**** Caution – There are spoilers in this post about The Sopranos and the FX series, The Shield.
The final episode of The Sopranos aired on June 10, 2007. It’s been just over seven years and during that time, the debate has raged over whether Tony Soprano lived or died at the end of the series.
Nobody knew for sure because writer/director David Chase never gave the audience that closure because he decided on an ambiguous ending which left things open to interpretation. Quite frankly, I thought it was a complete cop-out on Chase’s part. Martha P. Nochimson, writing in Vox disagrees:
The cut to black brought to American television the sense of an ending that produces wonder instead of the tying-up of loose ends that characterizes the tradition of the formulaic series. Tony’s decisive win over his enemy in the New York mob, Phil Leotardo, is the final user-friendly event in Chase’s gangster story that gratifies the desire to be conclusive, and it would have been the finale of a less compelling gangster story. The cut to black is the moment when Castaneda and the American Romantics rise to the surface and the gangster story slips through our fingers and vanishes.
I don’t find this argument very compelling. It didn’t produce a sense of wonder. It initially produced a, “What the hell just happened to the cable/satellite?!” reaction among the tens of millions of viewers watching. Once the credits started to roll, the shock wore off and people were left to ask, “What the hell happened to Tony?”
For some people I am sure the ending seemed like a ripoff because nobody got “whacked” to close out the series. Those fans annoyed me because they said the show was “boring” when nobody was getting taken out. Maybe they would have been happier if Tony’s brains wound up all over the onion rings they were eating.
Still, the ending was unsatisfying because it didn’t bring about a sense of closure. Some shows hang around for too long that a lousy series finale is just par for the course. Dexter, LOST and yes, even Seinfeld had unsatisfying series endings because the shows should have ended their series runs 1-3 seasons earlier. The Sopranos is that rare show that was able to go out while it was still on top. Was it as great as earlier seasons? No, but it was still very good. It was still compelling television. That is what made the series finale such a profound disappointment.
‘The Shield’ was an FX series about a dirty cop named Vic Mackey. Vic was the head of a special anti-crime unit in a fictional LA police district called ‘The Strike Team.’ Vic was a character similar to that of Tony Soprano. Audiences would find themselves cheering on either of these two or completely disgusted by what they were doing.
When the series finale approached the big question was: Will Vic die, get busted or get away with it all? As I discussed it with others we all agreed that Vic dying would be too easy a finish. If he got busted it would have been too predictable and if he got away — again — it would just be too absurd. In the series finale, Vic makes a deal with the FBI where he is given full immunity for anything he has done in the past in exchange for some information and get this….a job at the FBI.
Vic gets his deal. He gets his job at the FBI but the tables are turned. The type of job he is to have is never specified in his deal. As such, he is given the worst kind of job that a street cop could ever want: a menial desk job. He has to take scheduled breaks and lunch. He does nothing but enter data from reports into a system. It’s the ultimate punishment. The final scene shows him at the end of a days work, reaching into a desk drawer and pulling out a gun. He heads out with a slight smirk on his face. It’s late, and he’s headed out to streets.
That is an ending that produced both a sense of wonder and closure. Major props go to series creator and writer Shawn Ryan for doing what he did. It was a brilliant way to end the show.
As for The Sopranos, that we now know that Tony did not die, what does it mean, really? If he’s not dead (and Chase behaves as if this was always his intent), why end it the way he did? If he’s not dead, then life went on for the Soprano family.
Panning back showing the family eating dinner as it faded to black would have produced that closure fans were looking for.