Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"The Sopranos" series finale explained

Based on the news coverage, it seems that the very last episode of the HBO drama "The Sopranos" has part of its viewership totally infuriated, part convinced that the starring character Tony Soprano gets "whacked" off-screen, and a very very tiny part elated at their luck at having watched the most brilliant ending of a serial drama ever filmed.

Obviously it's time for a dose of sanity here. As usual, this post will require a spoiler alert to be mentioned before you read further.

Jim Emerson's scanners::blog has a good description of the final sequence. In short, Tony visits a busy diner and waits for his wife Carmella, son A.J. and daughter Meadow to arrive to dine with him. The 80's song "Don't Stop Believin'" is playing in the diner. The controversy centers on the manner in which this final sequence ends (author's strikethrough text):
Shot: Sound of an oncoming car, which passes behind Meadow. She approaches the camera and moves past it on the left.

Shot: Three-shot of the table. Carm's munching on rings. AJ's still looking at the menu. Tony's flipping through the tableside jukebox selections. Cling!

Shot: Tony looks up. Journey sings: "Don't stop--"

Your TV sound and picture go dead. Black. Silence. Adrenaline surge. Maybe it's your cable. Maybe it's your VCR. Hold for five 11 seconds. Credits roll. No music.
First of all, let me just state that anyone who thinks this was some kind of brilliant, heart-stopping, gesamtkunstwerk of a conclusion to the series is totally wrong. In reality, the meaning of this ending is simple and straightforward. The ending is a sudden abrupt termination of the story that cannot be predicted by following the storyline and rationally extrapolating ahead to a predicted ending. The immediate effect is to dispel the illusion of reality by emphasizing the artificiality of the visual medium; the director knew what you would be anticipating and did something totally different in a way to obvious to ignore. That this occurs as the final visual "statement" of the series really only implies that the show is over, it was fun while it lasted, and please stop worrying about it.

Or, to put it another way, think of this ending as a sort of visual apology to all of the non-obsessive fans of "The Sopranos". If you enjoyed the show, didn't care that all of the details matched up in every particular, and are willing to "walk away" now that the series is concluded, this was the ending for you. Is it therefore a brilliant ending? Not quite, but it was respectable.

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