bunch of stuff that happened, some of it grim, some of it funny, some of it both, and the series basically ended on the engagement of Meadow Soprano. In other words, in the traditional manner of a comedy. Tony is back with Carmella, AJ is with Rhiannon, and Meadow with Patrick Parisi. Happy endings all round....

However, that niggling feeling gnawing at the back of your brain? That's similar to the one at the end of Merchant of Venice or Measure for Measure. Sure... people are getting married, but does that solve the heavy stuff we were told about in the story?

Cut to black...

Anonymous said...

"Basically, until we get more episodes, Tony is alive. Because if we didn't see it, it didn't happen.

Ok, that out of the way, is the sudden cut to black, where the black is held for a long time, meant to imply death? I don't know. The controversy is because of what it really represents, a lack of closure."

I think a very reasonable argument can be made that Tony's death IS on screen but just not in the way that we would expect to see it. We see Tony's death through his own eyes set up by the editing and POV shots/pattern in the scene. The 10 second black screen is placed exactly where Tony's POV should be. The delay before the credits is to emphasize that the black screen is a scene all by itself.

The thing I don't really get is why Chase just can't come out and say it. He has come very close as other posters have pointed out. Here is a guy who is not exactly a spring chicken who has feature film directorial ambitions. Tony's first person death is unlike anything we've seen before. So why doesn't Chase-as a filmaker-confirm exactly what he did in the final scene? He created one of the most chilling first person accounts of death ever seen. He should be screaming from the rooftops exactly what he did.

Otherwise, we have a fan base who cannot agree on what the final scene meant which could indicate that he completely failed as a storyteller.

Albie Cianflone said...

For all the talk about whether there's clues or not clues about the Sopranos ending, I've yet still to find a compelling reason why assuming or believing Tony is dead makes the show better, or is interesting.

Recently I rewatched the series, and I couldn't help but think that if Chase or whatever would definitely state that the ending "means" Tony is dead, half the show would have been sabotaged by the end. How are we to talk Carmela's crisis in Rome? If Tony is definitely dead in the end, it means that regardless of whatever the show argued throughout its run, as far as its text is concerned, one death really matters, but didn't the show consistently express otherwise?
All that talk from Chase about Costa Mesa not being a dream, per se, wouldn't it also be damaged if we are to simply state Tony is dead?

And yet, how exactly does a definite end improve anything? Why go through all the trouble of Carlo flipping, if we aren't supposed to keep several possibilities in mind?

Also I've always wondered, isn't the main argument of the Tony is definitely dead argument, it all being from Tony's point of view, undercut by the scene cutting to outside the restaurant, where Meadow is parking?

Still, my main point is, how is any one interpretation improving the show? Assuming life goes on, not only do we have a fairly unique ending (one that actually gives that sense of "the characters live forever" that usually only happens for prematurely cancelled series), but one that is thematically consistent with everything the series had been doing. I remember an interview with Chase about the Russian, where, in his style, not only was he telling people to stop asking if he'd come back, but he stated that he knew where he was and it didn't matter. If you think about it, saying something like "he's dead" wouldn't have altered anything, but he went out of his way to keep it unresolved, something that later happened with several other plotlines and elements in the show. It's very hard for me to believe that same man chose make an easy-to-explain ending, if you look at the clues the right way. Didn't Chase use to say part of the point with the Sopranos was consciously writing a show that had that real-life quality, where people don't say what they mean and some things are left aside as the world moves on? I seriously doubt he'd ignore the fact that when you have your main character killed as the end of your show, you contradict that quality in pretty much every textual or subtextual way possible.

The Mayor said...

Albie,

I disagree. The exact reason Alan can't fully accept the ending-that Chase always told us when someone would get hit-is exactly what makes the ending a mystery and completely in-line with Chase's preferences as a storyteller. The motive, real identity of the killer and the consequences of his death for Carm, AJ, Meadow and the rest of his associates will always be unknown. Whichever ending you feel is more interesting (Tony died or "life goes on") is purely subjective. I for one see "life goes on" as far more simple and less interesting.

I urge you...no I plead to you, to read the essays in the link provided by Alan. Especially Part II concerning what Tony's death means. I also once enjoyed the ambiguity of the ending but the way Part II makes the case is so absorbing, that Tony's death feels inevitable and the only way it should and could have ended (amazingly it all ties back to the ducks in the very first episode).

