I'm intercepting part 2 from Side Bar just because I wanted to put some thoughts out there. I have the advantage of reading the David Chase interview in the Star Ledger and a couple more days of marination.
First, this finale reminds me of the first time I saw Pulp Fiction. I hated Pulp Fiction the first time I saw it. I realized that I hated it mainly because I had no idea when it would end. The plotline goes forward and backward in time, and the last scene of the movie actually takes place roughly ten minutes after the first scene in the movie. How many of us even remember than Vincent Vega actually dies during the course of the film without having to think about it for a second? Anyway, the first time I saw this movie, all I wanted was for it to end. And it's not about the plot so much as the individual scenes which really are only tangentially related. After having seen it and thinking back on it, I would think, "well, that part was great. And so was that part. And that part was great even though I hated it. Maybe I didn't really hate it all that much." And today it's one of my favorites.
I think The Sopranos finale is kindof like that. Everyone was wondering how it would end, what the resolution would be, and so on, and we didn't get one. They told the story and then basically kept the camera running a little longer after that. There was no deus ex machina, as Side Bar put it (raining frogs, anyone?). So that left us all pissed off, but then in retrospect it wasn't actually that bad. Actually it was pretty good. Wait a minute, that was pretty goddamned great.
Now I can understand the argument that David Chase is just a cocktease. And part of me feels that way. I mean, if you're going to tell a story, then you should tell it. There's something to be said for leaving things up to the viewer, but this isn't a choose your own adventure story. I could have written a script for the last episode, so could anyone who's watched the show, but you created it and it's your story. Tell me your fucking story. So I agree with the people who feel that way, and this was absolutely a cop out by Chase. At the same time, after letting it sit for a minute, I kindof like the last scene.
(Side Note: What's the chance that David Chase feels like Good Will Hunting regarding this series. Everyone is calling him this genius and everything. Is he sitting around his house thinking, "Do you know how easy this is for me? I wish you could do this, because then I wouldn't have to watch you fumble around and fuck it up."?)
As I was watching it what I fully expected was for each member of the family to walk in, Meadow to sit down at the table and join the conversation and for the camera to pan back and the credits to roll. It was going to be the biggest anti-climax of all time and I thought it would have been pretty fitting. And given how many times Tony has escaped death and arrest, that is probably what did happen. This was entirely different, though. It wasn't an anti-climax, instead it was a premature climax (heh) or something to that effect. Leaving it open on the one hand is a bitchy thing to do (and David Chase can say whatever he wants, part of this ending really was just to fuck with the fans), but on the other was pretty exciting.
The theory that Tony was killed is definitely an interesting one, and not implausible. I think we were supposed to get the idea that we were watching the scene play out from Tony's perspective, where he's hyperconscious of everything going on around him and reading into everyone's motives whether they exist or not. The idea that everyone in the diner had a reson to kill him has essentially been debunked, but the fact that the people in the diner even remind us of those people from the show's past says that Tony always has these things on his mind and might be making that same connection, even if it isn't really there. So anyway, if we're watching from his perspective, then the going black is Tony's death. I can see that. And this ending allows for you to believe that and for me to believe something different (and from the tone of this post, you probably gather that I'm kindof ambivalent about the ending's ambivalence).
Let's talk about Journey. First of all, how many times has "Don't Stop Believing Lyrics" been Googled since Sunday? I would bet billions. I love that song. I L-O-V-E that song (and I'm not gonna let you co-opt it Side Bar). That song says to me that nothing happened at the diner. I interpret the song (how much "interpretation" of Journey lyrics has ever taken place before this?) to mean that two people essentially find themselves in the same place at the same time, they shared a moment, life kinda sucks, but it still goes on. It's clearly fitting that they're on a train going anywhere, obviously a metaphor for life. And the important line for me, in relation to the Sopranos, is "well the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on." So if you want to make a one to one correlation with the lyrics and the scene, then the people in the diner are not related in any way, they find themselves together in the same place, and afterwards they'll all go home and keep on trucking. The fact that the series ended on the lyric "Don't stop..." is rife with meaning. If you're into the "Tony dies" ending, then it's ironic. If you're into the "nothing happened" ending, then this reinforces that. And another interpretation of the song could be that it's an entreaty to the viewer not to forget the series. To "hold on to that feeling", if you will.
So all that space for the last scene. The rest of the episode in conjunction with the rest of the series is worth discussing as well. First, the idea that nothing got resolved is ludicrous. See Side Bar's post regarding that issue, he covered it all. They tied up every story line relative to this singular season. Viewers were looking for a meta-ending, which I suppose we did not get, though you can interpret it as you like. I think the main idea in this finale is that Tony has essentially gotten nowhere. And I think that's different from him coming full circle and ending up where he began, he really never even budged (and Chase says as much in the interview, "he's the same old Tony").
