Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 10, 2007
POP CULTURE: Don't Stop Believing

Let's talk about the ending of The Sopranos. Spoliers, of course, aplenty. DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ENDED

(NOTE: POST HAS BEEN UPDATED SEVERAL TIMES)

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If you do know how it ended, let me know...I mean, seriously, what the hell? I'm not saying that a non-ending of sorts, with the family sitting down for a meal and life going on, would have been a bad thing; we had a resolution of the war, with the death of Phil; we know that Tony is still in legal jeopardy; we know that his line of work will continue to expose him to risks. That, I can live with. The "choose your own adventure" ending is another story. And: Journey???? All the great music they have chosen in this series...don't get me wrong, I like cheesy music as much as the next guy (I even have that song on my iPod), but going out with "Don't Stop Believing"?

I'm miffled.

On the whole, the suspense was incredible throughout - shots of security cameras at the Bing, people coming up behind Tony, etc. But as with many past seasons, the real action was the next to last episode.

My best guess at the last minute had been that Tony would try to cooperate with the feds, Paulie would sniff him out, and the last words Tony would hear would be "Sorry, T." As it turned out, Paulie did indeed seemingly stay loyal (albeit with grievances as always) to the end. But there was one scene where we saw Paulie make a face after telling Tony he needed to think about the promotion...until he explained later the whole vision of the Blessed Mother thing, I thought he was feeling guilt about somehow betraying Tony while Tony was promoting him. (The funniest line in the whole show was Tony's response: "F*** strippers, we coulda had a shrine, sell holy water by the gallon").

In fact, at the end we never saw any secret mole, any hidden betrayal (Carlo flipping when his son gets pinched doesn't count) - although of course the final scene certainly showed the possible setup for either (1) a hit on Tony or (2) Tony and family getting killed in the crossfire of some totally unrelated criminal beef.

Since basically everyone else had been corrupted on this show - cops, the Church, the doctors and psychiatrists, the educators, etc. - the last episode was the FBI's turn, with Agent Harris having an affair with a colleague and basically taking Tony's side in selling out Phil's location. That crossed a serious line, and we definitely see that even as he has moved on to nastier things - or maybe because of that - Harris has taken to sympathizing with Tony just as it becomes obvious that Tony is playing him. This was Harris' episode as much as it was anyone's besides AJ.

I was surprised that we got more Junior, but a fitting end - he thinks it's "nice" that he ran North Jersey with Johnny Boy, but he doesn't remember...and doesn't know where he stashed his money.

Tony, for all his feigned contempt for therapy, was quick to start in with the Livia stuff again. Why does AJ have a new therapist - did Dr. Monotone get dumped for failing to see the suicide attempt coming? And Meadow, of course, is quite the expert in knowing what guilt buttons to push to shut up her father.

I forget if I'd blogged it here but I'd been wondering aloud for a while if we were building up to AJ joining the Army, albeit out of misguided reasons (a love for violence and a newfound hypersensitivity to the Arab world). Of course, he is easily enough bribed out of doing something genuinely noble by his parents. Carmela, by contrast, never did play a key role in the wind-down, nor really did Janice or Meadow.

Phil...couldn't happen to a nicer guy. That rollover scene looked like something from "Scary Movie" with the Greek chorus/peanut gallery cringing at the sight of his head getting squashed like a grape. Who would have thought that even Butchie would buy into killing Phil? I really had thought last week that one way or another he would win.

We never did get to see Tony use the big gun.

UPDATE: Saltier comments here. The ending really is a failure of storytelling. Shakespeare would have cringed.

At least Carmela got that AJ would never be an officer, but somehow I doubt the Army would take a guy who is just weeks removed from a suicide attempt.

I see someone mentions this in comments - I do think it's likely that Harris' motivation was strongly influenced by Phil having once set up a female FBI agent to be raped, whether or not it's the woman he's sleeping with - that's not legal or morally right, but it's the old-school cop response: a mobster violates the unwritten rule on not going after cops, he doesn't get arrested, the cops just look the other way or lend a hand in his gang rivals killing him.

No open casket for Phil, I guess.

I liked the comments by people saying the cat was Adrianna and that AJ is now officially on the Little Carmine career path.

By the way: if there is any artistic defense for Chase writing a highly suspenseful scene and then stopping in the middle of it to end the series, it would be wholly undermined if they ever did a Sopranos movie.

OK, I'm hearing this a lot, but I see no evidence that Tony Soprano got killed last night.

Let's go back to first principles. Tony is a fictional character. Nothing happens to fictional characters except as it comes from one of three sources:

1. Things shown or discussed onscreen (or page, stage, etc.)
2. Things reasonably inferred from things shown or discussed onscreen
3. Fan fiction.

