The Sopranos stops, but doesn’t end

13Jun07

In an effort to get that damn Journey song out of my head, I feel compelled to write about the finale of The Sopranos. I should be upfront and say that I have not actually seen the finale – just the final 5 minutes, which I’ve watched multiple times. I haven’t seen any of season 6 except the first episode (when Junior shoots Tony), and these final five minutes. I like the show, and think the first two seasons are wonderful and crucial innovations in the history of television storytelling. But every season has strayed further from what I think works best about the show (the core relationships, Tony’s moral dilemmas, seasons building toward narrative climaxes) toward frequent digressions, slack pacing, and lack of payoff for what has been set in motion. That being said, I certainly intend to watch the final season on DVD, and from what I’ve read I might enjoy it more than seasons 4 or 5.

But after trying to avoid spoilers, I slowly gleaned that the bits & pieces I’d seen online were essentially all there was to the ending, or at least all that could be spoiled. So I went ahead and watched the final scene to be able to participate in the discussion about serialized narrative conclusions (which I care about), and as an experiment in watching season 6 with the mindset of a spoiler fan. My analysis of the ending, greatly influenced by conversations with my friend & colleague Chris Keathley, is beneath the fold – I’ll report back on a “spoiled” season 6 in coming months.

The final scene is just under 5 minutes long, contained within a restaurant and on the street outside. It is edited quite rapidly, with an average shot length of 2.5 seconds – an editing pace more typical of a Hollywood or Hong Kong action sequence than dramatic television. But there is no “action” in this scene, at least that we witness – Tony and his family are having dinner at a diner, eating onion rings, with Meadow trying to parallel park. It is the mundane life that the show traditionally undercuts with a sense of dread and danger.

Nearly all the commentaries I’ve read about the scene highlight the sense of dread and danger in the sequence, as Tony glances suspiciously at others in the diner and the Journey song crescendos to create tension. But watching it in isolation from the rest of the episode, I’m struck by how little suspense and anxiety is actually generated – for me, it was just a mundane dinner sequence until the final shot, not much different from the many scenes of eating families peppering the entire series. What seems to create tension and anxiety is its narrational context – every viewer knew this was the final scene of the final episode, and eagerly awaited the final payoff and burst of violence that never came. Thus the suspense seems entirely contextual, with the lack of action ratcheting up tension precisely because we expect something more at this moment in the story.

But to say nothing happens in the sequence is only to focus on the story, not the narration. While we cannot point to any events that qualify as “action,” the way the scene is presented calls attention to itself in two particular moments that demand scrutiny. The first has gotten no notice in any of the criticism I’ve read. As Tony enters the diner, a series of four shots over seven seconds violates continuity norms in a potentially significant way. We start with a straight-ahead medium shot of him casing the diner:sopranos1.jpg

We cut to a clear point-of-view shot of Tony’s perspective, establishing the diner’s space: sopranos2.jpg

We cut back to the first angle, but in a close-up of his face – this convention clearly establishes our visual point-of-view as tied to Tony, suggesting that we will experience the scene via his perspective:

sopranos3.jpg

We reverse the shot once again to show the full diner again seemingly from his perspective, but now Tony is sitting in the middle of the scene:

sopranos4.jpg

This abrupt violation of continuity editing is subtle but important. The music plays continuously from the jukebox, so we seem to have a visual ellipsis but continuity on the audio track, a break of conventional style that calls attention to itself. Why make this unusual choice? The motivations within the narrative itself are varied – perhaps it signals that we are in Tony’s head and he is seeing himself from a remove, or imagining the events we will witness as he stands contemplating how the dinner might unfold. But there’s no other cue within the scene to suggest that the events on-screen are anything but realistic, and given the show’s propensity for elaborate dream sequences, we expect that if a sequence is a fantasy, there will be talking fishes or ghosts.

I believe this subtle continuity violation that many people seem to have not noticed operates more at the level of emotional response by creating a feeling of unease, a sense that something might not be quite right here – a set of feelings that certainly fit with audience expectations ramping toward a final climax. But more importantly, it cues us that the events we will see are mundane and boring, but the way they will be told are what matters – this edit is telling us to pay attention to narration, not just story.

