If you’ve been watching the Sopranos since the first episode aired and you were looking for some sort of closure, well, you might have been better off stopping at the season finale from last year. (That would be the episode that ended Season 6 Part 1 where everyone is gathered around a Christmas tree in a nice family gathering.)
Initially after the episode was over, I was a mildly disappointed. After having consumed myself with so-called “spoilers” for the past week, I was hoping for an explosive episode that would take the show out with a bang. Actually, most of the supposed spoilers turned out to be nothing more than “fan fiction” — and in some ways I wish those rumors were true. I heard rumors (and even speculated a few myself in the previous post) that Anthony Jr. would be “made” and follow in his father’s footsteps – hence, the show’s title, ‘Made in America’. There were also rumors of everything from Tony going to the feds and becoming an informant to Carmella and Meadow dying in a car bombing. But none of those rumors turned out to be true. (I guess I found out what A.J. was looking at.) The truth was much less dramatic.
But when you take the time to truly reflect upon the series and where it has taken us over the eight years that it’s held our attention (some seasons more than others) the signature style of the Sopranos (and now after having seen the finale, what I believe to be the theme of the show) has been the amazing degree of stability that such a violent life can maintain. For every monumental death that has taken place — whether that be Big Pussy, Johnny Sack, Jackie Aprile, Tony Blundetto, Jackie Jr., Adrianna — or even Phil Leotardo tonight — it is always followed by a period of almost unbelievable stability. Nobody freaks out. Families grieve, but maintain their daily routine. And even the grieving widows have a moment of mourning — but only a moment, as their facial expression seems to come a few frames short of them turning to the camera and saying that they knew this could happen — it’s the consequence of such a risky business.
As I sat down and watched Tony take that last ride into New Jersey through the Lincoln Tunnel, I was really happy when I saw the credits at the beginning of the episode indicate that David Chase — the series’ creator — was both the writer and director of this episode. Watching the series over the past few years, I’ve always thought that if Chase had directed each of the episodes that we might have had a bit more consistency. And I still believe that. But at least with this final episode, we would be getting the vision for how the show ends from the guy who started it all. And as much as I held a bit of disappointment in my heart for the way that the show’s final seconds played with our emotions, I feel like the hints that came during the episode before that weird scene in the diner were much more revealing about how the father of the series feels about his characters. As much as he respects them, it’s my strong opinion that he also loathes them. He thinks them petty. More than anything, he thinks of them as walking contradictions.
We start out with Tony waking up to a classic rock station in the safe house — next to his uber Tony Montana-like machine gun. The sarcasm comes much later when, after A.J. expresses an honest desire (albeit sudden and impulsive) to join the armed forces. Tony’s livid response is completely normal for a father. (‘There a war going on in Iraq!’) However, considering the fact that the family is in the midst of their own private war with the New York family, it’s very amusing to see the irony. And in actuality, even had A.J. joined the Army (or even the Marines), he probably would have never held a weapon quite as lethal as the AR-10 that his father held just that same morning.
Janice is probably the most overtly self-centered, walking example of sarcasm that there has ever been on the show. Initially she appears to be grieving for Bobby — which touched me a bit. Considering the way that she forced her way into Bobby and his children’s life after Bobby’s wife passed away because she seemed to admire the way that he treated his family, I always wondered if she truly loved him. Of course, her true colors shine through when she starts to talk to Tony about her plans for the children. Selfishly, she plans to fight to keep only one of the children, thus breaking up what little family they have left. Her selfishness only becomes more overt when she goes to visit her Uncle Junior. As depressing as it might be to watch Junior waste away in mental institution, we think she comes to honestly try to gently break the news to him that Bobby — one of the people who truly cared for and genuinely loved Junior — has died. But as she reveals the news to him, all sincerity leaves the gesture, as she utters, “….that’s right….I’m a widow.” Sob, sob. At this point, Junior can barely remember his own life. We learn that Janice isn’t really concerned for Junior. And her the focus isn’t on getting Junior to remember Bobby. It’s for her Uncle Jun to ‘feel sorry for the widow.’ But this is signature Janice. She’s definitely an extension of her mother.
