STOP right here if you haven't seen the last episode of "The Sopranos," and don't want to know what happens. This entire post is one big spoiler.
Who's asking: Moira McLaughlin, Los Angeles, CA
My cousin Moira quit watching "The Sopranos" early on. She did not watch the series finale, and is taking a certain evil pleasure in watching her friends and relations agonize over that final cut to black. Her sister, my cousin Sheila, is working out her frustrations with a few clever t-shirts; I like this one, for obvious reasons.
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I've watched the finale three times now -- and while I object to the ending, I also think it was brilliant.
So for Moira, who didn't watch it, here's what happened. Agent Harris, the FBI agent who had been assigned for Tony for years, let Tony know how to find his rival, Phil Leotardo. One of Tony's operatives blew Phil away in front of his wife and grandchildren, and an SUV ran over his skull. Carmela made plans to renovate a new property, an estate sale with a mysterious, deep-seated (and possibly toxic) stench. Meadow made plans to go to law school and marry Patrick Parise, the son of one of Tony's captains. AJ, recovering from depression, made a half-hearted attempt to declare his independence after his SUV caught fire in the Pine Barrens, but ultimately agreed to take a development job with another capo's porn studio.
Tony's Uncle Junior, who shot him (accidentally?) in the last season, faded so far into senility that he no longer remembered his life as a wiseguy. Tony's sister Janice started planning her new life as a black widow. Tony's consigliere, Silvio, clung to life in a coma, while Tony's lawyer told him a grand jury was getting ready to indict him. And at the end of the show, the four immediate members of the Soprano family gathered at a diner for dinner -- and the screen cut to black.
Much as I don't want it to be true, that cut to black was Tony getting killed. The last 10 minutes of the show gave us the world from Tony's point of view: menace everywhere, something as mundane as parallel parking turned into a life-threatening challenge. The guy in the Members Only jacket at the bar, the two guys in big coats who came into the restaurant -- I was almost sweating by the end of the show, and David Chase's point was that this is what Tony's life is like all the time. Under those circumstances, who wouldn't need therapy?
People are angry about all the loose plot threads. Those don't bother me, and in fact I was amazed by how many themes Chase managed to revisit. A cat that appeared out of nowhere was Big Pussy and all he represented, or all the people who had been sacrificed for the Family. Tony embraced the cat because (as we know) sociopaths can be sentimental about animals. The cat fixated on Paulie because Paulie is a rat at heart; whether or not he's already testifying before the grand jury, it's a matter of time before he sells out for a little appreciation.
AJ said he felt cleansed by the explosion of his SUV; wasn't that the SUV that Tony had extorted from The Happy Wanderer, in partial payment for the guy's gambling debts? For about five minutes, it looked as if AJ might have gotten the message, and he made a half-hearted effort to seek a meaningful life -- but his parents beat him down and bribed him, and put him on a track to become just like Dad.
Tony Soprano corrupted everyone who came in contact with him -- even, David Chase seemed to be saying, us who watched the show.
My problem with the cut to black at the end was that it took us out of the story to look at its creator, in the same way that we look at the projectionist when a movie at the theater breaks. With rare exception, I don't want to watch the artist making art (yeah, I know I do this for a living -- allow me this inconsistency). Tell me a story, don't show me the mechanics of it while the story's in motion. If I want to know what's in the writer's head, I'll ask later. I wanted to spend that last minute with Tony, and instead I spent it being aware of all the time I'd spent in David Chase's head. I object.
Five Random Songs
"Evaporated," Ben Folds Five. I never got tired of this CD (Whatever and Ever Amen), because it's such a great combination of funny, angry and sad. This is one of the sad songs.
"Her Voice is Beyond Her Years," Mew. The newest addition to my collection, a gift from a friend last week. Great late-70s style pop, somewhere along the spectrum between the Pet Shop Boys and the Scissor Sisters.
"Requiem for Evita/Oh What a Circus," Mandy Patinkin, Patti LuPone and Company. From the Evita soundtrack. I do not apologize for having this in my iTunes.
"Ethylene," John Hiatt. And this is the great thing about the shuffle feature -- you really couldn't find two more disparate songs. We go from a hymn to the first lady of Argentina, to a white trash love song. Excellent.
"Kind & Generous," Natalie Merchant. Something about this song brings tears to my eyes almost every time I hear it. I want it played at my funeral.