Catching up on ‘The Sopranos’
Over the past few years, my TV watching has plummeted. I seldom watch TV shows in real time, mainly because all the good shows play on channels that I do not get, such as HBO and AMC. In recent weeks, though, I’ve been trying to remember to turn on the TV on Thursday nights and watch “Parks and Recreation,” mainly because my friends keep saying things like, “You should watch ‘Parks and Recreation.’ You would love it!”
In any case, I now watch TV at a very slow pace, through Netflix. I am not one of those people who loads an entire season into my queue and watches every episode over the course of a single weekend. I check in to the shows I like periodically, almost as if they are sequels to movies I once enjoyed. Last year I managed to finish up “Twin Peaks.” And last week I finally watched the final episode of “The Sopranos,” so I feel like I’m ready to weigh in on a conversation that happened six years ago.
If I recall, two vocal camps emerged after the final episode of “The Sopranos” emerged: Those who thought it was brilliant, and those who thought it was baffling and a bit of a disappointment.
Well, put me in the brilliant camp: That final scene, with Tony in the diner, and the Journey song playing as A.J. and Carmela enter and Meadow is trying to parallel park, is breathtaking. I watched it three times. I might go see “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” at the Spectrum simply because I loved the final episode of “The Sopranos” so much. It didn’t surprise me to learn that the final episode was ranked number two on the TV Guide Network special “TV’s Most Unforgettable Finales.”
Here’s what I loved about the final episode, or, more specifically, the famous diner scene. I loved how matter-of-fact it managed to seem, while possibly killing off one of the most iconic TV characters of all time. (Yes, I think Tony was killed. More on that in a minute.) I loved how it reinforced the themes that defined the show: family, mortality, the corrosive effects of lawlessness and violence. And I loved how it was filmed: largely from Tony’s point of view, but with a few well-chosen tracking shots, such as the one that follows the Members Only Guy (the restaurant patron who likely killed Tony) as he walks past the Soprano table and into the restroom. I also really loved how “Don’t Stop Believin’” functioned much like a movie theme, except that instead of introducing us to the show’s characters, it was sending them off. I actually felt a pang of sadness as I realized that I would never see these people again.
As I mentioned, I do think Tony was killed. I think only his death can explain why we never see Meadow enter the diner, and why the screen abruptly goes black, and why the Journey song just cuts off.
Throughout its six season run, “The Sopranos” often depicted death as a mundane affair — as something that arrived when you were, say, buying a train set for your kids, or saying good-bye to your grandkids at a gas station parking lot.
Tony’s death is not unlike the deaths of Phil Leotardo or Bobby Baccalieri. The main difference, I think, is that we experience Tony’s death as he might experience it: As something that arrived suddenly, when his guard was down, that he didn’t even realize was happening. He was conscious, and then he wasn’t. I also think that one of the key arguments in favor of the “Tony Was Killed” theory is that the scene’s unusual stylistic choices seem gratuitous if Tony wasn’t killed. I mean, why the sudden cut to black? Why not show us Meadow entering the diner? Why the intense focus on the Members Only Guy?
The Sopranos are not, by and large, likable people, and it’s pretty clear that a lifetime of criminality has warped Tony, turning him into a sociopathic monster who feels little remorse over, say, letting his nephew die. But as I contemplated what the scene in the diner would have been like after Tony had been shot in the head, I felt a definite chill. I could see Carmela and Meadow both screaming, A.J. recoiling slack-jawed in horror, and Tony slumped in the diner seat, his head a bloody mess. Tony might have been a larger than life character who got away with murder, but in the end Chase made sure he got what was coming to him.
Also, I really enjoyed this blog post explaining the final scene.
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