Made in America (6.21)

David Chase’s saga of an American family comes to an end—of sorts…

Episode 86 – Originally aired June 10, 2007
Written by David Chase
Directed by David Chase

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The hour has come round at last. First off, let me extend a warm welcome to any new visitors to my site. (Please leave the door open behind you as you enter.) Regular and long-time visitors to this site can already guess that I won’t be presenting my ideas and interpretations of this episode as definitive. “Definitive” interpretations often feel like an attempt to “get the last word in,” like an effort to end the discussion rather than invite discussion. They close doors rather than open them. I will confess at the outset that I do have a take on the ending of this hour that is very specific, hinging upon particular interpretations of certain details. But I would never describe my take as definitive. Or even correct.

I usually don’t do a scene-by-scene rundown in my write-ups because I don’t like to get my fingerprints all over Chase’s gleaming episodes too much, but also because such itemized analysis can squash the ambiguity and wonderful mystery that David Chase has worked into his series. (And very few episodes convey the ambiguity and wonderful mystery of The Sopranos like this one does.) However, there are so many ideas and issues to explore in this hour, going scene-by-scene might be the most logical way to organize it all. Also, taking a look at each scene in turn may be a good way to give all due respect to this Emmy-winning episode in its entirety, and not just burn a hole into The Final Scene with a magnifying glass as many “Made in America” commentaries tend to do. I’ll try to point out—even more than usual—some of the myriad connections that the hour makes within itself, with previous episodes, and with things and events in the real world. I’ve long felt that appreciating its connectivity is the keystone to appreciating The Sopranos, and the thematic importance of connectivity to the series never feels more clear to me as it does when I finish watching this hour. There is a lot to get to here and this is quite a long write-up, so let’s jump in…

This season 6 Finale kicks off by making a neat parallel with the season 6 Opener. The first episode of the season ended with Tony on his back (possibly dead, possibly alive) after being shot by Corrado, and now the final episode opens with Tony again on his back, and some of us again wondering if Tony is dead or alive. There is some type of organ music playing in the background, giving the scene a ‘funeral parlor’ vibe:

2 fat tonys

We soon realize that this is not a funeral home but the bedroom of the safehouse we saw in the previous hour. And the organ melody is not mortuary music but the opening bars of Vanilla Fudge’s “You Keep Me Hanging On” playing over the radio. The song’s title literally heralds what Chase is planning to do to his audience later. Vanilla Fudge’s version of this song is sort of schizophrenic—it goes through some radical tonal changes, evoking a variety of moods and atmospheres. Chase makes clever use of the song’s multiple personalities multiple times within the episode.

The next scene features a clever use of music too. As they wait for Agent Dwight Harris near the perimeter of Teterboro Airport, Tony tells an impatient Paulie to “enjoy the music.” The song playing over the radio is “Denise” by Randy and the Rainbows, which I’m guessing is a sly nod to David Chase’s wife, Denise. Outside the car, the snow is flurrying and a gusty wind whistles through the night. Chase has often used wind expressively, perhaps even symbolically (ugh, that’s a word that gets thrown around too easily), and the wind here sets a mood of tension and unease. Tony gives Agent Harris some information (probably useless) about Bada Bing regulars Mohammad and Ahmed in hopes of getting some info about Phil Leotardo’s whereabouts in exchange. Tony mentions to Harris that his son is “making a molehill” of terrorism. We understand that T is getting the well-known phrase backwards, mangling an idiom as he often does. (It’s a funny little moment and I’ll have some fun with the malaprop later…) During their conversation, Harris gets a call from his wife and it’s clear that there is some strain in their marriage. (He had mentioned in the previous episode that working in the Counterterrorism Division was tough on family life.) The troubled state of Harris’ marriage is a minor detail, but it arguably has an outsized effect in the conflict between the NY and NJ famiglias later in the hour.

Dante Greco transports Tony around in a Steinholz Beverage van. The scene is scored with some melodramatic music: the guitars roar out dramatic chords while the cymbals crash around the keyboard melody. The tense music leads us to believe there is soon going to be some outburst of violence. But then the van calmly pulls in front of the Soprano family’s hideaway, Dante shuts off the engine and the music stops. Chase, we realize, has just used a dramatic section of “You Keep Me Hanging On” here to quickly build tension, but then just as quickly turned the music off to collapse the tension. (Or to put it idiomatically, Chase made a mountain of a molehill and then made a molehill of the mountain.) This is a signature characteristic of The Sopranos: a perpetual, see-sawing inflation and deflation of tension that is at times independent of anything that happens—or doesn’t happen—in the plot. The Sopranos mimics our experience of the real world. Tensions appear and disappear in our lives often beyond our control, sometimes with no rhyme or reason. This perpetual seesaw is a part of “the fuckin regularness of life,” as Chrissie described it back in episode 1.08.

If the seaside setting of the hideaway looks familiar, it may be because this scene was shot just a few miles down the road from the beach house we saw in episode 4.13 “Whitecaps.” Inside the hideaway, Tony peels an orange. (Oranges have been associated with mob whackings ever since the attempt on Vito Corleone in G.1.)  AJ worries how everyone will attend Bobby Bacala’s funeral when there is a gangland war going on: “We’re all on DEFCON-4.” It’s an interesting malapropism that AJ makes; in the DEFCON numbering system, “1” signals the most severe military threat while “5” signifies the least severe. AJ is trying to invoke a mountain of threat, but ends up evoking only a molehill instead.

Everyone attends Bobby’s funeral. It’s very windy again, we can hear it howling in the FBI’s video footage. We don’t directly see the funeral, only catch glimpses of the interment service at the cemetery through the FBI’s TV monitors:

fbi monitors

At Bobby’s wake, Paulie Walnuts amuses the younger generation just by being Paulie Walnuts. He tries to quote a line from a well-known Catholic chant:

Paulie: “In the midst of death, we are in life.” Or is it the other way around?
Meadow: I think it’s the other way around.
Paulie: Either version, you’re halfway up the ass.

AJ becomes frustrated by the pop-culture conversation at the table. The dark cloud we’ve seen hovering over him in the last couple of episodes hasn’t lifted yet. Still thinking about “The Second Coming,” he mentions the poem’s author “Yeets.” (“Yeats?” his uncle corrects him. Reminds me of the time in episode 2.07 “D-Girl” when the poor kid referred to Nietzsche as “Nitch.”) “America—this is still where people come to make it,” AJ reminds everyone. “It’s a beautiful idea.” But then he goes on to criticize American consumerism (particularly the role of advertising) and foreign policy (particularly Bush’s war in Iraq).

David Chase has been casting a critical eye towards the country since his college days during the Vietnam War. Chase describes The Rise and Fall of Bug Manousos, the student-film he made while at Stanford, as “about alienation. It was about a guy driven crazy by the cheesiness, sanctimoniousness, and fakery of American society. He was frustrated—he shotgunned his TV set. And what got to him were the commercials, the astronauts, and the fact that white-bread Nixonians ruled America.”

I seem to remember reading somewhere that David Chase had at one point thought of naming the entire series Made in America. But obviously, he chose the name only for the finale instead. In a 2007 interview for GQ, six months after the final episode aired, Chase explained the title:

The theme of that episode was “Made in America.” I used that title not only because Tony’s a made guy, and all these guys are made guys, but also because it was about the extreme amount of comfort Americans have, especially people with money. And specifically, it was about the war in Iraq—it was made in America, and as you saw in the show, Tony and Carmela just didn’t want their son to go, and they could afford to see that their son didn’t go. Like some of our leaders.

Chase was troubled by our American desire for comfort, luxury and security at the expense of any real engagement with the serious issues at hand. He was disturbed, in a word, by our selfishness. This was something that Chase was concerned about even when The Sopranos was in its embryonic stage. In an early interview (circa 2000) with Peter Bogdanovich (aka “Dr. Eliott Kupferberg”), Chase described the “absurd joke” that gave birth to his TV show:

The kernel of the joke, the essential joke, was that life in America had gotten so savage, selfish—basically selfish—that even a mob guy couldn’t take it anymore. That was the essential joke, and he’s in therapy because what he sees upsets him so much, what he sees every day. He and his guys were the ones who invented selfishness, they invented “Me first.” They invented “It’s all about me,” and now he can’t take it because the rest of the country has surpassed him.

There’s no “I” in “team,” but there certainly is one in “America.” Hell, there’s even a “me” in “America.” The 86 hours of The Sopranos are a longitudinal study of our “me, me, me” mindset. It doesn’t take very long for the viewer to recognize that the self-centered, self-dealing impulses of virtually all the characters that inhabit SopranoWorld are not unique to them. Selfishness is the germinal idea of Chase’s TV show because it is such a prevalent characteristic of American life.

A funeral repast is probably not the appropriate time or place to make crabby criticisms of America, but I think some of the discomfort AJ’s tablemates feel can be attributed to his words cutting a little too close to the bone. Paulie outright mocks AJ’s diatribe: “He’s saying the framis intersects with the ramistan approximately at the paternoster.” I don’t want to make too much of Paulie’s nonsensical line—but of course, I will. “Framis” was an old-time slang word for things, especially material objects; “Ramistan” sounds like it could be the name of a middle Eastern country that President Bush would invade next; and Pater Noster is the Latin term for the “Our Father,” the most recited prayer in Christendom. So: Paulie’s gibberish manages to possibly reference materialism, militarism, and religion—arguably the three things that most define the world’s perception of America. I’m sure I am reading way too much into what is probably a throwaway line, but then I also wonder: are there throwaway lines on this show?

Back at the safehouse where the NJ crew is holed up, an old episode of The Twilight Zone is playing on the TV. When we consider the monitors that the FBI agents were peering at earlier, this becomes the second time we are seeing a screen within our screen in just the past few minutes. The Sopranos has always reveled in self-reflexive moments, and we’ll be on the lookout for more screen-within-a-screen imagery as the hour progresses. The dialogue within the Twilight Zone episode also has a self-reflexive quality, which gets heightened, as Prof. Franco Ricci points out in Born Under a Bad Sign, when Tony meta-interacts with the man on the television set:

Man on TV: The television industry today is looking for talent. They’re looking for quality. They’re preoccupied with talent and quality, and the writer is a major commodity.
Tony: Well, you know the situation ain’t all bad.

Tony is talking about not having to eat vegetables while hiding in the safehouse, not about the state of the television industry. But he sounds like he could be speaking for David Chase here, giving a final thank-you to the Sopranos’ brilliant writers.

We are also introduced in this scene at the safehouse to an orange tabby. “Baciagalup,” Tony affectionately calls the friendly feline.

In New York, a double-decker bus drives down Mulberry Street as a tour guide explains that Little Italy was once a sprawling area of 40 blocks, but has now been reduced to a row of shops and cafes. Butch DeConcini walks out of Il Cortile restaurant and receives a phone call from Phil Leotardo. Butchie seems inclined to extend an olive branch to Tony Soprano, but Phil doesn’t even want to hear about it and ends the call mid-conversation. I love how this short sequence is shot. Lots of contemporary TV shows like Law & Order and The West Wing have employed the “walk-and-talk,” using it to maintain an episode’s fast pace or to emphasize how busy the characters are or to transition from one location to the next. But Chase doesn’t use the “walk-and-talk” in the conventional way here. In Chase’s hands, the device humorously underscores the shrinking of Little Italy: before he reaches the end of the short phone call, Butchie has walked himself into Chinatown. (That double-decker tour guide wasn’t kidding…)

Tony visits his sister at her home. Janice tries to convince Tony (and probably herself) that she’d be a good mother to Bobby’s kids, but we can’t help but notice her similarities to Livia (who wasn’t a very good mother). “I put Ma and all her warped shit behind me,” Janice declares. But seconds later, she angrily spits out that her son Harpo abandoned his given name to go by “Hal”—a clear parallel to Livia, who had also been angry about having a child who refused to go by her given name. (Remember “Parvati”?) The Sopranos has always suggested that impulses and attitudes pass from one generation to the next, and the idea really gets underlined in this hour.

Also noteworthy in this scene: T stands at the railing of Janice’s balcony and looks out at the neighboring houses. The camera pans across the neighborhood as Tony says, “You know, five or six years ago when Johnny Sac bought this house, this was all cornfields here.” There is a note of nostalgia in Tony’s voice. He was born and raised in north Jersey, and he has seen the green panoramas of his Garden State get razed and replaced with ugly, unchecked development. McMansions, made in America indeed.

As he leaves Janice’s house, Tony gets a call from Agent Harris who uses a post-coital moment to give T info on Phil Leotardo’s location. (Oyster Bay, most likely a gas station.) When his partially-clothed companion exits the bathroom and throws Harris an angry look, we understand that this woman may be the “colleague in Brooklyn” (as Harris mentioned in the previous episode) who is giving him the inside dope about Phil. It’s possible that if Harris wasn’t going through his marital woes, he might not be engaged in this infidelity—and Tony would never have received the fateful information. The sight of the young female FBI agent here may also launch us into another speculation. We might remember that in “Walk Like a Man” (6.17), Harris told Tony he never liked Phil because the mobster had tried to set up a rookie agent “for a rape and a beating.” I wonder now: is this the woman that Phil had targeted?

With their new intelligence in hand, Benny Fazio and Walden Belfiore stake out gas stations in Oyster Bay. Chase’s snapshots of American flags interspersed around various advertisements and logos are notable, especially when we consider them in conjunction with AJ’s earlier harangue about American consumerism:

station ads

Chase cuts now from the sight of advertisements to the sound of Bob Dylan singing about advertisements; Dylan’s classic “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” is playing over the sound-system of AJ’s truck parked out in a forested area:

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

AJ and Rhiannon enjoy the music, and then they begin to enjoy each other. But they must scramble out of the SUV when they notice smoke and flames coming into the vehicle cabin. Chase now gives us what is probably the funniest moment of the episode: AJ says, “At least my gas tank was practically empty” and then BANG, Fate chooses this precise moment to detonate the truck. But there’s more than just a little joke at AJ’s expense going on here. For those viewers that expect sensational imagery in their Series Finales, Chase now provides them an explosion. I don’t remember HBO’s teaser clips for this episode in 2007, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they included a shot of this blast of fire. The great irony of this explosion, though, is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the war going on between the New Jersey and New York famiglias. Chase supplied a similar irony in the first episode of the series. There were two explosions in the Pilot, and neither were a result of gangland violence. The first instance was a BBQ mishap in the Soprano backyard. In the second instance, Tony engineered an arson at Vesuvio restaurant in order to prevent a gangland whacking from being carried out there. Chase has defied our expectations of the mobster-genre from the first episode of his series to the last.

2 explostion 2b

truck explosion

In their excellent Sopranos podcast “In at the End,” hosts Val and Alex note that the explosion may function like a “baptism by fire” for AJ. This is a good observation, but I think we also need to know what’s going on in AJ’s head at this moment before we can decide if the explosion will have the effect of a holy ablution. And it’s not always easy to know what is going on in the young man’s head. In his essay, “Christopher, Osama and AJ: Contemporary Narcissism and Terrorism in The Sopranos,” Prof. Jason Jacobs notes that we sometimes have difficulty deciphering AJ as he watches various acts of violence and drama unfold before him. The Professor writes that AJ “stands on, passively watching, and we are invited to speculate on the nature of his involvement: Is he repulsed as we are or is he fascinated? The film style deliberately avoids defining his response for us.” We can find examples of AJ’s beguiling reactions in “All Due Respect,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Kennedy and Heidi”:

aj stare

I think we can add AJ’s reaction to the explosion of his car to this series of screenshots:

aj response

Is AJ, to borrow Professor Jacobs words, repulsed or is he fascinated by the blazing inferno before him? Either version, he’s halfway up the ass—Tony is gonna blow up when he hears what happened.

AJ tries to play the depression card back at the family hideaway, but this strategy has lost its power from overuse. Tony looms and yells, and sends a roar in Meadow’s direction for good measure. AJ tells his parents that he is ok with them not giving him a replacement car because “we have to break our dependence on foreign oil.” Carmela shakes her head, she sees right through his bullshit.

George Paglieri (a character we’ve never met before) brokers a sit-down between the two warring famiglias. The scene that follows is one of the most visually stunningly sequences of the entire series due to its heavily stylized setting. The dark garage where the sit-down takes place reminds me a bit of the Carceri [Prisons] series of etchings made by 18th-century artist Giovanni Piranesi:

dark garage

carceri

Both Piranesi’s prison and Chase’s garage share a chiaroscuro tonal palette, both have busy spaces filled with shapes and angles and perspective lines that shoot deep into the background. They both encumber their viewer with a sense of foreboding and anxiety. So it may be a little surprising when Butchie, after some negotiation, takes off his glove and shakes Tony’s hand. This dark garage turns out to be a place of peace. Of course, many viewers have a valid concern about how trustworthy Butchie is. But I think the earlier walk-and-talk sequence made it fairly clear that Butchie has good reason to be unhappy with Phil’s behavior.

In a 2007 conversation with Tom Fontana (writer-producer of St. Elsewhere, Oz, and other works), David Chase said he felt there was something “mechanistic and stupid” about how he had to keep setting up villains for Tony Soprano to deal with: first Livia, then Richie Aprile, then Ralph Cifaretto. Fontana didn’t think Chase’s self-criticism was justified, arguing that ‘Protagonist vs. Antagonist’ is a fundamental element of storytelling. I agree with Fontana, but as I’ve mentioned before, I am not crazy about Chase’s decision to use the character of Phil Leotardo to bring tension to the end of 6B when he had already used him for this same purpose in Seasons 5 and 6A. Leotardo’s thirst for Tony’s blood now felt a little too “mechanistic” to me, especially considering that he had once said “Whack a Boss? I won’t do that.” That’s why I feel a little vindicated (is that the right word?) seeing Butch turn on Phil now. Even Phil’s own underboss thinks Phil is acting out-of-character, it wasn’t just me.

Paulie brings a box of barber scissors to Satriale’s. Theories abound about the scissors. Some viewers believe the scissors are a hint that Paulie has now become a mole for New York (because the NY leadership had planned their attack against New Jersey while at a mob-affiliated beauty shop [er, “shoppe”] in the previous episode). Other viewers believe the scissors are a callback to the conversation in “Soprano Home Movies” (6.13) in which Bobby says “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens” (because in that same conversation, Bobby and Tony discuss Baccalieri Sr’s occupation as a barber).

Janice comes to the shabby state-run facility where Corrado is being housed. Chase uses a cold lighting scheme and color-design on this set which really emphasizes what a severe, inhospitable place this is. (In the previous episode, Janice told Tony that Corrado has run out of money and can no longer afford to be detained at the more pristine Wyckoff Psychiatric Center. Tony sarcastically handed her a $5 bill.) In his dementia, Corrado mistakes Janice for Livia. Then he mistakes a photo of her daughter Nica for Janice herself. When she informs him that her husband Bobby is dead, he mistakes the news with Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 assassination at the Ambassador Hotel. All these mistakes are surely meant to be seen as examples of Corrado’s mental circuits misfiring, but I suspect that Chase may be giving us something more to mull over. Corrado’s Livia/Janice and Janice/Nica confusion may be another example of how this episode calls attention to the behavioral similarities between family members of different generations. The kids are sometimes indistinguishable from the parents.

(On a side note, Bobby Kennedy’s assassin was recommended for parole just a few months ago, after two of Kennedy’s children voiced their support for the idea. How differently might history have been “made in America” had Bobby Kennedy not been killed during his campaign, and then had gone on to win the Presidency? Would our country be suffering this extreme tribalism and polarization now if someone with Kennedy’s potential to unite the nation had been elected at such a pivotal point in our past?)

In his therapist’s office, AJ says he feels “cleansed” after watching his SUV explode (giving credence to Val and Alex’s idea of baptism-by-fire). But then AJ shrugs off the therapist’s suggestion that he is cleansed of guilt because the Nissan was a polluter—no, he is just amazed to have been so close to dying but then escaping by the skin of his nuts. “My seat melted, I had been in it just a few seconds before,” he explains with a smirk. We now have a clearer answer to Prof. Jacobs question: AJ is more fascinated than repulsed by grand spectacles of drama and violence.

Paulie walks into the empty Bing where he is supposed to meet Carlo Gervasi. He looks with apprehension at the stage—Paulie seems worried that he’s going have another Marian vision. But the apparition of the Virgin Mary doesn’t appear. And neither does Carlo. Tony and Paulie ponder the possibility that Butchie double-crossed them to take out the capo, but realize it is more likely that Carlo flipped after his son was picked up for selling X.

