Thursday, October 18, 2007

Onion rings and other things

So David Chase has finally broken his vow of silence, even a little, to talk about the onion ring scene in "The Sopranos" series finale for the forthcoming "The Sopranos: The Complete Book," and Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt of it.

Chase gives interviewer Brett Martin a few more clues than he offered me back in June, but still refuses to answer fans' two biggest questions: 1)Does Tony live or die? and 2)Either way, what did that whole scene mean?

In addition to disavowing the Last Supper theory and most of the other elaborate over-analysis of that scene, Chase says a few things that could be parsed for further study. First, on the matter of closure, he says:
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.
Then, while saying that there's no elaborate puzzle to be solved, he references the hit on Gerry the Hairdo and how it happened even before Silvio was aware it happened. Martin starts to ask whether Chase is implying that Tony was killed, but Chase interrupts:
I'm not saying anything. And I'm not trying to be coy. It's just that I think that to explain it would diminish it.
Finally, in discussing how he had the idea for the scene years in advance, he explains:
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.
The "guy" in question is clearly the infamous "Man in Members Only Jacket" (who, once again, had never been on the show before and was not any kind of relative of Phil Leotardo's).

I still stand by my "Tony lives" theory, and that what Chase was trying to show was how the rest of Tony's life will play out -- how every open door, every passing human, could signal the threat that finally kills him -- but the reference to the Gerry the Hairdo hit certainly has my wheels spinning. Did Chase give too much away to the interviewer and then try to over-correct once he realized his mistake, or is what we saw all there was to see?

Whatever Chase meant, looks like the 15 Minutes of Fame Tour may get one last encore; I'm tentatively scheduled to be on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" on MSNBC tonight. If the interview actually happens, I'll post in the comments about the rough time I should be on.


The Pale Writer said...

yeah, i agree. the final scene was so tense and unnerving, that that HAD to be chase's point. we spent 8 years watching and "admiring" tony from afar and chase gave us a "you really think it's so great being tony soprano? imagine THIS being your life" moment: always anxious, always nervous, who's that guy? where’s meadow....

his “punishment” wasn't a bullet in the brain; it's having to live like THAT.

having said that, if, years down the road, chase came out and said, “yep, ‘members only guy’ killed him” it wouldn’t shock me – there’s certainly enough there to at least suggest it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

No go on the Olbermann thing, for anyone who had missed seeing my mug on their TV sets.

Anonymous said...

I am waiting for Alan to go on "Red Eye."

Anonymous said...

I love RED EYE - Alan would be great on that show!

Anonymous said...

Chase is full of it when he says he is not being coy. He knows (and knew) exactly what the reaction would be when he decided to cut to black like he did. Other than that, I am through with this show and the public obsession with the ending (although I am happy for you Alan to be able to get some benefit out of it).

Unknown said...

Alan, Tony's dead. I'll reprint analysis from a blog post I did on it.
The Sopranos finale left many people cursing at their cable companies, scratching their heads, or flogging David Chase in effigy. Herewith, I will attempt to put this whole thing to rest. Many of these observations have been made elsewhere, but I do have a couple of points that I haven't seen before.

Initially I felt, like a lot of people, that Chase was just messing with us, giving us all the finger. That's the "write your own ending" theory. While the ending does allow the viewer some rorschachian wiggle room, the real ending is there if you want to see it. Actually, you have to want not to see it in order to miss it.

See, the problem with this theory is that it presupposes that Chase is writing the last scene about "The Sopranos": the TV show/cultural phenomenon, and not the Sopranos: the family/criminal organization/set of literary characters. This is a narcissistic interpretation that runs counter to everything that came before it. If you leave the "fourth wall" intact, the ending can only mean one thing.

As everyone knows, Tony flashed back to a conversation with Bobby about how, in the end, you never see it coming, it just ends, etc. What you might not know is that you never even hear it coming. When I was a kid, I had a neighbor who had been shot point-blank in the head and survived, minus an eye, and his senses of smell and taste. He said he never heard the shot or even felt it.
The most compelling evidence, however, is the choice of music in that final scene. I thought about that song, "Don't Stop Believin'", and I realized it was about denial. That whole last scene was about denial, both Tony's and (as a byproduct) much of the audience's. As Tony looks around, the scene alternates between the Norman Rockwell images, the cub scouts etc, and the menacing. AJ invokes Tony's denial, saying "Didn't you once tell us to try and remember the good times?" The music is imploring Tony not to stop believing that he is a great, normal family guy, that he's managed to keep his family separate from his "Family". "Member's Only" ("this thing of ours?) goes to the can.

