Monday, June 11, 2007

Reflections on the Finale: Part I

At the end of the Sopranos finale last night, we all agreed that it would be a good idea to let the episode "marinate" and think about it for a while before forming a final opinion. Having done that for about 12 hours, I have a few thoughts. I just want to reserve all rights to completely change my mind after watching the episode again and/or thinking about it some more. That's why this post is labeled Part I, b/c I expect to re-visit it in a few days.

Rather than a summary, I just want to make a few specific observations. Of course, it should go without saying that if you haven't yet watched the finale, and you don't want to know what happens, then stop reading here.

Initially, I think we all (by "we" I mean both the small group with whom I watched the episode, as well as the collectively Sopranos-watching population) were pretty disappointed ("not satisfied") with the finale, especially the finale's finale (i.e., the last five minutes). As I've reflected on it, though, the ending is growing on me. Here are my thoughts (some, though not all, inspired by David Seppinwall's quality (though I thought less so than usual) column on

"Nothing Happened"

Open Bar was practically apoplectic at the end of the episode, thoroughly unsatisfied with the show. Others were equally unhappy (side note: the line of the night may go to my brother, who remarked as the credits rolled: "Well there's 86 hours of my life I'm never getting back"), and one criticism I heard a few times was that "nothing happened." That's not really fair:
  • The war with New York was resolved (via an agreed cessation of hostilities between NJ and NY, and the tacit permission of the NY group that NJ could whack Phil, which they subsequently handled). That story line tied in nicely with the thread about the FBI agent, who helps Tony find Phil as a quid pro quo for Tony's tip about suspected terrorists.
  • AJ seems to have come out of his depression, with the destruction of his Xterra as a sort of cathartic, shock-therapy. He is then able to be lured away from the army, which had been the focal point of his depression (i.e., "the world is so fucked up," his tirade at Bobby's funeral, etc.,) by his parents who basically used the promise of a night club to get him back on track.
  • Meadow is getting married and going to law school, and would probably be a doctor but for Tony's criminal past (i.e., his involvement with the FBI motivated her to go into law).
  • Tony has a new second in charge in Paulie who -- albeit reluctantly -- takes over a major operation in light of the vacuum left by Phil's assault on NJ in the penultimate episode.
  • Tony goes to see Junior, and while perhaps not forgiving him, clearly has some resolution to his feud with him (query whether Tony is tearing up at the end of that scene because he feels badly for Junior, or because he feels badly for himself, recognizing that he might one day get to the same place as Junior).
Now, I can totally understand that an interested viewer might have wanted to see different resolutions to the NY-NJ feud, and some could (and have) argued that the focus on Tony's kids (especially AJ) was less compelling than a focus on other characters. Nevertheless, there were a number of threads that were concluded as much as one could have expected them to be, so I think it is just wrong to say that nothing happened or that too much was left unresolved.


The question of closure of various threads leads to the next (and I think main) point of the episode: Tony doesn't get closure. I think it may have been satisfying, but ultimately inconsistent with the entire premise of the show, for everything to be wrapped up in a neat little package.

There are a lot of unanswered questions for Tony: he clearly still seeks therapeutic guidance on all of his "issues" (talking to AJ's shrink about his mom when it was supposed to be about AJ), he may be on the verge of getting indicted, his nutty sister is likely to ruin the lives of Bobby's kids, etc. But the Sopranos has never treated its viewers to any dramatic closure, or global resolution, and it may have been naive for us to expect that here. Some issues were closed, some left unopened, and some new ones were raised (Carlo flipping and posing an indictment risk was a brand new issue for Tony in this last episode). Arguably, this was the most true to life (or at least true to the show) conclusion that the characters could have experienced: life goes on for the family (and "the Family"), and because of who Tony is and what he does, there are always things up in the air for him.

The Last 5 Minutes

Finally, the finale of the finale, the last five minutes of the episode were staged in Holsten's, a diner-style restaurant (apparently in Bloomfield).

As an initial note, one thing that I have not heard anyone discuss is that the decision to go to Holsten's was a last-minute decision (when Carmela tells AJ that they are going out, he says he thought she was making dinner, and she tells him she had changed her mind). I think this could be meaningful for two reasons. First, it may be suggesting that even the smallest decisions for Tony (eat in or go out?) can have major ramifications, but since nothing happened, I think that might not be it. Rather, it could be that the dialogue between AJ and Carmela signals to the viewer that this was not a planned meal, or a weekly thing, and thus not part of Tony's routine that a would-be whacker could have exploited. It could also be a meaningless time-filler that had no plot significance at all (like Tony's visit with Sil in the hospital, which was perhaps the most pointless scene in the entire episode).

