Friday, June 15, 2007

Any Way You Want It: Again With the Sopranos Finale

NOTE: To experience the full impact of this post, listen to this cheesy midi of "Don't Stop Believin'" while reading.

Yes, Ed. I, like Joe Tucci, thought the Soprano's ending was brilliant. But Ed's dismay about the finale is to be expected from someone who is as inept at poker as Ed is (as I can personally attest) because he's unable to see or properly interpret the little clues that are set before him.

But as further testament to the brilliance of the ending of the show, the discussions and debates continue. And some believe they're closing in on the answer:

Fans of “The Sopranos” are seizing on clues suggesting the controversial blackout which abruptly ended the TV mob drama meant that Tony Soprano was rubbed out, and HBO said on Thursday they may be on to something.

One clue in particular, a flashback in the penultimate episode to a conversation between Tony and his brother-in-law about death, gained credence as an HBO spokesman called it a “legitimate” hint and confirmed that series creator David Chase had a definite ending in mind.

Well, duh. But then, like in poker, it's not the "tell," so much as it is knowing how to use it. In this case, I think they're going all in on an unsuited nine and four. Some background first:

“While he won’t say to me 100 percent what it all means, he says some people who’ve guessed have come closer than others,” HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer told Reuters after speaking to Chase.

“There are definitely things there that he intended for people to pick up on,” Schaffer said.

Chase himself suggested as much in an interview on Tuesday with The Star-Ledger newspaper of New Jersey when he said of his end to the HBO series, “Anyone who wants to watch it, it’s all there.”

In the final moments of Sunday’s concluding episode, Tony, the conflicted mob boss who has just survived a round of gangland warfare, sits in a diner with his family munching on onion rings as the 1980s song by rock band Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing,” blares from a juke box.

Tension builds as a suspicious man wearing a “Members Only” jacket eyes Tony from a nearby counter before slipping into a restroom. Then, as Tony looks toward the restaurant’s entrance, the screen abruptly goes blank in mid-scene — with no picture or sound for 10 seconds — until the credits roll silently.


The biggest hint, according to a consensus taking shape on the Web, is a scene from an earlier episode in which Tony and his brother-in-law, Bobby Bacala, muse about what it feels like to die.

“At the end, you probably don’t hear anything, everything just goes black,” Bobby says while they sit fishing in a small boat on a lake.

That scene is recalled briefly in a flashback played at the end of the penultimate “Sopranos” episode, as Tony is lying in the darkened room of a safehouse clutching a machine gun to his chest in the midst of a mob war.

Predictably, and I believe, erroneously, people think that this means Tony took a slug to the temple:

“I think that is one of the most legitimate things to look at,” Schaffer said when asked about theories that the Bobby Bacala flashback was meant to foreshadow Tony’s death.

Moreover, he said the man in the “Members Only” jacket could be interpreted as a symbolic reference to membership in the mob. “Members Only” also was the title of the episode in which Tony’s demented Uncle Junior shoots him in the gut.

That's a stretch.

OK there are two ways to look at this:

1) Who - keeping within the story - would kill Tony at this point in the story? Leotardo's crew backed down and Leotardo himself was taken out of the picture. Paulie shrunk at running Ciffaretto's crew; why would he want to take over for the capo? And what kind of hitman would cap a guy in a crowded restaurant? Certainly with Tony now off the mattresses, there'd be better opportunities.

In short, the theory that Tony died of a gangland whacking when the screen went dark, is way out of character for a series where the conclusions to storylines flowed from the natural consequences of events earlier in the show.

If you still buy that premise, then please, tell me who hired the Member's Only guy to have Tony killed? Agent Harris?

JOE TUCCI INTERRUPTS: I gotta go to the john, Boss. Be right back.

2) Cinematography. Back to Bobby's remark, that when you die you don't expect it and everything goes black. Therefore, the screen going black signals Tony's death. I believe that this is the interpretation Chase refers to as "close, but not 100%". Think about it from a filmaker's perspective. In the very final shot before everything went dark, we were looking straight at Tony's face. Did we die?

No. The show did.

If it was Tony that would have bit it, and Baccala's statement was a setup, an honest director would have been filming the scene from Tony's perspective, looking through his eyes up until the blackness snuck up on him. But he didn't. Instead, we were looking at Tony. Chase briefly punched a hole through the proverbial "fourth wall" signaling the end of the Sopranos the show, not the family.

But don't take my word for it. Lest you think this is all idle speculation on my part, let me tell

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