So it’s Been Almost Five Years Since Tony Soprano (fill in the blank)…
As I’ve gotten older (I turned 33 two weeks ago), one thing I’ve truly noticed about the evolution of my own personality is that I’ve become more and more oblivious to the significance of pop culture – and more specifically – it’s icons – be they a musician, an actor, a tv show, writer or a specific character or whatever. For example, despite having a 10-year-old daughter, I’d be hard pressed to identify a single Justin Bieber song, and it was only recently that I could confidently recognize a tune from Lady Gaga. Everything is cyclical – and once you’ve witnessed the cycle come full term a couple of times you start to realize that none of it really matters in the grand scheme of things. The latest and greatest come and go and are quickly gone from the scene as often as they’d arrived – and after all – it’s just entertainment.
A microcosm of this is the fact that I never watched a single episode of The Sopranos until after the series wrapped on June 10th, 2007. I began watching the seasons on DVD shortly afterward. I knew about the show and could have easily gotten into it long before I actually did. It just was never very important to me. I’d hear the water-cooler conversations and I just never felt a need to or desire to contribute to that discussion.
Before I’d watched the show at all, I knew there was controversy over the ending but never gave it much thought – after all… it was just a TV show. What could there possibly be to be pissed off about?
***Spoiler Alert: It’s been 5 years but if you haven’t seen the show and think you might someday you should probably skip the rest of this article.***
As you will recall, the series finale ends with Tony Soprano and his wife and son at a diner waiting for his daughter Meadow to join them. They arrived one at a time; first Tony entered the diner and stood in the doorway scanning the room. The scene cuts immediately to him sitting at a table alone and fiddling with the mini-jukebox sitting on the table finally setting on the song “Don’t Stop Believin'” while watching the door intently waiting for the rest of his family members to arrive. An ominous-looking individual wearing a walks past the table where the three of them are seated to the men’s room, which has a clear line of sight to where Tony is sitting. The scene ends with Meadow frantically running toward the door of the diner after repeatedly struggling to parallel park her Lexus. Tony looks up as he hears the chime on the front door and the scene cuts to black. The music abruptly goes silent and we’re left with a couple dozen seconds of nothingness, wondering if we’ve just experienced the absolute worst timed cable outage in the history of American Television. It’s only after about a minute or so that we’re left to wonder aloud ‘So That’s It”?
Earlier this week, I ran across an article on the new site Grantland.com about The Sopranos’ famous ending. The article wasn’t so much an analysis of what happened at the end of that famous scene – much has been published on that already. The piece was more of an examination of The Sopranos’ place in pop-culture history now that we’re almost five years removed from what was most likely the demise of Tony Soprano. Then, I encountered another recent article – this time on Yahoo! – on the same topic, revealing that lead actor James Gandolfini ‘hated the ending’. Then something occurred to me – people are STILL talking about this.
It’s normal to revisit things like this when an anniversary rolls around. We mark the five-year, ten-year, twenty-year anniversaries of albums, movies, tv shows, etc. – but the five-year anniversary of that last episode is still four months away.
Personally, I was more than a little irritated by the way they decided to end the show. As an audience, we are owed an ending. We deserve that closure. That can be open-ended, such as the series finale of “Cheers”,which precedes the final closing credits with Sam Malone in his bar, smoking cigars with his most loyal patrons and uttering the line ‘Sorry, ‘We’re Closed’ as a would-be customer attempts to walk through the door. It’s fine if we’re left to assume that things just pretty much went on as usual. Same with movies, books, comics and any other storytelling medium.
But The Sopranos was different. This was a brilliant work of fiction, culminating with the assassination of Tony Soprano’s top two lieutenants with Tony presumably about to be hit next. Only we don’t get to know what actually happened.
The truth is, we were cheated. We know exactly what happened to Vito and Bobby and Christopher and Phil Leotardo and Adriana and Jackie Jr. and all the other characters whose demise we bore witness to. We were subjected to so much detail we could easily take the stand for the prosecution. But the fate of the main character remains subject to much debate. Why?
Even to this day, the discussion continues. If you look at the comments on The Sopranos video clips on Youtube, there are several people on there debating as you read this. It’s hard to fathom really – considering that there has literally been no new information on the topic. Yet people are analyzing every aspect of this for clues as to the fate of the main protagonist.
Personally, I think it was left open ended for two reasons. One – to complete the story only leaves The Sopranos to fade into history as yet another great show. In some ways, ending the story in a satisfactory way closes the chapter in people’s lives and they move on. But by leaving the story open-ended, the itch will always be there. By leaving it incomplete it will always feel like there was more.
The other reason I think they chose to end the show as they did plays a little more to my own cynical side. It’s quite possible that they simply couldn’t decide how to end it, so they left it as is. After all, how do you kill Tony Soprano? Let the audience decide what happened. Let them ponder it for years. And, if and when they finally move on – resurrect the story one last time with a final reveal. All it would take is a single interview.
In many ways, the ending is brilliant. In others, it is cheap and unsatisfying. Whether or not you like it, one thing is undeniable.
(cut to black).