Carmela opens the door of Meadow’s bedroom to find—surprise!—Hunter Scangarelo. Her presence here feels like David Chase wanting his daughter Michele DeCesare to get some more screentime before the series wraps up. But before we scream nepotism, perhaps we should bow our heads and give thanks to Michele because in a 2004 interview for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Chase said that The Sopranos would not exist if it hadn’t been for the birth of his daughter. He simply did not feel a desire to deeply explore family dynamics before that.

Carmela takes a sly jab at Hunter’s troubled past, but when Hunter reveals she is in her 2nd year of medical school, Carm loses all countenance. She is unable to respond to Hunter’s good news with even the simplest nicety. She brusquely says some words to Meadow and shuts the door behind her without even a further glance toward Hunter. I had originally felt that Carmela’s petty behavior was due to some combination of resentment and disappointment that Meadow had decided not to go to medical school while Meadow’s fuck-up friend is now well on her way to becoming a doctor. But now I tend to agree with Prof. Martha Nochimson who writes in The Essential Sopranos Reader that Carmela reacts coldly because she sees Hunter Scangarelo to be a “living reproach.” Hunter has changed her life in a way that Carmela has never been able to. It’s not surprising that Carmela would be so thrown off-balance to learn that Hunter underwent such a positive change; real reform rarely occurs in SopranoWorld. Through Hunter’s reappearance, Chase indicates that growth is indeed possible in this world.

It’s easy to pick on Carmela, and I’ve been critical myself of her on these pages. But I also feel Carmela deserves a lot of credit for how she has tried to support and protect her kids. This feeling is strengthened for me when I see Chase cut from Carmela to the image of another mob wife, Donna Parisi:

Donna Parisi seems sweet, almost childlike, as she mangles one of the oldest jokes around. (“A horse goes to a vet…”) Donna may be a great mother and a wonderful person, but she wasn’t able to keep her son Jason from turning into a low-level goombah, on track to become a fully-fledged Mafioso one day. Despite Carmela’s many faults and hypocrisies, her true love and concern for her son—probably more than anything else—may have steered him clear of a life of crime. 

Of course, Donna has another son who does have more professional prospects. Patrick Parisi makes a good impression on Tony and Carmela as they socialize in the living room. Many viewers nevertheless find it troubling that Meadow has gotten engaged to someone with such deep Mafia ties. They seem convinced that this mob daughter and mob son are destined to become mob lawyers and produce little mob babies. But I don’t believe Meadow is making the decision to go to law school with any idea of becoming a mob attorney or some sort of honorarius consigliere, unofficial counselor, to her dad (or to any mobster). Law seems to be her calling. We saw how invested she became in some of the clients at the Law Center where she volunteered in Season 4. We remember that she later interned at a law firm. And she has always stayed abreast of political and social justice issues. (Yes, it is true that Patrick’s firm—which has expressed interest in hiring Meadow in the future—is currently defending a potentially corrupt councilman in a case replete with “bagmen and whores.” But it’s too early right now to predict exactly what type of a lawyer Meadow will be or who she will work for.) We should also not find anything alarming or sinister about Meadow’s engagement to the son of a mobster. Endogamy—the practice of marrying within one’s subgroup—is common throughout all parts of the world, including the United States. Meadow and Patrick’s relationship gets a head start, in a sense, when neither one of them has to explain to the other the quirks of their particular subculture: Sunday dinna’ and see-through socks and how their parents are so financially comfortable despite neither mom nor dad working a 9-to-5. I grew up among Indian-Americans for whom endogamy has been commonplace. I guess many of my friends and relatives found something comfortable in not having to constantly point out which of the dishes are not too spicy, or explain why our dads sometimes wear what looks like a skirt. (It’s called a “mundu” and it’s very masculine, thank you very much.) Let’s give Meadow a break, I think she has earned it.

When Paulie returns to Satriale’s, he finds the cat—strangely—sitting on the edge of a table and staring at a photo of Christopher. Hmm, very curious behavior:

schrodinger's cat1

There’s a theory floating around that the cat is a kind of reincarnation of Adriana. Maybe there is something to this: we all remember how much Ade loved wearing leopard- and tiger-print clothes. And then there was that time she mimicked a cat in Season One’s “A Hit is a Hit”: 

I’m not at all suggesting that Chase was foreshadowing (ugh, another word that gets thrown around way too much) back in Season 1 that Ade would turn into a cat in Season 6. When Chase makes connections between seasons, I think he usually does it by reaching backwards to make a link, not by planting some little tidbit that he plans to latch on to years into the future. In any case, I don’t personally find the theory that the cat is a physical reincarnation of Adriana (or of Christopher, or of anyone else) very compelling. I do believe the presence of the cat on the table here is quite significant, but I’ll come back to this later…

We now get a quick scene of Little Paulie pretending to be a cop as he searches for Phil Leotardo at a gas station. Notice he is wearing a heavy-duty neck brace; the last time we saw Little Paulie, three episodes ago, he was flung out of a third-floor window by Chrissie.

AJ tells his dad that he wants to join the Army (in what turns out to be the most weirdly prescient scene of the episode). He is sure that he’ll be sent to Afghanistan, not Iraq. (Hmm, we still hadn’t figured out how much of a clusterfuck Afghanistan would be for us.) After military service, AJ figures he may get a job as a helicopter pilot for Donald Trump. (Oh jeez.) I think AJ’s plans are very much influenced by what he has seen on television. He has always gotten his sense of reality from TV. In “Johnny Cakes” (6.08), he tried to learn proper knife-wielding technique from a movie before heading to Corrado’s detention center to get revenge on the old man. After this attempt at payback went awry, AJ justified his plan by citing a scene from another movie: Michael Corleone’s bloody vengeance in The Godfather. Now, we see that AJ is thinking about joining the Army after watching a PBS documentary about American soldiers in the previous episode. And of all the post-military careers to aspire to, he probably thinks of “pilot for Trump” because of those scenes in The Apprentice (which had been airing for three years at this point) in which Donald gets chauffeured around in his personal helicopter.

There’s a question to be asked about AJ’s plans for himself: has he given genuinely serious thought to joining the military, or is he just making a rash and immature attempt to prove his manhood to himself and those around him? As is the case for so many questions raised in The Sopranos, the best answer may come in “both/and” form, not necessarily in “either/or” form: I’d guess AJ is both giving real consideration to signing up and hoping that his parents will swoop in and save him from making a military commitment.

Perhaps Tony and Carmela addressed this question in the office of AJ’s therapist, but by the time the viewer is joined into the session, already in progress, Tony has become interested in using the therapist as a stand-in for his own departed therapist. (We might remember Tony similarly used Hesh Rabkin as a proxy for Dr. Melfi in Season Two’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” after the first time Melfi banished him from her care.) Tony continues to unload his issues on to his son’s doctor until a pointed look from Carmela shuts him up.

Tony and Meadow have a meal together at a restaurant. (We don’t see Meadow eating with her family at hour’s end but we do witness her share a meal with her dad now.) Tony is pushing her to choose medical school over law school. She makes a strong—though somewhat manipulative—argument defending her choice: she talks about the power of the state to trample rights and about all the times she saw Tony get dragged away by the FBI. Meadow was born to be a lawyer; she wields words in a way that undercuts or deflects all of Tony’s criticisms here. The cherry on top of her argument is her mention of not wanting to be a “boring suburban doctor.” Meadow knows of her dad’s extracurricular and extramarital activities; she knows he is a man who has always sought relief from having a boring suburban life. Tony is left powerless to continue making his case, it would be like the pot calling the kettle black.

Patti and Phil Leotardo pull into a Raceway gas station. The song playing over their Ford Expedition’s radio is (you guessed it) “You Keep Me Hanging On.” Phil baby-talks to his grandkids as he gets out of the car: “Wave ‘bye bye Grandpa. Bye bye Pop-Pop.'” And then we get POP, POP—Walden Belfiore steps into the frame and pops two bullets into Phil.

There has been an escalating violence associated with cars in recent episodes. (Remember the Somalian’s whose bike was run over as he was getting pummeled, and the motorcyclist that was run over in front of the Bing during an attack from the New York mob?) Now, Phil gets run over by his own car. Chase mercifully doesn’t show us what happens to Phil’s head, but the crunching sound and the reactions of the bystanders make it clear what occurs. Chase sometimes plays to the crowd, he likes to throw a bone to his hits-and-tits viewers. But ironically, the sequences that often get the madding crowd the most excited don’t actually contain a whole lot of graphic blood and gore. The Sopranos never descends into becoming one of those cheap, trashy pieces of entertainment that have been around in America in one form or another since at least the 1920s. Chase only likes some pulp in his fiction.

some pulp1I like the one that says some pulp

As Walden and Benny Fazio make their getaway after hitting Phil, we get a shot of the crime scene containing seven (seven!) American flags. All the flag-imagery we see in this hour is surely playing to the episode title in one way or another, and I think the imagery here may comment upon our American bloodlust. There is arguably no developed nation in the world that has a thirst for blood (not to mention gasoline) as we do.

I’ve previously mentioned Mario Vargas Llosa’s writings on “the Civilization of the Spectacle” in which he excoriates the dumbing-down effects of mass culture. We live in an entertainment ecosystem that places the highest value on titillation and stimulation. And nothing stimulates the masses like spectacle. Of course, spectacle assumes spectators. As Phil’s brainpan gets crushed, Chase turns his camera onto the nearby spectators in order to make, I think, a wry criticism of those fans that crave the spectacle of violence above everything else. As we watch the man who seems to have hip dysplasia shout “Oh shit!” and the young man in a student uniform turn his head and vomit, we recognize that the gratuitous cravings of voyeurs have ugly consequences on bystander viewers as well.

The youngster’s projectile vomiting is not the first time we’ve seen someone puke this season. The juxtaposition of the youngster in this scene to the characters in next one may jog our memory of the first time this season we did see someone vomit:

vomit cut

Chase cuts from the youngster to a scene with Agents Dwight Harris and Ron Goddard. The very first line of Season 6, we might remember, was Agent Goddard quoting H.L. Mencken: “No one ever went broke underestimating the tastes of the American public.” And then Harris, as if on cue, promptly threw up. Harris was suffering from a stomach bug, but his barfing almost felt like an acknowledgment by Chase of the grosser aspects of public taste. The young man’s barfing now is a similar acknowledgment. Chase surely knows that the public’s taste descends to its lowest levels in its expectations of the gangster-genre. According to a 2007 Vanity Fair article, “An American Family,” Chase believed FOX Network rejected his pitch for the series because they felt his show would not be violent enough to draw fans. Luckily, HBO gave Chase all the latitude and resources he needed to walk the line between high art and low, between poetry and entertainment.

When Goddard informs Harris that “Phil Leotardo got popped,” Harris can’t conceal his excitement, yelling out “Damn, we’re gonna win this thing!” (Chase told Alan Sepinwall of The Star Ledger that this line came directly from the real-life story of former FBI Agent Lindley DeVecchio who got a bit too enthusiastic at the death of Lorenzo “Lamps” Lampasi during the Colombo wars of the ’70s. And was later charged with the crime of providing info to the mafia.) Dwight Harris always seemed a bit more “human” and empathetic than the other agents, and it’s very human to have tribal loyalties. Dwight’s outburst here may be wholly unprofessional, but I’m glad Chase allowed him this final hurrah.

This episode strongly reiterates the idea that kids often take after their parents, and the most obvious example of this must be when AJ walks down the staircase in his bathrobe, as we’ve seen his father do countless times:

AJ almost looks like “the second coming” of Tony Soprano here. He also sounds like his dad in this scene; as he argues with his mother, he exclaims “Always with the drama,” something we heard Tony say to his own mother in the second episode of the series. Carmela and Tony now essentially bribe their son not to enlist in the military by getting him a job in film production. (I think we can find a kind of reverse circumstance between the two “fortunate sons” Christopher and AJ here. Chrissie had hoped that Development Girl Amy Safir would help him expand his life outside of New Jersey, while AJ’s parents turn him into a sort of D-Boy in order to keep him inside of New Jersey.) Little Carmine has agreed to produce the movie Anti-Virus, based on a script received from Danny Baldwin. Sounds like B-movie fare, but it may make some money—after all, Little Carmine had nine pictures under his subspecies before Cleaver. Carm flinches at the thought that her son will be working for a porno company, but hey, it’s better than him going into the Army (at least during a time of war).

I want to add a note about the final line of dialogue in this scene, when Tony tells AJ, “Run that past Rahoony, see what she says.” (Even though he similarly mistook a character named Rahimah as “Rahoomy” back in Season 4, it’s still a little surprising to me that someone who loves classic rock as much as T would mispronounce the name “Rhiannon.”) Tony mispronounces proper nouns often, and the greatest example of this may have been in episode 6.11 “Cold Stones” when he handed Carmela a “Louis Vitoon” wallet. (“Captain Teebs” early in the series might give “Vitoon” a run for its money though). I love the confidence with which Tony makes these mistakes. His aplomb and lack of self-consciousness has always added to his charm, and it’s another reason why we keep rooting for Tony Soprano despite knowing we shouldn’t.

In the backroom of the Bada Bing, attorney Neil Mink breaks the news that Carlo is probably testifying. Mink rattles off the potential charges against his mob-boss client: illegal weapon, interstate trafficking, homicide. Tony momentarily loses his composure. (I probably would too, faced with a witness that’s cooperating and a ketchup bottle that’s not…) Though we don’t know Mink all that well, it somehow feels very typical of him that he keeps getting distracted from the serious conversation at hand by the images of half-naked women on the security monitors of the strip joint. Chase exits this scene with a match-cut from a monitor at the Bing to a monitor in Silvio’s hospital room:

2 monitors

Silvio is hooked up to a ventilator via tracheostomy. His prospects are extremely grim. Tony wordlessly lays his hand on Silvio’s arm, a warm gesture that mirrors the gesture Sil made when the situation was reversed, when Tony was the one lying unconscious on a ventilator in “Mayham” (6.03).

As I listen to the rhythmic hiss of Silvio’s ventilator now, in the Fall of 2021, this scene hits different from ever before. If Silvio needed an ICU bed at this moment, in some parts of the country there might not be one available for him. Watching Silvio Dante’s final onscreen moments, I remember that before Steve Van Zandt played the right-hand man of “The Boss” Tony Soprano, he was the right-hand man of “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen. Maybe it is the title of this hour, “Made in America,” that is causing the chorus of Springsteen’s classic “The Promised Land” to ring through my head as I watch this scene:

The dogs on Main Street howl ’cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land

Springsteen wrote the lyrics to the song while on a road trip with Van Zandt through Nevada and Utah, and the song is infused with the sense of freedom and hope that those wide-open spaces of the American West manifest. They started their road trip on August 16, 1977—the same day Elvis Presley died. The death of this great American artist—a personal hero of Springsteen’s—seems to have given a poignant, sorrowful undertone to the lyrics. Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi, early in the Pilot episode, have a conversation whose subject and tone—very similar to the song—evoke the freedom and hope that is implicit in the American Dream, but at the same time express an anxiety that the dream has died:

Tony: It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that, I know. But lately I’m gettin’ the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.
Melfi: Many Americans, I think, feel that way.

Many of us have a feeling, now more than ever, that the very idea of America may be—like Silvio—on its last legs. It’s on life support. Democracy seems to be heading towards a cliff. Maybe we’ll soon balkanize into separate territories, citing irreconcilable differences. We’re not even able to present a united front against a fricking virus. Many of our various problems have certainly been “made in America,” but it is not clear if we still have the national willpower to craft the solutions. Despite it all, though, I still believe in the promised land.

Tony joins Paulie on the sidewalk in front of Satriale’s. An effective manager of men, Tony knows just what to say to get ol’ Gaultieri to agree to take over Carlo’s crew. The two men discuss the cat’s inexplicable behavior as well as the vision of the Madonna that Paulie once had at the Bing, but I’m going to leave further exploration of these topics to until after we get to the cut-to-black.

AJ leaves the new job his parents got for him and careens off to meet Rhiannon in the new car his parents also got for him. He brags to someone over the phone that the BMW gets 23 miles per gallon—not a great number to begin with, but there is absolutely no way he is getting that kind of mpg with such a heavy foot. This is more evidence of AJ’s bogus environmentalism. We may remember that he once explained he didn’t wrap the Matrix DVD he got for his mom because it would be “wasteful to the environment,” but we all knew he was just being lazy. It was in 6.02 “Join the Club” that AJ told his sis he wanted a Prius hybrid, but later revealed to his dad (unconscious at the time) that what he really wants is a gas-guzzling Mustang or BMW M3. (He wanted an M3 and, lo and behold, now he’s got one.) The fact that it was leaves on a forest floor that ignited the fire that blew up his SUV earlier in the hour almost felt like karma at work—Mother Nature giving a big F.U. to the phony environmentalist. But AJ, tooling around in his 330-horsepower coupe now, is saying fuck you right back to Her. 

In front of the TV back at home, AJ and Rhiannon watch George Bush and “Bush’s brain” Karl Rove convulse from some horrific muscle spasms (or maybe they’re just dancing?). Tony is in the backyard raking some leaves. This is the last time that we will be seeing him at Casa Soprano. At a 2014 screening of the Finale shown at the Museum of the Moving Image, David Chase said that the image of Tony leaning on the rake and looking at the sun is “maybe the most important shot” of the episode because “that to me is the key to the whole concept. And that ties back to the ducks and the bear and life on the planet and him taking peyote and seeing the sun come up. And it’s not all negative at all.”

It is difficult to know exactly what Chase was referring to when he said “the whole concept,” but I believe he may have been talking about the idea of connectivity. This quick little scene is filled with connections to earlier moments. We can hear the sound of ducks somewhere in the distance. (Ducks again.) We can see the early evening sunlight filtering through the trees. (Trees again.) There is a rustle behind Tony, but it is not a black bear or an assassin; it is only Carmela coming to say Holsten’s is the consensus for dinner.

Tony pays a visit to the institution where Corrado is. The gameshow “Joker’s Wild” is playing on a TV in the background. (The host tells a contestant, “Your spin, Ron”—the final time of the series that Chase will directly send me a hidden message hahaha.) Tony has come to inquire about Corrado’s finances, but the man is in a confused state. He believes that his accountant who visited earlier is “from another galaxy.” Corrado’s mental deterioration is plainly evident, and it’s a little heartbreaking to see. Tony manages to swallow some of his anger and tries to reminisce with his uncle about “this thing of ours.” I think there is a point about Corrado’s patronymic name that can be made here. Named after his father, Corrado is called “Uncle Junior” by his loved ones. There have been various “Juniors” throughout the series who weren’t quite as strong or smart as their senior namesakes. Jackie Jr, Anthony Jr, and Carmine Jr (aka Little Carmine) are all examples. It’s almost like there is some element in the blood that gets thinned out from one generation to the next in SopranoWorld. We never learned very much about Corrado Senior, but we can see now that the most powerful Junior in north Jersey—the one and only Uncle Jun—has become reduced to a befuddled old man.

It’s too late for any real reconciliation between Tony and his uncle—Corrado is beyond reach. As he gets up to leave, we see a signboard behind Tony that reads “Next meal: Supper.” Chase’s next edit does indeed cut to the location of the most discussed, debated and deconstructed Supper in television history.

Little Feat’s “All That You Dream” is playing at Holsten’s when Tony arrives. (He is wearing a shirt that is similar—but not the same—as the one he wore when he was shot by Corrado in episode 6.01. Make of that what you will.) We hear the bell on the door ring as Tony walks in. The restaurant is all warm tones, in contrast to the cold palettes that colored several locations in this hour. It is perhaps fitting that the final scene of a series about the NJ mob would take place in a diner, the quintessential type of New Jersey eatery. (Even though “diners” were not invented in Jersey, they proliferated throughout the state because they provided cheap, fast fare to New Jersey’s large population of working-class folks.) Tony takes a seat, slips some coins into the jukebox and the familiar piano-intro of “Don’t Stop Believin'” starts playing. Though it’s difficult now to imagine the scene scored to any other song, Steve Perry gave the greenlight to David Chase to use the track only three days before the episode aired. According to the press-and-media site PR-inside.com, “Perry is a huge Sopranos fan and feared his 1981 rock anthem would be remembered as the soundtrack to the death of James Gandolfini’s character Tony Soprano—until David Chase assured him that wouldn’t be the case.” 

The Holsten’s scene is very conscientiously edited with the music in mind. (I think I read somewhere that when Chase was younger, he would turn down the volume on his TV set and turn up the volume on his record player just to see what kind of interesting emotional effects would occur in the overlay between the music and the television images.) We get a shot of Carmela as Steve Perry sings “Just a small-town girl.” The camera lingers on Tony as we hear “Just a city boy.” My favorite interplay between screen-imagery and lyric may be when a couple sitting in the corner immediately laugh after the line, “Working hard to get my fill,” almost as though they caught the pun (i.e., “working hard to get my Phil”). As the song rises toward its crescendo, the emotional temperature of the sequence also rises. It dawns upon the viewer that this is The Final Scene.