Also, the Russian (and the essay points this out so I won't take credit), is mentioned by Chase another 4 times before the series concludes which all directly imply that he never surfaced out of the woods (surely there would have been consequences if he did). One more thing, nobody ever said the final sequence was only in Tony's POV. That would be impractical and silly. It is only Tony's POV in certain instances most notably after the bell rings and Tony looks up.

Albie Cianflone said...

Eh, I've read the link. Wouldn't be commenting otherwise.

Chris said...

And on it goes! GREAT stuff. This is what I mean about the last scene of the Sopranos reaching the level of art, which is amazingly rare in television (or anywhere.) If we had actually seen Tony get killed, nobody would think about it anymore. This way, we will forever.

First: we didn't see Tony get killed, of course. But......of COURSE that's what happened. It was the Last Supper:

http://www.bobharris.com/component/content/article/76/1406-tony-soprano-didnt-just-get-whacked-he-practically-got-a-funeral

A last note, for me--I love any argument on this that gets into the specifics of who might have killed him.... "But the war was over!" "There's nobody left to kill him!" Please. Tony Soprano, mob boss, was going to be all safe and cozy from now on? It could ALWAYS happen to him....and you know, he probably wouldn't even hear it when it happens, right? Heh.

thefax said...

Coupla' things:

"By the way, I'm still waiting for an alternate explanation as to Chase's words to Richard Belzer other than Tony died. "

Doesn't matter. Author's dead. What's on screen is all we have. David Chase can say whatever he wants, but after his work is published he becomes just another viewer. Stop looking for a definitive answer from him, 'cause he can't give one. (That goes for people who don't think Tony died as well.)

"Tony is as happy as we ever see him in the final scene. He's comfortable and is with the only people he truly loves."

Yes. Which isn't very happy (I mean, in that very scene he talks about how he's going to be facing prosecution because one of his crew flipped!) Tony's resigned to his life--even at his happiest, he knows there's always danger. The above is the sort of absolutist reading reading that "Tony was wacked!" interpretations rely on, but it's really a kind of special pleading.

--The person who compares it to the endings of Measure for Measure and Merchant of Venice (as well as, I'd say, Taming of the Shrew) is dead-on. All have endings that are at once happy and dark.

Re: the Bob Harris link: a classic example of confusing the symbolic for the narrative. At its core, if we buy his reading, it still doesn't say that Tony died. For instance, it could just as well be a "funeral" for the show--and that sort of meta-joke is something I'd accept far more readily than an improbable sudden leap into Tony's psyche for the last ten seconds of the show.

And a final thought on the "you wouldn't hear it when it happens" line, which is the most compelling evidence suggesting that the cut-to-black=death: Bobby Bacala says it, but for him, it isn't true: he's caught by surprise when he's wacked, but he does indeed hear it when it happens. Plenty of people on the show heard it when it happened. Which is to say, I don't think we can read that line as absolutely as many people seem to. (If anything, it's the sort of line that would inspire the always-cautious Tony to be more aware of his surroundings so he doesn't fall victim to a 'cut-to-black' death. )

Brendan McCarthy said...

To Anon @ 7:44:

Chase is still only saying there are indications of what the end is like, and as I said, I can buy this. I can buy that the black was meant to represent death, as it was the second of Tony's biggest job-related fears. We get the implication that he dies, we get the implication Carlo testifies and sends him to court. We do not get the implication that it happens that night.

As far as "it was in the one before that, and before that, and before that," well, in the case there was evidence in every show, ever. And when you look at it that way, there are far, far less "clues" telegraphing Tony's death.

Using 6B (or season 7) is using a very small sample size. And it all comes down to interpretation. I could easily say, "I see your Torciano hit, and raise you the scene in 'Chasing It' when Carmella says, 'You walk around like there's a piano over your head.' And Tony says, 'I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.'" That's in a previous episode, and that's an indication of what the ending I saw was like, is it not?

The point is, you can take any scene and interpret it your own way. But that is only your interpretation, and not David Chase's. The problem with the Bob Harris essays and the 20,000 word essay is that they're picking and choosing scenes and shots that stood out to them, and then applying their own symbolism to it. That's assuming a lot: 1) That they're 110% correct David Chase wanted us to see those specifics scenes; and 2) That Chase also wanted us to connect that specific symbolism to what's shown; and 3) That Chase is even aware of/likes half of the symbolism they're picking and choosing.

