I was out of pocket yesterday because, no kidding, I had to sit on three picnic tables in a playground for four hours to reserve them for a three year-old’s birthday party. So here’s my take, and since it’s already Tuesday, I don’t need to hide anything inside.
On the one hand, the ending was a brilliant coup, as evidenced by the fact that it’s all anybody can talk about. It’s fun to debate whether it was the lady or the tiger, etc. But in the end, there’s no question in my mind the whole thing is a self-indulgent cheat. Executive producer David Chase didn’t have to provide an emotionally satisfactory resolution. But I don’t think there’s any question he got himself twisted up in knots. His show was just too good, in his view, to go for the “easy” ending, which would have been either Tony dead or Tony alive or Tony in the witness protection program or Tony in jail. But the simple fact of the matter is that he ensured everybody else in the show had an ending — Johnny Sack and Christopher and Bobby dead, Phil Leotardo decapitated, Sil permanently comatose, Junior irreversibly senile, Janice alone and turning into her evil mother, Carmela and Meadow and FBI agent Harris morally compromised. Dr. Melfi extracting herself from a morally compromised situation and AJ “saved” from wrestling with serious concerns by means of an expensive car and a job on a horror movie.
Alone among them, Tony’s life and future were left unresolved.
And why? Because Chase didn’t want to moralize by killing him off or go for a cheap nihilistic thrill by having him weasel out of moral payment for his actions. It’s worth remembering just how self-indugent Chase could be throughout this series, especially in the last few years. There was the horrible alternate-reality thing with Tony in a coma imagining himself as a computer salesman trapped in a California hotel for weeks, the 23 minute dream sequence that amounted to nothing, the embarrassing and endless Vito-is-gay-and-goes-to-Vermont subplot, Tony’s instant gambling addiction this year, and various other not-good plot turns.
This last episode was alternately self-indulgent and poorly told. It began with Tony having gone to the mattresses, only to show us Tony wandering around New Jersey in the open under no apparent threat. There was the extended clip from the episode of the “Twilight Zone” in which a young Burt Reynolds is told how important writers are. Far too much time was spent on AJ and his automobiles. And then we’re simply told Carlo has flipped to the FBI because his son sold Ecstasy and got caught out of nowhere, just as, out of nowhere, the guy who egged Phil on to take out Tony Soprano suddenly turns on Phil while standing in a shrinking patch of Little Italy (get it?) in lower Manhattan.
The Sopranos is one of the greatest things ever made for television, but it was 86 hours long and 15 or 20 of those hours weren’t very good. This finale was one of the not-very-good ones.