This message pays off in the end, because the big climax is not at the level of story, but at the level of storytelling. The now infamous last shot of Tony looking up to see Meadow (presumably) entering the diner is cut off midstream, creating a sense of interruption that has provoked both anger and adulation. But I’d argue that the true last shot is not the less-than-two seconds of Tony that feels incomplete, but actually the longest “shot” in the entire scene – 10 seconds of silent blackness. This absence is so provocatively asserted that it needs to be understood and analyzed as a shot itself, a presence of nothingness rather than a default state lacking content and form. In the abrupt shift from Tony to blackness, nothing happens at the level of story; but at the level of storytelling, this “nothing” happens actively and insistently – we notice this nothingness, with the sequence rubbing our noses in the interminable gap between images of Tony and the first credit.

How might we explain this edit, which may be one of the most jarring and unconventional choices in the history of American television? This edit invites us to try to understand and justify the odd and utterly unexpected choice. I’ve outlined a few potential motivations for what this shot does and how we might explain it:

My cable went out – according to many reports of in-the-moment viewers, this was the first reaction. My television broke. My TiVo messed up. Something has gone wrong here. While none of these explanations are quite accurate, I do think this immediate reaction is both justified and intended. Whenever a medium norm is violated, our first assumption is that it was some sort of mistake, whether technically or aesthetically. Imagine reading a book with a page ending in a partial hyphenated word, only to find the next page to be blank – a printing error! It’s only once the credits appear that we realize that this was an intentional violation of the rules.

David Chase just flipped us the bird! – probably the second thing passing through a viewer’s head once realizing that it was an intended rather than mistaken interruption. How dare he not tell us what happened? But I think the anger and hostility this provoked is less due to ambiguity in the story, as many people expected that the show wouldn’t be wrapped up in a nice little package, but the ambiguity of its telling. The sheer chutzpah, or as Ron Moore wrote, “balls the size of Volkswagens,” it took to end with such a formal violation felt like an insult to many, a refusal of pleasure and closure to the millions who proclaimed Chase as an iconic television genius. And why? For many, it was a cop-out, a sign that Chase couldn’t come up with a satisfying ending and thus just maximized frustration out of spite. But if you think the show was the masterpiece that so many do, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt – what could be the rationale for such a bold choice? What might the 10 seconds of nothingness signify?

Tony got whacked – it seems like this is the only way to explain the choice in terms of the diegetic action. Someone – maybe the guy in the Member’s Only jacket who’d gone to the bathroom to evoke The Godfather, maybe the two African-American guys that remind us of the first-season carjackers, or maybe someone unseen entering the door – shot Tony just as he looks up, with nothingness symbolizing our already established first-person perspective on the situation. As alluded to by many fans, Bobby had earlier in the season mentioned that when you get whacked, you don’t see or hear anything – it just happens. Such an abrupt death is the only rationale I can think of that would motivate the nothingness. We have to stretch to think about how Tony would be whacked so quickly without any look of recognition on his face, but it is possible. If you want to feel that the final cut was motivated by the story, then Tony is dead. But as I mentioned regarding the disorienting edit earlier in the scene, we’re being cued to focus more on the narration than the story. Thus…

The show stopped, rather than ended – one of the greatest challenges with today’s complex serial narratives is how best to end them. Do you try to wrap up everything neatly, even if the thematic and structural design of the show denies neatness? Do you leave questions unanswered, even if it risks frustrating viewers looking for closure? Given the norms and themes long established by the show, a neat tidy ending was unthinkable for The Sopranos, unless perhaps as a satire along the lines of the final moments of The Player. But if we look at this scene, it seems like the story is wrapped up fairly well – Tony has resolved most of his immediately pressing problems (or at least as much as he ever can), his family is intact, and he’s talking to his son about focusing on life’s good moments. If Meadow had entered the restaurant, sat down, and the scene faded-to-black to the refrain of “Don’t Stop Believing,” I don’t think people would be griping about unanswered questions – the message would be “life goes on” and family still matters most. (People would have griped for other reasons no matter how it ended of course!)

But instead we got an abrupt moment of the storyworld eclipsed by nothingness. Why? The message I take away from this choice is a commentary about storytelling: every moment of conclusion in a story is as arbitrary as the next. There’s always more story to tell, and any conclusive ending is a myth, so let’s just be done here. Sorry Steve Perry, but we will stop. It’s abrupt and jarring, but ultimately no less conclusive than any other arbitrary “resolution” – in other words, it’s a way of stopping, but not ending, the story. Taken to a broader level, this is a bold critique of the arbitrary structures of serial narration and a refusal to comply with the medium’s expectations and norms.