It may be a persuasive argument, but that's simply all it is. From two people who have no connection to the show or David Chase beyond viewership.

Chris said...

To thefax, re:

"Re: the Bob Harris link: a classic example of confusing the symbolic for the narrative. At its core, if we buy his reading, it still doesn't say that Tony died. For instance, it could just as well be a "funeral" for the show--and that sort of meta-joke is something I'd accept far more readily than an improbable sudden leap into Tony's psyche for the last ten seconds of the show"

Couple things here. Confusing the symbolic and the narrative? I'd say the symbolic becomes the narrative.

You can read the scene as the Last Supper for the show, but that doesn't resonate remotely as strongly as reading it as Tony dies. As to Chase changing styles in the last scene--Alan, you raised the same question. How about this: Chase did that BECAUSE HE WANTED TO. No other explanation necessary.

To Brendan McCarthy at 7:44...the shots that are being "picked" are most of the shots in the final scene. I think it's safe to say that Chase was aware of the significance of every moment.

By the way, here's praying Chase never says another word about the finale. His work is done.

jason said...

Chase never will and can't come out and say what the definitive end is, even if he had something in mind. He did in the final scene that is unprecedented in television, he's created a debate about a series finale that goes beyond "That was great!" and "That sucked!"

Anonymous said...

If the final scene depicted Tony's death, then Big Pussy was reincarnated as a fish.

Anonymous said...

Pussy was reincarnated as a fish?

thefax,

Chase SAID the Bacala conversation about "not hearing it happen" was connected to the ending.

However, lets assume he didn't and take a look logically at your argument. What if Bacala didn't see it coming? (much like Phil Leotardo). Wouldn't the proponents of the "Tony lives" argument say that the Bacala conversation AND the flashback were simply a remembrance by Tony of the way Bacala died (which is silly anyway since Tony wasn't present for Bacala's murder) instead of being connected to the ending? The argument would be STRONGER for the Tony lives position if that were the case.

Instead, Chase has Bacala SEE it coming because he doesn't want his murder to be confused with the giant clue in big red letters about Tony's final fate. Not only does Chase use flashback to get the point across (which he rarely does) but has the flashback occur as the VERY LAST scene of the the second to last episode setting up the VERY LAST scene of silent darkness in the final episode.

Chase is right when he says the "indications of the end" aren't "esoteric". Chase is hitting us over the head with a sledghammer so we get it. The only way it could be more clear is if Tony had the flashback at Holsten's. Although I wonder if even that would stop the perpetual state of denial for many of the "Tony lives" viewers (and I'm not talking about Alan, I'm talking about the people who refuse to see a very legitimate "Tony dies" interpreation in the ending).

Sorry, Tony is as dead as Dillinger.

Jason said...

As Paulie Walnuts says, "In the midst of death, we are in life. Or is it the other way around?"

It's not so much that people are confusing the symbolic for the narrative as they are trying to find literal answers in metaphor (and symbolism). Does Tony die at the end of The Sopranos? In a sense, but only in the way that the final scene (and episode, and season), among other things, is very much about impending death. The key word, of course, being "impending". In this way, both the "Tony lives" and "Tony dies" crowds share common ground. The last scene is a representation of what Tony's life is like AND what his death is like. But that does not mean that Tony literally dies at the end of the scene/series. A cut to black does not equal death. It can only be symbolic of death. At the same time, we cannot say that Tony continues to live at the end: it's a TV show; there is no continuation after the end.

As to the question of why Chase refers to the "You never hear it when it happens" line (in two separate interviews). Well, he's also been quoted by Steven Van Zandt as having said after the table read for the final episode that he didn't want to show that crime pays or that it doesn't pay. Which suggests that he didn't want to show Tony living or dying at the end. So why reference the idea of "never hearing it coming"? Because the final scene is about "never hearing it coming"... as an idea. The guy in the Members Only jacket could be a hit man, but so could the guy in the USA hat, or some other guy in some other diner on some other day. The point is that death is always near and that Tony will probably never hear it when it happens. But that doesn't mean that he literally dies at the end of this scene in this diner. That's truly beside the point.

