Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Death Spiral: Brilliant Ending or Big Bowl of Nothing

I didn't think "The Sopranos" needed any particular ending, but any ending would have been better than this one was. Watch it here. In the midst of a family conversation at a local restaurant, and during Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," the screen just went blank. Given past symbolism--a suspicious looking man walking into the bathroom ("The Test Dream," "Godfather I," "Pulp Fiction") and three African-American men entering the restaurant ("Unidentified Black Males")--and a conversation between Bobby and Tony earlier this season about not hearing it coming when you get whacked, it could be that the screen went blank when Tony was shot, but we'll never know for sure. OTOH, the only person whom we know wanted Tony whacked had already been whacked himself, so the Tony-is-dead scenario may a little shaky. Not to mention that the hit would be taking place in a crowded diner, meaning that the entire Soprano family likely would have to be taken out. So I don't know. On second viewing of the ending, I couldn't decide whether anybody got whacked. It could have been a depiction of life from Tony's point of view, paranoid that this, that, or the other person might be the one who delivers the fatal gunshot. Or it could have been a "pick your own ending" kinda deal. Or it could be that the audience got whacked and didn't hear it coming. Given the symbolism, I'm leaning towards someone getting whacked, whether it was Tony or the audience or both.

I can get the ending; I just didn't like it. What we do know is that Tony is facing indictment on charges that could expose him to life imprisonment or maybe even the death penalty--the lawyer mentioned murder as a possible charge, after all. With testimony from inside the remnants of the Soprano hierarchy, Tony would either be convicted or would take a plea. Agent Harris, now in counterterrorism and not in the OC division, wouldn't be in a position to help him out much there, either, without exposing himself to criminal liability. BTW, an agent on the Colombo Squad in the 1980s actually did take sides in a mob war and blurt out, "we're going to win this thing!" inside the FBI field office.

But there was more wrong with the episode than just the non-ending. The sudden changes in A.J. and Agent Harris were so unconvincing that I was griping well before the family entered the diner. And Meadow being considered for a $170,000 job at a law firm before she even enters law school? I'll leave it to this blog's gentle readers in law school to comment on that.

I liked a few things about the episode. Senile, old Uncle Junior and comatose Silvio were pretty good metaphors for the state of the Mob and the Soprano Family in particular. I liked that neither A.J. nor Meadow managed to escape from Tony's grip, and that his family and his Family were pretty much one and the same at the end. Depressing, but predictable, given that they are Carmela's children. And I loved the cat, whatever it signified. Initially, I thought the cat was there to sniff out rats (Carlo, and, more ominously, Christopher and Paulie), but someone on TWoP suggested that some superstitious people (i.e., Paulie) see cats as symbolic of death.

But we'll never know for sure.

ETA: Critic Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Tribune--which has an extensive online section devoted to the show--neatly summarized the two most likely explanations for the ending:

Theory No. 1 (and the one I prefer): Chase is using the final scene to place the viewer into Tony's mind-set. This is how he sees the world: Every open door, every person walking past him could be coming to kill him or arrest him or otherwise harm him or his family. This is his life, even though the paranoia's rarely justified. We end without knowing what Tony's looking at because he never knows what's coming next.

Theory No. 2: In the scene on the boat in "Soprano Home Movies," repeated again last week, Bobby Bacala suggested that when you get killed, you don't see it coming. Certainly, our man in the Members Only jacket could have gone to the men's room to prepare for killing Tony (shades of the first "Godfather"), and the picture and sound cut out because Tony's life just did. (Or because we, as viewers, got whacked from our life with the show.)


Ann said...

First thing I did on the internet this morning was to see what you'd written about the Sopranos. Excellent commentary as always.

I guess Big Love starts tonight, right?

Randy said...

Big Love was very good this week. They're working in a fictional Warren Jeffs on the run, and the Utah AG's Office is openly hostile to all polygs.

The Sopranos finale sits much better with me now. There were so many references back to previous episodes that it was hard to keep track as the show was being played. However, many of those references were to the two earlier eps. in which Tony was shot. So, I suppose, it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, and the audience gets whacked too.

Sideon said...

You saved me from ever seeing the series.

When endings are nothing but extended foreplay without a climax, something is just not right.