I think this is Chase’s goal, and ultimately I don’t buy it. My take is that as the Sopranos hyperbolic praise grew, Chase began to believe his press, seeing the show as not only a great & innovative series, but somehow better than the medium – he thought “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” was an essential truth, not just a marketing slogan. Throughout the past few seasons, the show has repeatedly taken storytelling risks with seemingly little motivation than just seeing how far it could diverge from television norms (and few critics called him on it, as they’d constructed the show’s mythos too much to critique it). So this final edit is Chase’s way of refusing the finality of series narration in a manner that mocks you for wanting closure, and ultimately shows little respect for either its audience or medium. It’s a confrontational style of ending the series, and the victim is the viewer – it’s a more sophisticated version of Chase flipping us the bird, or perhaps disconnecting the cable (which, by implication, is inevitable now that the show is gone and we can cancel HBO).

I’d like to embrace this formal reading of Chase’s choice, as I generally enjoy risky narrative gambits (such as the season finales of Lost and Battlestar Galactica). But making a leap requires a good motivation, not just to show off or defy naysayers. My favorite ambitious endings seem both incredibly unconventional and utterly consistent with the narrative – Six Feet Under is television’s gold standard, paying off the show’s logic and philosophy of death while creating more emotional impact than any finale I’ve ever seen. One of the more ambiguous but successful endings is the abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion to David Foster Wallace’s huge novel Infinite Jest – the lack of satisfaction is thematically tied to the book’s ruminations on addiction and entertainment, paying off the content via the form. But I just don’t see why the arbitrariness of The Sopranos makes any narrative or narrational sense aside from a statement of defiance and artistic hubris.

So I’m choosing to interpret the ending as Tony being whacked. It might be less ambitious, and is certainly flawed in its execution (as the sense of a real threatening presence isn’t there), but it’s more satisfying than Chase’s dismissal of television’s narrative pleasure and closure. In my mind, Tony’s last moment was seeing his daughter gasp when seeing his assassin approach from behind, as Steve Perry cried “Don’t stop.” I can live with that.

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15 Responses to “The Sopranos stops, but doesn’t end”

  1. 1 shaunhuston

    I clicked through to the Ron Moore blog entry you linked to and was wondering if you had a reaction or response to his clear exhilaration at the ending, an exhilaration that seems to come from his identity as both a fan of The Sopranos and as a TV writer-producer. He seems to have a certain amount of frustration with the constraints of narrative expectation and sees Chase’s choice as a moment of liberation, at least for his writer-self.

    (I haven’t settled on a reaction. The past day or two I’ve been content to see and appreciate the ending as Chase’s way of signifying that this all there is for Tony, banal domesticity on one side, threats of arrest and death on the others. I think that you’re right about the tension in the final scene coming largely from its narrative context; I watched the closing minutes again on Monday and found that the only thing that continued to leave me unsettled was Meadow’s parking and her hurried look as she dashed across the street. The guy in the Members Only jacket seemed particularly mundane, whereas on first viewing he seemed highly suspicious, and as with many, his move to the rest room immediately made me think of The Godfather. On the other hand, my more immediate reactions, other than “did the DVR cut out?” a problem I was primed to worry about due to the show’s unusual 65 minute length, were more of the “hmmm, interesting, but suggests a failure of the imagination”-type. I appreciate your breakdown of the editing in the scene’s opening sequence. It has me thinking about other touches within the scene that may have served to create unease).

  2. 2 davemack

    the shot of Tony ‘sitting in the middle of the scene’ looks suspiciously like a ‘last supper’ scene. Any thoughts?

  3. 3 larscla

    Hey.
    I read a blog from ziddi that i find quite interesting. I think this guy really figured it out.

    Secret of the Sopranos finale revealed!

    As Tony walks into the diner, he stops and scopes the area. Notice that it immediately cuts to him sitting in the booth, and also notice that he isn’t even wearing the same shirt he originally came into the diner with! That was a dead giveaway: what happens from then on out is his warped mind imagining how a possible hit on him and his family could occur if it were to happen that day, and in that diner.