The Soprano children always have been walking contradictions. I can still remember a young Meadow showing a completely unaware A.J. a website showing the entire crime family tree to his wide believing eyes. Clearly these children know what their father is involved in. A.J. knows that he gets favor because of who his dad is. Meadow has to know (as intelligent as she is) that she’s getting favors because of her dad. But they don’t seem to care. They soak it all in. A.J. goes from wanting to kill himself to wanting to fight the war on terror to now finding comfort in a new cushy job as some random dude in a low budget movie production. One moment he cares about the environment and feels relieved when his gas guzzling SUV is gone and now he’ll have to take the bus. But it isn’t soon after that we see him whizzing about in a car that typifies the stereotype of the Bob Dylan track he was listening to earlier — a BMW M3. But somehow, we know we’re watching a kid whose had everything handed to him and hasn’t had to work for anything. Given the life that he’s had, how much could we really have expected from him. In a strange way, I pity A.J. I think he’s confused and he’s just riding this thing out — trying to find his place in the world.
I don’t find as much pity, however, for Meadow. She harbors the same youthful anxiety as A.J. — only she’s possesses the “book smarts” to make whatever dream she has come true. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t have the staying power to continue on her road to being a doctor, so now she takes an interest in law. As strange a twist as it would be for her to pursue a career in law, I’m more puzzled at how she doesn’t realize how much her career would scream, “conflict of interest”. What happens when she comes to a crossroad where she learns the details of what really gets discussed in those meetings down at the ‘Bing? Does she realize the irony of her goal to pursue a career in law? Of course she does — she’s a smart lady. Does she care? Of course she doesn’t. David Chase shows us that she really doesn’t care for those “Black people” she’s defending….or the babies that she would have cared for as a doctor. She’s just a selfish brat who, despite her intellectual gift, is in as much confusion about her future as A.J. is.
Speaking of Meadow, it was nice to see a bit of nostalgia for the last episode, as David Chase brings back a familiar face that we met on the very first show — Meadow’s childhood friend, Hunter, makes a surprise appearance. Her role is small, but it reveals a tremendous amount about another character….
Ah, Carmella. Since day one, we’ve always felt sympathy in some way for the woman who is married to the boss of New Jersey. She falls in love with a priest…. she tries her hand at real estate…. she almost has a romantic escapade with Tony’s hired help…. but she seems confined to a life that is below her intellect and her capacity to achieve. But below the surface is probably one of the most self-aware characters and one who, despite the fact that she too is very intelligent, doesn’t seem to realize just how shallow she really is. Like her kids, Carm is just milking this thing dry for all it’s worth.
To start, we feel a bit of fear for Carm. She has to leave the safe confines of her home and go into hiding to escape the threat of sudden death. But after seven long days — worrying about Carm and praying that she finds safety, when we find her, is she sweating this out the way that we, the viewers, have been sweating all week hoping that she doesn’t get killed? Of course not. As Tony creeps up to the door to check on the family, the slow reveal shows Carm quietly sipping her coffee and reading the newspaper. And later in the episode, we see that Carm, despite all that’s going on around her, is looking at decorations for this, her most recent real estate investment. Now, of course flipping homes isn’t a crime — there’s no reason to vilify her because she’s trying (like her children) to find a livelihood that allows her to escape the reality that she’s just a housewife who’s living high on the hog from the questionable funds generated from “the business”. But we shouldn’t be surprised at how shallow she is. She used her weight to get Meadow into school. She exercised her “wife of the boss of New Jersey” status to get her ‘Speck house’. No matter how much hell is going on in Tony’s life, you can always find Carmella consumed with the minutia of being a housewife. At this point in her life, Christopher Moltisanti is dead, she supposes (and in her heart knows) that Adrianna was killed, Bobby is dead, Ginny Sack is a widow, Silvio is lying in critical condition — and the things that are most on her mind? Her children, her career — her life. David Chase shoots a close up of the brochure that Carm is reading for the design of the new kitchen and holds the shot to make sure we ‘get it’. He’s saying, “look at what she really cares about — yes, she went to see Silvio and comfort Gabriella, but for Carm life goes on. Gotta work on my next Spec house.” When they get back home, despite the danger that could have awaited them if Butch and the boys from New York had gone back on their word, all Carm can think about is the fact that they’ve amassed a collection of mail after being away in hiding. Instead of, “my God, I wondered if I would ever see my home again — I’m not sure if I feel safe even now”, we get, “Gee, look at how much mail we have”. Even in her concern for her children, we find that like many other soccer moms and parents who listen so attentively at little Mikey’s piano recital, the real concern is for your child and your child alone. And that is revealed in the scene with Meadow and her childhood friend…
It’s a crush to the spirit when we see the scene of Carm walking into Meadow’s bedroom. Her surprised and condescending smile beams, as she sees Hunter on the bed talking to Meadow. Eight years later and it’s such a pleasant surprise for the viewer to realize that both of these girls have grown up to become such fine young ladies. Carm decides to make small talk (as she’s just so good at it) and awkwardly brings up the fact that the last time that she saw Hunter was after she unceremoniously “quit college.” As harsh this was to say to Hunter, Carm actually thinks she’s being classy by not reminding Hunter that she knows how she really left school — kicked out for drunk driving. But Hunter shows us that she’s the truly classy one, as she admits her fault in being kicked out of college. However, the reveal is where our spirit is crushed. As Hunter tells us that she’s changed her life and is well on her way to being a doctor — something Carm wanted for her own child — there’s no way even Carm could mask her embarrassment and disappointment at the success of others. It’s so odd — in Episode 1, this “bad influence” was supposedly leading Meadow in the wrong direction. Turn the page to our final episode and she’s going where Carm wishes Meadow was headed. We’d like to believe that Carm is the one with the strong moral character in the family. But 86 episodes later, it’s clear that she’s as devoid of any moral character as any other character on the show. Simply put, she can’t even find joy in the success of others unless her children are doing better. It’s not like Meadow is bagging groceries. She’s going to become a lawyer (maybe). But Carm’s expression reveals an ugly side of her personality.
