Sopranos: You Don't Hear it When it Happens

“Don’t expect happiness, you won’t get it.  Life is all a big nothing.  In the end, your friends and family let you down, and you die in your own arms.” – Livia Soprano

Yes, I loved the ending.  It took me a while.  Initially, I was frustrated and confused, and a bit disappointed.  However, I talked with a few people, read a review or two, watched the episode again, and thought about the overall series, what the writers have been telling us for years about our society and about Tony, and then it all clicked – and I was more than satisfied with what transpired in the series finale, which was perfect, brilliant and underwhelming all at the same time, much like life I suppose.

How could we ever have expected closure?  We’re such fools.  This show has always been about ‘life,’ and in life you don’t get closure.  It just ends.  Suddenly.  You only get darkness.  

In the first episode of Season Six, the start of show’s final arc, Agent Harris says, “No one ever went broke overestimating the taste of the American public,” and then he throws up an Italian sandwich.  If that isn’t a commentary on how we, the viewing public, expect things from the show, i.e. closure, I don’t know what is.  I always think of that line when I am watching this show, because it’s a clear F-U from the writers to our expectations – and those of us who though AJ would kill Tony, or that Tony would flip to the Feds, etc, should have known better.  

To me, the show’s creator, David Chase, who wrote and directed this episode, is saying, “You are what you are.”  You’ll never change, no matter how hard you try – and its okay, it doesn’t matter, because in the end it’s all just a faded, distant memory, like for Uncle Junior, or, if you’re lucky, it all just goes black in an instant – and everyone’s life goes on with out you.  This is very sad.  I actually feel very strange today, because I can’t get this idea of mortality and legacy out of my head, two concepts the show has focused a lot on during this season.  I mean, is that really it?  Will I end up in a chair one day, unable to remember the life behind me, like Uncle Junior, meaning it all may not have happened anyways, or, will I just be living my life and then bam, it’s over – maybe from a heart attack, or a car accident, or old age, whatever – either way does it just all go black?  It’s a scary thought, and Chase is telling us what he thinks, which is that when your show ends, life simply goes on without you.  

As for the episode, the idea of “I am what I am, it’s my nature, I can’t help it” which is uttered in a ton of great literature, is the essence of this final episode.  Keeping this idea in mind, there actually is closure in some way.

Tony has repeatedly said there are only two options for him: Death or prison.  Tony is living on borrowed time, and we know it, so that’s how the show ends.  Someday, Tony will either die or go to jail.  In fact, the wheels are in motion for prison, with Carlo going to the Feds.  Nevertheless, we know this is Tony’s fate, he knows it’s his fate – so, do we really need to see Tony, our hero, for better or worse, have his brains spilled out on a table in a dinner – do we really want to see Tony being hauled off to jail, as a loser.  I don’t.  I know it’ll happen one day, but I don’t want to remember him that way, which hits on that legacy idea again.  Regardless, the bell tolls for Tony, like the bell that kept ringing on the door in the restaurant at the end of the show.  The bell rings, Tony looks up, and it’s over, just blackness.  “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens,” like Bobby Baccala says in this season’s first episode.  Frankly, neither did we.  All we got was silence, for a painful amount of time, much like death, I suppose.  Maybe Tony didn’t get shot right there, by the guy who looked like his dad in the ‘Members Only’ jacket, but when he does, and you know he eventually will, that’s how it will go down.  Bam.  Blackness.  “It’s all a big nothing.”  So that’s Tony’s life, waiting to be arrested or whacked, always looking up at the door wondering if this is it, is this the one.  That’s his hell.  That’s his life.  That’s our closure.  Eventually it will end.  Maybe Chase didn’t give us direct visual closure, but by giving us implied closure, he also protected our eternal image of Tony, with his family, “trying to remember the good times,” while eating supper as a father, which is all he ever really wanted to be – and, frankly, all we wanted him to be, as well.  Either that, or Chase whacked us, and our world just went black.  Or both, I suppose.  Either way, life goes on, like the song from Journey said in that final shot, “Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on, Don’t stop.”  Cut to black, now you, the viewer, can go on with your life.  