    I don’t have to tell you that the next three or four minutes of the show (that don’t really happen) are obviously quite tense. As Tony imagines all the shady people walking into the diner, and considers all the possible hitmen who could be surrounding him at that moment, he starts to panic, his heart beats faster and his palms start to sweat…much like the millions of viewers who were watching the Sopranos that night. David Chase basically plucked us out of our homes and our comfy sofas and put us in the terror-striken head of Tony Soprano, whose every day (you now find out through this brilliant piece of directing) is filled with fear and uncertainty.

    As Meadow parks her car and walks inside the diner to join her dysfunctional family, Tony looks up and indeed does comes face to face with his killer…who is positioned between himself and Meadow. He reaches for his gun (probably), but is too late.

    Tony’s reason for including his family in this fantasy is because of the simple fact that he himself watched his own father die in front of his eyes, that too under similar circumstances. He imagined A.J. going through the same horrific experience (a chill runs down my spine everytime I imagine Tony dead…it just can’t happen!).

    The second the screen turned black, two things happened. One, Tony was shot in his imagination. Obviously. And two, in reality, Tony had a panic attack and passed out just as the words “Don’t stop” were playing over the jukebox. David Chase, being the genius that he is, brought the series in a full circle; remember scene one, episode one, season one, when Tony met his shrink for the first time to discuss his panic attack?

    This epiphany came to me today as I was drinking my Starbucks green tea, which is my new obsession. I can’t get enough of it. Apparently, it’s good for your heart and also your brain…and this proves that it works! The online forums are overflowing with different theories about what truly happened in the final episode, scpeifically, the final scene. These theories have ranged from the cheesy (the audience was whacked), to the obvious (Tony was whacked) to the boring (nothing happened). Well let me tell you that one thing is for certain, ‘nothing’ didn’t happen. I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but three years from now, David Chase will reveal this to be his true intention for the episode.

    Any comments on ziddi`s thoughts?

  4. shaun: my take on Ron Moore is first that I’m glad he didn’t think of it first, as I love BSG more than Sopranos & would be really pissed off if he did such a “trick”! Moore has often noted Chase & Sopranos as a huge influence as to the possibilities of TV storytelling, and probably whenever you work within a restrictive system there’s a sense of exhilaration whenever your hero pulls off something so daring & out-of-the-box. But I guess I disagree with the effectiveness of the stunt, and hope Moore doesn’t get too inspired…

    dave: I don’t see the Last Supper parallel aside from the straight-on angle.

    larscla: it’s the same shirt, just without a jacket. But if the intention was to frame the final 4 minutes as in Tony’s head, the show failed as the cue was too subtle to be noticed by the vast majority of viewers, and it completely breaks with the show’s established conventions for dream sequences.

    And for further reading, I point to the always brilliant Heather Havrilesky at Salon. Thanks for the comments!

  5. 5 shaunhuston

    As much as I’ve come around to appreciating the way The Sopranos was brought to an end, I agree with you re: Ronald Moore and BSG. I do think that that series has too much of a metanarrative (the mythic/religious search for Earth) for Moore to seriously consider ending the series in a similar way (which is not to say that he and his collaborators aren’t going to have a difficult time conjuring up a “good” way to bring the series to a close, and that might tempt them with a Chase-like solution; makes me wince just thinking about it).

  6. I haven’t seen the finale, or any of the Sopranos since 2004 (bar the first episode that ran this spring), but I might be content to just let the description of the final scene stand in for actually watching it! Kind of taking spoiler-fandom to the next step: disregarding the actual viewing because your curiosity is satisfied.

    That said, I agree that the series is a victim of its own critical success, spurred on by Chase et al’s hubris, and HBO’s fawning enabling of such. Perhaps if the critics, and especially a few folks at the New York Times, hadn’t enshrined it as the Citizen Kane of television back in 1999, we would have had a better show. Instead, we got an over-anticipated, occasionally brilliant but ultimately underwhelming serial narrative. It’s telling (for me, at least) that I’ll remember the series most for its jaw-dropping moments (Melfi’s rape, Tony’s dreams, Carm’s anger) and stand-alone episodes (e.g. “College,” “Pine Barrens”) than for its overall narrative.

