That’s Life

I had intended to post this earlier today, but I have been traveling from Seattle back to Miami since 8:30 a.m. Pacific time, which included a mad dash through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport when I had fifteen minutes to make it from gate C-19 to A-23. My bag did not catch the same flight as me. But I digress…

Spoiler warning: Don’t read this if you didn’t see the final episode of The Sopranos and don’t want to know what happens.

I was in Seattle this weekend to attend the graduation ceremony of my nephew from high school. The ceremony was scheduled for 4:00 on Sunday, so my brother set up the TiVo to record the last episode of The Sopranos for both me and my mom, who is also addicted to the show. (It was ironic that as dinner was being put on the table, my father came into the living room to tell us that it was time to eat, but my mother shushed him and told him “just a few more minutes.” That was exactly what I used to do when life intruded on television forty years ago.)

When the screen went black at the end, I, like millions of others, thought there was a technical failure with the TiVo, and we both hollered for my brother. But then the credits came up. We looked at each other and said, “That’s it?”

I think that was the reaction of a lot of people if the review by Heather Havrilesky in Salon.com is any indication. I had one friend who e-mailed me furiously, “I thought I was ready for anything, but a disjointed episode like that, with no resolution of any kind? Cop out supreme.”

In a way I agree. Drama demands a resolution; a writer tries to tie up the loose ends and resolve the storylines so the audience leaves having taken something from it. But David Chase, the creator — and writer and director of the final episode — leaves very few things resolved in the fashion of Greek tragedy or Shakespearean revelation and a return to order.

But that has been the way this particular drama has played out. Since its inception eight years ago, the life and times of the small-time mobster with anxiety issues has gone in fits and starts; storylines begun in one season are either resolved quickly or not until a year later… if at all. Characters come and go with dispatch; some evolve; some do not. Perhaps this is what Mr. Chase is saying about life: all of us have unresolved story lines, all of us know people who come and go, a lot of things and lives just…end.

But that’s life, not theatre, and I wonder if Mr. Chase’s choices indicate that he’s saying drama should more truly reflect life than the climax and denouement of the well-made play; that should just cut to the closing credits in the middle of a song by Journey. Or perhaps he’s just saying that he’s shown us as much of the lives of the Sopranos as he’s willing to share and from now on we’re to leave them alone.

In a way, I agree with my friend’s sentiment that it was a cop out supreme, but I also can’t help but think that this story never promised easy resolutions. The loose ends that were tied up were almost perfunctory, including the gruesome end of Phil Leotardo (would it have been too obvious to score that scene with a tune by Smashing Pumpkins?), the bedside goodbye to Sil, and the fading away of Uncle Junior.

But then, Mr. Chase has given us some things to think about, talk about, blog about, and they’re not just what happens to who. We get to think about what that ending says to — and about — us.

As we say in theatre, always leave the stage with the audience wanting more.

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “That’s Life

  1. I HATED the ending.

    I think it would have been great if both Meadow and A.J. sold Tony out to the FBI in the end — nothing final. They could have stood Carmella and Tony up for dinner, they’re both worried, then the kids are shown in an office talking to the FBI agents and handing over evidence.

    That would be worse for Tony than being killed.

  2. Janie

    I’m sorry – but unless a movie is filmed at some point with Tony Soprano as the main character, I will never ever believe that Tony is NOT dead.

    That ended seemed so clear cut to me, I couldn’t believe the outrage over it. At the beginning of the episode, they showed Tony saying “When you die, it just cuts to black.”

    The reason the song ended mid sentence, and the reason we didn’t see Meadow walk in, was because at this point we were seeing and hearning things from Tony’s POV – and his life ended, and all faded to black. He never knew what hit him. The guy from the counter came out of the bathroom (whether he just pulled a godfather and grabbed the gun out of the bathroom, or wanted to do a surprise attack and get Tony from behind, we’ll never know) and ended his life in front of his whole family. The hard cut that made everyone think there TV was screwed was they way David Chase told us Tony was dead.

    It was the same with Phil. They set that up as well to show what they were going to do later in the show. Phil was staring at his wife – never saw the gun, never knew what hit him. The world simply went to black in mid-sentence for him as well.

    I thought it was brilliant the way it was done – but hey.. that’s just me!

  3. Dr. Loveless

    I don’t buy the “It’s lights out for Tony” theory. By that point, there’s no one left (who we know of, anyway) in the Sopranos universe who wants Tony dead. Phil is gone, the war is over, there’s peace among the families. Sure, one could reach back and theorize about past characters, like Furio, or the Russian guy from “Pine Barrens,” but that’s overreaching (in sf fandom, we call that “fanwanking”).

    Also, while I know nothing about how mob hits go down in real life, we’ve all become familiar with how they unfold in the Sopranoverse. A hitman out to whack a boss would not sit fidgeting at the counter for several minutes beforehand, drinking coffee, and letting the waitress and everyone else in the restaurant get a good look at him — He’d just show up, pop him, and that would be it. Besides, the family had decided at the last minute to eat out, so why would a hitman have been at the diner waiting for them?

    My own theory about what happens after the cut to black is … that it doesn’t matter. These people, and this thing of theirs, will never change. They’re stuck right where they are until death releases them. Whether that death comes violently or not, right after the blackout or decades later, makes no difference at all.

    Still, though, I’ve been craving onion rings ever since last night. And “Don’t Stop Believin'” was my high school graduating class theme song, so now I have two reasons to hate it.

  4. DBK

    From one of my commenters regarding my own posting on the finale:

    “The guy at the bar who went into the bathroom was Nikki Leotardo (nephew of Phil)

    “The trucker was the brother of the guy who was robbed by Christopher in Season 2. He had to identify the body.

    “The black guys walking in were the ones who tried to kill Tony and only clipped in the ear.”

    Tony got whacked, but you had to be a serious Sopranos fan to realize who those people they kept showing were. I didn’t know. I thought they were just for dramatic effect, to heighten the tension and scare us with shots of random people who looked like maybe they might hit Tony. If my commenter (a trustworthy person) is to be believed, then Tony never finished his dinner.

  5. DBK

    Okay, and now I take it back because there is disagreement about those characters:

    http://testpattern.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/06/11/222698.aspx

  6. tony isn’t dead. the show is just over. that was the point. tony goes on, we all go on, same as it ever was.

  7. The more I think about the ending, the more I like it. I would have hated some contrived tie-it-all-up-in-a-bow ending (à la Six Feet Under) — and besides, such a thing wouldn’t seem consistent with the ethos of the show. Any whiff of heroism, redemption, cosmic justice, or the like would have been out of place in a show that never romanticized.

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