Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 9, 2007
POP CULTURE: A Bing or a Whimper?

So I have been pondering in recent days how The Sopranos will or should end, with 6 or 7 seasons (depending how you count) behind us and 4 episodes to go. There's much speculation that David Chase, the creator of the series, really doesn't want to give us a neatly wrapped, satisfying ending, and of course there is the fact that many long-running serieses leave us with endings that go wrong in one of two opposite directions: either it leaves us hanging or it ties things up with a forced, didn't-see-that-coming ending. (A discussion for another day is the best and worst ways that long-running shows have ended).

More below the fold, for those of you who aren't caught up. If for any reason you have genuine spoilers rather than educated speculation about the last four episodes, TAKE THEM ELSEWHERE.

The Sopranos has a large cast of characters and a lot of long-running or intermittent plots, loose ends, etc. Nobody expects all of that to be wrapped up in four more episodes.

That said, I do think that Chase owes us a resolution of some sort as to a handful of the central characters and plotlines. Here's where I think we do and don't need to get some answers:

A. No More Needed or Expected

There are a bunch of characters who have had relatively satisfactory resolutions - i.e., we know where they are headed from here on out and they don't need to appear again unless to advance someone else's storylines. Obviously that includes everyone who is dead. It also includes Junior, who is settled in his mental hospital in irreversible decline; Artie Bucco, last seen rediscovering the joy of cooking after pressing his luck fighting mobsters; Rosalie Aprile and the various other widows and children; Hesh; Beansie; Little Carmine; Fr. Intintola; Tony's sister Barbara; Carmela's dad; Paulie's Ma; Finn; Tony's various discarded love interests/sex objects; Sal Vitro the gardener; various of the minor gangsters; and even, to some extent, Dr. Melfi, who really doesn't need a role in the climax of the series.

There's also a number of characters who are certain to appear but who don't really need to do anything but keep going as is: Meadow could yet figure in a more catastrophic ending for the family, but if she leaves off where she is, that's fine. Bobby and Silvio don't really have individual dramatic arcs in need of resolution; Silvio is basically the embodiment of the Soprano crime family, so we should expect him to share its fate.

Then there are loose ends that probably won't be tied up, or don't need to. Many acts of crime and evil will likely remain unavenged, and unprosecuted. We will not, I assume, see again Furio, the Russian from the woods, the bear, the garbage company heir whose kneecaps Paulie broke, Johnny Cakes, or Melfi's rapist.

We may or may not have seen the last of the Muslims.

B. More Required.

What that leaves is a handful of the key characters who seem certain to figure in the wrapup. Two of those also don't really need their own endings, but will probably get them if the ending is something other than "life goes on as always for Tony": Janice and Phil. But of the others, we need to have the following questions answered:

1. Does Tony die, get prosecuted, suffer a great loss in his life, or go into witness protection? These are the only four possibilities that give us a sense that sharing the journey all these years with this sociopath was worth it, and obviously the last is the least plausible, even if it does involve Tony ratting out terrorists or corrupt politicians instead of his fellow mobsters. The "great loss" would have to be Carmela, A.J. or Meadow - I used to think it would be Christopher, but he's far too estranged from Tony now for that to be a real ending for Tony. Of course, the loss of an 'innocent' family member is perhaps too much of a Godfather III ending - Chase may want to go all the way and end his tragedy the old-fashioned way, with the death of the protagonist.

I don't see things deteriorating badly enough in Tony's marriage, despite the mounting tension, for Carmela to leave or murder Tony. I think it's much more likely if he dies that it's at the hands of (1) Christopher, (2) Janice, (3) a heart attack, (4) Phil, (5) some random outsider like the Muslims, or (6) A.J., probably in that order. I can't see Paulie or Bobby taking down their boss, and I don't see a mob boss getting in a shootout with law enforcement.

2. Does A.J. follow his father's footsteps? This has been a crucial question throughout the series and one that absolutely must not be left hanging, especially with this Sunday's episode having reintroduced A.J. to illegal gambling and loan sharking as a cure for depression. The two most likely endings now for A.J. are both dire: either he proves himself an incompetent gangster and gets himself or someone else in the family (or The Family) killed, or he falls apart on his own (perhaps from continuing to mix alcohol and antidepressants).

3. What happens to Christopher's rage, guilt and urge to confess? Like Tony's actual son, his surrogate son is headed for a crash landing. I can't possibly see how this all ends without him killing Tony, getting killed by someone in one of the crime families, or going the Henry Hill route (having him O.D. on drugs would be a cop-out). I actually don't think he will get arrested, for J.T.'s murder or anything else; I think if he goes the witness route he will do it on his own out of spite or to save himself or his family from the mob.