(You could add #4, things the writer says, but thus far beyond Delphic hints Chase has said nothing to confirm Tony's murder).

I grant that Chase left plenty of running room last night for creative fanfic about how Tony met his end at Holstein's, but where is the evidence to meet #1 or 2?

We didn't see Tony die.
We didn't see anyone in the restaurant make a move on Tony.
We didn't see anyone in the restaurant who is known to have a beef with Tony.
We didn't see anyone in the restaurant with a visible or likely weapon.

We saw people acting a little odd, but Tony is a famous mobster whose picture has been on TV and in the papers.

The whole idea that he's dead comes from the abrupt ending of his POV. But we were shown many things in this series that happened outside Tony's presence, a number of which he never learned about - cooperaters he never found out about, scenes inside the FBI and other crime families, even piddly stuff like Patsy peeing in his pool. Thus, the equation of the limits of Tony's POV with his death is tenous at best.

It may be interesting fanfic, but it's fanfic.

STILL MORE: The blackout, of course, was a reverse War of the Worlds, sending people to call the cable company to find out why their TV showed nothing happening in New Jersey.

A couple of contrasts to the Godfather series - the guy goes in the bathroom and never comes out; we are invited to think of the whole family except the daughter getting killed at the end; AJ doesn't end up serving in the Army, in contrast to Michael Corleone.

If you are doing the "Tony bought it" fanfic thing, I guess there's a parallel to the Kevin Finnerty sequence - there, Tony came out of the coma when he heard Meadow calling. This time? He, never gets to see - or at least we never get to see - Meadow come through the door.

This really was a great exchange:

Meadow: "The state can crush the individual." Tony (incredulously): "New Jersey?"

Also, perfect AJ hearing Bob Dylan and thinking it's some sort of revelation, 40 years later.

And yes, part of me wonders if Chase was trying to get plaudits from the usual suspects for dissing his audience, and part of me wonders if he was holding back multiple alternate endings to sell DVDs.

Lest there be any confusion: I did love the episode, every bit of it up to the blackout. But the blackout was weak.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:24 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

First time long time Crank .... all that's left after the vast emptiness at 9:05 PM is the relentless 2nd guessing.
Did Chase conceive this episode as a prank? Did he and Gandolfini plot this as a tribute to Tony's survival instinct? Are they prepared to announce the Sopranos' motion picture?
It completely felt like any of the previous season enders, which is a real cheat.
The diner ending was an embarassing tease, right down to the Journey cheese anthem that all of us of Tony's age remember as sellout pop.
I don't even want Chase to speak to any media about this episode. Best to remember the good times.

Posted by: splinter at June 11, 2007 1:57 AM

I've missed some episodes over the years. Was the FBI Agent Harris was having the affair with the one who I read some where that Phil wanted to have raped?

Just curious if that contributed to his motivation for ratting Phil out.

Or was it just Chase telling us that even the Feds begin to glorify and be seduced by our national love affair with mobsters?

Posted by: Strick at June 11, 2007 6:59 AM

I guess that I was the only person who say the ending as Tony being killed.

The whole story has been Tony's, and when he was killed - he never heard the shot - it was over.

Posted by: uk halo at June 11, 2007 8:52 AM

I'm with uk halo, especially given the flashback with Bobby where he says, "When it happens, you never hear it coming."

Posted by: WD at June 11, 2007 9:00 AM

Yeah...Pamela Ewing will wake up and find Tony in the shower... :)

I actually liked the episode...everyone wanted bloodlust, but they leave that for off screen, if at all...and the buzz will be for the movie...pretty smart thinking...

I think the Phil thing wrapped up a little too quickly, tho...should have left Darth Phil spinning into space, but the popping of the head was a nice touch, if you're gonna do it...

Posted by: AstrosFan at June 11, 2007 9:35 AM

Credit Chase for reclaiming (if not redeeming) his creation's original intent: satire.

America's boundless appetite for melodrama long ago turned the series into a bloated confusion...much to Chase's chagrin, I'd be willing to bet.

The song, in that case, was pitch perfect.

Posted by: seamus at June 11, 2007 9:38 AM

I have never watched to show, but I understand the dedication to it. I feel similarly about other shows. Fox News speculated this morning that the ending was Tony and family in the witness protection program.

Posted by: maddirishman at June 11, 2007 9:57 AM

I loved the episode. There was absolutely NOTHING they could do that would satisfy us. Except that.

We don't want to see Tony dead (not really). We don't want to see Tony go to jail. We don't want to see him go into the Witness Protection program. We don't want him to live happily ever after.

Not really...c'mon...

There've been plenty of homages to the Godfather and Goodfellas in the past. The sullen guy going to the bathroom was just another one. It was probably just a shmo who had to take a leak.

