The End of the Sopranos

Last night was the final episode of The Sopranos. Unlike many, I actually watched the Sopranos since the very first episode in 1999, when I lived with my fraternity brother Max. Here is my review, do not read on if you haven’t seen it, this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Season 6A and 6B of The Sopranos was mostly hit or miss. Many people found the esoteric dreams of Tony in 6A, while in the hospital fighting his gunshot, to be boring and self-absored. Indeed, there were many moments where the series was a little full of itself. But ultimately, it attempted to do something interesting, which was make us see things from Tony’s eyes. It didn’t work for me, but in retrospect, it was smart producing, because the series doesn’t stand as episodes anymore, it stands as a series.

So the last few episodes built up to this big finale, and unexpectedly… nothing really happened. Patsy didn’t turn on Tony. Paulie didn’t get whacked or reveal that he was working with New York. AJ didn’t kill himself. Tony wasn’t arrested. Tony didn’t get whacked… or did he?

The genius of the episode, for me, wasn’t immediately evident. Much of the episode was rushed and very little happened until the hatable Phil Leotardo got shot right in the side of the head in front of his wife (“Wave bye-bye to Grandpa!”), and then had his head crushed by a large SUV.

The real thing that made the episode was the final 3 minutes. Tony goes into a diner. Carmela joins him. One by one, we’re treated to views of all the suspicious characters. Then AJ comes in. Meadow fails at parking. Will the car explode? Will Tony get shot? What will happen? Set to the tune of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which, incidentally, will never be the same to me again, the tension was incredible. My heart was pounding, and it occured to me, David Chase has finally done it. He’s managed to make me feel things like Tony. Every moment is tense. And suddenly, we begin to understand the entire series. Why Tony is in therapy. Why Tony had panic attacks. Why Tony is a cold bastard. It all makes sense when life is contained in that tension sphere.

And then…. black. Did Tony get capped? Maybe. I think early in the series they actually said that when you get whacked, things just go black. Did the weird character emerge from the bathroom and whack Tony?

Or did life just go on? Were we meant to understand the tension and *not* see it pan out into something that justified it? Rather, just see that life as head of a family is stressful and you’re ALWAYS looking over your shoulder?

I think it’s fantastic that we don’t know. Too many shows, like, say a ‘Will and Grace’, make an 8 season run based on conflict, and then suddenly end with “…and then everything worked out perfectly.” Life doesn’t work that way. It’s better for it to end just as the series and the finale played out… life just slowly goes on, one step at a time. Nothing magical. No big round-it-all-up scenario, just things keep going. It’s by far the most realistic way to end a series.

We care about these characters. The show was called “The Sopranos,” which means the entire Soprano family and the entire New Jersey team. It wasn’t just about Tony. So even if Tony got whacked, it would only be the end for him. What of Carm? Meadow? Paulie and the guy who played Vinnie on Doogie Howser? Silvio??

It ended the perfect way — without revealing the ultimate fate of any of the characters, which would have been a let down to most regardless of what it was. The story is far from over, but the glimpse we got gave us the taste it promised. In the end, even gangsters have families, and sometimes, they’re just as disfunctional as the rest of us.

I think the people who will undoubtedly scream “that sucked!” are people who just didn’t get the show. These people were looking for a bloodbath, a climax, a definite and discreet ending. But The Sopranos was never a mobster drama, and it wasn’t supposed to be a Di Nero/Pesci movie. It was a drama about a mobster named Tony and his family. The show was never supposed to include bloodbath battles. It was a normal guy and his family – their struggles through high school and choosing college, through marital problems and redemption, through the passing of old friends and the introduction of new. Whether Tony died or not is irrelevant and intentionally unspecified. It’s left up to the viewer to decipher and decide what to believe.

Personally, I don’t believe Tony was whacked. I think the story just stopped being told. But it’s certainly possible that the guy came out of the bathroom and blew Tony’s brains out.

While it may have been a little too artsy at times, and it was arguably less powerful in season 6, The Sopranos was a masterpiece and was certainly as gripping as any other TV series in recent history.

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