Sunday, June 10, 2007

Into the Sunset

Now that all the hype surrounding the Sopranos finale is in the past tense, as is the final episode itself, I have a few reactions. First, however, if you need a warning that this piece contains spoilers, what you really need is some self-examination for not watching it live like the rest of the country.

I went out with a few friends about three weeks ago, on a cold Friday night, and we were all surmising what might comprise the final few episodes. My friend Dave opined that the series would end with a flash-bang and fireworks that would leave us all with muted, stifled "wows." The penultimate episode, in which Bobby and Silvio are shot, the former being killed and the latter surviving -- barely -- it occurred to me that this series would not necessarily end with fireworks, but it wouldn't end with a whimper, either. I advised my friend Dave that if I was doing the writing, the final scene would, ostensibly, wrap up with the four -- Tony Sr., Carmela, Meadow and AJ -- sitting and talking (not arguing, bitching or insulting one another) and the camera would pan out, through a window, and fade to black. Granted, the finale was a bit different -- Meadow was making her way through the door when the blackout occurred -- but overall it wasn't far from what I envisioned as the end to a great story.

There were and remain a lot of loose ends -- from the Russian who gets loose in the woods with Chris and Paulie chasing him (from a few seasons ago) to what happens with Silvio; from what about Junior's money to who, if not Carlo, is informing on the family; will Tony be indicted, and if so, will he eventually go to prison?

The point of the story is that none of these questions really matter, nor do their answers. The whole point of the story was about a guy -- Tony Soprano -- who is the head of a family of four, and who happens to also be the mob boss of New Jersey. So the actual ending -- the four of them sitting, together, as a family, at a table eating dinner is far from a shock to me. The quick, almost abrupt ending was weird -- and I think it was meant to be jarring and obvious in its zeal to wind up or down, depending on your perspective. David Chase obviously wanted to shake our tree, and when he zooms in on the key turning in the ignition after all the hits happen in the penultimate episode, it's clear that everyone watching firmly believed that car was blowing up.

So all the back and forth, the ramping up of tension with Meadow parking her car and running to get into the restaurant, led one to believe that she was in grave danger. And I applaud David Chase for playing with our emotions as he had for the past seven seasons (and the past ten years). Let's be clear -- the ending came too soon, and of course, the series could easily continue on into another year or more (or, more likely, a movie). But the whole point of what he was trying to say with this series, and, especially, the finale, was that the family -- both the Soprano family of four and the Sopranos of the mob, will continue. If Tony is indicted, someone will take his place until -- if -- he leaves prison. If he is killed/assassinated, the Family will continue, whether it's Paulie -- unlikely -- or someone younger and less jaded and thwarted by life. Phil's right-hand man will step up with Little Carmine, who has always worked well with and loved Tony, and they'll do great things. AJ's movie producing days will start -- and don't ignore the connection between Christopher's waffling, flaccid, dual personality and AJ's similarity in both his inability to cope with life and his eventual career being what Christopher was doing prior to his untimely death. Everything will wind up, and continue, even if we -- and David Chase's cameras -- are not there to witness it.

The whole point is that the mob is, has been and always will be run by men who want, simply, to make money. Some of them get angry -- like Phil, or even Tony -- but for the most part, they use their heads to guide their hearts. Sure, Phil was pissed that Tony beat the crap (and the teeth -- literally) out of one of his guys, but logically speaking, he had the right to do that. And it was the wrong move to go after Tony and his guys (Bobby & Silvio). So when the war got out of hand -- when people started losing money -- Phil's guy suggested (not in so many words) that they should back off and go back. Tony, after avenging the insult to his daughter two weeks ago, immediately agreed to go with Little Carmine to Phil's house to make peace. It was the right move, and people in this business -- this dirty, secret business -- either think and act properly and logically or they wind up dead, either by gunshot or getting their heads flattened with the front tire of a Ford Explorer, or, in Phil's case, both.

Was the ending abrupt, too short and unsatisfying? Absolutely. Was it brilliant? Absolutely.

I think part of his point was that life in the mob will always continue, and that people -- like Tony and his wife and his children -- all bear the burden of surviving and living in that life. Sure, they have lots of money and do basically whatever they want -- but at what price? To go to funerals, mourn people that were killed by their former friends, and to wonder whether Tony, or others like him, will go to a meeting one night and never come home? The whole point is this life will continue, and even though there is no beginning, no middle and no end, one has to wonder whether this type of life is one in which you'd like to participate, be a spectator or eradicate completely.

I'm simultaneously irritated that this show has run its course -- even though I acknowledge that it has. The thing is, when applying a finite thing like a television show to something like the Mafia, the key difference is that one, eventually, must reach its conclusion. That, above all else, is what Chase was saying in this somewhat anti-climactic ending. I do think it was wonderful direction, editing and puppet-mastering, ie the ramping up of the tension ie with Meadow, etc. You expected something, and what you got -- for better or worse -- was an ending that acknowledged and reminded us that it, first and foremost, was, is and always will be about the family, before The Family.