Monday, June 11, 2007


(The following could've used an editor, but who can afford one? Tony Soprano hasn't paid me in months for all that landscaping work I've been doing.)

At 10:01 last night you could practically hear bars and parties deflating across America as millions watching The Sopranos were hit with one of the most abrupt, ambiguous TV endings ever. My initial reaction wasn't so much anger or disappointment as shock; that David Chase, a proponent of anticlimaxes if ever there was one, pretty much went in the direction that some fans probably joked about heading into the finale: just abruptly pulling the plug without tying up any loose ends. Then I scolded myself for being shocked, as the last two episodes pretty much followed the pattern of every season ending since the show's second, albeit on an exaggerated scale: A flurry of action in the penultimate episode, then a cooling down in the finale (this M.O. sometimes seems to be contagious among HBO dramas). And there was a sense of closure throughout the episode that was somewhat obscured by the final scene: Tony will certainly be indited at some point, with one of his crew testifying about God knows what (although the rat in question, Carlo, knows nothing about the show's most memorable murders: Chrissy, Adrianna, Big Pussy, Ralph Cifaretto, etc); Uncle Junior, Paulie and Janice all got appropriate send-offs; The war with New York fizzled out when lazy-eyed creep Butchie got scared that Phil was mad at him and cut a deal w/ Tony; There were callbacks to the first season, w/ Meadow's friend Hunter popping up and AJ reminding Tony during the final scene that he once told him to "remember the times that were good." Hear that, Television Without Pity posters?

But that ending: in terms of disappointment it has nothing on the complete obliviousness to impending cancellation that Twin Peaks displayed, nor the bitterness surrounding the Deadwood debacle that just keeps growing. Actually, the more I thought about the Sopranos ending, the more I liked it (looks like I'm not the only one). Most of the predicitons that have been flying around for years revolved around the sort of Mafia films that Tony's crew regard with deep reverence: Would Tony go out in a hail of bullets; Would he flip to the FBI and "get to live the rest of (his) life like a schnook," a la Henry Hill in Goodfellas (but who would Tony have informed on anyway? He's the boss of the family); Would they go the horrendous Godfather III route and have something happen to his real family; Would Phil finally admit that he did more than just jerk off on a tissue in prison and convince Tony to get an apartment with him? Some astute viewers predicted a "life goes on" ending that would be keeping with the series' overall tone, but ultimately Chase seemed to pick "none of the above" and crafted something new: a tense scene fraught with almost abstract peril that leaves Tony and the audience forever suspended in dread. That memorable choice will surely become an integral and mostly respected component of the series' legacy. In a way it recalled 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Tony freezing upon entering the restaraunt and appearing to look at a version of himself, similar to Dave the astronaut when he finds himself stranded in that mysterious room. We'll never know what Meadow's parking and entering, the doorbell ring and then the blackout represent (and do Member's Only jackets = death, just like in real life?), but in a way the fact that these questions will linger is a testament to the scene's taut execution. If, say, Entourage were to end with a a freezframe of Turtle about to bite into a chicken sandwich, it probably wouldn't have quite the same effect -- although truth be told, I would probably get a little choked up. Personally, as far as endings go, I always wanted the maddeningly deluded Carmella to finally face up to at least one of Tony's horrific, secret misdeeds, as well as the monstrous nature of their staid suburban lifestyle that the psychiatrist tried to impress upon her in season three. I say that not only because I find Carmella uniquely despicable, but because I relished the thought of Edie Falco tearing into that kind of material. Again though, any hope of redemption or insight the characters might have initially displayed has calcified over eight years into increased bitterness, self-absorption, materialism and paranoia. So assuming he wasn't killed, we end with Tony wallowing not only in the mob life but in a form of banal, domestic evil: His shallow, humorless wife; his possibly even more deluded daughter, who envisions herself crusading for the rights of downtrodden Italian-Americans in her future career as a mob lawyer; and his astoundingly useless, comically pathetic son, who has inherited all of Tony's most negative traits but has been spoiled right out of even the mob life. All of them a parasitic blight on the world, all of them helping to rob modern life of any sense of meaning, but still rockin' out wistfully to "Don't Stop Believin." The characters' pursuit of laziness was exemplified perfectly in the funny scene where AJ's parents talk him out of joining the army and potentially (but not likely) making something of himself to go work on a Daniel Baldwin movie instead. Chase must have been thinking of the series' themes when he named the episode "Made in America," although he might also have been referring to Christopher's apparent reincarnation as a cat that freaks Paulie out right here in the good ol' US of A. Or maybe it was the reincarnation of Adrianna's dog. I guess we'll never know for sure.

So there was a lot to like about the show's finale, Chasehaterz, but my beef is: Why couldn't they have saved us A LOT of filler and just ended it abruptly three or four years ago? Starting with season 4, the show sometimes found itself spinning its wheels over several episodes with repetitive plotlines and psychological character studies that weren't always so dramatically interesting. Product placement, HBO cash cow status, and "labored malapropisms" (as one of my fellow FOTs put it), also seemed to unduly intrude upon this fictional world now and again, and Nancy Marchand's death no doubt irrevocably changed the direction of the show. But the deliberate pacing, everyday rhythms, big statements about America, dark comedy and occasionally thrilling suspense were not only worth savoring but unique to any medium, not just television. So if it meant putting up with episodes devoted to peripheral characters like Vito and Artie Bucco in order to experience scenes like this, so be it:

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