The redemption of The Sopranos ending
Hopefully this will be my last Sopranos post, or at least until I actually watch season 6. But I’ve been thinking more about the final scene in the context of intentionality and narration. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume that David Chase intended to portray the death of Tony Soprano, choosing to do it via the unconventional method of the blackout cut to end the series. (I’m not suggesting that this is the definitive meaning, just the one I’m choosing to embrace…)
The more I think about it, the more I like this strategy for conveying Tony’s death. Assuming that Chase wanted to end the series with Tony dying, he was faced with some serious problems as to how best to show this. One of the main challenges of the series is that its moments of brutality have been received by many fans as moments of glory – Ralphie’s decapitation being exemplary. For many fans, The Sopranos has functioned as an extended action movie, focusing on the moments of bada bing rather than the moral ambiguities that seem to be more central to some (such as, me). I think Chase has catered/pandered to this constituency a bit much, and it seems that Phil’s gruesome death earlier in the finale fit this pattern.
So how best to represent the big whack? Thankfully Chase didn’t follow through on the gruesome trend and have Tony end up as a Satriale’s sausage. Instead, he avoided showing any violence or evidence of brutality (at least literally). What if we’d seen Tony’s body? What type of emotions would that have wrought? For some, moral superiority – he got what was coming to him. For others, grief – he was a good guy at heart. Even more, what about Carm & the kids? Would we feel pathos for them, or see them in complicit by living off the fruits of his crimes? All of these emotional reactions pose problems for continuing the themes of the shows – we need to feel ambiguity about this death, as the show trafficked in the uncertainty as to how we should relate to the big guy. How do you make people feel ambiguous about killing a character whom we know so intimately and find so uncomfortably charismatic?
Thus Chase’s brilliant choice was making the final shot narratively ambiguous enough that we do not feel any emotional reaction to Tony’s death – we don’t even know that it happened! For those of us who have come around to thinking that Tony was killed, we’ve invested enough intellectual energies into comprehending what happened that we don’t feel the visceral emotional impact of the death. We arrive at the realization of his death at enough of a remove that we’re not emotionally tied up in the storyworld, we’re not in the diner with the family, we don’t feel the moment of loss. We’ve already had a moment of mourning, but it’s grief over the loss of the show, not the character. Viewers experience the The Sopranos (the series itself as an object of affection) as less morally ambiguous than the character of Tony, and thus we can feel grief and loss over the end of the series without being either complicit or moralistically superior toward Tony’s crimes.
The abrupt cutting-off of the series and Tony’s life distances us from the storyworld by plunging us into the level of narration, and it is there that we grieve: we deny the ending by blaming it on the cable company; we grow angry at Chase for messing with our heads; we bargain by seeking out clues and rational explanations; we become depressed that there’s no clear answer forthcoming; we accept the inevitable that the series has ended and life (and television) must go on. Our emotions are focused at the level of Chase and storytelling, not Tony and his story. This is Chase’s ultimate victory, as he’s managed to kill off his hero without allowing the audience to fall into any conventional emotional traps, but still create a visceral and engaged emotional reaction to the finale.
For me, Tony is dead. I’ve come to terms and am ready to move on.
Filed under: Narrative, TV Shows | 5 Comments
Tags: finale, Sopranos