'Sopranos' defies demand for answers

Karen Heller
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Permit this space a revisiting of "The Sopranos" finale, so far the entertainment event of the year, the series the artistic achievement of the decade, the one to best.

The ending was a blunt cut to black, to nothingness, to Steve Perry wailing "Don't stop ..." only to do precisely that, erupting in speculation, and endless Internet, radio and iced-latte chatter. (Journey's Greatest Hits was No. 57 on Tuesday afternoon, some boost for a 1988 album and 1981 song.)

The end was inspired because it did and it didn't, offering multiple possibilities, causing viewers to continue postulating, high praise for any creative endeavor.

"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," David Chase, the show's creator, told the Newark Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall of the final scene. "No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God. We did what we thought we had to do." Ultimately, said Chase, "People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them, and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them."

We're not prone to ambiguity in our art, our culture and, increasingly, our news or our leaders. Americans want fast results, swift judgments, tidy answers.

We pine for clear winners and losers, good guys and bad. Tony is a monster viewers cared about. That's why the best mob movies and "The Sopranos" are so rich and operatic. They wreak havoc with our emotions.

For entertainment, we prefer blood, car chases and closing-credit clinches. Most studio movies end this way, test-marketed within a frame of their existence, completely predictable and, as a consequence, not entertaining at all. Why bother watching the summer's quartet of threequels ("Spider-Man," "Pirates," "Shrek" and "Ocean's") when it feels as though we've seen them before?

To suit our media, built for speed and immediate impact, and satiate our appetites, our sense of reality is frequently manufactured, edited to a fare-thee-well, with mundane details excised to heighten emotion.

Here, we speak not merely of reality television, or CNN and Fox News broadcasts that frighteningly resemble them, but reality itself.

The buildup to the war, done in something akin to a crystal-meth fury, was based on a simple, immediate though wrong justification that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps this option was exercised because the real reason, wanting to establish a beachhead of democracy in the Middle East, is too complicated, too costly (in blood and money) and far too time-consuming, making it an impossible sell.

Of our leaders, and future leaders, we want swift decisions and bold strokes, figures that are immediately knowable and transparent.

Presidential debates have devolved into the College Bowl, not so much about argument and reason, but a show of hands about who believes what and does that better. Regarding faith, and reflecting the absurdity of asking candidates for quick answers to complex issues, Hillary Clinton quipped last week that sometimes she prays "Oh, Lord, why can't you help me lose weight?"

When people get in trouble, we expect them to be fired quickly, put in the slammer pronto or, better yet, disappear for good. We're all for the fast resolve. In this regard, Alberto Gonzales has defied the public's will and expectations, tenaciously holding onto his job far longer than anticipated.

The marvel of "The Sopranos," the ending that isn't ending, is that the cut to black offered us many shades of gray, no easy answers, an indelible memory. If only other aspects of modern life were so rich and infinite in possibilities.



Karen Heller is a columnist for Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at kheller AT

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