I think it is also worth observing that the scene was, without a doubt, one of the most intense, suspenseful scenes that we've ever watched on TV. The rapid cuts between the family at the table and Meadow trying to parallel park (as ChuckJerry observed, perhaps a bit too blatantly symbolizing her difficulty making up her mind, and finding something she's comfortable with; Meadow, always stopping and starting, etc.), the dissonance created by the scene and the music (side note: anyone who knows me knew that Meg and I would love the reliance on Journey, though I worry that the song is tainted for me now), and the cuts to strangers, all of whom we are lead to believe may be there to do harm to Tony and family. All of us were literally on the edge of our seats waiting for the climax . . . . and then nothing. The door jingles, Tony looks up, we expect to see Meadow, and we get nothing.

Left holding our collective breath, Chase decided to let it end there, leaving the viewer to wonder who entered (it's most reasonable, I think, to assume it was Meadow), and what would come next. It was initially frustrating (a "dry hump," as one viewer observed), but what would have been more satisfying? If, in an homage to the Godfather, the stranger came out of the bathroom and blew Tony away? That would have been stupid . . . and left way more questions than we have (and some complain about) this morning. If Meadow had walked in, sat down, and they had started eating, and the camera pulls back to reveal a happy Soprano family sitting at the diner enjoying a nice dinner together, would that have been so different? It would have provided more closure, but it also would have lost some of the suspense, and some of the uncertainty as to what comes next.

As with the closure point, above, I think that was the point. Even a routine dinner for Tony is fraught with the potential for problems -- both work and family related (AJ begins to slide back into being a whiny little bitch at the outset of dinner, but agrees to focus on the good times, quoting his father from Season 1). The risk of getting whacked, arrested, or other is always following him around, and there is no point in time when everything pauses, or when everything is at equilibrium. There was no natural stopping point, the argument would go, so the show had to stop almost literally in mid-sentence, because there was no other way to bring it to a close.

A deus ex machina by which the whole family dies, or 100 federal agents come in and arrest Tony would have been temporarily pleasing in that it would provide a resolution to the dramatic climax, but it would have been inconsistent with the point of the show.

I'd love to get other people's thoughts (especially people who can point out where I am being too easy on Chase, et al.), but the more I think about it, the more I am starting to think that the last episode was actually quite good, even if not "satisfying."


Hasdai said...

I thought the ending was brilliant. The last scene was utterly gripping not only because it played on our fears about Tony getting whacked but because it played with seven accumulated years of expectation. I agree completely that the show could not have really ended any other way - describing it as an ending almost in "mid-sentence" is very apt. The entire 'argument' of the show from the outset was that for Tony, and no less for the rest of us, there is no resolution. "Is this all there is?" Tony kept asking, from the first season to the last. The answer is yes.

One other point that I think perhaps has been overlooked is that the way the series ended doesn't necessarily mean life goes on for Tony. First, we simply might have been cut off before he is actually killed. And second, the ending and black screen is ambiguous enough to allow for the interpretation that Tony's life has ended (and of course one way or another as far as we, the audience, are concerned it has). The show was always essentially about Tony's point of view and as demonstrated so many times during the series a mob hit, or any type of death for that matter, can come instantly, without warning. Bang, that's it. (In the case of Carmela's uncle in the second season, we are told he died instantly when a gust of wind blew him off his roof as he was trying to install a satelite dish). So, potentially, no Tony, no point of view - screen goes black.

Side Bar said...

That is a really interesting take on the finale . . . and I don't think anyone had suggested it last night. Perhaps a gunman did emerge from the men's room, or somewhere else in the diner, and shot Tony. Much has been made about that scene being all about how Tony views the world, so an abrubt ending to the scene could signal an abrupt ending to Tony's life. Very clever, Hasdai, good show. A good show indeed.

The Notorious LJT said...

good show, very clevah.

yea, the more i think about it the more i'm ok with the ending.

it still was kind of a letdown, at least initially.

Joe said...

You guys might enjoy the (second half of) this theory about what happened (NOTE: pornographic banner ads on that site), and what is meant by the suddenness of it.