It Goes On and On and

I suddenly find myself with about a dozen things I’d like to write about, which is a remarkable change from the blankness that I’ve experienced when pondering the blog. At least a couple of these things I’m quite behind the curve on, given our recent preparations for travel, and our travel, and our adjustments to travel, but I’m operating in the spirit of better late than never today, which seems only appropriate to my pitifully jet-lagged state.

So, the first of those things: the finale of The Sopranos. Folks have weighed in on this everywhere (so everywhere, in fact, that I’m not going to bother linking), but I found the episode’s ending compelling enough that I want, however belatedly and repetitively, to record my reaction to it. For propriety’s sake, I’ll note that one should stop reading now if one is among the three people left in the country who don’t know how the episode ended.

I understand that some folks were really perturbed by what seems like the series’s non-ending — the sudden cut to black in the midst of not very much happening. Not least of these, my mother; my phone rang four-point-three seconds after the credits started rolling, and when I answered, all she said was “I don’t get it.” The good news is that we’d watched the east coast feed, rather than waiting for the west coast, so I could give her my sense of what had just happened, at least as it was then developing.

That sense is this: the scene is filled with a very intentionally constructed and uncertainly located though not in the least vague sense of menace, a menace which emanates from some expected places, like the hinky guy at the counter who keeps looking at Tony over his shoulder and the fairly tough-looking guys apparently scouting the jukebox in one of the last shots, but also from some unexpected places: the man sitting with a table full of Cub Scouts; Meadow’s repeated inability to parallel park. The scene pays just a bit too much attention to the small details of what’s going on around Tony, encouraging us to begin guessing what’s going to happen: the hinky guy at the counter is going into the men’s room to get a gun hidden there, à la Godfather, or he’s just given a signal to the toughs at the jukebox, who are going to open fire; the Cub Scouts are going to get caught in the bullets’ path; Meadow is going to be a horrified late witness to the scene that’s just unfolded. Or, perhaps, Meadow is going to get caught in the crossfire, and the Cub Scouts are going to be horrified onlookers.

Or perhaps none of that. As Tony and Bobby Baccala discussed earlier in the season, probably you don’t even hear it when it happens, and so it’s very likely that the cut to black is that end: the shots that Tony never sees coming. But on the other hand, perhaps what’s after the black isn’t carnage, but just more of the same, and this last scene is just allowing the viewers to enter into the world that Tony will, as long as he lives, continue to inhabit: a world filled with unlocalizable menace, in which every moment could well be the last.

For both of those reasons — that you don’t hear the bullet that gets you, but that if you think it’s coming, you hear it everywhere — the only way that the series could conceivably end was simply to end, precisely because, as Steve Perry reminded us, “the movie never ends; it goes on and on and on and on.” And that, I’ll confess to thinking, was a brilliant choice, and evidence of the show’s impact: “Don’t Stop Believin'” finds itself, 26 years later, at number 22 on iTunes.

The world’s going to be a bit different without The Sopranos, but on the other hand, the world’s radically different for their having existed. There could have been no Six Feet Under, no Deadwood, no The Wire, no The Tudors — or, for that matter, no turn toward complexity in network television, either — without The Sopranos leading the way. It’s an appropriate end, I think, for the series not to end, but rather to go on in imagination and discussion and argument. Not a big fuck-you to the fans, as some have accused David Chase of delivering, but one last thing worth thinking about.

4 thoughts on “It Goes On and On and

  1. Watch the last scene again on Youtube or TV. Tony sees himself at the other end of the diner – it’s quick but you can catch it if you are paying attention. This calls everything that happens afterward into question.
    Plus, there’s the song that is playing when he enters the diner: Little Feat “All that you dream” which is a fitting benedicite from David Chase

    I’ve been down, but not like this before
    Can’t be ’round this kind of show no more

    All, all that you dream
    Comes through shinin silver lining
    Clouds, clouds change the scene
    Rain starts washing all these cautions
    Right into your life, makes you realize
    Just what is true, what else can you do
    You just follow the rule
    Keep your eyes on the road that’s ahead of you

    I’ve been down, but not like this before
    Can’t be ’round this kind of show no more

    All of the good, good times were ours
    In the land of milk and honey
    And time, time adds its scars
    Rainy days they turn to sunny ones
    Livin’ the life, livin’ the life lovin’ everyone

    I’ve been down, but not like this before
    Can’t be ’round this kind of show no more

    I’m not saying that guy at the counter (a dead ringer for a young Phil)killed him, or not. I’m just saying Tony seeing himself is the first slash against the expectations of closure by making what follows ‘unreliable.’ As a writer, Chase was in an untenable position, given the levels of expectation that preceded and the amount of discussion to follow. None of the standard endings would be satisfactory: the moralists would be pleased to see Tony killed, but that would be decried as “easy” or a “cop out.” There was not enough time to develop a court case/prison story. Fading out predictably with Tony temporarily on top, but with looming prosecution or revenge would also elicit a “so?” Blacking out in the midst of a sequence that may or may not be “real” not only defies narrative expectations for the viewer, it’s also a challenge to the medium whose very nature (or if not nature, the dominant practice of the last fifty plus years) mitigates drama by reducing it to 22-44 minute stories with consistently cheesy, simplistic results.
    My respect for David Chase grows: writer of about 20 episodes of the Rockford Files (my favorite TV drama of all time, along the Sopranos), and most of the episodes of the original Night Stalker – not a great show by most standards, but a great concept, great character played by the immortal Darren McGavin. My favorite show when I was about 6 or 7.

  2. I caught that bit of oddness, of Tony “seeing himself” — which Jason Mittell refers to on his blog as a rupture in continuity — immediately, and knew that something odd was about to happen. It was exactly that vertiginous shift in perspective (from a shot that was originally Tony’s POV to one that’s either objective or self-reflexive) that suddenly made every detail, even the most mundane, seem filled with the kind of menace that usually inheres in dreams, the prickly sense of something about to happen, but… what?

    I’d missed the Little Feat bit, though — thanks for pointing that out! So on the one hand, we/Tony/David Chase can’t be ’round this kind of show no more, but on the other hand, the movie never ends. You want out, you want closure, but there simply can’t be…

  3. My reaction on first viewing was – I don’t get it. I registered the (mis)recognition of Tony at the other end of the diner, but not its significance – lost in the unbearable buildup of tension and confused narrativus interruptus that followed. The more I read & think about it, this is really Chase’s big statement on the self-imposed narrative limitations of TV. Lots of people caught the bit where they’re watching the Twilight Zone episode at the safe house . . . It’s the one where the TV writer takes dictation from Shakespeare’s ghost, and still flops. It all comes back to Chase’s earlier experiences on Night Stalker (doesn’t it always. . . ) a creative and yet most self-limiting narrative concept: a monster of the week, and only Kolchak knows of his existence and can foil him. And Little Feat was a great choice too, not the least for the great lyrics, but also because so many of their songs sound like incidental music from the Rockford Files (the past is always present) . . .

  4. I very much agree that the black was the best way to end the series. Life goes on. If it had been a cut to white, than I would have guessed they were all dead. As it stands, Tony won.

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