Paint it Black: Thoughts on The Sopranos finale

THE SOPRANOS, James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Robert Iler, 'Made in America', (Season 6, episode 21, a

Thanks to actual godsend website web.archive.org, I was able to find this long lost post I had written on The Sopranos finale. I still feel this way.

The following contains boatloads of spoilers about the final episode and, for that matter, the entire Sopranos series. Like, duh.

Let’s put aside, if humanly possible, the maddening ending, the cut to black that had everyone checking their TiVo connections and satellite dishes and, finally, taking David Chase’s name in vain.
Let’s talk about the rest of the episode.
I thought it was a damn good finale, with as much humor, pathos, and, insight that true fans of The Sopranos could possibly expect.

Phil was whacked—and then, in a posthumously heroic gesture, saved his grandchildren from a dangerous fate in a runaway car by stopping them with his fabulous head of hair and (crushed) skull.
AJ was still depressed and wanted to go to Afghanistan, or maybe work for Donald Trump. And then he got a new M3, a job as a D-boy on a slasher film, and a hot girlfriend. Bye-bye depression.
Tony had an affectionate visit with Janice—they joked about blowjobs under the bridge and how nobody understands their warped, Sopranos sense of humor.
Tony went to see Junior and realized that any lingering resentment was poorly spent—he was a toothless old man, who didn’t even remember that he once ran his own crew.
Meadow was going to become a lawyer to defend other hard-working, law-abiding Italian-Americans like her dear old dad.
Carmela still had her spec houses and her impenetrable shield of denial.
Paulie Walnuts was going to take over Vito’s construction job and maybe wasn’t in cahoots with New York, after all.
All in all, a lot went down.

You see, real fans of the show know this: David Chase never gives us juicy finales. The major action usually takes place in the penultimate episode, or before. That’s when Pussy got whacked. It’s when Janice killed Richie Aprille. It’s when Ralph Cifaretto had his head lopped off; it’s when Jackie Jr. went to the big strip joint in the sky.
The final episodes are usually about averting danger; they almost always ended with the family together somehow—at a funeral, in their living room, at Artie Buco’s restaurant—bent but not broken.
And surely, no one can argue that tons of shit went down in this season’s penultimate episode: What, Bobby getting killed, Silvio clinging to life, and Tony on the run, sleeping on a tiny bed, cradling a giant AK-47 weren’t enough for you?

I even went on the radio here in Baltimore and predicted that nothing would really happen in the final episode, that there’d be no closure, just more ambiguity. I knew it in my head to be true.

And yet. . . damn that David Chase, even before the show started—fed by the hype, the largeness of the moment, and yes, a giant tray of baked ziti—I began to waver.

One of my friends at the finale party I attended ran a theory past me: Janice would whack Tony! It was perfect. Wasn’t this show all about Tony and his mother? Would Janice, blaming Tony for Bobby’s death, finish the job that Livia was never quite able to do?
Hmmmm.

And then, that first scene where Tony meets with FBI agent Harris suddenly I’m thinking: Whoa. He’s going to turn state’s evidence and go into the Witness Protection Program. It’s really happening!
But no.

And then, the scene where Tony goes to visit Janice at the beach house. This is it, this is the scene where she’s going to get Medieval on his ass!
But no.

And then, the scene where Paulie Walnuts is alone in the Bada Bing! He’s going to get it; it’s quiet in there—too quiet. Run, Paulie, run!
But no.

And then, the scene where AJ and his girlfriend are alone in the car listening to Dylan. They’re going to die in fiery blaze!
But no.

I go back to what I said earlier in this blog: I was a non-believer. A Sopranos atheist. I didn’t think anything big was going to go down in the finale.
And yet, even I got snookered.
As the family gathered, as Journey’s ridiculous (and perfect) Don’t Stop Believing wailed on the diner juke box, as one suspicious looking character after the next filed in, as the creepy guy with the American flag hat went ominously into the bathroom (just like Michael Corleone!), as Tony ordered onion rings for the table, as Meadow could. . .not. . . park. . . her. . . car—I felt sick. I couldn’t sit still. It was really going to happen. Something horrible. Something huge!

But no.

Black out. The Sopranos is dead.
All over but for the theories:

“When you die, it just goes black,” fans remembered Tony told Bobby at the beach house. (I of course, had forgotten that line, but I’ve never been one of those Talmudic readers of the show.)
So the screen going black symbolizes the death of Tony.
A nifty theory, one that would make more sense if the entire Sopranos had been from Tony’s POV. It wasn’t. Yes, he was our protagonist. But there was plenty to the world of The Sopranos that existed without him. So I don’t buy it.

Then, if I may borrow a phrase, there’s the three gunmen theory: In this theory, the diner was filled with assasins. The creepy guy with the American flag hat was Phil Leotardo’s nephew. The young African-American men were hitmen who’d offed Bobby. A third suspicious character was the brother of someone that Christopher had whacked. Really?
But David Chase has responded to that theory and said, unequivocally: not so much.

The third theory: That David Chase left it ambiguous because he’s greedy and wants to make a movie. You know what? As cynical as I am, I don’t buy that.
I think the open-ended ending was very consistent with the ethos of the show. Chase simply stuck to his guns (so to speak), didn’t pander, did what felt true to the spirit of the series.

So what are we left with? Ambiguity. Uncertainty. Life.
What? You were expecting closure?
Fugghetaboutit.

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