(By the way, Edie Falco plays this scene with Hunter wonderfully. It will be a shame not to see her continue to play this character.)
This final show serves as the epilogue for several other main characters. Ironically, as unfit for the role as he is, somehow Carmine is probably going to be the boss of New York. It’s amazing to think that this is a guy who was so underpowered that the job of boss probably would have been handed to him as Carmine Sr.’s son — had he been more involved in the family business. But stronger men pushed him out of the way. Turn the page one short year later and those men are dead — Johnny Sack to cancer and Phil Leotardo to a bullet in the temple (and a Ford tire over the head — ouch!). Now Carmine’s the only guy left. But then again, considering his foolish desire to try and pursue a career in film (a move that I’m surprised hasn’t lead to him being whacked by now), perhaps someone else will emerge as the boss of New York. Maybe Butch? Perhaps someone else? Clearly, the New York family is in disarray and Tony, provided he keeps things together, has the upper hand now, as his family has the more senior members.
Sadly, we can’t really tell how serious Silvio’s condition is. It was just a few months prior that Silvio was standing over Tony as he fought for life. Perhaps Silvio is having his own set of dreams? With his own ‘Kevin Finnerty’ alter-ego? The unfortunate thing about Silvio is that he would probably have been primed to take over as the boss. He has shown poise and he’s earned the respect of others. Wait a minute — who am I kidding. This is the guy who was rushed to the hospital after being interim boss for a few days. Buckled under the pressure. Maybe Sil would have grown into the role. (Maybe he still will, in the fictional continuity of the storyline.) Whatever the result, we’re sad to see such a fun character left to sit in a hospital, surrounded by machines to keep him alive.
What can be said about Paulie that hasn’t already been said. Paulie has served as the comic relief for much of the show. And this episode is no different. His comments at the dinner table after the funeral keep us chuckling. I only wish they would have let him do the laugh one more time. As much as we’ve been through with the guy in the white shoes and the running suits, even he doesn’t escape judgment here. After years of pain and anguish at the thought of being “looked over” for so many key positions, favor finally shines on him and Tony offers him a job watching over a key part of the business. However, we’re taken aback at the fact that Paulie needs time to reconsider whether this is where he wants to go in life. For a moment, we look at the guy who’s done his share of dirt on the show (including helping Tony score his first hit) and we wonder if he isn’t having a moment of clarity. We’re further surprised to see that after considering the position, he decides that, “with all due respect”, he’s going to turn it down. But Tony is like a seasoned general who knows his troops. When Paulie turns down the role, he pulls out his trump card — jealousy. He tells Paulie that he’ll give the role to Patsy. So, does this new Paulie who’s reflecting on his life and his mortality just scoff at the sad attempt by Tony to bait him with this claim? We wish he would — but the truth is he can’t. He can’t bear the thought of Patsy taking the position that he could have had. So much so that he does a complete 180 and takes the job. Paulie will always be Paulie. We can hope for a change — but “this thing they have” is all he’s ever known.
(One side note: the very perceptive folks on the message boards have speculated that the cat that looks at Christopher’s picture all day was actually Christopher’s cat from previous episodes. If so, that’s a very funny detail — particularly understanding the relationship that Christopher and Paulie had and watching that final shot of Paulie tanning outside the Bing (in cold weather, no less) and watching the cat slowly creep up in the shot. Great stuff.)
