HBO’s The Sopranos went out as elegantly and spare as it came in. The now infamous ending has some fans applauding while others are raging that they were cheated out of the bloodbath they were expecting.
The final episode of The Sopranos is very sad. It’s sad because it signals the end of an exceptional show, and sad because Tony’s family, despite it all, are holding things together, believing in themselves, like every other family in America, whether they are “normal” or not.
In the final scene, Tony sits at a working class diner. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” streams out of the jukebox, “just a small town girl,” in walks Carmela, “living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere. Just a city boy,” it cuts to Tony, “born and raised in South Detroit, he took the midnight train going anywhere.” There is something so achingly sweet about this small window of time between them. It means nothing, yet it also means everything.
A strange looking guy walks in the front door. Another creepy guy walks in and sits. If Tony were going to get hit, he would be in the position of checkmate. Because he’s with his family and “they don’t hit families,” he doesn’t assume a defense position. With Phil knocked out, Carm and A.J. with him, he feels safe. But his eyes keep darting to the door, watching, waiting, worrying. There is more fear in him than we’ve ever seen. He looks not like the giant thug and mob boss he’s grown into, but rather a sitting duck. Outside, Meadow tries to park her car. She seems deliberately delayed. She finally parks and rushes into the restaurant. Tony looks up because someone just walked through the door. And then, blackout. The screen goes black for at least 10 seconds.
After a couple of viewings of this episode it seems clear that Tony did meet his fate that night and that his last moments were happy ones – sitting with his family, his marriage secure, his children with direction and focus – Meadow working to be a civil rights lawyer and A.J. in film development. Even Carmela has stopped hating Tony, stopped fighting the lifestyle and just relented to be the wife of a mob boss. She is, after all, just a small town girl.
We don’t need to see what happened because we have seen this same tragic scene played out so many times in films and on television. Tony would take a bullet to the head. Carm would scream and leap across the table to hold him. Meadow would be hysterical. A.J. would be sobbing. They would hold him as he sputtered his last breath and they would know that they loved him as much as anyone could love him. But he would know, and we would know, that they’re better off without him.
In the first season, Tony talks about death as being something like everything going black and then there is nothing. For a character whose spiritual afterlife has been pondered on the show, it is interesting that in the end, there is nothing but darkness. The last thing he sees is either the man who will shoot him or the face of his angel and beloved daughter.
It’s doubtful series creator David Chase will ever reveal what he meant by the ending. There seems to be no explanation for the blackout other than Tony being shot in the head. But who hit him and why? There does seem to be room for a potential Sopranos feature film; it will just depend on how desperate the actors and David Chase are. No one would blame them if they did decide to bring Tony back to life for a two-hour big screen finale. No one would complain because The Sopranos was one of the few shows on TV that was never around long enough for anyone to get sick of.
The Sopranos finale takes pot shots at everyone – the FBI, the president – and lingers for some time on terrorists and the Iraq war. That A.J. decided to turn away from meditating on the horrors of the world and to creating Hollywood movies that will offer distraction from that world is telling.
Not for nothing, there was never a greater distraction than The Sopranos. If Chase feels a pang of guilt for keeping Americans’ attention tuned off of important things he can feel at least some satisfaction in having created something lasting in our hearts and minds for eight sweet years. Oh, and if you’d rather think Tony didn’t die you have that option too, as the Journey song says, “Just one more time; Some will win, some will lose; Some were born to sing the blues; Oh, the movie never ends; It goes on and on and on and on.”