Monday, June 11, 2007

Snap Judgement: The Sopranos

As I type this, HBO's web page for The Sopranos, as well as every fan message board for the series, is currently unavailable. Flooded, no doubt, with viewers trying to figure out what just happened.

Right now the registered user who got on to the Wikipedia page of The Sopranos is suggesting Tony was shot in the back of the head by one of the suspicious customers in the diner, and that the screen then went blank because the show was from Tony's perspective and thus ceased to exist at the point of his death.

I guess that could be the case -- I do recall a couple discussions Tony had about the incomprehensible suddenness of being whacked. But, really, the show wasn't completely from Tony's perspective, so this explanation seems a bit of stretch. In fact, the Wikipedia entry has already been changed to suggest a more ambiguous ending.

As evidenced by the episode tonight, a large part of what made The Sopranos so appealing was its mix of the exotic mob lifestyle that so few could relate to with the mundane domestic lifestyle which we could all identify with. At times -- especially during the two seasons leading up to this final one -- there was too much domestic focus, and the series lost its punch.

The show regained its mojo in the final nine episodes, as we were treated to the downside of the criminal enterprise: The all encompassing fear and paranoia that takes over when things, inevitably, start to go wrong.

Still, to the end, the kitchen talks and the trips to the therapist were at the heart of the show. The Sopranos wasn't the first popular mob fictionalization that brought to life the family with a lowercase f. But neither Goodfellas or The Godfather had the space of 80 hours to flush out the complexity of family ties like The Sopranos did.

Because of the length of the serial and the depth of the audience involvement in the characters (due to excellent writing and acting), The Sopranos was about as voyeuristic as a high quality work of fiction can be.

The key to series's success was you didn't feel like you were watching a movie or a TV show. Rather it was like you were spying on a familiar group of intertwined people through a peephole. Perhaps mindful of this, and therefor not feeling beholden to the traditional story arc, Sopranos' creator David Chase decided to end the show by simply, abruptly closing the peephole.

So we will never know if Tony was gunned down by the man drinking coffee, or the gangstas closing in on the table. It will always be a mystery as to whether Meadow's inability to parallel park saved her from a hail of bullets, or if it merely made her a few more minutes late for onion rings with her three closest relatives.

Just like we will never know if there is still an indestructible Russian madman terrorizing the woods of South Jersey. Or what became of Furio. Or the conclusions of any of the numerous plot lines that were introduced but, once they veered from the view of the little hole we were all allowed to stare through, were never revisited .

I'm not going to deny tonight's episode left me unfulfilled. Although I can't claim to be surprised the series ended like it did.

And I can't say David Chase and company hadn't spent the last eight years thoroughly preparing us the final moment. We will never know the fate of Tony, but we can be certain that, in the end, we all got whacked.

* Anybody who has spent time in fratty bars knows that the DJ usually plays Don't Stop Believing during the run up to last call. Was that why David Chase chose the Journey hit to usher in the end of The Sopranos? Reading way too much into things is fun.

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