Don't tell me. Let me guess:
You hated -- no, despised; nay, felt utterly and completely *betrayed* by -- last night's "Sopranos" finale. If so, let me just say: "I feel your pain, paisan."
What's that -- no? You were among those who actually loved and relished how artful David Chase was with his cut-to-black sendoff?
If so, let me chime in: Amen to that, my fellow show-worshiper.
I'm conflicted, you say? No, not anymore. Unlike Tony Soprano's treatment plan, a single night of Talk Therapy did the trick. I'm "cured," I'm healed, I've had my Road to Damascus moment.
In the valley of bitter darkness of what's become the insta-immortal Cut to Black episode, I have seen the light. And lo, it is brilliant.
Nearly as brilliant as David Chase.
Hello, Fandango? Two tix to the "Sopranos" feature film, please -- whenever it may be. For surely it is coming (dare we call it a "Second Coming"?).
The cure? Call me slow, but I finally understand the Last Scene. And I am at peace.
Cut to last scene -- Interior: Diner -- as the tension builds to ridiculous heights while Meadow, outside, fails yet again to parallel park her Lexus (what, Dad couldn't afford the new-model Lexus that self-parallel parks?--got to love how Chase parodied the carmaker's new ads).
Tony, with family close at hand in his booth, all together and breaking bread -- or rather, onion rings -- is amid a coven of seemingly accomplices against him, a nest of vipers and would-be assassins. From every angle, Tony sees menace and potential death (will that torturously slow metaphoric ketchup from an earlier scene finally spill -- one last bloody showdown in the diner?) There, at the bar, is Nikki Leotardo, Phil's relative, who would have a vengeful motive, as well as perhaps a weapon stashed in the men's room, Michael Corleone style.
And over there in the booth is a trucker, who was involve in the jacked-DVD shenanigans from so many seasons ago.
Wow, look out -- there, coming in near Meadow, are the two young guys hired to mow down Tony years ago -- the ones who shot out his OJ bottle (shades of Vito Corleone) as he entered his SUV.
And to round out this weirdness of "Twilight Zone" convergence -- killers to the left of me, assassins to the right! -- is the Boy Scout troop from the toy shop in which Bobby Bacala's got his train-ticket punched a week earlier.
It's part Fellini, part Rod Serling -- and way too much Coppola being fried up for our comfort.
As Journey's Steve Perry wails away about the movie never ending, suddenly the show -- *ends*!
Cut to Black. Mass anger among viewers (and TV critics!) across the country that their cable or TiVo has just misfired at the point of cinematic climax.
And then the realization that, no, that is IT. And then -- hoo-boy, hellfire and tarnation! -- the REAL mass anger begins.
Millions of viewers instantly feel jobbed, robbed and betrayed. Finalus Interruptus -- Chase left us high and dry, as if he's personally just whacked every last fan.
The profanities flow forth! ("Earmuffs!" as a Vince Vaughn character would say.) An Italian-American psychotherapist I know quickly said to the screen: "Chicken-[expletive]! He took the easy way out!"
Chase had deftly filled the National Water Cooler -- and then, at the very last second, laced it with asbestos!
The collective cry: "Damn you all to (Silvio) Dante's Inferno, David deCesare Chase!"
But before you light the torches and lynch Dr, Chase for having created this monster -- er, moBster -- let us just say:
Noooot so fast.
Perhaps you figured this all out long ago for yourself -- and perhaps you still despise the ending even given this little epiphany; you're entitled -- but for me, the last, years-in-the-making scene turned "golden" once I learned:
There were absolutely NO would-be assassins in that final scene, in that final diner.
I repeat: There were no vipers.
It was all -- and by "all," I mean all this potential menace in the diner -- in Tony's suspicious, looking-over-his-shoulder-forever (till his mortal Cut-to-Black moment comes, that is -- that day on which, as he and Bobby said: "You won't see it coming") HEAD.
In his mind's eye. In his daydream. In the eyes of justifiably Rabid Paranoid.
Which, it turns out, was the very "vision" of David Chase.
How do I know? What cinches it? Well, whose the first faux-face Tony sees in this scene?
That's right, it's his own damned face -- the visage of a younger Tony Soprano. A man in a black jacket walks by and who does Tony see but himself -- probably a vision of himself decades earlier, perhaps when he and Carm dated in the late-'70s/early-'80s and came to perhaps this very diner to listen to Journey (c'mon! --who else would listen to Journey now by choice?) and the coat was -- yes, we were all fashion victims in the '80s -- a Member's Only jacket.
Framed through that aperture, every face Tony sees after his own is equally a figment of his imagination (or as Paulie might "malaprop: a *pigment* of his imagination). These are all just those random "strangers" in the streetlight -- as Steve Perry would intone. Phil may be dead, but for a mob boss, the potentially fatal menace goes on and on and on ...
Looking back, should there have been any doubt it'd be a cliffhanger? The first song we hear in the episode as Tony awakens in the safe house to a classic-rock station: Vanilla Fudge's "Keep You Hangin' On."
Damn you, David Chase! We missed that one till it too late.
So we can start to name-check what else Chase was packing like East Coast sardines into this finale -- Paddy Chayevsky's "Network"! John Sayles's "Limbo"! Coppola and Scorsese and perhaps even car commercials -- but for many of us, where we come down in the Loved-It or Loathed-It debate over this finale pretty much rests on what you thought of the last scene. (And you can go to today's Sopranos online-chat for more on these details.) For us, though, the finale now "works." Classic as a bold Act of Television.
Chase took the good/bad debate off the table in the long term because this episode has become emblazoned on the public consciousness. From now on, whenever anyone toys with the cut-to-black approach, he or she will be "Pulling a Sopranos."
David Chase made his bones. He's a TV immortal.
Now, if somehow would throw enough moolah Gandolfini's way, Chase has a good clean shot at becoming a feature-film immortal, to boot.
Should we stop believing in this dream? Don't stop---
[CUT TO BLACK]
What did you think -- where do you fall in today's National Venting? Or the groundswell of Big-Time Backers? We're in our FBI truck, the tapes are rolling and our pens are poised. Tell us your opinions -- and please speak directly into the microphone ....
-- Michael Cavna,
Style, TV Editor
But the real catch is: That, apparently, is exactly what series creator David Chase hoped for.
One TV-industry "informant" had told our Tom Shales prior to the finale's airing that viewers would be angered and irked and shocked and in general would just have their silk undies in a bunch.
Editor's note: For more on last night's finale, read Michael Cavna's "Sopranos" discussion transcript.
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