Of course, Chase could come out some day and say "black represents death" or "black represents not knowing" or "black represents uncertainty" or "black represents fill in the blank". It doesn't matter. He's just a critic of his own work now. So I object to Alan when he says that he's sticking to his theory until Chase comes out and explains the ending (in much the same way that I object when interviewers ask David Simon what the train symbolism means... and when Simon in turn implies that there's a right answer). It doesn't matter what Chase says. All that's left is what's on screen. And because Tony's death is not on screen, all that we're left with is interpretation.

So, does Tony live or die at the end of The Sopranos? No.

Anonymous said...

Jason,

It's not just a black screen that may symoblize death. It's a black screen where Tony's POV should be; carefully set up by a very deliberate pattern in the scene. Unless you believe the pattern is an accident, the sequence HAD to be created to suggest Tony's death. No other explanation fits. Tony's death IS on screen. I would buy your argument more if the pattern didn't exist before the cut to black.

As far as Chase's alleged words to Van Zandt, (which was never recorded anywhere and is hearsay), it is entirely consistent with Tony's death. The image of Tony's death gives the viewer a sense of moral superiority and justice. We get to enjoy watching someone who probably deserves to die in fact die. If you dont' SEE it, he robs you of that ("crime does pay") but at the same time gets his "crime doesn't pay" message across with his SUGGESTED death. Chase gets his point across EITHER way.

The ending is open to interpretation simply because we don't see Tony's blood. What is obvious based on Chase's words to Belzer is that Tony dying is his own literal interpretation of the events of Holstens. Sorry, but I will take the creators interpretation over some random bloggers!

What he did was very graceful: He wrapped an unambiguous ending in ambiguous clothing. Perhaps because it would be IMPOSSIBLE to film a Tony death scene without someone leaking it before the final aired. So he did it in the editing room with the production crew of hundreds never realizing that Tony was meant to die.

KVV said...

I'll never grow tired of this debate, but I still believe you don't have to be in one camp or another, despite the anger and frustration of the "Tony dies, you moron!" camp. Despite whatever clues Chase wants to drop in occasional interviews, I still think he wrote it and edited it the way he did as a mirror to our own individual desires and interpretations of the series. In that sense, it's an amazing tightrope walk, worthy of Philippe Petit, leaving just enough clues for each side to believe they're absolutely, positively, "shut-your-stupid-face!" right. So much of literature is written this way, with open endings and multiple interpretations, but this was the first time a very popular television series ever left it up to the viewer to decide. You can argue that it's a cop out, but is Joyce's ending to "The Dead" a cop out? Is the ending of "Infinite Jest" a cop out? How about "The Crying Lot of 49" where one of the major themes is people trying to impose interpretations on the meaningless? Maybe Chase wanted to have his cake and eat it too, but maybe what he wanted was for us to ask ourselves what we thought was an appropriate conclusion to Tony's story? Should he live in fear, unable to find joy in something as simple as a dinner out with his family, or should he have his life snuffed out by an anonymous assasian he never sees or hears coming?

I'm always going to be in the camp of "If you want to truly punish a character, you let him live." But I admit that's the ending to the series I find most satisfying, and one that fits in with the overall way I viewed what it was trying to say. But I don't think there is a right or wrong, and that's how Chase wanted it, despite what he says. In that sense, he can always have it both ways.

My favorite way to tweak the angry "Tony dies!" crowd though is simply to quote the Yeats poem that was prominently featured in the final season.

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Chris said...

To KVV: adding to the "it all depends on your perspective" aspect, I find those who DON'T think Tony died to be much more aggressive with their opinions, while those thinking Tony died are, like Bob Harris, much more humble in their views. But I'm sure there's a little of each in both camps.

KVV said...

Chris, that certainly may be true from your perspective, but I just don't see anyone writing 20,000-word essays about how Tony DIDN'T die. I think there is some aggression in that, intellectual aggression though it may be.

trickgnosis said...

Why in the world would Chase have asked HBO to run THREE MINUTES of black at the end of the episode if Tony wasn't dead? Why? Even if Bob Harris is wrong on some of the details the sheer weight of the evidence seems overwhelming. And frankly I would rather the ending had been genuinely ambiguous, or Tony had lived out his miserable days. But objectively, using the evidence in the episode itself, the case seems plenty clear.

Anonymous said...

Thats not true. There are great and logic essays about "Why Tony didnt die..."

Like this:
http://blog.sfgate.com/tgoodman/2007/06/13/sopranos-finale-what-really-happened/

So ... its hard to belive ... but it is true. Tony is still alive.