"Don't stop

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Olbermann will find some way to blame Bush.

Anonymous said...

"I love RED EYE"

In that case, be sure to check out the Daily Gut! Gutfeld puts up a preview of that night's, er, the next morning's Greg-alogue, plus some other dummies type stuff too.

Anonymous said...

I can't support this, of course, but when the show cut to black, my gut screamed out that not only was Tony going to be killed, his whole family would be killed with him.

Must be crazy, though, as there's nothing to substantiate this feeling, nor have I seen anyone else voicing it.

Anonymous said...

Gerry the Hairdo?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Gerry the Hairdo?

Gerry Torciano, one of Phil Leotardo's captains and one of the two candidates to replace him when it looked like Phil was going into semi-retirement. He got whacked while out for a double-goomah date with Silvio early in the final season. So nicknamed because of his big blonde (and later brunette) pompadour.

Anonymous said...

I don't see anything wrong with the idea that the scene was intended to be ambiguous. Either Tony goes on living a banal life that is nevertheless fraught with menace, or he's killed before he even knows what hit him. Clearly Chase thought it was more interesting not to make it definitively one or the other. This isn't history, where we need to know exactly what happened -- it's drama, which can be more meaningful if we don't.

TimmyD said...

Anyone know if there are plans for a "Complete Series" box set for the US?

TL said...

I still stand by my "Tony lives" theory, and that what Chase was trying to show was how the rest of Tony's life will play out -- how every open door, every passing human, could signal the threat that finally kills him -- but the reference to the Gerry the Hairdo hit certainly has my wheels spinning.

I don't think so. He first says "there are no clues" in the scene to decipher, that the show, like the characters, just stops. I think the reference to GtH is clearly one to the show (and the audience's involvement in it) rather than to Tony. And I think that everything else in the interview backs up your "Tony lives" theory, especially when he talks about the incremental steps toward progress represented by AJ and Meadow.

Anonymous said...

The undeniable statement of the finale was that it really doesn't matter what happens to Tony, because he will never change. Its strange that David Chase understands so little about the audience. We weren't rooting for him to kill more people, we were rooting for him to reform. The last three seasons made it clear that was never going to happen. The ending *was* gimmicky, and that is unfortunate given that Chase had made a point to avoid gimmicks for the entire series. Television finales are notoriously disappointing. It is easy to be gun shy, and clearly he preferred angering people over having them just say "meh", which had been the overwhelming response to the last two seasons. Still, it is a brave creative choice to say the ending of your character doesn't make a damn bit of difference. But that doesn't really excuse an episode so bland that I can write this analysis without ever having watched it.

Anonymous said...

Tony is dead and Chase all but said it. He is initially vague but gives it up later on:

Q:Are they wasting their time? Is there a puzzle to be solved?
Chase: There are no esoteric clues in there. No Davinci 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.
Q:Are you saying.....?
Chase:I'm not saying anything. I'm not trying to be coy. Its just that I think that to explain it would diminish it.

Notice Chase said there are no "esoteric" clues BUT that we should be looking at the final episode AND episode before that one and that one and so on. Why would we do that if Tony lived? There is no answer to find as Tony is alive the last time we see him.

The Torciano murder/Tony murder parallel's are eerie. The Torciano murder has the POV of a witness at the table. Sil does not hear the shots until after it is over. The audio cuts off in the scene. Tony's murder has the victims POV (Tony) at the moment of death. Chase does this b/c every time the bell rings, Tony looks up and we cut to Tony's POV. The 5th and last time the bell rings (for Meadow), Tony looks up and we cut to the "Blackness" signifying that Tony is dead and he sees and hears "nothing". Tony and "us" never heard it coming. Just like Silvio in the Torciano hit. In fact, Sil later tells Tony about the Torciano hit and says "Wierd thing was I did not know what happened until AFTER the shots were fired". JUST like the viewers experience with Tony's murder. Chase was setting us up the whole time.

Chase's words also corraborate the significance of the Bacala "you probably never hear it happens?" flashback. That was the exact nature of Tony's death and Silvio's experience.

Like I said, Chase gives it up. The definite "Tony dead" interpretation is there. If you need more, read this:

Anonymous said...