They moved all the chess pieces into position...and there wasn't anything they could do to finish it. So they just finished it.

Beautiful

Posted by: Noah at June 11, 2007 10:31 AM

uk halo - I don't know, it's not like there haven't been plenty of scenes of things Tony never found out about.

Posted by: The Crank at June 11, 2007 10:37 AM

Crank,

True, perhaps I should have phrased it better.

For all the dozens of characters over seven series, it's all about Tony. End of Tony, end of show.

I would hate to think that, however ambiguous the ending, it was merely a set up for a movie or a possible comeback. That would be much more of a 'middle finger' to the audience.

Posted by: UK Halo at June 11, 2007 10:54 AM

Crank,

True, perhaps I should have phrased it better.

For all the dozens of characters over seven series, it's all about Tony. End of Tony, end of show.

I would hate to think that, however ambiguous the ending, it was merely a set up for a movie or a possible comeback. That would be much more of a 'middle finger' to the audience.

Posted by: UK Halo at June 11, 2007 11:04 AM

I think in the end, David Chase had the issues of dealing with Tony more than Gandolfini did. He probably couldn't bring himself to kill off his greatest creation. Maybe they should have gone on vacation in Switzerland, and the last scene would be a sign pointing to the left that said Reichenbach Falls.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at June 11, 2007 11:31 AM

I thought it was great.

All the tension built up for the last scene just served to remind us how easy it would be for paranoia to take over were any of us in that life. It would likely be all-consuming.

In the end, I thought the quick cut was actually Chase whacking us, the audience. We never heard it coming. Tony's fine. His life will go on as usual. Now that we've been offed, we'll just have to go on to something else.

Posted by: Pat Pending at June 11, 2007 11:34 AM

I like the comment someone sent to the National Review Online this morning.

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZmFmNDA0MTkxY2I0NDM5MjdjOTA0Yzc1OWNhYTkzYTc=

Remember Tony and Bobby talking about how you never see it coming?

The whole show has been about Tony from Tony's point of view. Only Tony's a psychopath who is so self-centered that he can't see his victim's point of view and can rationalize the most heinous crimes. Even when he's nice to friends and family, it's always for his own benefit. Snuffing Christopher shows that and that's what Melfi finally sees in him at last.

So while Chase lets us can glimpse, for just a moment, the elaborate set up in the restaurant with all the hallmarks that tie to the Godfather and other classic movie hits, Tony can't. And when the end finally comes, we can't see it, because we still see things from Tony's point of view, and, of course, Tony never saw it coming.

Posted by: Strick at June 11, 2007 2:08 PM

Crank, you've read too my POV comment to literally. It's perhaps too strong a restatement of the premise that the story was about Tony. Read the original at NRO ignoring what I said.

The tie to the conversation with Bobby about never hearing the one that gets you is the real basis for the the opinion that Tony died in that 5-10 seconds of dead air. That's about how long the scene where Bobby was shot took, btw.

Otherwise the abrupt stop doesn't make any sense. I understand that it doesn't have to make sense, but the the dead air as symbolism makes more sense than 5-10 seconds of inexplicable silence.

As for your three "first principles", there are lots of examples where the audience doesn't witness an event and knows what happens from the context and symbolism. Believe what you will, but the case that Tony died is at least as strong as the case he lived. Both have exactly the same evidence.

Posted by: Strick at June 11, 2007 5:38 PM

Tony dying is a possible interpetation, but I don't think it's more than that. Particularly since there didn't seem to be anyone left standing with a reason to want him dead.

Posted by: Jerry at June 11, 2007 6:15 PM

I think the dead air represents a blank canvas on which to paint your own impression of what is in store for Tony. I don't read anything more into it than that.

IMO, there is just no credible evidence that this was a death scene. Chase does a suberb job of building tension in the scene, but the tension is greatly enhanced by our expectations of some big climax. On repeat viewing, the action is pretty mundane and non-threatening.

Other points that argue against the death scenario: a) this is not a good location for a hit -- a very busy family restaurant represents the possibility of far too many witnesses and potential collateral damage. b) the "threatening" patrons all sat down for service -- again, making it much more likely they would be remembered by the staff or other nearby customers. c) no clear enemies remaining that want Tony dead -- or want it bad enough to risk killing him under these conditions.

Face it, if someone was really going to kill Tony, it would be much more likely that they would wait to ambush him as he was leaving the restaurant.

Posted by: Kirk H. at June 11, 2007 9:15 PM

"Face it, if someone was really going to kill Tony, it would be much more likely that they would wait to ambush him as he was leaving the restaurant."

They killed Bobby in a hobby shop with about that many civilians in it, remember? No difference between this restaurant and several where real and fictional hits took place.