  7. 7 Cole Moore Odell

    i remember as a child being terribly frustrated by the “endless quest” model of Saturday morning animation–the kids on Dungeons & Dragons or Kid Video spent every episode looking for a way back to Earth from some other-dimensional prison, and the producers studiously avoided a final episode which would resolve the story, mindful of the rerun market. The last episode of the Sopranos is like that, only for middle-aged people–many of whom have the tools and training to spin the inexplicable in complex ways.

    While interpreting the final scene as Tony’s death scene does provide the conventional closure that Chase pointedly denies (maybe?) it strikes me a bit like deciding to believe that Schrodinger’s cat is dead. The superposition is the point. (Maybe?) A number of people have offered very persuasive theories for Tony’s death, but they’re just theories.

    I don’t begrudge Chase this choice–he’s often said that he resents the conventions of storytelling and morality that dictate Crime Does Not Pay, which has always led me to believe that a cursed, miserable Tony would probably continue to barely evade the clutches of the cops and fellow mobsters (he’s always been good at the bare minimum of keeping his head above water, a Soprano family trait echoed literally in his son’s botched suicide attempt) if not escape the wreckage of his life. The blackout is a stylistic surprise, but that’s all. I was ready for a more diffuse ambiguity.

    Still, while I don’t begrudge Chase, I do wonder about his stance. Stories are not like life. That’s precisely why they appeal to audiences, because they provide us with a way to process reality. To complain about the artificiality of their conventions–things like actual endings, or meaning–is to miss a large chunk of the point. Could Chase really have just spent 86 hours telling us stories in order to tell us, finally, that stories themselves are invalid? While I think it’s fine for an isolated master storyteller to consciously question or abdicate his presumed responsibilities, I suspect it isn’t something that could be repeated very well, very often. I worry that we’re about to be in for a spate of copy-cat non-endings which pretend to art but merely emulate it.

    Finally, given all of the essays and theories that have spring up, I can only assume that Chase was not spitting at the viewers as much as handing over the reins. “Here, audience, this is your show now, you end it. If you need to see Tony get what he “deserves,” kill him. If you prefer an ending where he “gets away with it”, knock yourself out. if you choose to interpret the parting glimpse of dread and the mundane locked in endless stasis as a comment on the state of modern existence, be my guest.” (Note that Chase now insists that he didn’t intend to frustrate anyone, and seeks only to “entertain”. He’s certainly entertained the critics, scholars and entertainment writers this week.)

    And so all of us have written the possible endings existing simultaneously in that quantum superposition, the scientist having opened up his laboratory to the world while ensuring that the box can never be opened, the results never verified, the experiment never concluded, only stopped.

  8. Cole: I agree that Chase’s desire for ambiguity is probably not motivated by overt hostility toward viewers, but the effect was a form of violence – you cannot go back on the contract you make with your audience and expect them to thank you for the pleasure. I think the blackout is more than a flourish, as it violation of norms is so provocative as to be violent so that it undercuts the narrative ambiguity he seems to want to embrace. So for me, reading it as a clunky but ambitious way to kill Tony justifies and replaces the black-screen narrational violence with an off-screen murder. For me, it has nothing to do with diegetic morality, as I don’t watch the show for any ethical statements or metaphoric proclamations of the corruption of the American dream, but for narrative engagement with fabulous performances. Maybe this is why I prefer The Wire, where social critique is explicit & heartfelt, not winkingly alluded to through allegory & metaphor…

    And a couple more links good for some laughs: longtime TV comedy writer Ken Levine tells us how the show would have played out on a network. And Slate’s Dan Kois leaks the final chapter of Harry Potter as written by David Chase. Thanks again all for commenting!

  9. 9 Cole Moore Odell

    “So provocative as to be violent” strikes me as a pretty good description of the entire series, so why should the end be different? I’m not the best person to defend Chase or his show as I gave up on The Sopranos out of boredom three episodes into season 5, only drifting back toward the end. If only it had wrapped with Season One, it would have been unimpeachable. (Hey there, Freak and Geeks. I’m looking at you.)

    The obvious just dawned on me–that Chase’s final blackout evokes Tony’s anxiety-induced blackouts that set the series in motion. With that in mind, the ending strikes me as super-extra clever, not a jumping of the tracks at all. Whether the blackout is Tony’s or ours, whether he’s dead or not, the therapy either didn’t work or didn’t matter. The final blackout may be a violation of the medium’s conventions, but it’s completely in keeping with the series and central character. Tony’s blackouts may have been caused by a vestigial conscience. Yet after committing/watching Tony commit truly unconscionable acts in the final few episodes, not only are the blackouts still there, they ultimately overwhelm the show.