The scene has an abundance of connections and call-backs to earlier moments from the series. AJ says to “focus on the good times,” calling back Tony’s words at a restaurant table in 1.13. Meadow struggles to park her car, a callback to her announcement in 2.02 that she got her driver’s license despite having trouble with parallel parking. One of the patrons is wearing a USA hat, which feels like an underscore of the episode title. The sight of two black men entering the diner reminds us of the two African-Americans who were hired to kill Tony in Season 1…

It was the sight of these two black patrons that pulled me, more than any other element, to the edge of my seat. In an essay I had sent to the Miami Herald for their Sopranos Finale Prediction Contest, I wrote that if there was any karmic justice in SopranoWorld, then Tony and the rest of his crew would be wiped out by a group of unidentified black males. At the same time, I didn’t believe that there would be any karmic justice. In the Herald article that came out just before the finale, they quoted a line from my essay: “The universe of The Sopranos doesn’t seem to be one in which justice reigns—it is one in which karma has no purchase.” (Obviously I had a tendency for pretentious language even back then.)

Chase keeps cross-cutting to a suspicious-looking man in a Members Only jacket at the counter. Tony seems to momentarily make note of the man as he gets up to walk to the bathroom, and some of us may be thinking of the scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone emerges from a bathroom to wipe out his enemies. The music is beginning to soar now, and so are our pulse rates.

Chase gives us, cryptically, three medium-closeups of each family member putting an onion ring into their mouth. It almost feels like a secular version of the Catholic ritual; instead of the sanctified bread of the Eucharist, the Sopranos are partaking of breaded-and-fried onions. The Sacred and the Propane, er, Profane:

onion rings

The imagery calls back the closeup of Carmela receiving Communion in “College” (1.05). There was a mix of the sacred and the profane in that scene too, as Carm and Fr. Phil put aside their boners for each other in order to take part in the holy rite:

The ritual has its roots in the Biblical account of the Last Supper. Many Sopranos viewers, quite reasonably, see the closeups at Holsten’s as a tip-off from David Chase that the Sopranos are now having their “last supper” together as a family. Chase has been connecting Food, Faith & Firearms throughout the series, beginning in the first hour. (We may remember that in the Pilot, Father Intintola was with Carm when she grabbed a rifle from a cabinet in her dining room, of all places.) If a gunman does now show up in the Holsten’s dining room, moments after the three closeups, it would fit right into the Food, Faith & Firearms template.

Of course, that’s not the only way to read the three closeups. The episode title is a dead giveaway that Chase is very concerned in this hour with what it means to be American, and there is something very “American” about wolfing down fatty food as though it were a sacramental act. Consumption may be our true religion. Didn’t our Founding Fathers say something about an inalienable right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Deep-fried Vegetables?

Meadow hurries across the street toward the restaurant. (At the end of the Season 3 finale, she ran away from her family but now she runs to them.) Weirdly, a Ford Expedition that looks a lot like Phil Leotardo’s vehicle passes behind her.

The bell on the door rings, Tony looks up, and the screen cuts-to-black.

Even Quasimodo couldn’t have predicted this.

The ending of “Made in America” is so wrought and beautiful and emotional and complex but elegantly simple too that we’re still talking about it well over a decade later. Although the final sequence came off the grill years ago, it keeps cooking because, you know, the juices…

the juices

Like everyone else that night, I thought my cable went out until I saw the credits start to roll about 10 seconds later. (Chase wanted to sustain the black screen for longer by nixing the credits altogether, but the Directors Guild objected.) There was immediately lots of chatter about what the sudden ending meant. Some viewers were convinced that they saw Meadow enter the diner right before the cut-to-black, fueling rumors that there were two different endings broadcast in different parts of the country. (This is not true—we were simply conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to expect to see someone enter the diner each time the bell rang.)

Some viewers believed that it was futile to try to make sense of the ending because David Chase was signifying that life itself is senseless. This was the view expressed by Father Andrew Greeley (possibly the best-selling Catholic priest-slash-novelist in the history of publishing). In “An Ending With No Meaning,” the article Greeley wrote the day after the finale aired, he says…

The intellectuals should have been ready for David Chase’s “post-modern” joke. What did the series mean? It meant that there was no meaning at all. Like all stories, The Sopranos had no meaning because life has no meaning. “Post-modern” literary theory holds that an ending to a story is a “fallacy.” An ending tries to impose a meaning on a story, either an optimistic ending that says there was a purpose in all these pains and sufferings or a tragic ending which provides a “catharsis.” Post-modernism (which can mean everything and nothing) insists that life is neither comedy nor tragedy but a meaningless series of events that stops eventually for everyone in the story when they die… Life is absurd.

The priest—who describes himself as a “pre-modernist”—takes some cracks at what he perceives to be David Chase’s nihilistic postmodern sensibility. Also frustrated in David Chase was “Fly on Melfi’s Wall,” the thoughtful administrator of the online Sopranos forum “The Chase Lounge” and who is the author of the cerebral and popular essay, “Tony’s Vicarious Patricide.” (“Fly” expressed her disappointment on her personal website which seems to no longer be up, so I don’t know what her current feelings are…) I have some sympathy for those who felt angry, not because I share their viewpoint in any way but because I can understand how disappointing it would be to invest so much time and emotion into a series only to feel in the end that Chase cheated his way out of a proper resolution. I think some of their bitterness may also stem from David Chase’s public persona. He can seem brooding at times, and his clever sense of irony and sardonic wit can lead some fans to think he’s trying to mindfuck us. We’ve all seen his “I’m-smarter-than-you” smirk:

smarter-than-you smirk-- hes earned that smirk

But in actuality, the vast majority of Chase’s comments about the finale have not been overly ironic or clever. When commenting about “Made in America,” he has often been heartfelt, sometimes to the point of cheesiness. I think there is a moment in the final scene that signals just how heartfelt Chase’s intentions were:

AJ: Focus on the good times.
Tony: Don’t be sarcastic.
AJ: Isn’t that what you said one time? Try and remember the times that were good?
Tony: I did?
AJ: Yeah.
Tony: Well, it’s true I guess.

In the past, we have seen David Chase anticipate some of the criticisms his show is going to get and rebut those criticisms right within the teleplay of an episode, and I believe he may be doing it again with this exchange between father and son. David Chase, like AJ, is not being cynical but sincere in the final scene. In any case, I don’t think most viewers agree with Father Greeley anyway—they don’t see the final scene as lacking any meaning but rather as having a very specific meaning, maybe even multiple meanings. There are many different theories across the Sopranos’ fan-universe about what Chase was getting at with the cut-to-black, and one of the most prominent comes from the Master of Sopranos: Definitive Explanation of The End blog. Master-of-Sopranos makes a good, multi-pronged argument that Tony is killed by the man in the diner wearing the Members Only jacket (hereafter called “Members-Only-guy”). The cut-to-black, the argument goes, expresses Tony’s moment of death. Bobby Bacala’s line in “Soprano Home Movies” that “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens” coupled with Silvio’s statement in “Stage 5″ that he “didn’t know what happened until after the shot was fired” (regarding the whacking of Gerry Torciano) form the bedrock of the argument that Tony doesn’t hear the shot that kills him, and we viewers don’t understand what happened until afterwards. I have some reservation treating Bobby Bacala—who is not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer—as some sort of prophetic oracle upon whom our understanding of the most controversial finale in TV history depends, but fine, okay; I guess we gotta take what Chase gives us. The part of Master-of-Sopranos’ thesis that I find more persuasive is the argument that Chase establishes an editing pattern which points to Tony’s death. Every time the Holsten’s doorbell jingles, Tony looks up and then we viewers see the person that is entering, almost as though we are seeing the person from Tony’s point-of-view. The first time this occurs, a brunette woman enters:

doorbell pov

This pattern repeats four more times, and then in the final moments of the scene, the bell rings once more, Tony looks up once more, but then the screen goes black—signifying that we have entered Tony’s POV once more and are seeing the black death that he has just experienced.

This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that Chase uses point-of-view camera shots a number of times earlier in the episode. There are multiple times when Tony looks at an area, we are shown the area almost through Tony’s point-of-view, and then we see him immediately in that area. The most obvious—and almost jarring—example occurs right at the beginning of the Holsten’s scene:

Tony Pov into his own space

Tony enters the diner, we see an empty booth from his POV, and then Tony is immediately sitting in the booth. But David Chase’s intention in using this particular editing pattern, as told to TV critics Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall (The Sopranos Sessions), goes beyond Master-of-Sopranos’ interpretation of the edits. Chase explains that “what I was trying to say was that we put ourselves in these positions. We put ourselves in these scenes. Nothing happens by accident. We are the engineers of our destiny.” (Chase also mentions that this editing technique was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey which blew him away the first time he saw it—partly because he was high on mescaline.)

In a 2019 piece published by the Directors Guild of America, Chase gave a fairly thorough explanation of some of his shooting, editing and staging decisions for the final scene. But he didn’t go too much into what it all means. And he explicitly refused to talk about whether the cut-to-black represents Tony’s POV. He spoke like a filmmaker, not a philosopher, and it’s one of my favorite interviews of him ever.

Chase, to this day, has never explicitly answered The Question about Tony’s ultimate fate. Sixteen years running, Chase has yet to violate his own personal oath of omerta. He has, however, made many statements that provide some insights. Here is a sampling, but full disclosure—I chose these particular quotes because they set the stage for my own interpretation of the cut-to-black:

  • Five years after the Finale, Chase said: “To me the question is not whether Tony lived or died, and that’s all that people wanted to know…There was something else I was saying that was more important than whether Tony Soprano lived or died. About the fragility of all of it. The whole show had been about time in a way, and the time allotted on this Earth…. He was not happy. He was getting everything he wanted, that guy, but he wasn’t happy. All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is.”
  • Seven years after the Finale, Vox.com published an article by Prof. Martha Nochimson in which she claimed David Chase told her that Tony Soprano did not die. Chase denied saying this to her and released a statement in response: “Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point. To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.” When pressed in a later interview exactly what this spiritual question is, Chase replied, “Is that all there is?” In the same interview, Chase also said, “So, is he dead or is he alive? Paulie says in the beginning of the episode, ‘In the midst of life, we are in death. Or is it: in the midst of death, we are in life?’ I don’t know what else to say.”
  • Chase reiterated Paulie’s bit of dialogue at a talk at the Museum of the Moving Image: “I’m not trying to be coy about this. I really am not. It’s not like we’re trying to guess, ‘Ooh, is he alive or dead?’ It’s really not the point—it’s not the point for me. How do I explain this? Actually, here’s what Paulie Walnuts says in the beginning of that episode. He says, ‘In the midst of life, we are in death. Or is it: in the midst of death, we are in life? Either way, you’re up the ass.'”
  • At this same Museum talk, Chase pulled a piece of paper from his coat pocket with a Carlos Castaneda quote scribbled on it: “Warriors don’t venture into the unknown out of greed. Greed works only in the world of ordinary affairs. To venture into that terrifying loneliness of the unknown, one must have something greater than greed: love.” Chase said this Castaneda passage summed up his feelings about the Sopranos ending.
  • Talking to the press just before the release of his feature film Not Fade Away, Chase was pushed again to speak about the final scene. “If he didn’t die that night, he’s going to die very soon. And the problem is the same: There are the number of minutes in life and they go like this,” Chase said as he made a ticking sound. “They’re gone. And you don’t know when it’s coming. That’s all I wanted to say.”

THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR
I could fill this page with the various statements that Chase has made over the years, but there is a 500-pound gorilla in the room (as Tony would say) that needs to be addressed: How much importance should we give to David Chase’s own words about his show? In 1967, literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes published a highly influential essay, “The Death of the Author,” in which he argued that the essential meaning of a work of art is determined by the audience of the work, not by the author. If we accord the author’s intent any importance, Barthes claimed, we give the author a kind of tyranny over the material. To kill the author, then, is to liberate the author’s text. The death of the author is necessary for the birth of the reader, free to understand and interpret the text as they see fit.

Ironically, David Chase himself may have given us a glimpse of his own feelings about the “death of the author” concept through a Season 6 episode of Northern Exposure titled “The Graduate.” (Chase was Executive Producer of Northern Exposure during its fifth and sixth seasons.) In that hour, the character Chris Stevens must defend his Master’s thesis on Ernest Thayer’s classic poem “Casey at the Bat” to two professors, one who is a traditionalist (who believes an author’s intent should be taken into consideration), and the other a postmodern-deconstructionist (who wouldn’t mind tossing the author’s intentions, whatever they may be, right out the window). Stressed out that he won’t earn his Master’s Degree unless he pleases both professors, Chris has a dream that reflects his dilemma. The cheeky, irreverent dream finds Chris fighting alongside several eminent artists and authors in a military battle. The dream ends with a surprise twist which may provide us with a useful blueprint as we construct our own interpretations:

Chris Stevens crawls through smoke and gunfire to confront his enemy, only to discover that the enemy is himself. So: Chris is both the defender of this platoon of artists and simultaneously responsible for the deaths of these artists. I think this is a good metaphor for my own attitude towards the “death of the author.” I tend to be pretty interested in knowing what an artist’s intent is, because I think it is difficult to make a proper assessment of a work without having any idea what the intentions behind it were. But at the same time, I don’t want to glorify the artist’s intent like it’s the Holy Word of God or something. I want to keep the power in the hands of the people.

As persuasive as Master-of-Sopranos’ argument is, it doesn’t really—excuse the pun—ring my bell. It doesn’t speak to me deep down in my soul. I find it too schematic, too disconnected from some of the larger patterns within the series, and—more fatally—too disconnected from the larger themes of the series. By the time I came across the Master-of-Sopranos blog, years after the Finale, I had long constructed an interpretation that, to me, seemed more in keeping with the overarching spirit of The Sopranos…

My first thought after seeing the Finale that night of June 10, 2007, was that it was a perfect and brilliant expression of the ambiguity that resides at the heart of the series. It made perfect sense to me that the final scene would launch us from a state of extreme suspense to a state of permanent suspension. Scrolling through HBO’s Sopranos forum later that night, I saw that someone had mentioned that the orange tabby that suddenly shows up in the final episode represented “Schrodinger’s Cat.” I was familiar with Erwin Schrodinger’s thought-experiment and was intrigued, but I felt it was a reach absent any other evidence. But then the next day, possibly on the same forum, I saw another post recalling that in episode 6.04 “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh,” the scientist that Tony had met in the hospital, John Schwinn, had made an outright reference to Erwin Schrodinger.

The cut-to-black suddenly got a whole lot more interesting to me.

I’m not a physics wonk by any means (and I’ll probably get emails and comments pointing out my ineptitude), but I’ll do the best I can to explain the thought-experiment devised by Erwin Schrodinger in 1935. Imagine that a cat gets placed inside a covered box along with radioactive material that emits a tiny particle as it radioactively decays. The particle triggers a hammer which smashes a vial of poisonous gas which then kills the cat. But here’s the rub. Particles at the microscopic quantum level behave like waves, or more accurately, like waves of probability. (Schrodinger’s Equation, which Schwinn mentioned in episode 6.04, describes the behavior of these probability waves.) So, inside the box, there is a probability that the particle will be emitted and the cat dies, but also a probability that the particle won’t be emitted in which case the cat survives. In the overlap—the “superposition”—of these two probabilities, the cat can be thought of as being both alive and dead at the same time.

Superposition may seem like a strange concept, but it is a well understood phenomenon that applies to soundwaves, ocean waves, and waves of probability as well. It’s easier to understand once we visually see it. Waves pass through each other, and the area in which they overlap is the superposition:

Werner Heisenberg, one of the early experts on quantum mechanics and the author of the famous Uncertainly Principle (and whose name is familiar to fans of Breaking Bad), interpreted Schrodinger’s Equation and related phenomena in a way that Erwin Schrodinger found questionable. Schrodinger put forth his “Schrodinger’s Cat” thought-experiment to show how absurd Heisenberg’s interpretation was; it is, obviously, absurd to say that a cat can be simultaneously dead and alive. However, the question of how to interpret quantum phenomena is still up for debate, and further mathematics and experiments over the last several decades have shown that Werner Heisenberg was actually on the right track. Many, if not most, theoretical physicists today think that the cat, given the right circumstances, can be considered to be both dead and alive within the state of superposition.

Of course, I don’t think David Chase would expect us to have a deep understanding of quantum mechanics (if he was indeed evoking Schrodinger’s Cat in the series finale). But Chase has made some eye-opening statements that seem to reference quantum physics (and a chunk of this write-up will be exploring these ideas), so it could be useful to watch the following video which gives a better explanation than I ever could of Schrodinger’s Cat and its implications:

I’m sure to many of us this makes about us much sense as the framus intersecting with the ramistan at the paternoster. But these are not fringe ideas. Both Schrodinger and Heisenberg were Nobel Laureates in Physics. The key sentence in the video for us to focus on for our purposes here is: “Until a particle is measured and observed, it actually exists in all the states it could possibly be in.” The act of observation, then, “collapses” the superposition—thus collapsing all possibilities into the one reality that we view. In a sense, the viewer determines reality. My argument is helped by the fact that in the video, the act of observation is represented by a movie camera. David Chase, in effect, turns his movie camera off with that cut-to-black so that Tony Soprano, in essence, continues to exist in all the different states that he could be in. Chase doesn’t remove the lid, so to speak, from the box. Binary options—such as dead/alive, or paranoid/relaxed, or soon-to-be indicted/soon-to-be not indicted—no longer exist as binaries in regards to Tony Soprano. He is, within the fictional “box” of SopranoWorld, both dead and alive. Tony’s existence within the fiction is not necessarily an “either/or” proposition anymore. By removing our ability to observe, David Chase preserves all the possibilities. Tony becomes forever suspended in a state of narrative indeterminacy. We are left with a sort of “Schrodinger’s Capo.”

schrodinger's capo

This idea of preserved possibilities keeps in line with a statement that David Chase made to director and long-time collaborator Alan Taylor. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Taylor says that Chase told him that “the idea behind mapping out the final scene is that every possibility is alive in that room.” And in November of 2008, Chase told Entertainment Weekly, “There’s more than one way of looking at the ending. That’s all I’ll say.”