Sorry, I'll accept that there's some parity between the positions for and against Tony's death (i.e., no explicit evidence one way or the other), but this argument against them hitting Tony there isn't very convincing.

Posted by: Strick at June 11, 2007 9:33 PM

The more I rewatch the closing scene, the more I am convinced that this was Tony being killed - for all of the reasons mentioned above, and:

* The Members Only jacket guy is credited as Phil Leotardo's nephew;

* The trucker pouring sugar in his coffee is the brother of the hijacked (and killed) dvd trucker from season 2;

* The guys at the front of the restaurant are the same guys who tried to carjack Tony.

You probably don't even hear it when it happens. It just faeds to black.

Posted by: Geoff at June 11, 2007 9:35 PM

The more I rewatch the closing scene, the more I am convinced that this was Tony being killed - for all of the reasons mentioned above, and:

* The Members Only jacket guy is credited as Phil Leotardo's nephew;

* The trucker pouring sugar in his coffee is the brother of the hijacked (and killed) dvd trucker from season 2 - he was the one who identified the body;

* The guys at the front of the restaurant are the same guys who tried to carjack Tony.

You probably don't even hear it when it happens. It just faeds to black.

Posted by: Geoff at June 11, 2007 9:36 PM

Not to make too much of this, it's just a TV show after all. But both the location and circumstances for Bobby's hit were not at all the same. The hobby shop was not nearly as busy as the restaurant. The hitters walked in, moved in directly for the kill, and walked out. And they had motivation to get it done quickly, so they were willing to take more risks.

If you really have it in for Tony, there is no need to risk the hit inside the restaurant. The immediate threat has subsided, and you can pick your spot. These guys may not be geniuses, but they aren't complete idiots either.

Besides, what is the theory for who ordered the hit? Little Carmine? Butchie? Someone in Tony's crew? None of these make any sense to me.

Posted by: Kirk H. at June 11, 2007 9:59 PM

Why couldn't AJ take over the family? Then we could have a whole new series :)

Posted by: MiamiPartyBoats at June 11, 2007 11:35 PM

Geoff - I don't have the link handy but I believe your list is something of an instant urban legend that has been debunked. I have not seen good confirmation that those were the same actors.

Posted by: Crank at June 12, 2007 12:53 AM

Again, I accept Crank's point that there's no way to prove any of this and hope this is accepted not as a argument but an explanation.

There were more than enough reasons to think that someone would still want to wack Tony. The thing is, even beyond the personal matters, Phil was right, what was left of New Jersey was just a glorified crew, Tony had become a major screw up and New York's profits would increase if they eliminated a few layers of management and ran the territory for themselves.

And Tony was demanding retribution for Bobby's killing. Remember Hesh's dilemma when he worried Tony would calculate it was cheaper to kill Hesh than repay the loan ("I know how those Italians think!")? How both Phil and Tony were too cheap to pay up when Vito's widow needed money? Who's going enforce Tony's demands for money for Janice when he's gone?

As a minor plus, with Tony gone, New York avoids the notoriety of his public indictment and criminal trial.

I'm also not saying there's any real grand plan here, but think about it opportunistically. Tony does New York a favor and rids them of the now crazy-by-even-their-standards Phil, and when the over confident Tony comes out of hiding, they finish executing the sane part of Phil's plan.

Nothing personal. Strictly business.

Posted by: Strick at June 12, 2007 6:35 AM

http://blog.nj.com/alltv/2007/06/david_chase_speaks.html

"I think Butch was an intelligent guy, he began to see that there was no need for it, that Phil's feelings were all caught up in what was esentially a convoluted personal grudge." (Chase quote)

-Not from Chase, but I feel the need to debunk the e-mail that's making the rounds about all the Holsten's patrons being characters from earlier in the series. The actor playing Member's Only guy had never been on the show before, Tony killed at least, one if not both of his carjackers, and there are about 17 other things wrong with this popular but incorrect theory.

and so on. There's not a lot to indicate Tony was killed in my eyes, but if that's the ending you want Chase left the door open.

Posted by: abe at June 12, 2007 9:16 AM

"One day they blew him down in a clam bar in New York/

He could see them coming through the door as he lifted up his fork/

He turned the table over to protect his family/

then he staggered out into the streets of little Italy"

-"Joey", Bob Dylan

Posted by: seamus at June 12, 2007 9:34 AM

Saw that, too, Abe. You're right, it's a solid point.

All I can say is that I know partners in my firm that would have privately blessed Tony taking out a crazy senior partner (and carry all the resulting onus) and then, for the good of the firm, of course, take Tony out as an underperformer.

You've heard the analogy that partners in large firms are like made guys? The only difference is they wouldn't use guns.

Posted by: Strick at June 12, 2007 9:50 AM
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