I’m going to make one more post about the final episode of the Sopranos and then cash out of this discussion forever. A lot of what I’m saying and why I’m saying it is adapted from a post I made to the Nicola Griffith mailing list on the subject. It probably goes without saying that this post is filthy with spoilers, not just for the last episode but the series as a whole.
This post seems to be the poster post for the whole “Tony Soprano was whacked and here are all the clues” theory. People that love the episode seem to really enjoy the game of all this. Let’s assume for a minute that is in fact the “correct” answer and is exactly what David Chase was trying to get across. Even so, I think that’s bullshit. This show has never been about subtlety. We have been asked for six seasons to empathize with a central character who routinely orders the death of other people including people close to him, such as his nephew’s fiance. He killed at least two of his own family members (Christopher and Tony B) to smooth over business concerns. He cheated on his wife in pretty much every episode, and we are asked to care about this man and by and large we did and do. That’s a lot to ask of an audience, and we responded. This show slapped us across the face over and over and we let it and enjoyed it because it was well done, even if at times it was hard to watch.
Now, when we reach the end to hide the actual denouement in plausibly deniable vagary is not cool. He gets to say “the clues are all there” but then if the opportunity comes up for a film he can still do it and deny everything later. That is noncommittal waffling of the worst kind and has no place when trying to finish off a masterpiece. You expect that the actual stuff of the plot will be hidden in clues in some bullshit M. Night Shyamalan piece of obscure puzzle art. That’s not what we’ve been given here for the last decade, and not what we deserved at the end. When the show ended, I didn’t want to have to decipher the finale by scanning for hints about what songs are on the jukebox. That might be preferable for obsessives who treat TV shows like the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but not for me. I’m not a lazy viewer and I’m willing to decipher symbols. I’m usually looking for religious iconography in cinema and literature, and I appreciate shots like the Last Supper homage in the film of M*A*S*H. When a dying character’s arms flop out like the end of Old Man and the Sea, I know what that means. I can appreciate those things but to avoid the actual point of your story in the text and hide it in subtext is pussying out, precisely the one thing David Chase has denied his audience all along.
The other alternative, that the theory is wrong, makes it much worse. That makes the wrongheadedness of this decision sheer laziness or cowardice or unwillingness to tackle the big subjects or even give us a thematic conclusion. There were a thousand ways the show could have ended that I’d have gone along with. Like I’ve said before, had the series concluded with the second to last episode, I’d have been better satisfied. Here’s an ending I could have dug: Tony goes near the pool, sees the ducks return, has a panic attack and drowns in the pool. Phil’s hitmen arrive to kill him and he’s already dead in the pool. Big irony machine engaged. Here’s another: Tony is killed early in the episode and AJ decides to avenge him but unlike the Uncle Junior fiasco actually pulls it off. It becomes obvious that AJ is going to go into the family business. Life goes on, same as it ever was. Here’s a third: Tony turns rat and gives the FBI guy some juicy info. They move to Arizona where he really becomes Kevin Finnerty, and has either a normal happy life, or an abnormal unhappy life, or like Vito can’t live normally after a lifetime of hustling, or lives as a paranoid who sees danger in every shadow. How about: Tony realizes this can never end well so he fakes his own death and does about the same thing.
As it ended now, what the fuck was all that coma dream stuff in the first half of the season? It was pretty boring, so if it wasn’t going to pay off later why did we have to endure it at all? Weren’t we supposed to believe that the mescaline trip taught him something about himself? If none of these things actually meant anything in the larger picture, then we have to come back to it being fairly uninteresting, overly padded treading of narrative water. This is where the Matrix 2/3 comparison comes back to me. There was so much stuff that doesn’t seem to stand by itself and then the resolution pays off none of it. That’s why I feel cheated, because if I am going to get an unsatisfying resolution, don’t make me endure lots of boring pseudo-profundity leading up to it. Play fair, or kiss my ass. In the case of the both the Sopranos and the Matrix, I feel they didn’t play fair and for the Matrix it really hurt its legacy. I firmly expect the same of the Sopranos. They may have done the ending like that to leave the door open for a film, but honestly I don’t give a shit to see it anymore. The show and anything that might follow on is, as they say, dead to me.