The concept of a cat that is both alive and dead simultaneously also neatly echoes Paulie’s line at Bobby’s funeral early in this episode, a line that David Chase has made direct references to on multiple occasions when asked about “Made in America”:

“‘In the midst of death, we are in life.’ Or is it the other way around?”

cat in a box

When I rewatched “Made in America” one or two days after the original airing, something about Walden Belfiore’s description of his aunt’s cat caught my attention. As the orange tabby sits at the edge of the table at Satriale’s, Walden says, “They’re funny that way. I had an aunt, her cat would only sit at the exact corners of the table staring out, or at the intersection of two walls staring in.” I realized that Walden’s choice of words seemed to be describing a kind of imaginary box of space. “Corners of the table” evokes the base of a box-like volume. And the “intersection of two walls” describes the joint where two vertical planes of a box meet. Manipulating the image a little bit, we get a better sense of what I’m trying to say:

cat table2

Coincidentally, someone placed a statue of a cat at Erwin Schrodinger’s home in Zurich in homage to his famous thought-experiment, and this cat is located, in an echo of Walden’s words, “at the intersection of two walls”:

Schrodinger cat house walls

Chase brings a cat (of sorts) into the final scene via the mural on the backwall of Holsten’s. The mural seems to be honoring the Bloomfield Bengals whose mascot, not surprisingly, is a Bengal tiger.

holsten's mural

According to various reports, the mural was brought in solely for the final scene which suggests that Chase had some specific reason to install it there. (I don’t remember seeing the mural when I visited Holsten’s three weeks after the finale—but I was in town visiting my brother, and I went to the diner to enjoy an egg cream and those notorious onion rings, not to gather forensic evidence for future analysis.) Chase may be providing us a particular insight with that mural, but if he is, he hides his tracks well. If I’m getting my NJ geography correct, Bloomfield High School (which uses “Bengals” as their nickname, and at one time had a facade that looked very similar to the building in the mural) is located about two miles away from Holsten’s—in which case it would be quite natural that the diner would have this mural hanging on its backwall. It becomes difficult to determine whether the “clue” that I’m thinking of is actually there.

bengal cat

“Schrodinger’s Cat” is not simply some arcane theoretical construct dreamed up by quantum physicists with too much time on their hands. The weirdness that is at the heart of the thought-experiment reflects the weirdness found in real-world quantum experiments. Scientists have found that actual physical particles behave one way when they’re being observed and another way when they’re not. The “Double-slit” experiment, shown in the following video, might make us question whether reality is even real. Luckily, Morgan Freeman’s familiar voice might be able to provide us some comfort:

The particles behave like discrete, separate particles when there is an observer present, but like waves when there is no observer. (Just as in the earlier “Schrodinger’s Cat” video, the “observer” in this video is represented by a movie camera.) Morgan Freeman tells us that the Double-slit experiment “suggests that we can change the way reality behaves just by looking at it.” Reality, in a sense, hinges upon whether there is a viewer there to observe it. Reality is viewer-dependent. (It’s almost like the old Buddhist koan: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it really make a sound?) What Sopranos fans may find really interesting about this quantum mystery—I got a bit of a jolt when I first found out—is that it was at Bell Labs in New Jersey where this experiment was first successfully carried out. Bell Labs, we may remember, was where John Schwinn had mentioned he worked. Although the Double-slit experiment had been carried out using light particles (photons) in the early 1800s, it was not proven until 1927 at Bell Labs that all particles—not just photons—exhibit properties of both particle and wave. A plaque commemorates the momentous discovery:

bell labs

It is this “wave-like behavior of elementary particles” mentioned in the plaque that Schrodinger’s thought-experiment is all about; the overlapping probability waves of the radioactive particle put the cat in a live-dead state. As explained in the “Schrodinger’s Cat” video above, one of the implications of the paradoxical behavior of these quantum particles is that it logically leads to the Many Worlds hypothesis, the idea that our Universe branches off into a new universe every time there is a superposition of probabilities. (The hypothesis fits the mathematics logically, though it is impossible to prove.) According to the Many Worlds idea, an almost infinite number of alternate universes with alternate realities are being formed at every moment. In one reality, Noah Tannenbaum might have actually punched Tony’s lights out instead of just threatening to do it. And then that reality might branch off into one in which Tony gives Noah a pass, and into another one where Tony and Chris toss Noah into Patterson Falls. Each Noah would only know of the reality that he was in. Reality is viewer-dependent. I bring this up because David Chase may possibly have an awareness of the Many Worlds hypothesis, and might even have slipped references to it in The Sopranos…

As reported in an article for Vox.com, Chase told Prof. Martha Nochimson that, “I’m not a religious person at all, but I’m very convinced that this is not it. That there’s something else. What it is, I don’t know. Other universes. Other alternate realities.” In the same article, Nochimson shares a statement Chase sent her via email: “Nature is part of Our Universe and Our Universe is part of Nature and there could well be more universes or mirror universes.” To critics Matt Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, Chase described the extended coma-dream in which Tony is superimposed (superpositioned?) with Kevin Finnerty as “not a dream, but I guess you could actually say an alternate universe.” And he also described it to them as an “alternate-reality state.” We may remember that when Tony struggled to convey his experience with peyote to Dr. Melfi in “The Second Coming” (6.19), she suggested that perhaps he saw “alternate universes.” Tony initially laughed off her suggestion, but when he realized that she wasn’t being sarcastic, he responded, “Maybe.” I do not know, of course, whether Chase is some sort of quantum physics junkie. Maybe he reads physics magazines as a hobby, the way some people play with model trains. Regardless of his familiarity with these concepts, David Chase ended up constructing SopranoWorld to be something like the quantum world, a place in which the truth about reality is, in some sense, viewer-dependent.

Take, for example, a statement that Tony made in “The Second Coming” to Dr Melfi: “I’m a good guy, basically.” Is this a true statement? The truth that Tony finds in that statement may be different from the truth that Melfi finds in it which may be different from the truth you or I may find in it. The statement is both true and false. Ultimately, the scientific formulas and empirical data behind quantum theory and “Schrodinger’s Cat” are not important for my purposes in this write-up. What matters is not the mathematics but the metaphor. The metaphoric power of “Schrodinger’s Cat” resides in how it describes the world as uncertain and full of ambiguity.

Chase has been making the case for ambiguity from the very first moment of his series. The beguiling opening image of The Sopranos has inspired many different interpretations over the years:

pilot opening shot

Bill Wyman over at Salon.com believed the image conveyed how Tony feels constricted by the various women he must contend with. Prof Martha Nochimson argued that this quiet, still-life image juxtaposed against the noisy and dynamic opening-credits sequence underscored the tensions in Tony’s life: balance vs. imbalance, symmetry vs. asymmetry. For Lorraine Bracco, the statue says as much about Dr. Melfi as it does about Tony Soprano. My take on the image was that it immediately established the diminished power of The Mobster, unlike the establishing-shots that had previously opened most works in the gangster genre. So, the reality contained in this opening image depends on who it is that is viewing the image.

Uncertainty seems to be David Chase’s North Star, it has guided all aspects of his series. We find uncertainty in several open-ended storylines. (Whatever happened to the Russian in the Pine Barrens? Did Ralphie kill Pie-O-My?) It is difficult to take an irrefutable position about many of the characters. (Is Carmela a good person? Did Livia have a psychological disorder, or was she just an asshole?) We may be on the fence about some of the choices characters made. (Should Dr. Melfi have utilized Tony for revenge against her rapist?) We are left unsure about motivations. (Why did Tony kill Christopher—was the murder purely transactional, i.e., a bid for more security? Or was it more emotional, i.e., the result of long-simmering grudges? Or was it mostly subconscious, i.e., Chris paid the price for Tony’s repressed anger towards his father?) An episode title from Season One proclaimed outright the impossibility of having absolute knowledge: “Nobody Knows Anything.” In Season 6, Tony was dogged by some of the most difficult-to-answer questions anyone ever has to confront: “Who am I? Where am I going?”

TV critic Emily Nussbaum writing for New York Magazine days before the Finale aired confessed she had no idea what to expect in the final episode, because “The Sopranos is a show founded in plot twists never untwisted and a certain amount of maddening, excellent stasis.” I don’t think there has ever been a TV show that has basked so joyfully as this one in “plot twists never untwisted.” Poet and critic Geoffrey O’Brien, writing in the New York Review about a month after the Finale aired, also described the ambiguity that is in the bone marrow of Chase’s show:

We were left always on the brink of a resolution—whether of plot, or character analysis, or ultimate significance—that never quite arrived. Instead there were suggestive ellipses and asymmetries… Chase pursued, in each episode, the pleasure of a different sort of ending, that of hanging unresolved in a state of rapt frustration, enjoying the patterns as they warily stopped short of coalescing: a paradise of disequilibrium.

Ben Macintyre, in “The Sopranos: every inch a Shakespearean drama,” written one week after the Finale, found the ambiguity in the series to be its distinguishing characteristic:

The Sopranos marked the moment when pop-culture television entertainment became high culture. It showed that the narrative strength of television can be harnessed to the central dilemmas of existence… Every scene came laced with ambiguity, between the characters, within the characters, and between Tony and an audience that found humanity in his sins. This is what distinguishes literature, which poses difficult questions without necessarily providing answers, from soap opera.

It’s not just difficult questions that Chase doesn’t always provide answers to. Sometimes even trivial questions never get answered. The unknown man who comes down the stairs and then goes back up the stairs at Livia’s remembrance remains unknown. We never learn what the “Easter baskets” that Chris referred to in Season 3 were all about. (Tony himself says, “I don’t even know what that is. And to tell you the truth, I don’t wanna know.”) In Season 5, Silvio and Tony have a wordless exchange about a song that’s playing at the Crazy Horse:

They seem to have had a prior conversation about the song, but I don’t think the viewer was ever privy to that conversation. Not everything is divulged to the viewer. Some of the events that occur in SopranoWorld occur outside of the viewer’s gaze.

David Chase had been finding ways to express the theme of ambiguity years before The Sopranos premiered. Brett Martin, in his book Difficult Men, describes the ambiguity that closes Off the Minnesota Strip, the 1980 made-for-TV movie which earned David Chase his first Emmy for screenwriting: “Off the Minnesota Strip ends as untidily as can be, with Micki and a boyfriend lighting out for the Sunset Strip and stopping just short, the question of what they’re looking for and whether they’ll get it left dangling and unanswered.” (The movie—co-starring Hal Holbrook [aka “John Schwinn”]—can be found on YouTube. I would recommend it to any fan of David Chase, not so much for the insight it may provide into the The Sopranos but just because it’s a great motherjumpin’ movie, Jan.)

Many popular films and TV shows have made references to Schrodinger’s Cat over the years: ABC’s Castle, multiple episodes of The Big Bang Theory, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. The most obvious example, surely, must be “Perfect Circles,” the Season 3 opener of HBO’s popular drama Six Feet Under. The entire 10-minute opening sequence of that episode is structured around Schrodinger’s thought-experiment and is stocked with allusions to Heisenberg, the Many Worlds theory and alternative universes. The character of Nate Fisher is having some sort of near-death experience, or maybe an anesthesia-fueled dream, as he undergoes a risky surgery. Nate is essentially Schrodinger’s Cat, and he can only know his ultimate fate when he opens the “box” (in the form of a casket):

Six Feet Under was overt in its handling of Schrodinger’s thought-experiment, but David Chase is far more subtle with it. (So subtle, in fact, that we can’t even be sure it’s there.) It is interesting that this scene from Six Feet Under ends with a fade-to-white. Some Sopranos fans have noted that when Tony exits his coma and regains consciousness in “Mayham” (6.03), Chase signals the event with a fade-to-white. Since the fade-to-white represents Tony’s reemergence into life, they argue, then the cut-to-black must represent Tony’s death. There is some good logic to this argument, no question. But it’s also true that Chase’s “symbols” often don’t have the fixed, absolute meanings that we might want them to have. The colors “black” and “white” don’t carry their traditional symbolic meanings on The Sopranos, as Chase made clear to us in Season 3. In “Proshai, Livushka” (3.02), Meadow helped AJ analyze a Robert Frost poem for an English assignment. “I thought black was death,” AJ said. “White too,” Meadow responded. Even ‘black’ and ‘white’ don’t have fixed, black-and-white meanings on Chase’s show. The Sopranos is too ambiguous for that.

AMBIGUITY AND ITS DISCONTENTS
I first became familiar with Schrodinger’s thought-experiment while reading Ursula Le Guin’s fictional short story “Schrodinger’s Cat” back in college. In the story, a narrator and a talking dog named Rover put a cat in a box and physically perform the experiment. When they pull the lid off the box, they find that the cat has disappeared. They are uncertain about the fate of the cat. Moments later, the roof of the house that they are in gets lifted off, almost as though they themselves are the subjects of the same type of experiment. Le Guin, it seems to me, is making the point that the uncertainty that exists within the experiment can keep expanding outward into ever-larger “boxes” until finally the entire universe itself can be understood to exist in a state of uncertainty. In the final lines of the story, the narrator says, “I shall miss the cat. I wonder if he found what it was we lost.”

So what is it that we have “lost”? I believe Le Guin’s narrator is lamenting the loss of the comfort and security that we had back in simpler, more certain times. In our current age, neither governments nor religions nor any other institutions are able to provide us with very gratifying answers. Everything is in question and everything is up for debate. Even the ground we walk on, at its most fundamental level, is shaky and uncertain according to quantum theory. For some people, living in this tangle of ambiguities and uncertainties can lead to a kind of nihilism in which nothing means anything and nothing matters. Livia Soprano, the matriarch of SopranoWorld, seemed to have this mindset. Nothing had any value or meaning for her. She had no close connections to anyone—not to friends, family or her co-residents at Green Grove. Livia’s dark attitude was most clearly articulated in “D-Girl” (2.07) in a lecture to AJ from her hospital bed:

“Why does everything have to have a purpose? The world is a jungle. And if you want my advice, Anthony, don’t expect happiness. You won’t get it. People let you down…In the end, you die in your own arms…It’s all a big nothing. What makes you think you’re so special?”

Nihilist Livia in D-Girl

Livia’s severe “It’s all a Big Nothing” philosophy cast its shadow over all of SopranoWorld. Tony, Janice and AJ were the most direct and unfortunate inheritors of Livia’s deep pessimism, but over the course of 86 hours, we saw countless characters be afflicted by dysfunction, disconnection, and social and familial fragmentation. Professor of Philosophy Al Gini, in his essay “Bada-Being and Nothingness,” touches upon the work of anthropologist Ernest Becker in his analysis of Livia and other Sopranos characters. Ernest Becker believed that people are constantly looking for ways to avoid confronting our relative insignificance, and that even civilization itself has been constructed by humankind as a sort of “defense mechanism” against our awareness of our own mortality. Prof Gini writes that “like Livia Soprano, Becker believes we all view life as ‘a big nothing’…Like the ‘lost boys’ of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Tony’s band of boys, with more stugots than savvy, pursue a lifestyle that, while destructive and dysfunctional, distracts them from the dread of dwelling on their own personal sense of insignificance and eventual demise.”

Or, as AJ put it in “D-Girl”: “Death just shows the ultimate absurdity of life.”

It is certainly possible to view the final cut-to-black in “Made in America” as one last exclamation by Chase on the absurdity of it all—a full-screen manifestation of Livia’s “Big Nothing.” But—as I’ve argued throughout this website—I don’t believe that David Chase shares Livia’s nihilistic pessimism, nor that his TV show is ultimately an expression of it. Au contraire, I believe Chase uses his TV show to make a strong argument against such ugly nihilism, and the primary way he does this is through his use of connectivity. There is little doubt that Chase places a high degree of importance on the connections within the series. As reported by the Los Angeles Times in a Feb 2004 article, “The Family Hour Returns,” Chase would go to France at the end of each season to work on ideas for the following season, and then… 

“…I come back from France with a chart of every character over 13 episodes,” he says. “What happens here, what happens there, how do things intermesh. Then I show the chart to the writers and ask, ‘What are we going to do that really interests us?’ Separate stories sometimes emerge, and the chart sometimes becomes just connective tissue.”

If I may quote from my “D-Girl” write-up: “In our own lives, connective tissue is what binds us to our loved ones, our gods, work, community—all of those things that give our lives dimension and meaning. When such tissue dissolves, we become alienated and alone—like Livia. On The Sopranos, connective tissue takes many forms. It may be a repeated word or name or imagery. It could be the reappearance of a character or storyline. It might be similarities in certain camera angles or in the staging of scenes. Sometimes music is reused. The series does not only connect back to itself, it is also uses reference and allusion to connect to books, films, paintings, popular culture, urban legends, history, myths. Such connectivity gives SopranoWorld a certain ‘thickness,’ a sense of dimension, from which verisimilitude and meaning can naturally arise…

“Chase exploits the medium of television to achieve a high level of connectivity. Since The Sopranos is about 86 hours long and spread out over 8 years, there is ample opportunity for connections to be made. Every television series is made up of moving images, music, dialogue, locations, architecture and costumes, but not every series exploits these elements as The Sopranos does in order to make connections.”

EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING
The Sopranos, all the way down to its basic structure, is composed of an intricate lattice-work. Over time, the show becomes a tapestry of inter-connectedness. But it is not only through the structure and construction of The Sopranos that Chase shines a light on the idea of connectivity. He seems to use certain characters for this purpose as well. Near the end of Season 1, when Tony was feeling troubled about his relationship with his cold-hearted mother (she was trying to get Corrado to whack him), Tony had hallucinations of a young woman who possessed all the warm, matronly qualities that own his mother lacked. We may remember that Isabella said she was a dental student “interested in tumors of the gum and the soft tissue of the mouth.”

Isabella- soft tissue

Tony’s fantasy-mother was studying how to heal and repair connective soft tissue—similar to how Chase builds “connective tissue”—while Tony’s real mother can’t help but sever and destroy all the connections and connective tissue in her life.

But the character, even more than Isabella, that represents connectivity is John Schwinn, the scientist who made his one and only appearance in episode 6.04 “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” (an episode title, coincidentally, that literally refers to connective soft tissue). Schwinn appeared just after Tony emerged from a coma in which he found himself overlapped with an alternative version of himself named Kevin Finnerty. (He was both Tony and not-Tony simultaneously.) In contrast to Livia Soprano’s conception of a meaningless universe—the Big Nothing—in which no one is truly connected to anything else and everyone dies alone, Schwinn envisions a universe in which “nothing is separate, everything is connected.” (“Everything is everything,” the rapper Da Lux chimes in.) In a neat parallel, Livia had pronounced her grim philosophy to AJ from a hospital bed, and it is again from inside a hospital that John Schwinn shares the doctrine which could serve as a potential antidote to Livia’s poisonous ideas:

I won’t rehash my entire 6.04 write-up here, but the salient point is that Schwinn sees everything—the boxers on the TV, you, me, the wind, everything—as all part of a giant “soup of molecules.” Any separation we see between objects is part of a perceptual paradigm that we have constructed in our own minds. “The shapes we see exist only in our own consciousness,” Schwinn says. In other words, the reality we experience is viewer-dependent. Moments after Tony mentions that Schwinn worked at Bell Labs, Schwinn instructs the people in the room to “think of the two boxers as ocean waves…” (It was indeed at Bell Labs, as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, that a pair of scientists demonstrated that the underlying elements that make up all physical objects—two boxers, for example—do in fact behave as waves.)

Speaking about “Made in America” from his home in France just days after it aired, David Chase famously told The Star-Ledger, “Anybody who wants to watch it, it’s all there.” This quote has been embraced by every Tom, Dick and Harry that has a particular theory about the ending that they want to promote. Including me. I think Chase’s quote can take on a deeper meaning if we view it in light of Schwinn’s philosophy. Livia saw the universe as a dark and meaningless abyss—ultimately, there is nothing there. But Schwinn envisions a universe teeming with combinations and re-combinations of particles into myriad and infinite connections—it’s all there.

In “Fleshy Part of the Thigh,” the Christian fundamentalism of Pastor Bob brought John Schwinn’s generous and all-encompassing view of the universe into sharper relief by way of contrast. Pastor Bob had a belief-system that was divisive, binary and exclusionary. He even believed that anyone who accepted the theory of Evolution was destined to go to Hell. “Evolution and salvation are mutually exclusive,” he announced to Tony.

Pastor Bob - Sopranos Autopsy

When we first met Pastor Bob, he seemed like a kind and attentive minister. But as the hour progressed, Bob got a little creepier. And he came off kind of simple-minded too, like when he proclaimed that humans and dinosaurs lived together at one time. (“What, like The Flintstones?” Tony asked with a smirk.) John Schwinn, on the other hand, became more of a sympathetic character as the hour advanced. David Chase, it seems to me, has more sympathy for the gray ambiguities of Schwinn’s all-inclusive philosophy than the black-and-white, “either/or” fundamentalism of Pastor Bob.

In “Fleshy Part,” Paulie Gaultieri and Tony Soprano almost seemed like the goombah counterparts, respectively, of Pastor Bob and John Schwinn. Paulie has always been a man of simplistic rules (“As of the wedding day, anything that touches her pussy is off-limits”) and easy certainties (like his calculation that all his mortal and venial sins can be paid off with a 6000-year stint in Purgatory). In 6.04, Paulie’s simple and unambiguous view of the world was fractured by the bombshell revelation that his mom is not actually his mother—and he could barely cope with it. Tony, fortified by John Schwinn’s broad and expansive view of things, tried to get Paulie to look at the bigger picture, to look past his current crisis. But Tony was not very successful. Some Autopsy readers may have noticed that over the seasons, I’ve been cataloging this basic difference in attitude between Paulie and Tony. Paulie has a conception of the world in which everything is rigid and meaningful and proceeds in an orderly way, but when something comes along that throws a wrench into this orderly vision, he flips the fuck out. Tony, in contrast, has the ability to take a broader, less self-absorbed view—but the loss of any rigid truths that he can live by sometimes leaves Tony teetering on the edge of nihilism. I’ll quickly recap some examples in order to show how this difference between the two men culminates now in “Made in America.”