Junior’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease is as tragic a look into the life of any character on the show. If nothing else, HBO has helped draw more attention to this horrible disease that strikes so many of our elderly loved ones. In his golden years, poor Corrato Soprano — once the boss of New Jersey — can’t even remember his family as they come to visit him. In a powerful scene, Tony shows his progressive side as he comes to visit Junior. Initially the meeting is awkward for Tony, who still harbors contempt at being in front of the man who almost took him out. But gradually we see that contempt turn to pity as Tony is disarmed at coming to the realization that Junior really doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t even remember the fact that he was once the most powerful man in New Jersey’s family. And it’s this thought — a look into a future of loneliness without even your memories to reflect upon — that causes Tony to leave his side, in tears. Junior was always a funny character, but there is nothing funny about what he’s going through. Ironically, he was trying to lead his prosecutors to think that he was mentally ill. Now that act has become reality.
Finally, we have Tony. Anthony Soprano. The boss of New Jersey. Manager of a waste disposal company. Has the man who’s spent countless hours in Dr. Melfi’s chair had any positive effect from all the counseling? Or are those medical studies correct and is he just a psychopath that can’t be helped? Well, we don’t get enough of an epilogue to see what eventually happens in Tony’s life, but we realize that like those that are around him, he’s in this thing until the end. I really need to go back and watch the “Kevin Finnerty” episodes to look a bit closer at those dreams. We weren’t treated to any dreams tonight, but from what I’ve seen of this episode, David Chase may have been trying to tell us something back then that might explain a lot about what we saw tonight.
So if we, the viewers, had to pick up David Chase’s pen and continue the line that he has drawn for eight years (and that’s pretty much what he’s asked us to do tonight), what would it look like? Sadly, it wouldn’t be that difficult to do. Most of the people on the message boards were wondering whether or not Tony would die. Would it be Janice who would kill Tony? Would it be Carm? Would Agent Harris take Tony down after having amassed a load of evidence — enough now to convict him? Or would Tony do what many wanted him to do and prove that like many other intriguing characters — Vincent Van Gogh, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain — he was bored enough with the struggles of his daily grind that he would take his own life? The truth was much less dramatic. I personally think that Tony cares too much about his family to take his own life. Particularly Meadow — as I believe he sees as the “one good thing he’s left this world with”.
So despite the fact that Tony’s last scenes aren’t quite the Hollywood, sensationalized, explosion-filled blockbuster scenes that everyone was hoping for, what did we learn about Tony? Well, we learned two things. The first is our theme for the entire series — that, despite what may happen that life goes on. But the lesson that the final scene teaches us is that, despite the life of murder and financial dishonesty that he leads outside of their North Caldwell home, that Tony Soprano believes himself to be a regular father who is doing the best that he can to try and help this family lead some assemblance of a normal life. Which leads us to our final scene, which I believe to be symbolic of the life that they lead
….the Show’s Final Moments
As I went to the message boards to try and make sense of the mess that David Chase left in our laps — a proverbial novel that he’s handed us after ripping out the last ten pages — I found that I was not alone. Despite all the Sopranos celebratory talk that has taken place over the past week, David Chase is not exactly the Internet’s favorite son right now. After the last scene of Tony up from his menu at the diner — and then a sudden black screen and no music for almost 10 seconds — you’d have to be the most posh film school student if you didn’t admit that you were left scratching your head. I’ve seen everything from people being mildly disappointed at his lack of decisive story, to one guy who gave me the laugh of the night, as he angrily asked HBO for a refund of his eight years worth of payments after being left with “Sopranos blue balls.” And I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t disappointed either. I figured we’d get the “family around the Christmas tree” ending, or perhaps the ‘Departed’ ending where everybody dies — or perhaps both: the ending where everyone gathers as a family and then in one big bomb, everybody dies. So I’m not exactly thrilled with this somewhat indecisive ending either. But I’m a believer in making the best out of what you have. And with that, lets see what David Chase has left us with.
We already know that he thinks his characters are petty. Think about all I’ve illustrated about Janice, Paulie, A.J., Meadow and Carm and it’s clear that they’re all just living in a masquerade. Like the Boogie Nights scene where porn stars are getting awards at the ‘Academy Awards for Porn’, these folks don’t believe that they’re bad people. They think that they’re noble and just.
