By Sheerly Avni
After 86 episodes, six seasons, one devastating terrorist attack, two presidential elections, two wars, and eight years, “Sopranos” creator David Chase chose to end on what many irate fans are already calling the ultimate fuck you—ending the series mid-thought, or rather in a mid- ‘80s musical phrase: the chorus of the Journey ballad “Don’t Stop Believing.”
It’s an ironic choice, especially since if there’s one thing that the millions of “Sopranos” fans have believed in, it’s that we’d get some answers on Sunday. No wonder outraged viewers crashed the HBO site last night. Shortchanged doesn’t even begin to cut it.
The events of the last scene do not in and of themselves evoke great drama, since Tony has safely dispatched his most imminent threat, Phil Leotardo—with a bullet to the head and a quasi-comical skull-crush. Now the surviving North Jersey capos are out of hiding, Junior’s sitting on mystery money, and Tony faces another federal investigation. In other words, business as usual in “Soprano’s” country—bad, but not catastrophic.
The setting is a family diner, where Tony, Carmela and A.J. are making unusually peaceable small talk, while outside Meadow tries unsuccessfully to parallel-park her car. But because this scene ends the series, it’s fraught with meaning and dread, and Chase plays us for all we’ve got. We see each customer, through Tony’s eyes, as a potential threat: A woman rushes through the front door, looking for a moment like a crazed Janice; the man at the counter, almost too casual in his Members Only jacket, who seems to size up the family before he heads back to the john; two black guys checking out the jukebox. Even Meadow’s losing battle with her steering wheel seems like a portent.
But whether Chase means these to be Tony’s last moments, or simply an uneasy idyll, we’ll never know, because the camera cuts to black just as Tony looks up.
And the Journey song? It cuts to silence in the middle of the chorus, on the phrase “Don’t stop ... “
It’s as if the jukebox has skipped on the fans’ unheeded plea.
Don’t Stop! Tell us if those two black guys are hit men! Tell us if Members Only just went to pick up a gun, Corleone-style, from behind a toilet! Tell us if the feds are circling outside!
Or at least, tell us: Does Meadow get a ticket for double-parking?
But Chase stopped short. He stopped without telling us if our dread was justified, without telling us whether this was just another day in Tony’s life or the last day in Tony’s life. He carried out on his oft-repeated threat to leave the plot unresolved, just like life.
Or did he? In every other way but the simple question of how Tony would go down, Chase and his team have satisfied most of our thematic questions. Existentially, at least, we know exactly where all the principle characters are heading, and that’s nowhere good.
A.J., having tried on the mantle of tragic hero and found it wanting, has glided back into loserville, blowing up the family car, messing around with a high school girl, letting Pops bail him out, even misquoting the very poet who drove him to an attempted suicide (“Haven’t you heard of Yeets?” he lectures his table at Bobby’s funeral).
And Meadow, the Columbia grad and one-time candidate for Most Likely to Succeed Tony in the office betting pool, has fallen for the son of one of her dad’s cronies, an up-and-coming mob lawyer. She’s given up on med school and now seems comfortable back in the corrupt family fold. For all Tony’s bluster and Carm’s scheming, the kids are schlubs, as morally bankrupt and narrow as their parents ever were.
As for the rest of Tony’s crew—Silvio’s fate hangs in the balance, but it looks as though he was loyal to the end. Paulie, as furtive and superstitious as ever, is still sun-tanning outside Satriale’s. Janice is still a bitch—Livia’s closest spiritual heir. And the others, Christopher, Adrianna, Big Pussy, they’re still dead.*
Tony, well, we all know he’s doomed—and not just because of those conversations with Bobby about how when the end hits it will just be silence. We’ve always known it—from the day he first lurched into Dr. Melfi’s office in 1999, lying about murders and crying over ducks we’ve known. The whole show, much like the past decade in American history, has been a long slide deeper into amorality and bloodshed.
And perhaps, like the next terror strike, it’s not a question of if, but when. Chase doesn’t need to tell us where Tony’s headed, because we already know. In the meantime, Tony has what we all have, a life riddled with loss, a messed-up family that still makes it to dinner, and the song playing on the jukebox.
Don’t stop, said Chase, and perhaps we should listen. Perhaps, instead of considering ourselves shortchanged, we should consider ourselves blessed. Like Tony, we don’t know when the bullet is coming, and the not knowing may be the closest we ever get to grace.
*Unless, as Paulie and many fans seem to agree, some or all of them have returned in the form of a particularly spooky tabby cat.
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