In episode 2.09 “From Where to Eternity,” Chrissie emerges from his coma with a message from his deceased victim Mikey Palmice: “Tell Tony and Paulie: ‘Three o’ clock.'” Tony dismisses the whole thing as a dream, but Paulie becomes convinced the “message” is that he is going to Hell. Paulie had calculated that six millennia in Purgatory would be enough to pay off his sins, but now he’s having doubts. He visits a psychic in an attempt to reassemble his fractured worldview. He complains to his priest and then stares at a Jesus-statue, looking for guidance. (The statue remains silent.) Tony tries to get Paulie to step back, look at the bigger picture, not be so fixated on his own point-of-view. T makes a reference to Hinduism, trying to get Paulie to understand that his belief-system may not be the only truth out there. But this broad-mindedness brings Tony to the suspicion that there may not be any truth out there at all:

Tony:  You eat steak?
Paulie:  What the fuck you talkin’ about?
Tony:  If you were in India, you would go to hell for that.
Paulie:  I’m not in India. What do I give a fuck?
Tony:  That’s what I’m trying to tell you. None of this shit means a goddamn thing.

tony v paulie 2.09

In “Fleshy Part,” Paulie and Tony once again act as foils to one another. Paulie becomes extremely self-absorbed and bitter after learning the truth about his parentage from his aunt/mother. He practically disowns the woman that raised him. Tony, surely bolstered by both the Ojibwe quote that someone posted in his room—“Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky”—and by Schwinn’s concept of a universe in which everything is connected, tries to get Paulie to see the bigger picture:

tony v paulie 6.04

The difference between Tony’s and Paulie’s worldviews are starkly illustrated by the “visions” they each see on the Bada Bing stage. In 4.09, Tony becomes transfixed for a moment by the overhead spotlight shining down on “nothing.” He has just cleaned himself up after the dismemberment and disposal of Ralph Cifaretto who he murdered in anger for the killing of Tracee and (possibly) of Pie-O-My. Tracee once graced this stage, but—as the spotlight underscores—she is no longer around. Her life—like all lives, it may seem to Tony—is just “a Big Nothing.” Paulie, in contrast, has a vision of a Big Something on the Bing stage: the Virgin Mary. In 6.09, Paulie’s orderly vision of the world is coming completely undone: he is expecting a cancer diagnosis; the local priest is demanding an unreasonable fee for St. Elzear’s festival; Bobby Bacala is giving him agita after a mishap on one of the rides; and he has a confrontation with his adoptive mother after running into her at the street-fair. At a time when he is in desperate need of guidance, he sees the Blessed Mother. Whether the vision is an actual supernatural occurrence or just a hallucination in his own head, it helps to re-center him. After the vision, he goes to Green Grove and reconciles with his kind-hearted mother Nucci.

tony v paulie 2 stages

Now, in “Made in America,” Paulie tells Tony about this otherworldly vision he had at the Bing. But Tony mocks him: “Why didn’t you say something? Fuck strippers—we could’ve had a shrine…” Their differing attitude towards the cat and its behavior also comes up. Paulie admits that he would be willing to drown the cat, convinced that it has supernatural reasons for staring at the photograph of Christopher, while Tony figures the animal’s behavior is simply due to the photo’s “abstract shapes or somethin’.” Tony dismisses Paulie’s superstitions, though he does confess he had a run of good luck at the casino after Christopher died. Paulie is a man committed to his beliefs; Tony barely has any beliefs, unless it puts money in his pocket:

tony v paulie finale

It is quite fitting that Paulie would despise the cat if the cat is indeed of the Schrodinger variety. All of the concepts that Schrodinger’s Cat represents—ambiguity, abstraction, doubt, uncertainty—are concepts that Paulie recoils from. I don’t want to get too precious and intricate with all of this, but I’ll throw an idea out there anyway… If we look at that earlier image of the cat sitting on the table and staring at the photo of Chris, we notice that Paulie and Walden Belfiore are literally—but also perhaps metaphorically—on opposite sides of the table. The two men have very different attitudes toward the cat. Walden compares the animal to his aunt’s cat (possibly activating the Schrodinger’s Cat metaphor through his description) while Paulie grabs a broom to shoo the feline away. (He starts sweeping the floor instead when Tony walks in.) And then moments later, Walden and Paulie again find themselves on opposite sides of the cat as Paulie questions the young man about his uncommon name.

paulie vs walden

“I was named after Mr. Bobby Darin. ‘Walden Robert Cassotto,'” he shoots back. It’s a perfectly sensible explanation for the name, maybe there is nothing more to be said about it. But it’s such an uncommon name for a goombah, it makes me wonder if Chase is making a subtle allusion to the book Walden, the most famous work of the Transcendentalist thinker Henry David Thoreau. There had been a connection (admittedly tenuous) to Transcendentalism previously in the series: “The Second Coming,” the poem which had such an enormous presence in the last few episodes (and was also alluded to by AJ early in this hour), was first published in the Transcendentalist journal The Dial. (And we know that David Chase has at least some familiarity with Transcendentalism; in the Northern Exposure video clip above, one of the regiments is named “the 45th Transcendental” and counts Thoreau as one of its soldiers.) Walden Belfiore always seemed a little different from the other guys to me. When Tony tried to share his mind-altering experience with peyote to the fellas in the episode “The Second Coming,” Walden seemed to be the only one who had had any similar experience. In the current episode, it is Walden that activates the mind-altering metaphor of Schrodinger’s Cat; it is through the Transcendentally-named Walden that “Made in America” fully “transcends” the limitations of the gangster-genre to reach a profoundly philosophical plane.

YOU, ME AND THE TREE
I think I’m going down a rabbit hole here trying to find a direct link between Transcendentalism and The Sopranos. But that doesn’t mean that there is no link. The Transcendentalists were influenced by Eastern belief-systems like Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, Henry David Thoreau helped translate the Lotus Sutra—one of the most venerated scriptures in Buddhism—into English. (The first English-language publication of the Sutra was in The Dial, the journal that first published Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”) Buddhism occupies an important space in The Sopranos, and I believe it directly informs the cut-to-black.

In 2019, in prep for a trek in the Himalayan mountains, I started reading Peter Matthiessen’s classic travelogue The Snow Leopard. Matthiessen—a practicing Buddhist—wrote the book partly as a rumination on Buddhist ideas and partly as a journal of his months-long expedition in 1973 to the Crystal Monastery in the Dolpa region of the Himalayas. I wondered if David Chase had been influenced by this work when he decided to situate the monks that appear in episodes 6.02 and 6.03 at the “Crystal Monastery.” I became pretty convinced this was the case when I flipped to a footnote on page 321 of Matthiessen’s book and found this Ojibwe quote: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky.” I discovered later from an interview included in The Sopranos Sessions that Chase did indeed get the Ojibwe proverb from The Snow Leopard. In this same interview (Session #6), Chase gives a Buddhistic interpretation of the bell that sounds throughout the final scene at Holsten’s, connecting it to the bell we heard in “Soprano Home Movies” at the beginning of the season: “Well, you know, the bell was introduced at the lake. And what is the purpose of a bell? In the Buddhist religion, the bell calls you back to being here now.” Chase had made a similar statement years earlier at a talk at the Museum for the Moving Image: “I had read that very often in Zen ceremonies they ring a bell like that, and what it’s supposed to do is bring you to the present, to keep bringing you to the now—the right now.” (It was at this same Museum talk that Chase pulled out the piece of paper, as I mentioned earlier, with a Carlos Castaneda quote on it to read to the audience. Interestingly, the paragraph in The Snow Leopard which contains the footnote to the Ojibwe proverb also makes a reference to Carlos Castaneda’s most famous book, The Teachings of Don Juan.)

Many of us had recognized the Pavlovian effect of the bell at Holsten’s, and perhaps even read the bell as a sly reference to Bell Labs (Schwinn’s place of employment) or “The Three Bells” (The Browns’ song heard in earlier episodes). [The first verse—or first “bell”—of the song, heard in episode 6.04, was about Little Jimmy Brown’s birth. The second verse, heard in 6.05, was about Little Jimmy’s marriage. The third verse, about Jimmy’s death, is never heard on The Sopranos—but this third of “the three bells” is alluded to by the Holsten’s bell, according to one theory.] Chase’s words about the bell now allow us to also think of it as a spiritual object that delivers a core Buddhist concept into the final scene. The idea of being fully in “the right now” is a central tenet of Buddhism. Time is a river but only the present moment is ever accessible to us; therefore it is of the utmost importance for us to be present in the fullness of the current moment. The last time we hear the bell in Holsten’s is just before the cut-to-black. Of course, we can interpret that cut as representing the moment of Tony’s death. But this seems like such an impoverished reading of it to me in comparison to the richness of the Buddhistic interpretation. The cut-to-black, like a Buddhist’s bell, snaps us into a clear awareness of the moment and the totality encompassed within it. The immense history of the past leads up to that moment—as it does to every moment. All the potentialities of the future are contained in that moment—as it is in every moment. It’s all there, right in that moment. As it is in every moment. Most of us spend probably 99% of our waking hours too distracted to ever fully inhabit any of the moments that we pass through. We’re just too busy or too tired or too whatever. But we all snapped to attention when Chase cut to the black screen, didn’t we? Perhaps Chase’s intention was to remind us to appreciate each moment because it can all be ripped away from us at any time. But maybe he was also telling us that when we connect—truly, fully and consciously connect—with the present moment, then we are connecting, both forwards and backwards, with eternity itself.

As I’ve argued in earlier write-ups, I believe Chase uses Buddhism in the same way he uses John Schwinn’s physics: as an antidote to Livia’s venomous nihilism. (I’m not going to re-litigate those earlier arguments but I’ll touch upon the pertinent points.) In “Mayham” (6.03), Tony aka Kevin Finnerty makes a trip to the Crystal Monastery where a young monk expresses his sense of synthesis and assimilation with all that is around him: “One day we will all die, and then we will be the same as that tree. No ‘me,’ no ‘you.'” The monk’s dialogue prefigures John Schwinn’s words in the following episode, when the scientist explains that there is actually no separation between all that exists in the universe, everything is simply a “soup of molecules.” Everything is “all part of the same quantum field.” The monk’s Buddhism and Schwinn’s physics each convey a sense of integrated connectivity with the world, undercutting Livia’s view that “it’s all a Big Nothing.” I find it very interesting that the Buddhist word for ‘scripture’—sutra—literally means “thread.” Our English word “suture” (meaning ‘stitch’ or ‘to stitch’) comes from sutra. Connectivity is so central to Buddhism that even its scriptures and prayers can be thought of as “threads” that connect all things. There are almost too many troubling elements to name in SopranoWorld that have the effect of a solvent, disintegrating important connections and bonds: violence, extortion, betrayal, greed, carelessness, consumerism, cruelty… Chase introduces Buddhism into SopranoWorld, I believe, to show a possible way to suture the gaping psychological wounds made by disconnection and nihilistic thinking.

Buddhism levels the differences between all things in its attempt to bring everything into a state of harmony. There is no real distinction, as the young monk suggested, between you, me or a tree. Dualistic thinking, on the other hand, emphasizes differences. Dualism defines each thing or option by its contrast to an opposing thing or option. A goal of Buddhist practice is to negate such dualism. In one of the most influential books in bringing Buddhist thought to Westerners, An Introduction to Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki writes that…

The proper answer to the question of what remains of life when everything is denied is ‘a slap in the face.’ Being slapped is real enough—it remains. What is denied is the idea of being slapped, the labelling of experience, the attempt to reduce the experience to an abstraction. The negation of dualism, then, is really an affirmation of experience.

Dualistic thinking requires there to be names and labels that define each thing separately from every other thing. Buddhist thought, on the other hand, claims that such labelling denies us from having a true experience of reality. Two episodes after Tony got slapped by the Buddhist monk, he came across Pastor Bob. Pastor Bob was extremely dualistic in his thinking, believing that one can either accept Evolution to be true or one can achieve Salvation; one cannot do both. Based on some of his political and religious statements, it’s a safe bet to say that Bob places much of the universe in a series of oppositions: God or Satan, Heaven or Hell, Good or Evil, Saved or Damned etc etc. Pastor Bob probably would not take too kindly to D.T. Suzuki’s idea that by overcoming dualism—the either/or—we gain a truer experience of reality. It is understandable, and quite reasonable, to view the cut-to-black with an either/or mindset: either Tony died or he didn’t. But I find it more rewarding to view it through the double lens of Buddhism and physics which David Chase has possibly provided to us. In this view, the differences between options are leveled, and therefore all the options are available. Tony is alive, and dead, and not-alive, and not-dead. He is me, he is you, he is the tree, he is two boxers, he is an ocean wave, he is the bell, he is the experiment at Bell Labs, he is the third verse of “The Three Bells.” All the possibilities are present and joined to one another. It’s all there. Everything is everything. Maybe Schrodinger’s cat was a Buddhist.

Before I go any further, I want to get on record that I’m not very interested in trying to “figure out” what David Chase was thinking. (I’m a Sopranos fan, not a frickin mind reader.) I’m not trying to suggest that Chase was conscientiously making a link between these different ideas, as though he pinned it all up on a corkboard and frenetically started drawing lines:

charlie (2)

Chase is an artist, and as is the case with all great artists, his work flows organically and naturally from him. There may be some nebulous constellation of beliefs and ideas that inspired him, but I don’t think he was ticking off items on some philosophical/artistic To Do List. The possible connections I am finding and/or making are not so much the result of detective work into Chase’s interests as much as they are a reflection of my own interests and reading. I’m only sharing some of the thoughts and ideas that make sense to me. I’ve got that off my chest, now let me continue the analysis…

THE CONNECTIVITY OF COMMUNITY
Professor H. Peter Steeves writes in his essay “Dying in Our Own Arms” that in the United States, we view “the isolated individual” as the basic unit of society. It therefore doesn’t sound like a very outlandish idea to us when we hear Livia tell AJ that “you die in your own arms.” In a real sense, we value solitude over solidarity. We value the right to be left alone to do our own thing. This rugged individualism informs the Bill of Rights, the capitalist system we live in, and many of our cultural myths including those of the Old West (“whateva happened to Gary Cooper?”). But despite this overarching ideology, we still have very human communitarian impulses. We want to connect with others, whether they be relatives, neighbors, members of our church or other social groups. This is true even of selfish and self-serving mobsters. The Mafia is driven by a philosophy of radical individualism, “and yet,” Steeves continues, “the Mafia is all about community, being-together, defining one’s self in terms of one’s relationship to the group.” Prof. Steeves’ observation certainly bears out in the Season Finales; virtually every season of The Sopranos has ended with scenes of community and togetherness:

  1. Season One ended with Soprano family taking refuge from a raging thunderstorm at Vesuvio restaurant where friends and colleagues had gathered as well
  2. Season Two ended on Meadow’s high school graduation party, with friends and family all together at the Soprano home
  3. Season Three ended again at Vesuvio, with Corrado’s singing eliciting tears from the friends and family who had gathered for Jackie Jr’s funeral
  4. Season Four closed with the Stugots blaring out music toward Alan Sapinsly and his wife who were trying to to enjoy a cocktail together
  5. In Season Five, Tony traversed through cold weather and snow, eventually reached home, knocked on the backdoor and Carm let him in—a scene that underscored the reconciliation between husband and wife after their long separation
  6. Season 6A ended on a Christmas party, with guests and family members gathered close together in the Soprano living room; though Meadow could not be there, Tony wore a beret per her request
  7. Season 6B now ends with a cross-section of locals of all races and ages gathered together at a neighborhood eatery, Tony sitting with two of his most beloved people on earth and the third rushing to join in as quickly as she can

Only Season 4 ended with a real sense of separation: Carmela asked Tony to leave the house in Whitecaps. But Chase, notably, said on the DVD commentary track for that episode that he didn’t want to end the season on a note of estrangement, and thus we have the final shot of The Stugots and the Sapinslys. The entire series now comes to a close at Holsten’s Confectionary, a beloved and well-established restaurant in the community of Bloomfield (very close to the home where David Chase grew up in Clifton). As noted in Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men, Chase modeled certain aspects of the final scene on Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks. Many people (including wifey Denise) feel the painting conveys a sense of loneliness and isolation. But Chase doesn’t see it this way “because it’s in the light.” He continues, “In the middle of all this darkness, they’re in the light. And they’re talking to each other. There’s a little community in there. If you were walking along that street at night and you saw that place, you’d want to go in.”

holstens nighthawksk

(Hopper himself said that he didn’t find the painting “particularly lonely.”) We can see an analogous color-scheme between Hopper’s diner and Holsten’s—the cool blue-greens and grays outside the two diners contrasting with the warm amber and ochre tones inside. The two restaurants evoke Hemingway’s “clean well-lighted place,” the comfortable refuge against a cold and uncaring universe.

“MY PENIS FALLS OFF”
Though the final scene conjures a sense of community and togetherness, it is nevertheless true that Tony has been growing more and more isolated over the years, particularly over the course of Season 6B. Tony seemed to consider killing, at various points in the season, his old buddy Paulie, his long-time advisor Hesh, and his brother-in-law Bobby. He did finally kill his cousin Chrissie, the man he was grooming to run the day-to-day affairs of la famiglia. The famiglia itself has become amputated down to almost nothing. His friend and counselor Silvio is essentially braindead. Carlo seems set on aiding the Federal case against him. And his psychiatrist recently dropped him. This is the flip-side of the mythology that Tony has long venerated—he is “the strong, silent type” who now finds himself backed into a corner. This idea conforms neatly with Chase’s remark about the final scene which I quoted earlier: “…what I was trying to say was that we put ourselves in these positions. We put ourselves in these scenes. Nothing happens by accident. We are the engineers of our destiny.” The “unofficial flag” of the United States reads “Don’t Tread On Me,” and the philosophy of rugged individualism that informs this slogan, and which the mobsters aspire to live by, has backfired against Tony Soprano:

oops i treaded on myself

Tony is becoming increasingly impotent. I’m not talking about his sexual virility, though it is perhaps telling that he hasn’t had a true goomar since Valentina La Paz—and she last appeared about three years before the finale. No, I’m referring to Tony’s inability to exert any real control over his circumstances. In the Pilot episode, Tony told Melfi about a dream in which he unscrews his navel and “my penis falls off.” As he searches for a mechanic that can fix the mishap, a bird swoops down to grab the detached member and flies away with it. The nightmare scenario that Tony feared all those years ago is metaphorically coming true. Regardless of whether Tony is killed at Holsten’s or he simply pays the check at the end of the meal and returns home with his family, his life is going into the shitter—and he doesn’t have the power to stop it:

cat in a box“‘In the midst of death, we are in life.’
Or is it the other way around?
Either version, you’re halfway up the ass.

THE REGULARNESS OF LIFE
The probability that Tony goes home and crawls into bed with Carmela after dinner at Holstens’s seems fairly high to me, given how important “the fuckin regularness of life” (as Christopher described it in episode 1.08) has been to The Sopranos. There is probably no single idea that I’ve promoted on this website more than the idea that David Chase fully committed his series right from the get-go to portraying the daily routines and banalities, the regularness, of everyday life. Chase’s commitment to this ethos of regularness is arguably the thing that most separates his television show from all the other TV shows out there. Many of Chase’s storylines don’t end with some highly dramatic climax. They just peter out, they die on the vine. Chase, very often, turns a narrative mountain into a narrative molehill. Even gangland tensions don’t usually lead to some kind of bloodbath. No matter what occurs or doesn’t occur, life simply drones on in SopranoWorld as it does in the real world. (“The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on…” sings Steve Perry.) True, there is something almost outlandishly evil about some of the characters and events of SopranoWorld. But as Hannah Arendt pointed out decades ago in her study of the Nazi regime, there is a banality even to evil. Despite its operatic name, the majority of storylines in The Sopranos do not reach an operatic ending. (Patsy’s statement to Gloria Trillo in Season 3, “It won’t be cinematic,” almost sounds like it could be the mission statement of The Sopranos.) We therefore shouldn’t deny the possibility that the members of the Soprano family simply got in their respective cars and drove home after dinner that night, without incident or cataclysm, just as they’ve regularly done hundreds or thousands of times before.

Nietzsche once described the regular, day-to-day ongoingness of life as “a solid metronome of the spirit.” This metronome, he believed, provides balance and order and rhythm to life. Without it, Nietzsche thought, we would be seeing incidents of mass-suicide every day. I myself argued on an earlier page that an acceptance of the ordinary regularless of daily life is necessary for achieving happiness and contentment. But the flipside to this argument is that getting too caught up in our daily to-do lists and weekly planners might put us into a kind of auto-pilot mode. We could lose sight of any larger aspirations and goals as we get entrenched in our routines. We may fall into a state of resignation, no longer seeking answers to our biggest questions. And then in the end, we might find ourselves full of regret, “paying anything to roll the dice just oooone mooore tiiiime.”

The writer-anthropologist Carlos Castaneda expressed a similar sentiment about the consequences of focusing on everyday life at the expense of seeing the bigger picture. David Chase has mentioned Castaneda on multiple occasions. (Castaneda was also mentioned in The Sopranos when Melfi quoted him in episode 2.06. [Tony thought she was quoting a prize-fighter.]) In his most widely-read book, The Teachings of Don Juan, Castaneda wrote about his experiences with a mystical, shamanic Yaqui Indian by the name of Don Juan. Castaneda quotes the shaman directly:

“The world of everyday life cannot ever be taken as something personal that has power over us, something that could make us or destroy us, because man’s battlefield is not in strife with the world around him. His battlefield is over the horizon, in an area which is unthinkable for an average man, the area where man ceases to be a man.”

