PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

'The Sopranos': Did the audience get whacked?

Like millions of other pop culture fans, I watched the final episode of TV icon The Sopranos, breathlessly waiting for a big finale. And we all got it but not the one we were expecting.

All the lead-up talk to the final episode led to two expectations. First of all, there was the idea of redemption. Would our great anti-hero Tony Soprano finally mend his wicked ways somehow and become a mensch. To me though, that seemed like a false projection of reality. The real reason many of us were captivated by a character like Tony was that he was such a bad-ass mother, even with the doubt he expressed in therapy. To have his somehow redeem himself at the last minute would have been the worst kind of vapid ending for the series. After all, one of the models for the show was Public Enemy where James Cagney plays another great gangster cad who never redeems himself.

Then there was the question about whether or not Tony would survive the final episode or not. HBO couldn't have asked for better press for this with radio stations and rival networks talking about this possibility. How else do you end an epic series than to finally kill off the main character who's piled up bodies around him?

No doubt that as the last show unfolded, many people were clock-watching to figure out how things were going to get wrapped up in the time that was left. Near the end when Carmella announces that the family would be going out to dinner together seemed like the set-up for this, just as Tony is quietly raking leaves in his backyard, staring at the sky and reflecting. The penultimate episode did a great job also of setting up expectations with his psychiatrist cutting him off cold turkey, one murder and one near-murder in Tony's crime circle while he and his family had to run into hiding. With the rival boss offed (with the blessings of his underlings), it seemed that Tony might be off the hook and could get back to business.

And so there was that final diner scene. The family arrives one by one but we notice something strange. The camera spends a few seconds on a couple of diners at the counter, at a table and at a jukebox. Why do we briefly glimpse these people a few time each unless these supposed-strangers are going to be part of the scene otherwise? Meadow is in the parking lot, frustrated at trying to park and no doubt seeming to drag out the tension of what's going to happen in the scene. She finally parks just as one of the counter strangers gets up to go to the bathroom and two others look over the jukebox selection. Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" (also used in a climax for the film Monster) is playing in the background. We hear the door bell of the diner ring, no doubt meaning that Meadow is about to join her family as Tony looks up to see her.

And then... it's over. The scene is abruptly cut off. There are a few excruciating seconds where the screen is blank and then the credits roll. During the blank screen, my girlfriend and I (I'm sure like many others) jumped out of our seats and exclaimed "what the hell!", thinking that HBO had cut off at this crucial moment. Creator/writer/director David Chase had pulled the rug under all of us though. He knew that we'd be drolling over those final moments and got our hearts beating and then... poof. It's gone.

I'm sure that many people will be infuriated not only with how quickly Chase just cut everything off but you gotta give him credit- it's an ending that we won't forget and will mull over for a while. Even for anyone who wasn't disappointed that Tony didn't get killed, surely many folks were angered by the way the scene literally vanished without warning. "What the hell was he thinking when he did that?" many wonder now.

Chase directed only two episodes of the show- the first/pilot and this final episode. He wanted the finish to be exactly was he envisioned it so he took total control over it. It was no accident or after-thought. He had been planning the show to come to an end for a while now. He was also worried about the ending leaking out so he reportedly shot three versions of it (one of them no doubt including the demise of Tony and/or members of his family).

No doubt he'll take a lot of heat for his show's ending. As an audience, many Sopranos fans figured that with all of the blood, violence and shootings, the only way to cap off the show would be some kind of blaze-of-glory shootout like Tony Montana had in Scarface- the last episode has only one scene of real violence and it's not directed at Tony. They wanted the show to go out (literally) with a bang and not a whimper. Though some fans are probably happy that their (anti) hero Tony did survive, they were still left scratching their heads over the quick ending.

Anyone who thinks that Tony got off easy is fooling themselves too. Remember that Chris is dead (by Tony's own hand no less), Bobby's been murdered, Silvio is near death, Junior is in a perpetual fog of dementia and Paulie is haunted and caught in the grip of his own superstitions (to the extent that it stops him from ascending the pecking order). Tony also finds out near the end that he's about to go to court again and fight a new wave of charges against him. Even though he's resolved things with the rival New York gang, his life is hardly peachy. The only thing he has left is what we see him with at the end- his own nuclear family. Tony is indeed gone as the series ends but not in the way that we thought. Chase decided to let him live and let his life go on as it does for many real-life good guys and bad guys instead of settling things with the old cinematic retribution that we hoped for. It's also possible that Chase grew weary of the blood and body counts and wanted to remind us that beyond that, we've been riveted to the show by the unique characters there and how their lives evolved- even actors James Gandolfini (Tony) and Steve Van Zandt (Silvio) have said in interviews that they were disgusted and appalled sometimes by what their characters did in the show.

If anyone is still bitching about the ending, let me offer a little bit of solace with my own gunman-in-the-grassy-knoll theory about it. Tony does get whacked but not as we see it. Think about the diner scene in detail. Why exactly does Chase mull over the other customers? We're set up to assume that these 'strangers' are there for a reason and knowing the show, they're probably lying in wait for the right moment to strike Tony (maybe from a splinter faction of the New York gang who still wants revenge). Why do we focus on Meadow's problems in the parking lot which drag out the scene and build suspense to the final moments? Notice that Chase picked the moment to cut off the show exactly when Meadow seems to enter. What if that (the entrance of the last member of Tony's immediate family) was the signal for the bloodshed to begin? Maybe that could be the reason that the scene is cut off cold right there and Chase expects us to use our imagination to finish the scene in our own minds. The music and the picture get cut off quickly but why? Chase could have had Meadow arrive and sit with the family and enjoy dinner and then fade out but he decided to stop everything cold right there for some reason.

Admittedly, I have an over-active imagination and at some level, I did want Tony gone. But after my initial shock over the way everything ended, it did seem like a fitting finale (though I'm sure that many watchers will say that this cheap, hurried ending is par for the course for a lame final season). Chase had delivered memorable television to us before and now, whether we like it or not, he did it again. No doubt some fans will pin their hopes on the rumored promise of a Sopranos movie to maybe resolve everything the way they want it to but don't hold your breath: Chase is too smart to give us exactly what we think we want. He endeavored to give us edge-of-the-seat drama and that's just what we got, even if it's not the way we expected it.

As much as the stories, characters and mayhem, one other thing I'll miss from the show is the soundtrack. Few other TV shows took so much trouble to frame the stories and scenes with such an elaborate selection of music. Many times, I'd go running to this website to find out what I was hearing. HBO figured this out too, not only providing these listings but also eventually specifying which scenes each song was heard in and giving users the chance to buy the songs. It's a great marketing idea and hopefully other shows will follow suit not just in offering such items online but taking the time and care to weave an elaborate soundtrack to their episodes.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.