Lastly, Chase has always used this show as a way to expose Americans as being a material, self-absorbed, bargaining type culture, whose best days are behind it.  It’s actually the basis of the very first conversation between him and Dr. Melfi.  If you buy in to this, the writers are essentially painting Tony’s family as America.  Hell, the title of the episode was “Made in America.”   Each character has a chance to do good, but when faced with struggle and sacrifice they all revert back to what they know.  This has happened over and over and over again on this show.  They tease you with redemption, then yank each character back in to the materialistic world they are most comfortable in.  We’d like to think we are capable of change, and being all philosophical, and enlightened, listening to Bob Dylan in our SUVs, but we aren’t.  We are who we are.  We try to change, but can only muster up cosmetic adjustments, like cute bumper stickers and weight loss diets, all while telling ourselves and others that we’re good people and still the best, even though we know the best is behind us.  I suspect that Chase sees this as America’s biggest flaw going forward, and he may be right.  Personally, I’ll keep ‘believing’, like the final song in the show suggested.  Contrary to most people’s view of me, I’m very much an optimist, hence the Half Full shirt I like to wear.

A few random thoughts…

  • I truly believe the writers are leading us to believe Tony eventually gets whacked, set up by the Members Only jacket on the guy at the end, who a) looked like his dad, and b) is the name of episode when Tony got shot by Junior; also, Tony’s eating an orange earlier in the last episode, which a) is odd, because he never eats fruit, and b) is a total hat tip to the Godfather, which used oranges as a foreshadow for death.  Specifically, Phil is killed in front of his wife and two grandkids, which, to me, is foreshadowing for Tony being killed in front of his wife and two kids.  Regardless, in some way, Tony is already dead, at least in the eyes of his subordinates.  I mean, did you see how dejected and unloyal they all acted towards him.  Ag
    ain, if he didn’t actually die in that final scene, which is how I like to imagine it, then he will die in that manner some day. 
  • The scene with Tony and Paulie, at the end, outside of Satriale’s, was beautiful when viewed in contract to how that same sort of scene was filmed in years past.  Once, to be out front of Satriale’s showed a large group of guys, lots of conversation, camaraderie, laughter, life, action, etc.  Now, it’s just Tony, Paulie and a bunch of empty chairs, with the scene all washed out and very quiet and awkward.  The mafia’s impact is essentially dead.  I mean, there’s a Jamba Juice up the street from them.  In addition, they drive this home in another brilliant moment, in which Butchie walks a few blocks in Little Italy, only to run out road and end up in Chinatown.  The best is behind you, Butchie. 
  • I loved AJ coming down the steps in a robe, just like Tony.  Nice touch.
  • In therapy, with AJ’s shrink, Tony falls right in to his old pattern with Melfi, simply complaining of his mother, no effort to move forward, again, he is what he is.  The look Carmella gave him was priceless.  That look alone was worthy of an Emmy.
  • In the end, after all the stuff with Adriana, and the wire taps, etc, it’s not Tony he flips to the Feds, but, instead, Tony flips the Feds, and gets Agent Harris to dime out Phil Leotardo.  This is important, too.  Harris is suppose to be a good guy, like us, and yet, here he is watching and cheering on the train wreck just like us, just like the people at the Bing who gathered like a mob to see Silvio gunned down.  Why are we so obsessed with these villains like Tony?  Why do we live vicariously through evil? 
  • I read some place that Chase and Co. specifically cast an Italian looking man, who looked like Tony’s dad, for that final scene.  In fact, the guy isn’t even an actor, but a pizzeria owner up the street from that real restaurant who they ran in to while at lunch and asked to be in the show.  Why an Italian guy?  Did they want to create suspicion?  Was this a final commentary on the omnipresent subject of how society views Italian-Americans as criminals, and we all just did the same?  Very clever.

So that’s that. 

It’s over. 

I really can’t believe it. 

I love Walt Whitman, especially Leaves of Grass, so it should come as no shock when I say that this show has taught me more about myself, and how I look at life, for better or for worse, more than any other work of art I have encountered – and I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that.

Seriously, it struck a major nerve in me, which is all very personal and something I’m not too comfortable discussing.  I know some people simply watch this show for the murder, or the humor, the entertainment, etc, but, for me, it was a personal journey of sorts – and I feel very empty knowing it’s over, yet I also feel oddly content.  I can’t describe it.  Either way, part of therapeutic nature of this journey has been sending out these long-winded, some-what trivial e-mails, so, I guess what I’m saying is, thank you for reading…and now life goes on.