He [Don Juan] explained those statements, saying that it was energetically imperative for human beings to realize that the only thing that matters is their encounter with infinity. [The emphasis in bold are Castaneda’s.]

For Castaneda, infinity can be encountered through a conscientious awareness and engagement with the eternal aspects of life and death. He believed psychoactive drugs could be a great aid in achieving this encounter with infinity. (I’d add that prescription drugs and medical emergencies can also do the trick, as we saw in Tony’s encounter with his avatar of infinity, Kevin Finnerty.) The final scene at Holsten’s is brilliant in how it simultaneously portrays regularness—“the world of everyday life” as Castaneda wrote—but also gives us a mystical “encounter with infinity.” Tony’s rendezvous with the eternal may come in the form of a bullet through the brain, sure enough. But the encounter may also come through a conscientious awareness and engagement with the moment. The last sound we hear in the final scene are Steve Perry’s words, “Don’t stop”—and then the cut-to-black extends that moment, without stop, to infinity. The black screen expresses the eternal, in all its infinitely mystical forms. It may sound daffy to argue that a booth in Holsten’s Confectionary is the location of a metaphysical and metaphorical experience of the infinite. But if the Virgin Mary can appear in a seedy strip joint off Route 17, then infinity can present itself at a corner-diner in Bloomfield, New Jersey.

In 2014, Vox.com published an article by Prof. Martha Nochimson, “Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?” The piece caused a bit of a ruckus because Nochimson claimed David Chase told her that Tony was not killed at Holsten’s:

I had been talking with Chase for a few years when I finally asked him whether Tony was dead. We were in a tiny coffee shop, when, in the middle of a low-key chat about a writing problem I was having, I popped the question. Chase startled me by turning toward me and saying with sudden, explosive anger, “Why are we talking about this?” I answered, “I’m just curious.” And then, for whatever reason, he told me. And I will tell you… He shook his head “No.” And then he said simply, “No he isn’t.” That was all.

Chase issued a statement through his publicist the following day stating that the “journalist for Vox misconstrued” his words. Less than a month later at the Venice Film Festival, Chase said about the incident, “I don’t recall that conversation. I’m sure it happened, but I don’t recall it, and if I did say that, I believe I was probably thinking about something else.”

Regardless of what Chase did or didn’t say, or how it was construed or misconstrued, Dr. Nochimson’s article is one of the most intelligent and perceptive pieces ever written about David Chase and The Sopranos. She touches upon Chase’s family history, his interests in college, film influences, his experiences with psychedelics, his feelings on religion, the state of the television industry… Despite David Chase’s flat “No” to her question—or what she construed to be a “No”—she still made a convincing case that film and television have an inherently mysterious, ambiguous nature. (She wrote to me in an email the day after the Vox article came out, “There’s a great deal of ambiguity in The Sopranos no matter what happened to Tony. That’s really my point.”) What I find most compelling about the article, though, is how Nochimson tracks the literary influences that Chase was exposed to as a college student, and how those influences molded his mobster saga all the way through its final scene:

Tony’s decisive win over his enemy in the New York mob, Phil Leotardo, is the final user-friendly event in Chase’s gangster story that gratifies the desire to be conclusive, and it would have been the finale of a less compelling gangster story. The cut-to-black is the moment when Castaneda and the American Romantics rise to the surface and the gangster story slips through our fingers and vanishes.

If we are trying to deduce what David Chase’s intentions were in the final scene, then we should take the Romanticism that Nochimson speaks of into consideration because it may have been one of Chase’s major influences…

THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT
The literary and artistic movement of Romanticism developed in the 19th century, partly in response to the Enlightenment period of the 18th century. The Age of Enlightenment was characterized by a commitment to reason, logic and science. Romanticism, on the other hand, was all about the emotion.  As the French poet Charles Baudelaire described it, Romanticism “is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” Subjective emotions (coming out of each individual’s unique temperament and imagination) reigned supreme over objective data and logic. There are a couple of direct connections to Romanticism in The Sopranos. The Wordsworth sonnet, “The World is Too Much With Us,” which AJ’s class studied in “Kennedy and Heidi” (6.18) is considered to be the first English Romantic poem. Madame de Stael, who Meadow alluded to in “D-Girl,” was an early Romantic theorist and writer. And if the name “Walden” was a reference to Thoreau’s book as I suggested it was, then this too fits the bill because Transcendentalists like Thoreau were very influenced by Romanticism.

Most of us know, instinctively or from experience, that one way to heighten the significance of an emotion is by prolonging it. Much of the Romantic literature in Germany during the sturm-und-drang (storm-and-stress) period featured protagonists who chose to wallow in their feelings rather than seek relief or closure. Instead of trying to illustrate this by using a piece of literature from a bygone era, I’ll give a more contemporary example. A verse from The Smiths’ 1986 mope-hope anthem, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” nicely captures a protagonist who does not want closure:

In the darkened underpass
I thought “Oh God, my chance has come at last”
But then a strange fear gripped me
And I just couldn’t ask

The protagonist of the song would rather continue living in a state of uncertainty by not asking his question—thereby keeping hope alive—rather than ask his question and potentially dash all his hopes. Hope is the “light that never goes out.” To extend the analogy: Chase’s cut-to-black doesn’t actually shut the light off; it keeps the light on. Viewers can continue to hope that the Soprano family members will reach whatever conclusion they each deserve. Whether you hope they will experience some sort of redemption, or enlightenment, or a comeuppance, either karmic or legal or whatever—each viewer can forever cling to whatever ending they feel is most fitting. (“Hold on to that feeling,” sings Steve Perry.)

I believe that for David Chase (the artist, not necessarily the man), emotion takes primacy over intellect. In Difficult Men, Brett Martin documents the first conversation that Chase had with HBO executive Carolyn Strauss about his idea for finishing it with a cut-to-black. Strauss didn’t seem very enthusiastic about the idea, worried audiences wouldn’t know what to think about it. Chase thought to himself, “‘It’s not what you think. It’s what you feel.’ That’s what I was always trying to go for.”

We can maybe see how important Chase believes the role of emotion to be in acts of interpretation if we look once again at the Northern Exposure episode “The Graduate” which I brought up earlier. Chris Stevens, still troubled about how to defend his Master’s thesis on “Casey at the Bat” to the two professors, takes the two men to a baseball diamond. He starts reciting lines from Thayer’s poem while pitching balls, basically reenacting the action of the poem. One of the profs gets very into the game, but then is crestfallen when he strikes out. Chris tells the disappointed man that the poem, ultimately, is exactly about that—“That feeling that’s in your gut.”

nx the graduate

Standing between the two professors, one a Traditionalist and the other a Postmodernist, Chris essentially splits the difference between the two. One can stick close to the text of the poem, not venture far from the words Thayer wrote on the page, as the Traditionalist would do. Or one can extrapolate all kinds of meanings and analogies from the poem as the Postmodernist might do. (Maybe the poem is about the role of the hero-figure in society, or about the tensions of performing in a Capitalist system, for example.) In the end though, it’s more about the feelings in your gut than it is about the thoughts in your head. (Chris even says in the same hour: “Doesn’t art speak for itself? You analyze something too much, you end up just grinding it into dust.”) Not surprisingly, Chris Stevens is awarded his Master’s Degree at the end of the episode.

I think one of the reasons there is so much spirited debate about the ending of The Sopranos is because the Romantic approach that Chase took to his series naturally heightens our emotional responses to it. And there are very few things that get the blood of Americans up (as that Northern Exposure episode demonstrates) than the debate over traditional views versus more postmodern ones. Some Sopranos viewers want to read that final scene in a way that is, arguably, more traditional and conventional: did Tony die or did he not die? Other viewers prefer to take a more postmodern approach: the ending is ambiguous, with a multiplicity of potential meanings.  

So much of the contentious discourse in our country today, whether it’s about teaching race in public schools or about transgender bathroom laws, boils down to a clash between traditional and postmodern views. The Sopranos has incorporated some of these clashes into its narrative over the seasons. In episode 4.12 “Eloise,” Meadow and her Columbia U friends sat at a dinner table discussing the homosexual undertones of Billy Budd while Carmela insisted, “This stuff is pervading our educational system, not to mention movies, TV shows… I’m sorry, but Billy Budd is not a homosexual book!” In episode 1.11 “Nobody Knows Anything,” Meadow complained that “this country is light-years behind the rest of the world” because of our puritanical attitude toward sex. Tony found the conversation uncomfortable and brought it to a halt by declaring, “Out there it’s the 1990s but in this house it’s 1954!” (I won’t drag up the question of whether Tony would be a MAGA Trumper today because this was already deliberated in my “Walk Like a Man” write-up, but it’s clear which side of the political spectrum Tony leans toward.) Meadow’s left-leaning positions have been contrasted with those of her family members throughout the series, and I think it’s possible to read the final scene at Holsten’s as one last commentary on this difference between them.

Of course, we never see Meadow inside Holsten’s in the final scene. But that’s precisely my point. It’s as though Chase is asking whether there is room at America’s table, so to speak, for both Meadow’s progressivism and Tony’s more traditional viewpoint. Does the old guard have to “die off,” as it were, before the new guard can find a place at the table? This question has possibly become more relevant today than it was in 2007.

It may seem like I’m reading too much into Meadow’s absence at Holsten’s. Surely, Meadow being outside the restaurant and rushing to get in is a plot-point designed to generate tension and excitement in the final minutes. That scene is not necessarily some kind of socio-political commentary. But then I thought of the reason why Meadow is late: she had to go to the doctor to change her birth control. Access to the birth control pill in the 1960s was a catalyzing force for second-wave feminism and the Women’s Liberation movement. Though it has been argued by some feminists that the pill was used in those early days as an instrument to control women, it is nevertheless true that access to birth control has been opening up economic and educational opportunities for women for decades. In his thoughtful book with a provocative title, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Douthat writes that the advent of the pill influenced a revolution “that extended well beyond the narrow issue of birth control to encompass the entirety of sexual ethics. Over the course of a decade or so, a large swath of America decided that two millennia of Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality were simply out of date.” The old, traditional ways of living were turned upside-down. Meadow now has a postmodern multiplicity of choices before her that her grandmother and her mother, to some degree, did not have.

Many scholars and critics have explored the postmodern qualities of the series, but particularly interesting may be Professor Ann C. Hall’s essay, “Crooked Reading: Postmodernism and The Sopranos,” which was written just prior to the release of “Made in America.” We live in a postmodern world, she writes, where “competing ideologies, theories, meanings and interpretations must battle for expression, privilege and power.” Hall continues that while other TV shows give “the illusion of stability and security…The Sopranos, clearly, offers no such security. David Chase manages to use the show’s longevity to complicate simplistic interpretations and conclusions… In the end, it will be interesting to see how he concludes the series, a series characterized by its postmodern, open-ended, structure.” Hall gave no prediction for the ending of the show, but her “non-prediction” turned out to be quite accurate; the final scene is a true expression of the “postmodern, open-ended structure” she mentioned.

Not everyone, of course, feels that The Sopranos has an open-ended structure. I recently scrolled through some of the online Sopranos forums after the release of Many Saints of Newark and was disappointed—but not surprised—to find that the debate about the cut-to-black is as ugly, if not uglier, than ever. Some viewers—truthers, I’ll call them—insist that anyone who doesn’t see the “truth” about the ending as they see it are stunads and morons. I’ve been insulted and mocked by the truthers for even suggesting that there are multiple ways of reading the final scene.

Emily VanDerWerff, in her review for the final episode, draws a link between the fundamentalist community that she was raised in and the truthers who constantly trot out the Master-of-Sopranos blog as proof-positive that Tony is killed by Members-Only-guy at Holsten’s:

…my primary objection to that reading of the final scene—which I will re-stress is totally valid, and if you think the scene says Tony dies, I’m fine with it, so long as you don’t insist that those who say otherwise are vapid idiots (as too many “Tony dies!” evangelists do)—come, ultimately, from the world that I grew up in, the world of fundamentalist Christianity. (And please let me apologize for the slight detour into personal history. I promise it will make sense.) Fundamentalist Christianity—fundamentalist religion, really—is an attempt to take something that purports to be mysterious and more about opening questions than receiving answers, then turns it into a long series of perfect answers to every little question… It’s a lacking thesis because it relies on the reductionist tendencies of fundamentalism. It robs the mystery out of a series that was always replete with it…

VanDerWerff continues that she found herself become increasingly enamored of the series with each re-watch precisely because of its refusal to give succinct answers. On the other side of the divide is author and columnist Ross Douthat. Like VanDerWerff, Douthat grew up in an environment of fundamentalist Christianity. (Douthat later converted to Catholicism, whereas VanDerWerff ultimately found a home in the more progressive Episcopalian Church.) Douthat seems to be a big fan of the series, writing several pieces about it over the years. It has been interesting to watch Douthat’s evolution (devolution?) on the topic of “Made in America” and the cut-to-black…

Writing for The Atlantic the day after the final episode aired, Douthat recognized the ambiguity of the cut-to-black. He did not feel that the question of whether Tony lived or died was the issue to focus on. The real question, he argued, was whether the Soprano family members will escape damnation or not. His verdict was that they will not, due to the continuous deal with the devil they had been making over the years. He found the sudden ending to be a fitting expression of the show’s “anti-humanistic” [his word] stance. Douthat enjoyed the series, but was glad it was over. “You can only stare into the abyss for so long,” he concluded. But years later, after reading the Master-of-Sopranos blog, Douthat no longer found the ending ambiguous. In a piece for the New York Times, he argued that the only truly reasonable interpretation of the cut-to-black is that Tony is killed. Furthermore, he wrote, any counter-theory would require a “point-by-point takedown” of Master’s argument:

If Chase wants to performs a careful exegesis of his own show explaining why the argument that Tony died is a brutal misreading of the on-screen evidence, then sure, I’d be all ears, just as I’d be all ears if Seitz or whomever wanted to actually write a point-by-point takedown of the “Tony was shot” interpretation. But absent such a convincing rebuttal or critique, whether from the creator or from a critic or anyone else, I don’t think being persuaded by the whacking interpretation reflects (to quote VanDerWerff and Nochimson) some desperate desire for “a tidy answer for everything in life” or some sort of anti-intellectual revolt against the “knowing more profound than words” that Chase allegedly wanted to convey. It’s just the reasonable response to an extremely compelling reading of an initially-ambiguous text. Not all mysteries have a solution, not all questions have answers. But some do, some solutions and answers are more compelling than others, and it’s okay to think that this is a case where one interpretation has a lot more evidence on its side than the various alternatives.

I don’t have an interest in doing a point-by-point takedown of the theory that Tony is killed, especially because I find some of the “evidence” very compelling. The simple fact that there are so many different interpretations of the final scene out there is itself a powerful counterargument to Douthat’s claim that his take has “a lot more evidence” on its side. It’s almost impossible to provide a full list of all the various bits of evidence, both for Tony’s death and for alternative theories, that are floating around in Sopranos fandom, but here is a sampling:

  • The final scene is a reference to the short story “The Lady, and the Tiger” in which the protagonist must make a choice that will lead to him either marrying a lady or getting killed by a tiger. (Tony is sitting at Holsten’s between his lady Carmela and the mural with a tiger on it.) The short story ends without letting the reader know which choice was made.
  • Tony says in episode 6.05 that he can’t eat onions after his surgery. Maybe the onion rings at Holsten’s gave him a heart attack and killed him.
  • The commercial for the Magic Bullet blender playing on the TV in Silvio’s hospital room is a subtle reference to the Warren Commission’s explanation of JFK’s assassination (which was dubbed the “magic bullet” theory) and thus denotes that Tony too is assassinated.
  • Tony passes out from a panic attack. Perhaps the sight of Meadow coming in through the door after her doctor’s appointment for new birth control coupled with some Freudian jealousy over her new fiancé triggered an anxiety attack.
  • This is the 86th episode, and Tony gets “eighty-sixed” in this hour.
  • Or maybe the viewer gets eighty-sixed. The viewer essentially gets whacked—we are dead to what goes on in SopranoWorld now that the series is over for us.
  • As I touched upon earlier, there is some reason to believe Paulie defected to New York’s side and set up a whacking of Tony.
  • Patsy Parisi, who had thought about killing T in Season 3, now does engineer Tony’s death.
  • The New York famiglia exacted revenge for Phil Leotardo’s death by killing Tony in front of his family, just as Phil was killed in front of his family.
  • AJ’s friend Rhiannon was acting as a mole for NY, and she provided them the key information that the Soprano family would be having dinner at Holsten’s that night.
  • Steve Else makes the argument in a YouTube video that the final episode is a dream, and points out that the title “Made in America” can be an anagram for “I am a nice dream.”
  • We saw Tony get shot by Corrado in an episode titled “Members Only,” a clue that it is Members-Only-guy who now shoots Tony.
  • The bathroom that Members-Only-guy goes into is to Tony’s right, and he emerges from this bathroom to shoot Tony from Tony’s three o’clock. “3:00” and the number “3” have had some significance throughout the series.
  • Tony was killed in a “crime of opportunity.” Members-Only-guy (or one of the other diners) was a civilian—perhaps a contractor or Union head—who had a murderous grudge against Tony and happened to come across him that night.
  • Some viewers find a physical resemblance between Members-Only-guy and Eugene Pontecorvo, leading to the speculation that they are brothers. The brother gets revenge on Tony now for not allowing Eugene to exit the Mafia. The jacket functions as a “clue” for this theory because Eugene’s suicide occurred in “Members Only” (6.01).
  • Eugene Pontecorvo was wearing a Members Only jacket in “Members Only” when he killed Teddy Spirodakis (whose initials are “T.S.”) inside of a restaurant, just as Members-Only-guy now kills Tony (initials “T.S.”) inside of a restaurant.

I love all these theories, I think they are all potentially possible—though some do feel a bit wobbly. (And according to the Many Worlds hypothesis, each of these possibilities could come to fruition in one universe or another.) Ultimately, all the various theories are a form of fan-fiction, a way to engage and connect with the show we love so much.

While I’m generally not opposed to any of the theories out there, I do take great issue with how the truthers put forth their theories. They’ll often use Chase’s famous statement that “It’s all there” to justify their particular store of evidence—but then conveniently ignore all the evidence that goes against their interpretation as being the only possible truth. We can take that last bullet point above as an example. It is perfectly valid to find similarities between Eugene Pontecorvo shooting a T.S. while wearing a Members Only jacket and then Members-Only-Guy shooting our T.S. in “Made in America.” But we should also consider the dissimilarities as well:

  • Eugene didn’t sit down at the counter and wait some time before killing his mark; he walked into the diner and within seconds Teddy was dead
  • Teddy had some familiarity of Eugene, even giving him a word of greeting before taking his bullet—but there is no evidence at all that Tony knew who Members-Only-guy was
  • Tony’s initials technically are “A.S.” not “T.S.” We had seen earlier that when Chase wanted to use duplicate initials to draw a parallel between Tony and another character, he did it much more overtly; in “Whitecaps,” Alan Sapinsly—Tony’s yuppie-doppelganger—literally referred to himself in the third-person as “A.S.” (Alan said to Tony, “You and your wife could be back together in a month, leaving A.S. here fucked in the ass.”)

Truther-theories only work when truthers cherry-pick their evidence. Chase did famously declare that “It’s all there,” as truthers constantly remind us. But then these same truthers ignore all of what is there, focusing only on those bits that support their argument.

It’s human nature to look for patterns. Our brains are essentially pattern-recognition machines. But a problem occurs, I feel, when we allow our pattern-recognition abilities lead us to one conclusion to the exclusion of all other possibilities. The problem gets exacerbated because Chase plays upon our pattern-recognition tendencies with lots of repetitions, connections and callbacks. When Members-Only-guy goes into the bathroom at Holsten’s, many of us saw it as a callback to the scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone goes into a restaurant bathroom and then comes out armed and ready to kill. But Members-Only-guy’s trip to the bathroom may simply be a final repetition of all the times we’ve seen SopranoWorld characters go to the bathroom. As I’ve documented throughout this website, it is common to see people on The Sopranos excuse themselves to go to the restroom. Just in Season 6B alone, we’ve seen several instances of someone making a trip to the toilet:

  • In 6.13, Carm says “I’ve had to pee since Glen Falls” before hurrying off to the bathroom at Bobby’s upstate house. (In the same hour, Bobby says “I should’ve taken a leak before we left” in Tony’s car.)
  • In 6.14, Kelli Moltisanti tells Chris “I better pee” before they leave the house.
  • In 6.15, Beansie excuses himself to go empty his colostomy bag.
  • In 6.16, Hesh says “That was me, not a fireboat” as he steps out of the bathroom.
  • In 6.17, Tony tells Patsy “I gotta take a leak” and leaves the room.

