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A Summer of Sopranos

October 11, 2009

This past summer, I decided to watch the Sopranos for the first time. All 6 seasons via Netflix. There was no other TV on, and I figured I needed to experience the critically acclaimed show. Plus, I love mob movies, especially Goodfellas. If you haven’t watched The Sopranos, feel free to read without risk of spoilers until the end, when I’ll clearly mark the spoiler section.

The thing you’ve probably heard about the Sopranos is that it’s more about Tony Soprano as a human, as a dad, as a brother, than as a mob boss. This is both the best thing about the show and one of its shortcomings. It’s a fascinating perspective to see this…well, this criminal as a guy with so many weaknesses and flaws in his personal life. The only issue with that is that it’s a rarity when the viewer is shown why Tony is the boss. Many of his subordinates are older than him. He has weaknesses, and he becomes more and more open with them. He’s big and apparently strong, but he never works out and appears to be in fairly poor health. In fact, it almost seems like he’s just blessed with really good fortune. He’s lucky. I would say if I had one big complaint about the show, it would be that you never really understand why Tony deserves to be the boss. He just is. That’s not enough for me.

Besides that, the show is nearly perfect. Every episode feels like a movie. The characters come to life by mostly incredible actors and great dialogue. Very few typical TV or movie devices–like coincidence–are used. People grow and change and develop…and yet they don’t, really, because some things never change.

Watching the series all in a row like I did (one episode a day) gave me a different perspective than people who spent 6 years of their lives watching the show with week-long breaks in between. There is very little repetition. Like, if you’ve seen one season of the show 24, you’ve seen every season, because the writers use the exact same devices and manipulations every season. There was only one repetitious character in all of the Sopranos (a character that was essentially the same as a different character the previous season), but beyond that, every character was unique and real, not just there for the plot.

Finally, I want to talk about the end of the show. Spoilers will follow, so be forewarned. I’ll let you scroll down a little.

sopranos_lAlthough you might argue this point, I don’t think it can be denied that the show ends on an ambiguous note. The screen cuts to black. I’ve read perfectly reasonable theories of the two things that could have happened: Tony lives, or Tony dies. If you’re a big Sopranos fan, I’m sure you’re absolutely convinced that you know the “right” answer, but let’s face it. There is no right answer.

And that’s okay. Frustrating, but okay. What really disappoints me is the creator’s glib response. Here’s what David Chase told EW after the final episode:

“I’m not saying anything. And I’m not trying to be coy. It’s just that I think that to explain it would diminish it.”

Okay, Mr. Chase–what you’re doing is being coy. That’s the definition of coy. If you are as brilliant as you think you are, then you know for sure whether or not Tony dies in that episode. So just tell us. Because what you’re saying there is that you don’t know. And that’s okay. If you wanted to end the series on an ambiguous note, that’s okay. But just tell us one way or another.

My take? Well, my take is that the sudden cut to black indicates that Tony dies, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the episode or series. The series would tell you that Tony’s life continues, that he doesn’t really change–none of his family or friends do–and that life goes on. But the sudden cut to black says that Tony comes to an end.

So all in all, I loved the show, I’m glad I watched it, and I hope someday that Chase gives us the closure we deserve. And yes, as viewers we deserve closure. Because in the end, this is entertainment, pure and simple. We pay you for your moving picture, and you tell us a story, beginning to end.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jacob permalink
    October 13, 2009 7:48 pm

    Jamey,

    Nice write up on the show. Now, hit the link below to read a brilliant analysis of the final scene, the final show, and even the entire series. Your appreciation of the show as a work of art will only grow after reading it. David Chase is a true genius, and this analysis will prove it.

    There are also less “coy” comments by Chase about the ending including some comments that all but spell out what the final scene meant. The piece is VERY long but well worth the read. There are also hundreds of comments from readers.

    Warning: after you read this, prepare to have the urge to watch the whole final season-and perhaps the whole show-again. Enjoy.

    http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/the-sopranos-definitive-explanation-of-the-end/

  2. October 13, 2009 10:05 pm

    Man…I had no idea it would be that long. It’s a fascinating analysis of that episode and the show.

    I think it’s fair to say that in-depth analyses like that wouldn’t exist if Chase came out and said, “Tony died.” But I still think he should just say it. Just say it!

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