  10. But I just don’t see why the arbitrariness of [the ending of] The Sopranos makes any narrative or narrational sense aside from a statement of defiance and artistic hubris.

    I don’t see Chase’s ending as arbitrary or gimmicky at all. I also don’t think the show is overrated, though its critics have been largely unworthy of it. Season Six in particular was as strong as anything since the show’s debut – and I find a lot of the ‘it’s been downhill since Season One’ criticism (which is everywhere these days) to have more than a little ‘I liked this band until it sold out and starting selling records‘ indie-rock-fan vibe to it. If the (a)morality of the core characters was no longer surprising in Season Six, there was plenty of new ground to cover, starting with the horrifying ‘midseason premiere,’ ‘Sopranos Home Movies,’ which was basically an unbearably tense four-character one-act play set far from the story’s usual world. The formal structures the writers utilized on the show were always tied to the show’s central concerns, thematically and plotwise.

    In any case, the ending: the penultimate episode of the season promised unprecedented gangland bloodshed, with the Sopranos finally ‘going to the mattresses.’ But the fact that onscreen war didn’t materialize in the finale wasn’t Chase’s joke on the viewer – it was a strong illustration of the pathetic quality of Tony’s world (not just as Mob figure but as McMansion dweller and husband/father). The show was always a half-ironic lament for Old Ways, and the baroque formality of some of it’s episodes always played to that point: for a certain kind of American Guy at a certain moment, everything seems like lots of wasted promise. It was a midlife crisis show, moreso as it went on, and as much an embodiment of Tony’s depression and longing-for-meaning as a comment upon it. He gets to go out with The Family, but only to a rubbish diner where all the music is Oldies. He becomes more aware of his fixation on classic rock and Gary Cooper, but can never quite get over it, is too scared to start anything new.

    Tony’s already achieved the American Dream: promotion, the big house, an active social calendar, two nice kids (maybe one and a half). But he’s gonna get shot, or go to jail, as a result. And along with the daily distractions of being ‘the skipper,’ what keeps him going are his fantasies, one of which (maybe the saddest) is that there’s still an American Dream to look forward to.

    I don’t think he gets shot at the end of the show; such an explanation adds nothing to the final moments that I can see, other than satisfaction that oft-deferred generic satisfaction has been achieved. Tony wants to be one of the Corleones but he’s not; he doesn’t get the satisfaction of going out grandly. (There were notes of Scarface in the finale as well, with him waking up next to a gigantic assault rifle, maybe his last little friend in the world actually.) I suspect the ending is in part Chase’s message to viewers that a neat-n-tidy ending is a fantasy, but that’s not separate from the longstanding concerns of the show, nor would such a message be an imposition upon the show’s story. It’s always been about life insistently trundling along; the couple of times Tony’s escaped Big Drama have been exceptions, not the rules themselves.

    That’s why I don’t think the ending actually violated viewer expectations, unless they were watching just to see who got whacked. But let’s face it, if one stuck with The Sopranos for that reason then one is reading like a simpleton.

    For me, it has nothing to do with diegetic morality, as I don’t watch the show for any ethical statements or metaphoric proclamations of the corruption of the American dream, but for narrative engagement with fabulous performances. Maybe this is why I prefer The Wire, where social critique is explicit & heartfelt, not winkingly alluded to through allegory & metaphor…

    You think the social critique on The Sopranos isn’t ‘heartfelt’? What show were you watching?! There were plenty of winks on the show but Chase et al. never ever undercut their ringing indictment of the characters by reveling in what they were critiquing, nor by going for generic satisfaction when a twist or character-deepening was possible. I love The Wire too, but you’re throwing out the ‘allegory and metaphor’ baby with the bathwater, and that’s irresponsible. Let’s not overstate here: The Wire allegorizes as well, and it does deal in complex metaphors. Of course. But The Sopranos dealt with vastly more complex individual emotional terrain, trying to make more universal statements about (in particular) middle-aged men’s experiences of family, cultural identity, and ill-defined masculinity. The Wire gets to paint its extraordinary culture-wide portraits in part because it so consistently turns from the characterological amplification of melodrama (except in the late-S3 case of Stringer and Avon – and I’ve not seen S4).