4. Will Carmela ever walk away from the privileges of Tony's money? I can't see it happening... maybe it's me but I don't see Carmela being the center of what's going down. I think she has passed the point where she could or would leave, betray Tony, etc. And I'm not sure I see how this ends with her getting killed.

5. Will somebody please, finally, kill Paulie? I mean, Paulie has been an entertaining character but the man is utterly lacking in redeeming characteristics, he's insubordinate and can't stop feuding with Christopher, he's probably put more hurt on more innocent people than anyone else still living on the show, and he's not even a very effective mobster. By the way, in the episode on the boat, I think Paulie was saved by the fact that he refused to give in to Tony's hectoring about the joke about Johnny Sack's wife, even though Tony obviously believed Paulie was the one who told him. I know some people thought his denials robbed Tony of an excuse (to himself) to kill Paulie, but I think Tony wasn't interested in the truth, he was interested in putting Paulie on the hot seat (while at the same time assuring him that they were just friends swapping stories) and see if Paulie could keep his yap shut for once, resist the urge to tell a yarn and stick to the lie. He survived the trip because he showed he could stick to the lie.

I'm hoping and expecting that Paulie finally gets his, probably from Christopher but maybe from some more random direction.

6. Does The Family survive? The other big question is whether Tony's crime family can go on after he is gone, one way or another. Silvio doesn't want the job, Bobby seems a pitiful excuse for a leader, and the heir apparent, Christopher, is in no way set for the job, while A.J. is wet behind the ears and Meadow too wrapped up in the respectable life. Everybody else of note is dead. The only person left who is strong, savvy and ruthless enough is Janice.

7. Will we finally get a full-on war with New York? I suspect not, but I do think it's almost impossible that we'll get through the last four weeks without Phil killing someone else in Tony's crew or family or getting it himself.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:26 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

"(A discussion for another day is the best and worst ways that long-running shows have ended)."

Why wait for another day? :)

Best: Newhart.
Honorable mentions: Buffy, Quantum Leap.

Worst: Seinfeld.
Dishonorable mentions: X-Files, Sledgehammer, Alf, the 1999 NLCS.

Posted by: Keith L. at May 9, 2007 11:17 PM

My guess is that Tony becomes his mother. He sacrifices the last bit of mob BS posturing (loyalty,family, etc.) for some sort of quick advantage. I figure he does in Chris or Paulie. One of those two sleeps with the fishes over their dispute. Tony makes his call based on earnings (the better earner lives).

Critical scenes:

Dinner with the crew and Tony is complaining about the $100,000 for Vito's wife. No one offers a dime.

Little Carmine talks about leaving the life and being happy.

AJ come back to life in the torture scene.

Tony mentions how young he was when his dad sent him on his first.

In the end, Tony has no one. He sends AJ toward the same fate he has. Carmela is a convienience for Tony. Or an inconvienience, depending on the day. He can't, or won't, kill her. She does not factor in his decision making process. The crew cares about Tony as much as he cares about them. Chris is the only one that might provide something beyond a business reltionship, and Tony has killed that off. He lacks the awareness to see, or maybe the honesty to admit, that he is no better than Phil Leotardo. In fact, he is worse; Phil is an animal, while Tony has higher brain funtioning.

So it ends with Tony in a yelling match with someone, clearly in the wrong, saying, "Poor you."

And he will avoid the obvious meaning.

Posted by: Zufall at May 10, 2007 8:54 AM

I have read articles on Chase where he has stated that he has known the ending of the series since its inception. To me that leaves out the possibility of a somewhat nebulus ending. Even a writer and storyteller as gifted as Chase would have a hard time forseeing "fade to black" type of ending after nearly 100 hours of screen time. Characters have evolved in ways he could not have forseen (Tony's mother dying in real life) that would have shifted potential endings that left things not entirely wrapped up.

If Chase is true to his word and he has known how this show would end before it ever began (and do you believe he knew this would go on as long as it has? HBO was a bit player in the TV game 10 years ago.) then I would think that it has to end definitively. At one point I thought that maybe Carmella might be the one to do him in but I think, as mentioned above, that the person crazy and brassy enough to kill Tony is Janice. She will have motive (assuming her husband gets busted for the murder Tony sent him to do) and she has been there from the beginning. While they are clearly lining up nearly everyone to have a motive she stands out to me. If I had to make a bet I would bet on her because of what Chase has said.

Maybe a bit of flier but not a complete one.

Posted by: jim at May 10, 2007 12:23 PM

AJ dies from drunk driving or drug overdose.
Carmela leaves Tony.
Bobby and Christopher get picked up by the Feds.

Tony runs, finds himself alone, without family or friends.
Kills himself.

Posted by: Ryan at May 10, 2007 6:41 PM
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