Sure, maybe Members-Only-guy’s trip to the bathroom is a reference to The Godfather. But the man could also just be a Holsten’s patron who needs to empty his bladder. I think both of these possibilities can be true. Interestingly, we did previously see a scene in which Tony played out the Godfather reference in a bathroom and also emptied his bladder. In “The Test Dream” (5.11), during the long dream-sequence, Finn’s dad says he could “use a nice tinkle,” so he and Tony get up from their table and head to the restaurant bathroom. Tony searches behind the toilet—a clear reference to the The Godfather scene—and then Chase cuts to Tony at the urinal:

Another reasonable possibility is that Members-Only-guy did indeed arrive at Holsten’s with a plan to murder Tony, but then he changed his mind and decided to just take a piss instead. We saw this precise thing happen with Patsy Parisi in episode 3.01 “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” (though Patsy decided to relieve himself in Tony’s swimming pool, not a bathroom).

Pissed away

And look at Patsy’s situation now, at the end of the series: he is set to soon become Tony’s brother-in-law when his son marries Tony’s daughter. If we use Patsy Parisi instead of Michael Corleone as the historical template for Members-Only-guy, then it’s entirely possible that the man will walk out of the bathroom, put away any murderous grudge—and one day he will become Tony’s brother-in-law when his daughter marries Tony’s son. 

I’m so tired of truthers pissing on everyone else’s theories and interpretations. They refuse to recognize that what is meaningful and loaded with significance for one person is not necessarily going to carry the same significance for another person. Chase has expressed this fact of life to us in ways large and small. In Season 2, Richie Aprile found a certain jacket to be a Really Big Deal because he took it off the cocksucker with the toughest reputation in Essex County. But Tony didn’t find the jacket very impressive, despite its origin (or even its Corinthian leather):

The Jacket

(I’ve seen Richie’s half-crazed look on the faces of some of my Pentecostal relatives when they start preaching their truth at me, and I would guess my face looks a lot like Tony’s in response.)

“EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN REASONS”
Professor of English David Lavery compiled and edited three books of scholarly essays about The Sopranos, and the first of these books opens with a quote from Jean Renoir’s 1939 film The Rules of the Game: “On this earth there is one thing which is terrible, and that is that everyone has their own reasons.” The film is often ranked among the greatest movies of all time, largely because of Renoir’s nuanced depiction of the different motivations and passions that drive each character. Prof Lavery surely chose this quote to be the epigraph of his book because he recognized that David Chase also gives a similarly nuanced treatment to his characters. Chase himself referenced this line from Renoir’s film in the early interview with Peter Bogdanovich:

“When we set out to start doing it [producing The Sopranos], I didn’t think ‘Oh let’s do an elaboration on Jean Renoir’s line.’ But now when I look at it, that’s what goes on in the Soprano house and in every aspect of the show. Everyone has reasons… Everyone thinks they’re right.”

In one of the Special Features on the Criterion DVD of The Rules of the Game, Professor of Film Chris Faulkner says, “Stylistically and thematically, Renoir has created a both/and world in this film, not an either/or world.” Chase too has crafted SopranoWorld to be a both/and world, not an either/or world. It is therefore appropriate, I believe, for Sopranos fandom to be a both/and world. Both your theories and my theories can be correct. We all have our reasons. My interpretation of the final scene may seem schematic and intricate, requiring a complicated geometry between quantum physics, Transcendentalism, Buddhism and Romanticism in order to make sense. But my take on the ending isn’t something that came out of lots of research and ruminating—not really. I have my reasons, and they are actually rooted in very personal emotions. (Please let me apologize for the slight detour into personal history. I promise it will make sense…)

In the spring of 2000, days after the original airing of “D-Girl,” I had to deal with the loss of two friends who died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. One of them was found in their backyard swimming pool, weighed down with a concrete block tied around his torso. In the weeks that followed, I found myself thinking a lot about “D-Girl” as I grappled with all the unknown circumstances and consequences of their deaths. “D-Girl” contains a reference to Albert Camus, who was by then one of my favorite writers, a writer who had devoted his career to exploring how to live in a universe filled with uncertainty. But even more than the Camus reference, it was Livia’s claim in that hour that “It’s all a big nothing” that haunted me. I found myself wondering if Livia was right. Is it all completely meaningless after all? And why the fuck does it have to be this way? That same spring, I was taking a course in Postmodern American Fiction. My professor’s main focus that semester was on the idea of uncertainty and how it has influenced postmodern American authors. It was in this class that I first read “Schrodinger’s Cat” by Ursula Le Guin, the short story I referenced earlier. I was still a newbie to The Sopranos in the spring of 2000, but I began to feel, rightly or wrongly, that the core underlying theme of the series was “uncertainty.” Seven years later—a diehard fan by now—my heart almost burst as I watched AJ Soprano drop into his backyard swimming pool with a concrete block tied around himself. The scene called back memories of those horrific crime-scene photos the police had taken back in 2000 at my friends’ home, and rekindled all the unanswered and unanswerable questions I had back then. A few weeks later, when “Made in America” ended with the cut-to-black, it seemed like the ultimate confirmation of a feeling I had been harboring deep in my bones for years: The Sopranos is grounded in uncertainty.

Like most true-blue fans of the show, I feel like I can relate to many of the moments and events on The Sopranos on a deeply personal level. And this is why I recoil from all those shitbirds who insist that any interpretation that doesn’t fully jibe with their own is flat-out wrong. These fucking fascists want us to toss out our own deeply-felt experience of the series in favor of a theory they stumbled across on some blog or YouTube channel. They expect us to reduce our own deep-seated sentiments and thoughts into ashes, into meaningless dust, so that we can adopt their point-of-view. And then they get outraged when we refuse. Well, despite their overbearing protests, I’m going to stick with the interpretations that make the most sense to me—and I think David Chase would be perfectly fine with that:

journey any way you want it

Chase has made certain statements over the years that have become fodder for Tony-is-dead truthers. During a conversation with Seitz and Sepinwall about how the plan for the final scene came about, Chase said, “I think I had that death scene around two years before the end.” He went on to say that he had discussed with writer Mitch Burgess about ending The Sopranos with a scene in which Tony would be driving through the Lincoln Tunnel to a meeting with Johnny Sac where he would ostensibly be killed. It’s not at all clear from the context whether Chase’s phrase “death scene” is referring to the scene in Holsten’s Diner or this never-filmed scene in the Lincoln Tunnel. Attempting to get more clarification, Seitz offered, “Clearly the diner is an extension of that idea in some way.” Chase responded, “No, it’s not, because I went away from that.” Despite his clarification, online forums lit up with all the usual suspects insisting that David Chase inadvertently revealed Tony died at Holsten’s. I found all the hubbub a bit amusing because Brett Martin had already discussed this issue years earlier, in his 2013 book Difficult Men:

One early idea was that Tony would be last seen heading off into Manhattan for a meeting with New York boss Johnny Sack (who would have been left alive, rather than felled by cancer). As the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” played, Tony would descend into the same Lincoln Tunnel from which we had seen him emerge at the very beginning, on his way to who-knew-what fate.

I know that many truthers will now glom on to the title of that Rolling Stones song. And they’ll point out that Chase didn’t make mention of a “death scene” in Brett Martin’s book, whereas he did in the Seitz/Sepinwall book. But I don’t think that really matters much anyway because Chase “went away from that.”

In November 2021, just a few weeks ago, The Hollywood Reporter published a piece by Scott Feinberg with the clickbait headline, “Sopranos Creator David Chase Finally Reveals What Happened to Tony (Exclusive).” Discussing, once again, how the plan for the final scene came about, Chase mentioned that about two years before the Finale, he was driving past an eatery—“like a shack that served breakfast”—and thought to himself, “Tony should get it in a place like that.” Even though the phrase “get it” is not as revealing as the phrase “death scene,” all the online forums lit up once again. The usual suspects predictably ignored the fact that we don’t know with certainty if the idea that Tony “should get it” at a breakfast shack extended to the scene at Holsten’s, or if Chase—once again—“went away from that.”

In this same interview, Feinberg asked Chase if his mention of a “death scene” to Seitz and Sepinwall was “a slip-of-the-tongue.” Chase responded that it was not…

Because the scene I had in my mind was not that scene. Nor did I think of cutting to black. I had a scene in which Tony comes back from a meeting in New York in his car. At the beginning of every show, he came from New York into New Jersey, and the last scene could be him coming from New Jersey back into New York for a meeting at which he was going to be killed.

Once again, it’s a little difficult to decipher or diagram Chase’s statement. (It’s almost like we’re forever locked in a “Who’s on first?” comedy routine with him.) Was “death scene” not a slip of the tongue because Tony does get killed, or because he was referring to the never-filmed Lincoln Tunnel scene? I’m going to take some liberty here and rewrite Chase’s answer in a way that I believe expresses his meaning more clearly:

The phrase “death scene” was not a slip-of-the-tongue…

Because the “death sceneI had in my mind when talking to Seitz and Sepinwall was not that scene at Holsten’s Diner. Nor did I think of cutting to black as I did do at Holsten’s Diner. I had a scene in which Tony comes back from a meeting in New York in his car. At the beginning of every show, he came from New York into New Jersey, and the last scene could be him coming from New Jersey back into New York for a meeting at which he was going to be killed. But I went away from that!

Apologies to David Chase for putting words in his mouth—I’m just having a bit of fun with this. Many fans, including the interviewer Scott Feinberg, kept insisting that The Hollywood Reporter story did finally put the question to rest. So, Matt Seitz directly asked Chase whether that Reporter story settled it once and for all. Chase asked Seitz to release a quote in response: “Everybody who believes I said Tony is dead in a Hollywood Reporter article: works for me. Now you’ll stop fucking asking me.”

Christ, more confusion. Is Chase saying that that interpretation “works for me” because Tony is dead? Or because he’s just fucking tired of the question? Chase seems to be getting more and more irritated by the issue. (Who can blame him?) Remember that when Martha Nochimson popped the question some years ago, “Chase startled me by turning toward me and saying with sudden, explosive anger, ‘Why are we talking about this?'” I think David Chase no longer has any more fucks to give about it. We may see future interviews of Chase increasingly turn into a blood-sport as he explodes at anyone who dares ask him again.

But I will say, I think some of the statements Chase has made over the years may have revealed a little bit of his own take on Tony’s fate. My feeling now is that Chase personally leans toward the idea that Tony was killed at Holsten’s, although my instinct about his intentions have not changed: I think he wrote, shot and edited the final scene in the way that he did in order to leave room for other, equally valid interpretations. This is where Chase departs from the proselytizing of the truthers—they won’t give you room for another interpretation. (I think that Chase almost literally gives us room to formulate our interpretations; the 10-second “pause” between the final frame at Holsten’s and the scroll of the credits is, to me, a televisual representation of the space we need to construct our formulations.)

Because Chase denies us explicit sight of anything that goes on in SopranoWorld after the cut-to-black, the only way to reach a state of absolute certainty about it is by making a leap of faith. There are plenty of bits of “evidence” that logically lead to the possibility that Tony was killed. But they don’t logically lead to the certainty that he was killed. Even Master-of-Sopranos recognizes this, as seen in a reply that he (she? “they”…) posted on their blog’s comment-section:

First off, many readers are hung up on the title of the piece. Well, “Definitive Interpretation…” is a catchy title and will get the “asses in the seats,” so to speak. Of course I don’t think it’s “definitive.” The bottom line is Tony wasn’t shown getting shot so I can never be 100% certain he was killed. However, I am 99% sure that Tony dying is Chase’s personal interpretation of the end of the show. That’s not as catchy of a title but the actual text of the essay makes that point. I’m not David Chase, so the title means nothing. On the other hand, I am highly confident my interpretation is correct.

Pretty reasonable statement by Master. The irony is that many of Master’s most ardent fans do make the leap of faith to reach 100% certainty while Master themself is not willing to. True-believers will find the face of Jesus on a piece of toast, while the rest of us see only the random markings of radiant heat on a slice of bread. (“Abstract shapes or somethin’,” as Tony said to Paulie.) We all see what we want to see, but only truthers and fundamentalists insist that everyone must see what they see. It makes me wonder: where do they get the balls!?

I’m not knocking people of faith, nor faith itself. I think there is certainly a place for faith and mysticism in the world, including within Sopranos fandom. My favorite way of thinking about the Sopranos ending is best expressed in the words of Karen Armstrong (though she wasn’t referring to the show whatsoever). In her beautiful book A History of God, Armstrong writes, “There is a linguistic connection between the three words ‘myth,’ ‘mysticism’ and ‘mystery.’ All are derived from the Greek verb ‘musteion’: to close the eyes or the mouth. All three words, therefore, are rooted in an experience of darkness and silence.” An experience of darkness and silence. This is precisely how Chase closes his series, and it is rooted in the myth, mysticism and mystery of The Sopranos.

A part of the reason why my write-up has taken the form that it has, drawing on various “-isms” and esoteric ideas, is to show that it’s possible for anyone to go through a work of art with a fine-tooth comb and reach whatever conclusions they’re inclined to reach. Tony-is-dead truthers don’t have a monopoly on this type of analysis. (And yeah, I know that some of the people I’m calling “truthers” are really nothing more than online trolls…) I would love to live in a world where my entire take on the final scene could simply consist of the sentence, “I think the cut-to-black is ambiguous and perfect and beautiful,” and everyone would totally respect and appreciate that—no further elaboration needed. But that’s not the world we live in. Ross Douthat, in that New York Times piece he wrote after reading Master-of-Sopranos, says that any critic who doesn’t answer the question, one way or the other, of whether Tony lived or died, is committing “an abdication of critical responsibility. From those critics who reject it, I want reasons to doubt the whacking reading, not lectures about the ineffable mysteriousness of art.” I genuinely don’t understand why Douthat and the truthers cannot respect me enough to take me at my word if I just simply said that I find The Sopranos to be ineffably mysterious. Chase himself has said that “to explain it would diminish it.” And I—despite this 30,000-word essay—agree with him. But I would add: the demands that some people make of others to explain themselves diminishes us. It diminishes all of us.

I think Chase gives us room to construct our own interpretations and then pushes us to be self-aware of these constructions, which is quite fitting given that The Sopranos is often aware of itself as something constructed. I won’t haul out my entire breakdown of “Stage 5” (6.14) here, but that most self-reflexive of episodes truly pointed out the constructed nature of The Sopranos (as well as the constructed nature of Cleaver, Born Yesterday, Billy Bathgate…) Even the title, “Stage 5,” pointed to the series’ constructed-ness by evoking a soundstage where a TV show or movie might be filmed. But more than anything else, it was the whacking of Gerry Torciano in that hour that pulled back the curtains and revealed the staged nature of The Sopranos. As the first bullet tears into Torciano and the blood starts spraying out of him, Chase slows the footage and warps the sound. This type of manipulation of imagery and sound cannot not occur in real life, it is something done in the film-editing room. Chase reminds us that his fiction is a constructed product.

The cut-to-black, too, was done in the editing room. It is not something that occurs in real life. (I would guess the phrase “cut-to-black” didn’t even exist in any of the world’s languages until the advent of filmmaking.) Chase reminds us, in the final moment of his series, that his fiction is a construction. And any interpretation we may have of that fiction is likewise a construction. John Schwinn said in “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” that “the shapes we see exist only in our own consciousness.” We make our reality—it’s something we construct inside our own heads.

Maybe the reason why this final episode contains so many images of TVs and monitors is to remind us that the show is a construction, fabricated specifically for television:

TV monitors

Perhaps this is too obvious to mention, but even the title of the episode points to its own construction: the show is something that has been “made” in America. What America, in turn, makes of the show—our opinions and interpretations—should be as diverse as the country itself.

The Sopranos, I think, is a true reflection of America and could only have been made in America. This is the golden Land of Opportunity. Over the years, we saw Tony Soprano make the most of some of his financial opportunities, but we also watched him squander the opportunities he had to reform himself and change his ways. Arguably no country more than America affords her people such a full breadth of opportunity and possibility: the possibility to succeed but also to fail; to do right by others but also to do wrong; to reinvent oneself but also to coast through life unchanged. “America, this is still where people come to make it—it’s a beautiful idea,” AJ said at the top of the hour. David Chase’s own grandparents seemed to believe in this idea, making their way here from the old country about 150 years ago. Chase has mentioned on occasion that he views The Sopranos to be an “immigrant story.” I sometimes wonder if my own deep interest in the series has something to do with me being the son of two immigrants, a man and a woman who crossed two continents and an ocean to build a better future for themselves here in the New World. With his final, ambiguous black frame of the series, David Chase isn’t shutting the door closed on us. He is throwing it wide open to a wealth of possibilities. What could be more American than that?

__________________________________

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© 2021 Ron Bernard
– Meet me back here in a couple of weeks (probably months) for a review of The Many Saints of Newark. 

228 responses to “Made in America (6.21)

  1. Infinite Content

    “Before I go any further, I want to get on record that I’m not very interested in trying to “figure out” what David Chase was thinking. (I’m a Sopranos fan, not a frickin mind reader.)”

    Then what the hell IS this blog 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ron – Before I even begin to read your commentary, I would like to thank you so very, very much for your years (and hundreds of hours) of well-crafted labor! You are an awesome, amazing human being! On that note, I will shut up and read your analysis. Rest assured, a hundred million comments (yeah, even a few from me) will be coming soon!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. George Khachadourian

    After not going on this site for many many months, I happened to login by pure coincidence on 26 November 2021, and here it is, published today. I am pretty freaked out right now.

    Anyway, fantastic read as always.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. First of all, allow me to say Ron, thank you very much for all your hard work on analysing every episode of the sopranos all these years, of taking your time, effort, burning your hands most likely or making your fingers very sores with the amount of writing you have done. Especially here in the final essay of everything in the final episode. Of the final scene, of the blackout, of what happened in Only in America, of going into all of above. Which I have read and come across before many times so I won’t touch on it.

    Ambiguity, ambiguity is the word for the Sopranos, this is a show that as you say, treasures not giving clear answers on nearly everything as you say above. Including here of what did happened in that diner. And it’s preciously why the series for me is still top quality after all these years, because unlike so many works of fiction, series that often feel tailored made or pander to the increased presence of fans. Who spend so much of their time theorising, fan wanking or fanonising a character, lore point, motivation, wanting this character to fight that character as GOT Cleganebowl shitrole across many years. Or Mephisto being in the latest MCU work since fans theorised them being in Wandavision.

    If anyone has ever been in the Neon Evangelion Genesis fandom like I have, will know this same feeling of how this level of fanon guessing, essay leveling analysing has become such serious business in places and fans literally, physically have fought over even simple things like characters shipping with different girls, of whether the curtains being blue mean they are depressed as some teachers at schools have blabbered about some famous works.

    Or fuckin barber scissors as some Sorpano fans have done with Made in America.

    Of that their interpretation is the right one, that others are plain wrong. Its honestly on the level of conspiracies theorists in places and I feel it has taken the life out of enjoying ambiguity, complexity, different interpretations being discussed and led to echo chambers where people echo their theory, thoughts without anyone or anything there to dissect it, to offer alternative viewpoints and weakens nuance depths etc.

    Because I think, as societies in the western world, we have been conditioned with fiction, with life to find certainties, of tying up loose ends, leaving no stones unturned. Hence why I think Death of the Author has become popular in circles. Because for some, it gives them the platform to say, I don’t agree with what the author wrote, I think what I feel is equally valid, that this has meaning for me in different levels.

    It’s fun to explore work on many levels, through different eyes and I do treasure it on many levels. But like anything, we can and do end up tribalizing things and it’s what happened somewhat with the Sopranos with the Tony-Dead- Tony not dead arguments. the fundamentalism, the depths some have gone to trying to prove their viewpoint, theory. This has and still does put me off, not because it’s not valid or shallow. But because the person, persons in question are so stubborn, so rigid on their theory, condescending or refuse to even accept another take on it.

    And that to me is such a shame and why I don’t discuss the final scene with anyone anymore.

    Personally, I lean towards the viewpoint that whatever happened there, isn’t important, that Chase left it unconfirmed so people can decide for themselves. Of not spoonfeeding the audience, tying things up with a bow etc.

    But enough on all of that, now for my thoughts on the episode itself.

    Made in America, I love for many reasons, from the fact despite it being the final episode, there are still many things that are ongoing, many different characters clearly experiencing or going through their own struggles, like in RL.The Sopranos characters stories aren’t at the end of the road here, there’s no and they lived happily ever after. No clean slate, book closing as you see in so many others. Even for Junior and his dementia now being at the stage it is. Who knows how long he will live on for? Who much more will he forget?