    If you insist that the ending of ‘Made in America’ represents Tony’s death, then what you’re insisting (in slightly more abstract form) isn’t just that Stories need to End a Certain Way. You’re insisting that this story needs a specific ending. Which is definitely a moral insistence, and one out of line with the show’s progress. The (shocking) ten seconds of silence, which you’re right to emphasize, are easily explained by recourse to the show’s constant message: much as Tony and the viewers might like a break from the long decline of the Sopranos and their world, things will keep going. ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is a description of hell, in a way: ongoing, inescapable, and on earth, which is the only hell such a nastily anti-spiritual show is going to provide. The Wire is its close cousin in that regard, but without such a powerful and complex vessel for identification and revulsion.

  11. Oh, and re: continuity editing -

    I’m glad you pointed out that near-invisible time cut. I noticed it right away but wasn’t too stunned by it, in part because the editing throughout the finale was slightly off-kilter, as was the more-than-usually aggressive camera movement and the constant presence of loud music. Stylistically it was a somewhat different episode in a bunch of ways; in addition to being a razor-sharp comedy writer Chase is an interesting director with a fine eye for irony.

    Season Six leaps all over the calendar and the map, incidentally – not least when Tony travels briefly to Purgatory and Carmela heads to Paris. The ending was very much of a piece with the twenty episodes running up to it.

  12. Wax – first off, I refuse to acknowledge that Journey is an ‘oldie’…

    As I mentioned, I haven’t watched s6, so I’m glad to hear that this finale feels like a continuation both in style and substance – I do look forward to watching. What I’m not sure about in your comment is the explanation of the 10-sec blackness as conveying “much as Tony and the viewers might like a break from the long decline of the Sopranos and their world, things will keep going.” The fracturing of the scene with the aggressive nothingness suggests the opposite of things keeping going – it’s an interruption, not a continuity. If it faded to black, or even cut out at a pause in the action, it could suggest continuity. But interrupting mid-shot suggests discontinuity – either at the story level (i.e. death, or maybe a panic-attack blackout), or narration level (Chase’s almost hostile rejection of the storyworld, his role in narrating it, and our role of watching it). I choose story not because I need any sort of moral wrap-up or insist on closure; rather I want a justification for the bold choice of the final shot, and simply don’t understand how the interruption conveys anything at the level of narration that’s remotely satisfying. Perhaps after watching s6 I’ll feel differently.

    Thanks for the comments. [And as an aside, I saw your comment on South Dakota Dark. "Don't Stop Believin'" was not Clinton's theme song - Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" (thinking about tomorrow) was. Somehow I don't think Steve Perry singing "Working hard to get my fill, Everybody wants a thrill" would be the desired message of the Clinton campaign!]

  13. Regarding contextual tension: Pretty much any time anyone reads a book, watches a TV show, or a movie, they know when the end is coming. Out of all of these, I think the film viewer would be the most likely to lose track of time and thus not impose tension where there was none. Still, I wouldn’t say the tension felt by many Sopranos viewers was entirely contextual. I could’ve sworn the sequence was edited (and sound-designed) in a way more similar to a murder scene than the typical “life is good, more or less” family tableaus that conclude every season. Also, the dialog (what little there is) is a little too upbeat. No one ever has it good on dramas until the moment before the shit hits the fan.

    You hit the nail on the head regarding that impossible POV shot. At the moment, I noticed it and felt uneasy, but then forgot about it until I found a reference to it buried on a message board somewhere on the internets. The conversations online about the conclusion are a heartening testament to the fact that there is good close-reading criticism going among the rants and false leads (perhaps a taste of things to come once Lost concludes). Reading all these possible interpretations has kept those last few minutes of television at the front of my mind for a week now, which hasn’t happened for me since Twin Peaks ended. For that reason, I can’t dismiss the conclusion as “a more sophisticated version of Chase flipping us the bird.”

    I like waxbanks point about how The Sopranos was always a midlife crisis show: laments for a bygone era punctuated by anxiety attacks. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but in the end, I think it made for a thematically unified narrative.


  1. 1 Club-Seeker » Blog Archiv » The Sopranos stops, but doesn’t end
  2. 2 Ambiguity versus intention: The Sopranos keeps going « Just TV

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