Monday, June 11, 2007

Cut to Black

So, after re-watching "Made in America," the much-dissected and highly controversial final Sopranos episode, I tend to side with the theory that it wasn’t Tony (nor Carmela nor AJ) that got whacked in those last seconds of the show… it was us.

I’m not speaking metaphorically as a disgruntled fan who thinks the episode was anti-climactic and sucked; I’m speaking literally (well, figuratively literally, if that’s not too oxymoronic). I mean that we, the people sitting at home watching the TV show have been cut out of the Sopranos’ lives, not the other way around.

Think about it: The 11 seconds of black screen seem to refer back to Bobby’s statement in “Soprano Home Movies” about getting killed and how he thinks (or hopes) “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens.” But the final shot is not a subjective POV from Tony’s perspective of Meadow coming through the door, it’s a shot of Tony looking up. So for whom do things go black in that scene? The viewer. We’re out. The music stops and there’s no song accompanying the end credits (I wouldn’t be surprised if David Chase even tried to ditch those).

We were so distracted by trying to figure out the motives of the strangely familiar background characters (are those the guys who tried to kill Tony? Is that Phil’s cousin? I think no to both) and the (ironically?) uplifting power ballad and trying to suss out the actions of the leads (why can’t Meadow parallel park in that huge space?) that, like with so many departed characters in the show, we never saw it coming.

Maybe Tony got whacked right after we did. Maybe not. Maybe life goes on, at least for a while. Carlo’s flipped, so that’s going to be a mess, and when Agent Harris said, “We’re gonna win this thing,” was he talking about New Jersey over New York or the Feds getting the evidence they finally need to take down Tony Soprano? Maybe Meadow’s pregnant, maybe AJ’s going to slip back into depression. The point is, it doesn’t matter.

We’re dead. And I think that’s fucking brilliant.

I also don’t think it’s a stretch to view the last episode as a sort of kiss off to the obsessed, nitpicking and impossible to please fans from David Chase (and by proxy James Gandolfini). One song in the episode, Vanilla Fudge’s version of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is about someone being badgered by an ex-lover, someone who really wants to just move on to the next phase in their life, someone who asks, “Set me free, why don’t you babe? Get off my life…” If Chase sought some kind of catharsis by whacking his audience, well, I grant him that. He earned it. The Sopranos may have had a few off episodes, but I would not go so far as to say it ever let me down. Its perfect send-off makes me miss it even more.

Don't Stop Believin'

So, like millions of others last night, a bunch of friends gathered at my apartment in Northern New Jersey, the home of The Sopranos, to watch the final episode of the series. And as with so many other groups, the climax (or anti-climax, depending) spurred a flurry of “WHOAs!” and immediate heated debate. The more action-oriented were disappointed, while those of us who thrived more on the personal drama thought it was great. I thought the ambiguous, yet nerve-wracking ending was absolutely perfect, and I never thought I’d enjoy a Journey song ever in any context.

And so what if every single prediction I made over the past two months was completely wrong… actually, I love that was the case. Say what you will, The Sopranos was never predictable, and how often can you say THAT about TV?

But just as much fun was the party surrounding the event. While I’m normally not a fan of themed parties in which masquerade is required, last night became a pot luck Italian dinner where everyone came dressed in character. Lysa cooked while in full Dr. Melfi regalia (while dealing with the amorous approaches of this Tony, sweating under the fat suit pillow). Hitman Gary showed up with homemade Limoncello and whipped up some Lincoln Log Sandwiches. Davie Walnuts brought homemade pasta and roasted peppers while Haven / Adrianna made sauce and meatballs, Claudia / Meadow brought chicken and sauce and Ann / Janice brought bruschetta. I made a tomato / basil / Vito’s Mutz salad and there were many sugary Italian desserts courtesy of Kenny Uncle Jun’ (who brought a spookily authentic Meredith / Adrianna) and Melfi. Johnny Uncle Junior, Andrea (the still-grieving Kelli Moltisanti) and Carm’ brought more wine (and later Junior ran out for plastic forks). And Banana Paulie Walnuts muffins were made by the most authentic costume of all, Lauren, as the girl standing by the stage at Johnny Sack’s daughter’s wedding (because that was her in the episode).

We took a vote and Iloire’s Carmela won the best costume award (with Kenny as Uncle Jun’ coming in second due to a commitment to the character that included a shaved head!). The night was so much fun, the only bad thing I have to say is that today I can’t seem to get “Don’t Stop Believin’” out of my head…. Curse you, David Chase! And thanks.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


So, it looks as if my previous prediction as to the end of THE SOPRANOS is NOT going to come true. AJ is obviously still too fucked up to step up (how agonizing was the attempted suicide scene?). So what then? It does seem as if all signs are pointing towards Paulie Walnuts switching his allegiance to New York, due probably to nothing more than the poor showing at Nucci’s funeral. “It’s a fundamental lack of respect and I’m never gonna forget it,” swore Paulie. And what was up with him speeding off in his Cadillac when he saw the hitmen getting their instructions outside of the Bada Bing? And let us never forget his desire to go to New York in Season 4. While it’s been reported that Tony Sirico said he wouldn’t allow the character to be “a rat,” does that apply to switching families or just cooperating with the Feds (something Tony’s been doing, albeit in reference to Agent Harris’ Anti-Terrorism unit).

So, if that’s the case, if Paulie’s setting himself up to be Phil Leotardo’s cross-Hudson underboss when New York fully integrates New Jersey’s activities and soldiers, what happens on Sunday in the final episode? Is he successful? Does the series end with its most sociopathic longtime character getting his way at long last? Does Tony die? At Paulie’s hand? Or does Tony figure it out in time? And even if he does, what happens? Paulie’s whacked and Tony’s left with a completely crippled family: Bobby and Chris are dead, Silvio’s in a coma from which he’s unlikely to recover… that primarily leaves Meadow’s potential future father-in-law Patsy and Carlo (whose cousin was just killed by Sil… is there a connection there, too?). So, is this the ultimate tragedy of The Sopranos? Not jail, not death, not Phil’s declared “decapitation” so much as a castration?

Regardless, odds are it’s going to be a hell of a finale. These last nine episodes have been across the board spectacular, with the tension, the shocks and the drama amped up with each successive episode.

My only complaint: I don’t buy Dr. Melfi’s dumping of Tony as a patient due to the study she read that says sociopaths use therapy to become better criminals, and for one key reason (which was the topic of discussion at last week’s Sopranos Sunday): Tony is not a sociopath. The entire concept of the series lies in the fact that Tony Soprano, despite being larcenous, murderous, selfish, violent and duplicitous, DOES have a conscience! That’s why he has the panic attacks! That’s why he’s in therapy! True, he’s been less than honest, and he’s not likely to ever be “cured,” but after sticking with him through some pretty rough shit, it felt like a forced cap to their story.

But that is, as I am fond of saying, a minor quibble. And while I am greatly looking forward to the final Sopranos Sunday (featuring a pot luck Italian dinner and semi-requisite costumes), it’s gonna be a sadder TV landscape when this show is officially a thing of the past.