His family hasn't had a catharsis, they haven't grown. They're bad people, even Meadow. Objectively, how could a mob boss raise kids that aren't all fucked up? A.J. lived his life in denial, had about a month's worth of clarity, and then went back into his routine. (For those of you who are really into the symbolism, draw a huge red line from Christopher being obsessed with filmmaking for the entirety of the series, and A.J. going into filmmaking as soon as he's dead.) People were upset about the time spent on the A.J. storyline, but this is really the crux of the series, as I see it. Heading into this season I thought really the most interesting storyline would be whether or not A.J. mobs up by season's end. He got into it right into the time of his breakdown, and was repulsed by it. But can you honestly believe that Anthony Soprano, Jr. can work for one of his father's captains, open a night club with his father's money, and never finish college without staying on the up and up?
Meadow is a tragic hero, in a sense. She's Oedipus, or Hamlet. She never had a chance. She's intelligent when no one else in her family is (you can argue that Tony is intelligent, but I would say he's a great tactician and not much else), she's pretty, she's driven, but she couldn't escape her family. They sucked her back in. She talked about going to college in California or in Maine, but instead went to Columbia. She was going to marry Finn and move to California, but she didn't. She talked about being a doctor or some other such thing, and instead is going to take the easy path. Being a lawyer is not the worst thing in the world, but you get the feeling that her boyfriend is going to be one of those corrupt mob lawyer types and that Meadow is definitely just settling instead of doing what inspires her. And the conversation she had with Tony, (paraphrasing) "I'm going to be a lawyer because of the way Italian-Americans are treated, like you dad" and "The state can crush the individual" are just jaded excuses from an otherwise intelligent person. Take a step back and realize that her father is not being pigeonholed into a stereotype, he actually is a mob boss who has killed people and dumped asbestos and controlled union and state money. He's actually an example of an individual crushing the state. So she lost. I thnk the parallel parking was a symbol of her repeated efforts to strive for something better or at least different, but her family getting in the way. She's the daughter of a mobster. She's engaged to the son of a mobster. It's no coincidence that she arrived last to the diner. And you can make some interesting assertions if you want to about her going to change her birth control on the way over there. Why would Carmela even bring that up?
The show was billed in the beginning as a mobster seeing a psychologist. The two were basically given equal time. That is to say Tony going out and doing gangster shit, and then trying to justify it in his appointments. The show got away from the psychology aspect and it was toned down a lot. But if we take the start of the show as a mobster trying for redemption, then clearly there was no redemption. We're lead to believe that Tony made absolutely no progress in therapy. Literally zero, and was actually reinforced in his deviant behavior through being able to justify it to someone who would listen without judging. I think it was enormously unrealistic the way that all went down, and I think it was donw that wy intentionally. Peter Bogdanovich (don't know his character's name, sorry) would never, ever have revealed that kind of secret of one of his patients, let alone when she was in the room, and let alone in a room full of psychologists. It basically served to highlight, underline, and italicize the idea that Tony had gotten nothing out of therapy. And a therapist who had a 7 year relationship with a client would, under no circumstances, simply close the door on him in that way. It's a not-so subtle punch in the face to show us how bad a guy Tony is. That's something that Chase wanted us to remember throughout the course of the series.
And Tony's fucked. His lawyer said that he's got a 90% chance of being indicted. We, the viewers, know that he's guilty of whatever they're charging him with, and with Carlo corroborating the evidence, he would have a hell of a time escaping a guilty verdict. At the same time he's got Paulie as his #2 two guy now. You can make a lot of Paulie's reluctance to take on the roll. If you're in the "Paulie's an informant for the feds" camp, then he was wrestling with the idea that he would suddenly be privy to a lot more shit that would take down his friend. And maybe he was struggling with knowing that he would bring him down. At the same time, Paulie is an idiot. He's got this blind loyalty without rationality that doesn't help him get by (see devotion to Tony and devotion to his "ma"). This is a guy who had a vision of the Virgin Mary while in a strip club, for fuck's sake. And that shit with the cat doesn't make him look like any more of a leader.
Of course we can choose to "don't stop believing" in Tony, but that would also require us to be routing for something along the lines of them getting to Carlo and killing him. That's the brilliance of the series, if you ask me. In the end, let's not forget that these are all bad guys. Tony killed Christopher, after all, the guy he viewed as his son and his replacement.
I'm not quite sure what to make of Sylvio not being dead yet, nor of that one scene in the hospital with no words. They mentioned several times how Tony had not visited Syl and kept on coming up with excuses. It's all pretty interesting.
And Junior. Junior got what was coming to him. He was, again, one of the bad guys. And Tony didn't give a fuck about him, don't try to convince yourself otherwise. And we're lead to believe that Junior's got a stash of money somewhere that could keep him out of the shithole he's in but can't remember where he put it. If you want to draw an analogy of someone having the means to redeem himself, but having lost it somewhere, I guess you could do that. I think Tony may have had a glimpse of his future when visiting Junior and got a bit welled up. Also the fact that Junior didn't even remember being a mob boss is interesting. Maybe it highlights the futility of what Tony is doing. At the same time, he wasn't crushed or anything to receive that news. If I remember right he said, "Well, that's pretty good," when told he was in charge of all of North Jersey. There's certainly some weight in that line.
I'm reserving the right to post more later, same as Side Bar. If you read all this, then, well, I've got you fooled as bad as David Chase does. Read into that shit.