The Finale

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.


By Maura McCarthy |  June 11, 2007; 5:24 PM ET  | Category:  The Ending
Previous: Murders, You Quote | Next: Exhumed! The Alternate "Sopranos" Ending

Comments

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That finale reminded me of a long planned night of passion with the fine guy from the job. We have been walking around each other, hot and heavy, for months. Now we have made the decision to "do the nasty". And, suddenly, like a wet bottle rocket at the Fourth of July - NADA @ The BADA! Too much alcohol? Way too excited? Whatever! It ended up to be much ado about NOTHING! What a disappointment! John Gotti is twirling in his grave, wondering what happened to "that thing of ours". I can answer that for you, John - you were the last of the real gangsters! The new ones can't even pull off a series finale, much less a hit! Give your "button" back, Tony.

Posted by: OhMyGoddess | June 11, 2007 06:04 PM

Loved the finale episode including the last scenes leading up to blackness.

Posted by: | June 11, 2007 06:09 PM

I'm growing to love the finale as I step away from it and think it through. The greatest myth of the final show was that that was Phil's cousin at the counter. I watched the credits he's created as a guy in members only jacket. no names or anything. He was just a random guy. That's what was great about the episode it touched on all the potential threats to Tony and made them seem very real in the waning moments of the show.

Posted by: Omar | June 11, 2007 09:50 PM

Let's not spend any more time on this cop out ending than it's worth. Yeah, we got it. Life goes on for Tony & Family. We saw it. It's over. After today, give the ending, a pseudo artsy attempt at creating viral blogs, the Dr. Melfi treatment - you're outta here!

It's still Monday here in Hawaii. Starting tomorrow - cut to black. It's just not worth the breath.

Posted by: The Masked Marauder | June 12, 2007 05:40 AM

The writer's axiom is that if we don't know about it, you can show us. If we do know about it, you have to make us feel it. Chase SHOWED us the worst way to die with Phil and we loved it. But he insisted we FEEL how it is to be CUT OFF. That moment of panic, that heart up in our throats, the emptiness. It wasn't about Tony after all, necessarily, but about us, the viewers. An emotional goodbye if I ever saw one.

Posted by: Linda Lee McDonald | June 12, 2007 12:10 PM

What a great way for David Chase to put the responsibilty squarely back on us the same way that Dr. Melfi put it to Tony.

Therapy is over, make your own choices and live with them.

Anger, resentment, betrayal, confusion and conflict. These are all emotions that Tony Soprano wrestled with the entire series. Now we too get to feel what Tony went through.

In the end, David gave us all the way to debate and communicate with each other. Thank you.

Posted by: Robert Peck | June 12, 2007 01:03 PM

Like others, I was initially upset with the ending. However, after a few minutes I began to feel the ending was extremely clever. We were led up to the "end" very carefully with plenty of suspense. Tony's daughter taking so long to park the car was brilliant. I was convinced that her delay was going to save her life since she would be outside the restaurant when the rest of the Soprano family would be "hit". Also, there were at least 3 other characters in the restaurant that were potential hitmen. It was sort of like the "Lady or the Tiger", pick your own ending. Very thought provoking & clever.

Posted by: Old Salt | June 12, 2007 01:46 PM

your attempted explication is still a little too obtuse for me. like the finale, it's unclear. could you do a little better job and be more precise about YOUR take on it -- because unlike the sopranos your colum/writing, while fine and interesting, is not art.

a little more elucidation please?

Posted by: the ending is okay w/me but your explanation of it isn't | June 12, 2007 02:32 PM

I loved the ending...perfect. I just laughed and laughed and laughed...Chase...he did it again. Never try to outguess the master.

Posted by: southern hitman | June 12, 2007 05:24 PM

I saw this ending as just a juvenile, heavy-handed attempt at being artsy and clever.

Sopranos peaked in its first two years, so I didn't expect a miraculous comeback for the last episode. But neither did I expect to mistake the ending for a flub on my DVR.

Tell ya what--I won't be spending any $$ to buy a ticket to a Sopranos movie. Not after the last couple seasons.

Posted by: Lisa Mann | June 12, 2007 07:41 PM

I HATED the ending. I could live the ambiguity, even with ending with the family at the diner. But the lead-up?? Pure tease. All those quick and dirty cuts, til I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat. Cheap theatrics and cliffhanger endings to rival the most banal soap opera scripting.

In an instant, I went from being a die-hard Soprano's fan to feeling incredibly manipulated and used. Chase should have had the guts to create a real ending, instead of leaving an opening for what is obviously ahead- a Soprano's movie. Count me out!

Posted by: Lily Witham | June 12, 2007 09:29 PM

I find the anger over the ending so amusing. Here's the secret...the story is over. There never was a Soprano family, we haven't been watching a reality TV show. It's fiction and the quick cut ending is an end to that fiction. There isn't anything to understand or contemplate...the story is over. You might want imagine Tony being shot or the family having a nice dinner, maybe even with the usual anger and argument, but those things didn't happen. It's been the same way for the 85 previous episodes. Nothing actually happens between the last scene of one episode and the first scene of the next. Get over it. There's nothing to understand.

If you prefer to imagine Tony was killed, go ahead...in effect he was. So was Carmela, Meadow, AJ, Paulie, Sil, Melfi...everyone. They're all gone What is the line AJ has early in the episode...about everyone living in a dream?

Get over it...and start watching it all over form episode 1.

BTW...Chase himself has rejected the popular theories about all of the people in Holstens at the end.

Posted by: Rooney | June 12, 2007 10:19 PM

As an avid Soprano's watcher for much of its duration, I was so incredibly disappointed in the way I felt abandoned by the series finaly. I have also read the many supporters of the ending. I still feel like the writers spent 6 years and 364 days of writing.

Don't get me wrong, It was the greatest show of its era, but to end it like that. UGH

But you know what..........Tony said it perfectly........

people will be watching this for 100 years after they are gone.

Posted by: Jholio | June 12, 2007 10:41 PM

Ending of the SOPRANOS, "Fade to Whatever," reminded me of the writer's axiom, "Chekhov's Gun," and how lame Chase is with "Fade to Whatever." Chekhov's axiom is that if you show a firearm in a story, you've got to fire that weapon, at some point, or you, as a writer, are playing games with the reader--not telling a story. Simply, the writer doesn't have the option of copping out, and all great writers never cop out. Chase copped out. Likewise, a storyteller is still the guy, or gal, who walks into a village, sets his hat upside down in the village square, and tells a story. When he's done, he damn well better have a hat full of coins--and if he's done his job, not only will he have a hat full of coins, he'll have a free meal and a place to hang his hat until the next sunrise, when he makes his way to the next village. Chase wouldn't make it out of the village alive, with the "Fade to Whatever." Total cop-out. It's not about pissing-off the reader, or viewer, by showing how clever
you THINK you are. It's about NEVER CHEATING the reader, and the viewer, and we all got cheated. Shame. You want outstanding stories, vice the Mafia? "The Godfather" films are still on DVD.
Mario Puzo, God bless him, knew how to never cheat both readers and viewers.
Mike Tucker

Posted by: Mike Tucker | June 13, 2007 12:40 AM

It was a great ending. Chase killed us off, not the family. there is no family, it's fiction, so Chase had to kill us. We didn't see it coming and it just went to black, like Bobby said. Tony didn't die, becuase he never lived, we lived in a fake world where he became real, and now it's over.

Posted by: Dan | June 30, 2007 02:04 AM

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