The very opening scenes of the Sopranos intrigued viewers as they saw Tony Soprano as he watched the family of ducks. Strangely, I don’t think we’ve seen him as excited about anything as he was about seeing the family of ducks who paid a visit to his pool. So it’s only appropriate that Tony meets his family of “ducks” as they all join up for dinner at a diner. Interesting is his choice of music — Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” — (a personal favorite of mine). The song is eerily fitting for the end, as David Chase is showing us that even though this dysfunctional family can’t even meet in a car together and go out to eat but instead each member arrives separately, that we shouldn’t stop believing that they’ll make it through. And for a moment, I got a bit nostalgic in reflecting on all that the family has been through and watching just how normal they looked — an all-American family going out to grab a bite to eat together. It was only when I started to notice the different shots of characters who entered the diner that the paranoia set in. There’s the truck driver in the corner. And then the couple sitting together on the side. Then the very mysterious looking guy with Italian features who comes in ahead of A.J. and nervously sits at the counter. Then two random young black guys come into the diner. So what does it all mean?
Well, there’s no definitive answer, but I believe that this was David Chase’s special way of leaving us with this family. If you recall earlier in the episode, we had a few bouts with paranoia — Paulie going into an eerily empty Bada Bing, one of Tony’s guys almost getting shot coming in through the wrong entrance in the safe house, Tony himself looking quite cautious going into Janice’s house and then again when he visits Carm and A.J. at their own safe house. Safe house. The fact is that with this family involved in the danger of jealousy and of loved ones of those who have been killed — either by Tony’s guys or guys connected to them — there’s no way this family will ever be safe. Phil Leotardo has no idea he was in danger (or else he wouldn’t have been our with his grandchildren.) Bobby was out buying a train set. And the Soprano family was out for a night of greasy food. So what. If Phil’s family member should happen to come across Tony one day and have an opportune moment, perhaps that would be his day to die? Or what about Coco? What’s that? You don’t know who Coco is? Don’t feel bad — neither did I. I had to look up his name. Coco is the guy who Tony curb-stomped because he touched Meadow. Perhaps he deserved the punishment he got, but the fact is that now you have another guy out in the street who’s gunning for you.
And as for those folks in the diner? Well, they may truly have been Phil’s guys — flown in from Naples to finish the job that the NY guys couldn’t. Only he wasn’t alive to see that the job was done. But then again, what if these were just regular folks? A couple eating dinner and laughing. A truck driver stopping in at a diner. A guy who enters the diner before Anthony (so he couldn’t have been following him) who’s nervous at the sight of the guy he recognizes as the boss of New Jersey. Not to mention he was into Christopher Moltisanti for $3000 large — and thought that all was forgiven now that Chrissy is dead. “….But now here’s the boss sitting here. Gotta figure a way out — but how? He might have guys waiting for me on the outside — I saw him on the phone. Maybe I’ll just go to the bathroom and try to wait this out? Or leave through the window?” Or maybe this guy is just worried about something completely different. The way that Chase shoots the last scene (cutting away to Meadow for dramatic effect) you wonder if it’s building to something. The only thing we know for certain here is that the family is together at dinner. Even when Carm and Tony go out, it’s usually to Artie’s restaurant, so this is one of the rare times when they’re a family out together and not at a funeral. And that alone makes the situation dangerous.
No matter what this family does to maintain the illusion of being a typical American family, the work that their father is involved in will mean that there’s always the potential for danger around them — even when there’s no danger present. This is just the reality of the life that they lead. But this doesn’t mean that they can’t stop believing. Believing that A.J. will become a man and find his place in the world. Believing that with all of the potential that Meadow has that she’ll actually progress into a career where her family won’t be reliant upon “the business”. Tony said at the beginning of the first show that he feels as if he’s getting into “this thing” after the glory years have passed. If he believes this, would he want A.J. to be involved? Tony knows A.J. isn’t cut from the same mold that Christopher was. Tony’s hope is that his children will lead their own lives where they won’t be dependant upon “this thing that they have”. Tony once took A.J. to see the churches that his Italian ancestors built. He never talks to him about the business. Clearly he doesn’t want his kids involved in the business.
And so, it’s my belief that with this episode, David Chase is showing us that over the past eight years, although a lot has changed, some things haven’t. At their core, the Soprano family is trying to separate their evils (or, in the case of Carm and the kids, their knowledge of the evil) from their lives as members of society. They want to believe that they can just go out and have dinner and not worry about anything. And perhaps they can. After all, life does go on in the Soprano series. But they will always need to look over their shoulder.
Or maybe I could be wrong.
Maybe that guy really did come out from the bathroom in the closing moments of the episode and sprayed Tony, Carm, A.J., Meadow and the boy scouts sitting at the table across from them. The fact is that we’ll probably never know. But that’s part of the fun here. I do kinda think that David Chase should have given us a slightly more conclusive ending. It just shows more respect to the fans.
Unlike the hopeful masses, I don’t think we’re going to see a movie. This is it. But certainly this is a finale that is going to be reflected on (sadly it will probably be with contempt) for years to come.