One more thing:
The Tony "looking over his shoulder" theory just does not work and is not there if you carefully look at the scene
(1) Only ONE patron does Chase really pay attention to, that is "Man in Members Only Jacket"
(2)Members Only Guy is the ONLY patron shown looking at Tony
(3)There are numerous shots of patrons clearly NOT a threat to Tony (young laughing couple, cub scouts)
(4) Tony is NEVER nervous in the scene. He is happy. Of course he looks up when the bell rings, he is EXPECTING his family.
(5)The bell sequence was crafted by Chase to establish Tony's POV in the final shot (blackness).
(6) Chase in the interview said the original idea was "Tony is with his family and a guy walks in". This indicates ONE threat. Not numerous threats symbolyzing Tony's paranoia.
(7) The biggest reason of all and something all the critics missed. We have known since episode 1 that Tony always has to look over his shoulder. He is a mafia boss. It makes no sense that THIS would be Chase's FINAL big point on the series. No way. He took 2 years off to craft this ending. The Torciano reference shows Chase crafted the ending early in the narrative to pay off later on and to provide clarity for the final scene.
Once again, for more clarity:

Unknown said...

It annoys me that Chase says of people who rooted for Tony's death that "..these people have always wanted blood." The blood-crazy audience is the one that rooted for Tony to live. Those of us who wanted justice for Tony are the other audience.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jim Treacher, I already check out the Daily Gut. Can you get Alan on RED EYE? Do you have any pull with Greg?

Anonymous said...

I suppose that Chase pointing out the Hairdo's murder pushes the ending theory closer toward the "Tony was killed" theory, but ultimately it's meant to be ambiguous. If DC meant to have Tony clearly killed, he would just have said it.

The fact that he just give hints here and there just shows that there's not supposed to be a definite determination that Tony was killed or not.

Tom said...

At the risk of treading onto Grassy Knoll territory by taking on the "Tony-is-dead!" theorists, I have to comment on the repeated reference to the "You never see it coming" flashback as evidence that Tony must have been killed.

I may be misremembering the moment, but didn't Tony have that flashback while lying alone in his safehouse bedroom shortly after Bobby was murdered? At the time, it seemed like a poignant memory of his dead friend that would torture Tony for a long, long time. (The painful irony was that Bobby took comfort in thinking that being murdered is painless and without fear, while his actual murder...well, let's just say he saw it coming.)

It seems like pretty long range foreshadowing of Tony's own death, especially if our understanding of the finale to mean that Tony was killed absolutely hinges on that foreshadowing. Chase is a much better storyteller than that.

Anonymous said...

"Do you have any pull with Greg?"

Depends on how you mean!

Anonymous said...

Your point is well taken about the Bacala flashback. However, remember:
(1)Chase rarely uses flashback. So this may have major significance
(2)Chase in the interview, says there are no "esoteric" clues BUT to look at he final episode and the episode before that and episode before that for answers and so on and so on. The Bacala flashback is not "esoteric" at all but actually very obvious
(3) Corroboration: Bacala's quote and flasback to do not stand on its own. Its importance as a clue is corroborated by Silvio's experience in Holstens. Also, remember the follow up scene with Tony? Sil tells Tony "I did not know what happened until after the shot was fired, wierd". This echoes Bacala's words. Also, the follow up scene has no practical significance. The viewer SAW the scene, we KNEW Sil did not hear it until it was over. The extra scene is superflous UNLESS Chase wants to hammer a point home that will pay off LATER ON, namely Tony's death experience.
The exact nature of Tony's death as explained earlier would be identical to Bacala's and Sil's experience. By putting us in Tony's POV in the last shot we KNOW that he didnt hear it coming

Also, look at Phil murder. He probably didnt hear it coming. His wife also has the "delayed" reaction and does not start screaming until Phil is on the floor. Not to mention other obvious parallels (both murdered in front of family of 3 including wife).

So there is a clear pattern of "never hearing it coming" including characters making explicit references to it TO Tony himself. Chase clearly wanted to get this concept across. So, Chase by putting us in Tony's eyes in the last shot, Tony and "us" never hear it coming.

Like I said Chase gave it away with the Torciano reference.

Anonymous said...

Red Eye is the best show on Fox News.

Anonymous said...

I'm getting really tired of David Chase wagging his finger at me for not watching his show properly.

Anonymous said...

Bobby's quote isn't "You never hear it coming" or "It cuts to black" or "It's like mistakenly thinking your cable went out"...

Bobby says "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

"Whether it happens that night or some other night doesn't matter," Chase talking about what Tony and Carmela's fate.

If Bobby is right, someone dying does not hear it happening and if we are sharing their perspective at that moment we don't see or hear it happen either. Why would we share his perspective and not be outside it? What if a character was our own alter ego and the auteur deemed it unfair that suddenly after years of vicarious thrill we now want off the ride, to separate from him and feel satisfaction in the image of him face down in a bowl of onion rings. We signed on to ride along with Tony, and there's no getting out now! Unless you switch to Desperate Housewives.