    Like rl, life goes on, Phil’s death doesn’t mean NY Mob died out, Butchie’s now there. Tony’s problems aren’t over with Phil’s death, not by a long shot. He now has a grand jury trial possibly coming up with Carlo possibly having flipped.

    As I detailed last time, there are a number of reasons why Carloe did or didn’t flip, or chose to vanish. His kid Jason, getting caught for selling ecstasy, his cousin Burt getting killed for flipping to NY, Tony calling him a cocksucker and humiliates him in Chasin It. Was it one of these things that caused whatever he did in the finale? all of them? Again the show leaves it to us to decide.

    Same for Patsi, who has his own Jason to worry about from the way he pulls him away at Bobby’s wake and how he shuts his wife up when Tony presses her about it. A very uncinematic guy, but one again. We have seen his beef with Tony before, the pool pissing, his brother being whacked. His remarks over the seasons like thank you that was wonderful. The look he gives Tony here always makes me wonder. What was and is going on with him in this episode, this is again the brilliance of the Sorpanos for me, always making me wonder, making me evaluate my own thoughts on the characters, of what Chae and his writers are getting at.

    Each rewatch of the series makes me think again on what I have seen before, heard from the characters.

    Agent Harris, it’s clear to me I think the fact Phil tried to set up that female agent before playing on him. Especially in the scene with the female agent coming out of his toilet, him cheating on his wife likely playing into her reaction. It’s an interesting thought she may be that agent in question, the Brooklyn link, or she simply may be the impulse that gave Harris the motive to tell Tony where Phil likely was. Again Chase gives us crumbs and lets us decide for ourselves. I wonder his final one, the one taken from that agent who got busted, is that a hint to Harris’ possible fate? Will his aiding of Tony see him in trouble? Again anyone’s guess.

    Phil’s death, always makes me laugh. The Sopranos has and always did find ways of adding absurdity into a moment like the clown when Tony saw his dad arrested, Chris killing Corsette because she crawled under there for warmth. Raff’s wig coming off moment chris tries to cut his head off.

    Those little bits always liven up the Sopranos and its why so many continue to quote it, comment on the videos on Borko’s channel on Youtube.

    I also think it interesting how much of Chase’s view of America, of Post 9/11 America gets fed into AJ’s mouth in this season. Of him saying a number of these things that we can see where he’s coming from, but of course his own spoiled background, contradictions as a person. Of him deciding to join the army, then taking the offer of doing porn etc for Carmine junior after his parents once again pull him back in. Yeah, Aj is certainly a character that is frustrating on all levels and a reflection I think like Shinji was for NGE, of some of the audience that hates themselves for sharing some of or all of AJ’s flaws, who project themselves into characters like Tony, to escape that and to see it upfront is why they are quite aggressive about him.
    Aand Tony himself as New Saint of Newark showed he wasn’t really that much different from his own son at the same age.

    But at least I guess, he isn’t in the mob, killing people day in day out like his dad is so that’s certainly something. Of course, if Aj was more tougher, actually had the initiative to do that life, would he? Possibly and ended up like Jackie JR. But because of AJ’s own lack of will, his embrace of his grandma’s view on life. He hasn’t and won’t, he will like Carmine Jr most likely, plow through life, get married have kids, make porn.

    Continue to frustrate his parents and they continue to mood over how he turned out even though it’s somewhat due to their own decisions and way of raising him.

    Meadow, my third watch and I certainly feel this time, seeing her go from what she is in the first season, where granted it felt mainly she was rebelling for the sake of it, of feeling self-righteous etc. to where she is by the end of the show, Engaging in the sort of rationalisation her parents have over the years, of embracing I think of her dad’s lifestyle. Of seeing the issues, struggles and spinning that to her own viewpoint. It’s certainly interesting to see, for all of Tony’s and Carm’s fantasy of her getting out, becoming a doctor or some sort. Of which Hunter’s presence here reminded Carm of and us as well. But of course, its shows how Chase I think shows that we aren’t predestined to fall into something just from the way we see or look at things, character words, choices in the present moment.

    Hunter clearly offscreen went through her struggles, turned her life around and is now working towards her goal. Maybe something like that will happen ith Meadow again down the line, years later.

    Now they have to live with where she has decided to go. Meadow will continue being Meadow no doubt about it I think. She has her intellect, her connections and she’s more likely to not end up washing clothes, ironing sheets as her mother in her own view has.

    Carmela loves her children, in her own way I think, she projects a lot of herself into them, of her own frustrations of where she ended up, of her own marriage to Tony. Of like any parent, expecting them to match what she thinks is best for them. Even if it’s not something they want and it’s a fallacy that’s all too relatable. Regardless of what happens or happened to Tony. Carm now lives obviously with her decision, to stay with Tony, of using him to get her spec house built. Of wondering if something in the house will kill that unborn baby any day. The housing collapse in 2008 could have gone a number of ways for her with or without Tony being there. Tony’s RICO trial, which as Carmine Sr told Junior, cost him a lot. Could have impacted her with Tony looking for his cut finally from the Bird Feeder.

    The last shot of Paulie, alone at Satarlies, is truly haunting, that cat is the only thing left to keep the old fuck company. It contrasts very well with the scene in Christopher where everyone but Paulie, Tony were sitting talking about Columbus Day, only Patsi and possibly Furio from that scene isn’t dead, in prison or comatose in Sil’s case. Another reflection of how Tony’s crew has declined by the finale, its future looking more bleak than ever.

    Sil, well he could well be stuck in Norway if one believes in Sil having his own Kevin dream in motion. Or somewhere else while his throat is pumped with Oxy and Gab cleaning his toes week in week out until likely Paulie repeats his Tony visit or the hospital decide to pull the plug, or he wakes up to find nothing the same. Just when he was out, he’s pulled back in.

    Paulie has lost his mum this season, Chrissy and now. He’s merely got his superstitions, his stories and that cat until the moment his time comes. He had no arc, no revelation apart from possibly the holy mary turning up to haunt him. That picture of Chris, a reminder of the dead following him, laughing at him. Wanting to know if the poison ivy still itches.

    Bobby’s wake, compared to Chris’s, hardly anyone feels upset, regretful or mourning a man who they often mocked, debased and got whacked because he was now number three, another man Janice involved with dead. And for what seems to be not much overall from the first time we saw him as the last man standing in start of season two; Now his kids have to live with Jancie as their only parent, the eldest like Janice wanting out, the younger trapped by a Livia creature. Like rl, cycles can and do spread across generations. Harpo, even now still haunting Jancie, still that presence in her life even though we never met the guy. Named after a song Tony mocked to Janices face, used in one of Tony’s lowest moments to undercut her Livia style.

    And Tony in all of this, it’s certainly interesting as always to watch James in what was his most well-known role. I’m still amazed and awe in how he took tony as a character, how he made me feel for this arsehole, murdering, philandering lech hypocrite of a human being, and made me cry at his lament of the ducks in the pilot. Of the way he wrestled with everything across the series. Despite his increasing vileness, the frog and scorpion play throughout.

    Now by the end, the words of go about in pity for yourself, seems to flow through him as he goes about in self-pity to AJ’s therapist. All those years complaining about patients complaining about their mother, background, looking to be excused in a way as Dr. Krakower put it to Carm in season three. I can see the man shaking his head at Tony, lamenting even more of his view of how psychiatry in America has gone. Tony in a lot of ways, is a man that has allowed himself to shut himself off from everything and everyone around him. Nothing that doesn’t impact him personally, emotionally or hut his pocket line phases him now I think. He gorges on his onion rings, on his wine from the Vipers. But the buzz, the feeling, all gone and downed in his own depression, the paranoia of never knowing if he will hear it or not.

    Something he’s reminded off when he finally goes to see Junior, the fates he espoused to Melfi, jail, death. christ, that scene really taps into our own fear, of ending up being forgotten, in a place that no one want to end up in, alone, forgetting who their sibling is, their thing. Tony, now lamenting in self pity again, of for alls season of wanting to not even think of his uncle after he shot him. Pretending he’s dead to him, now, now Junior reflects a happy moment, playing catch with him, the connection to the pilot when Junior cursed at him for all those hours playing it with him. Now only a distant memory, right before the Holsten scene, a place Tony was at one time. Awaiting for a certain someone that Junior saw to. A full circle moment in hindsight? Another layer of their relationship, and how what happened that one night led to in the long run maybe? Chase leaves us to decide again.

    The final scene, life goes on. Carlo’s going to testify most likely, AJ’s getting coffee and trying to remember the good times, Meadow can’t parallel park worth for shit as most people. Tony had onion rings, it goes on and on and on. Life’s journey is forever ongoing, regardless of what happened after it went black for the show.

    I have read how Chase, was frustrated by some fans, who he saw cheer for tony and then by final season. wanted him punished and that apparently he found disgusting. How contradictory he found that view of them, to root for him all this time and then decide he needs to die. Of course, as you noted above, I think some of this has been lost on Chase. I think that when you continue to make characters like Phil root against, for Tony to go up against. Then you are going to have a fair bit of your audience rooting for them. Chase didn’t need to keep making characters like Livia, Ralph, Phil, Ritchie. He chose to do that. Just as a lot of works of fiction have a character that authors want their audience to root for, against villain protagonists like L in Death Note.

    But Chase is like all of us, human and like all humans can and do have views that conflict with each other. It certainly seemed to raffle with some fans when it came to Many Saints of Newark, of what happened there, what Chase decided to do. No author can control what their audience thinks, what they feel and Sopranos reflects that very well.

    Personally, I wonder why Chase keeps talking about the final scene, as its clear, he’s fed up of talking about it. Having to clear up articles taking words out of context. But then its hard not for him to talk about it. A cycle that will go on I think.

    Anyways, I have said my piece and I look forward to reading other views and opinions from everyone else here.

    Thanks again

    Kind Regards

    Mamba

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m going to watch the final episode again before i read this, but just to reiterate what LK said, the whole site is a fantastic read. I read along when I re-watched the show during lockdown. So many wonderful insights – cheers Ron! Now do The Wire 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bravissimo Ron, it’s been well worth the wait. Thank you for your amazing analysis and for this incredible journey. Oh and by the way, I went ahead and ordered some for the table.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Love you Ron but you’re not being honest with that Chase interview with Seitz. You’re popping in quotes out of context. It’s clear the “the death scene” was Holsten’s and he only “went away from that” original idea in that you would know Tony was going to get killed going to the meeting in NY. Chase didn’t want that. The Master of Sopranos site explains it all but here is an excerpt of the interview with commentary:

    Alan: But you said you didn’t try to plan too far ahead. When you said there was an endpoint, you don’t mean Tony at Holsten’s, you just meant, “I think I have two more years worth of stories left in me.”

    Chase: Yes. I think I had that death scene around two years before the end. I remember talking with [writer/executive producer] Mitch Burgess about it, but it wasn’t-it was slightly different. Tony was going to get called to a meeting with Johnny Sack in Manhattan and he was going to go back through the Lincoln Tunnel for this meeting, and it was going to black there, the theory being that something bad happens to him at the meeting. But we didn’t do that.

    Matt: You realize, of course, that you just referred to that as a “death scene”.

    [A long pause follows]

    Chase: Fuck you guys.

    [Matt and Alan explode with laughter. After a moment Chase joins in for a good thirty seconds].

    Chase: But I changed my mind over time. I didn’t want to do a straight death scene. I didn’t want you to feel like “Oh, he’s meeting with Johnny sack and he’s going to get killed.” That’s the truth of it.

    Further, for any readers who have any doubt that both versions were intended to be “death scenes” (not just the first version), see this quote from Chase from the Daily Beast in 2014. Chase had yet to accidentally slip with the term “death scene,” but his comments, now seen in context with his later accidental admission, completely confirms that Tony was to die in either version, although the execution of that idea turned out to be slightly different:

    Q: Did you toy with different endings?

    Chase: No. There was an earlier version but it was basically the same thing, it just happened slightly differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ron, again you’re not being completely honest in your quotes. Once again you quote the Feinberg interview about Chase saying his words to Seitz were not a “slip” but you then never directly quote what he says AFTER which logically concludes that Tony was to die in EITHER version but just that it would be EXECUTED differently. Here is the full quotes in context:

    HR: The 2018 book The Sopranos Sessions was written by guys who wrote, at the time of the show, for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the paper Tony always read, Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall. They interviewed you and asked you to talk about the June 10, 2007, series finale with of course, “Don’t Stop Believin’” and the famous cut to black. You said, “Well, I had that death scene in mind for years before.” A) Do you remember specifically when the ending first came to you? And, B) Was that a slip of the tongue?

    Chase: Right. Was it?

    HR: I’m asking you.

    Chase: No.

    HR: No?

    Chase: Because the scene I had in my mind was not that scene. Nor did I think of cutting to black. I had a scene in which Tony comes back from a meeting in New York in his car. At the beginning of every show, he came from New York into New Jersey, and the last scene could be him coming from New Jersey back into New York for a meeting at which he was going to be killed.

    HR; And when did the alternative ending first occur to you? I’ve spoken with showrunners who said, “I knew at the beginning exactly how my show was going to end.” Or by season three or whatever. It sounds like when you were writing, you liked to stay six scripts ahead of where you were in the action.

    Chase: Yeah. But I think I had this notion — I was driving on Ocean Park Boulevard near the airport and I saw a little restaurant. It was kind of like a shack that served breakfast. And for some reason I thought, “Tony should get it in a place like that.” Why? I don’t know. That was, like, two years before.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Phew! It’s been one hell of a fucking rollercoaster ride, hasn’t it? I am trying to process your thoughts and overview of this episode. I understand your hesitation to provide us with ‘the definitive answer’ because you cannot. No one can. Is it really necessary to prove that Tony died or lived? It – the proof – is, after all, subjective and open to our own perceptions and interpretations. We tend to hate nebulous things – especially this ending. We expect, no … we demand that our needs (the answers to our questions) be met! And this time, they weren’t.

    Did Chase accomplish what he set out to do? To provide us viewers with entertainment and endless, mindboggling, gut-wrenching drama? YES! Eighty-six episodes and 86 deaths, hours of viewing the excesses of the rich, the put-downs of the working class, the plotting and scheming, the addictions to food, drugs and alcohol, the minimization of women and people of color, and ohh – so many tragedies! So, yes. Chase accomplished it all. And even managed to point out the flaws in us all – especially those of the characters who intrigued us for so many years.

    And what do I think happened?

    The King is dead. Long live the King! 😎

    Liked by 2 people

  10. There might be universes where Ron Bernard hasn’t written a Sopranos’ Autopsy, but I am glad I live in the one where he did write it. Just a warm, heartfelt compliment, for this great and timeless achievement.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Ron, you leave out the follow up from Chase after he says he “went away from that” but I’ll post that in a bit as his words clearly show he was only talking about the execution of the idea behind the “death scene”, NOT that Tony wouldn’t die in the final version. First though 2 quotes from Chase that CLEARLY show Tony was to die in either version (although Chase finally makes that explicitly clear in the Feinberg interview)

    Daily Beast 2014

    Q: Did you toy with different endings?

    Chase: No. There was an earlier version but it was basically the same thing, it just happened slightly differently.

    Deadline 2016:

    Q: Did you know [the ending] from the beginning?

    Chase: Not from the beginning but pretty fairly early on I had some kind of notion that it would end like that. There was an alternative but it kind of had the same feel, just didn’t happen in a restaurant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron, like most of the “Tony is alive” crew, do everything they can to avoid agreeing and acknowledging that the chances of Tony dying is the highest.. they will never accept it. Even if David Chase were to flat out say “Tony died” they would still think there were some ambiguity to the quote. Ron, out of all people, should not be this purposefully obtuse and need to be spoon-fed a result

      Like

      • For the record, any time I’ve ever said “Tony is alive” I have also said “Tony is dead”

        Like

        • Joe in Bensonhurst

          Ron, just don’t bother, Not only don’t they get it, it seems they don’t WANT to get it.

          Liked by 1 person

        • There’s just too much (more) evidence that Tony is shot. Sure.. Chase has written all throughout Season 6 that it doesn’t really matter (what happens to Tony if he goes to: Prison – Johnny Sack, Lives- Holsten’s, dies – when he is shot to begin Season 6) but the evidence that Tony is shot (final scene POV, bells > Tony POV, 3 O’clock premonition) is all just too much, never mind more, like Chase literally saying that Tony GETS it. I just think that the final scene, after the whole Season 6 buildup, is not as ambiguous as we all think.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m so glad to finally have this (thoughtful and insightful) critique of Made In America here. I had convinced myself that Ron was going to leave it as a “cut to black” uncommented-upon episode, with “The Blue Comet” as our final view, as sort of a meta-commentary on the series…never was I more glad to be proven wrong! Thanks for this excellent analysis, with much to digest and contemplate Ron! It’s clear you put your heart and soul into it, just as David Chase himself did for the series.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Ron, love the effort but you’re leaving parts of quotes out to make your point.
    For example, you say:

    Five years after the Finale, Chase said: “To me the question is not whether Tony lived or died, and that’s all that people wanted to know…There was something else I was saying that was more important than whether Tony Soprano lived or died. About the fragility of all of it. The whole show had been about time in a way, and the time allotted on this Earth…. He was not happy. He was getting everything he wanted, that guy, but he wasn’t happy. All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is.

    Here is more of the the actual quote including the very end if it:

    “Tony was dealing in mortality every day. He was dishing out life and death. And he was not happy. He was getting everything he wanted, that guy, but he wasn’t happy. All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. THE ONLY WAY I FELT LIKE I COULD DO THAT WAS TO RIP IT AWAY” [emphasis added with caps].

    So you leave out the last sentence where Chase suggests he did, in fact, rip Tony’s life away. It changes everything and you left it out.

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    • I’m not going to get too much into these age-old arguments that I’ve seen literally dozens of times in various places… But I get the feeling you think I was making an effort to “prove” that Tony didn’t die. THAT’S NOT WHAT I WAS TRYING TO DO AT ALL. (Emphasis added with caps.)

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      • I’m thankful for your near masterpiece and the free entertaining and illuminating content but your work now feels incomplete. Understanding that Tony died unlocks so much of the beauty and resonance of the show. Instead of pontificating on thousands of words on Schrödinger’s cat and Lady and the Tiger (all of which is not really very interesting and not very credible that it was any part of Chase’s intention) misses the big picture and the real questions:

        Form a thematic perspective, why was it important that Tony was to be killed in front of his family?

        Why did Chase choose to rob Tony of one final view of his precious Meadow?

        How does Tony dying in front of his family tie all the way back to the pilot and his fear of losing his family?

        Did you know Chase, in a live interview with Matt Seitz in 2016, explained the dominant emotion for him for the scene is sadness and makes him want to cry. He also said his emotions had nothing to do with the show ending but entirely based on what was occurring in the scene. Why do you think Chase feels this way?

        I have my thoughts on all of these questions. The ambiguity is in the MEANING of Tony’s death. But there is no ambiguity whether or not Tony dies as a plot point. People are conflating the two. Yeah, you have to revaluate the scene a few times to come to the conclusion that Tony died but it becomes obvious once you do.

        I’m also sensing some passive aggressive pettiness in this write up which wasn’t contained in your other 85 fantastic write ups. Most fans think Tony died and those that don’t are often called “Tony lives truthers.” It’s not a term I use because it’s petty but you turn it around to “Tony’s dead truthers” which is frankly condescending. You can do better.

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        • Watching people like Meadow’s Gold say “You can do better” while completely failing to comprehend one of the first and easiest-to-understand tenets of Ron’s thesis (there is no definitive answer, and that’s fine) makes me chuckle. Like that guy in Janice’s therapy session said, it’s fucking priceless. You did an amazing job with this blog, and your final entry did NOT disappoint! You are amazing.

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    • Meadows – If you read Ron’s comment in the fifth paragraph (up) from the end of his commentary, he noted that “The demand some people make of others to explain themselves diminishes us. It diminishes all of us”. One thing that many of us have done is point fingers at those whose words have angered or offended us. As far as I’m concerned, Ron is correct in expressing his opinions, just as you and I are. Try not to take the comments of others so seriously! It’s not worth it to get yourself all worked up over! Remember one thing – The Sopranos was a TV series that ended 14 years ago! Just remember the times that were good! 🤩

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  14. Listen, I never comment on ANYTHING online, but I have to say…and I want to stress that I can’t believe I’m saying this…that this was well worth the wait. I’ve had this site bookmarked for over a year now and have checked in regularly, sometimes with annoyance at how long it took for episodes to be added. But you really, REALLY nailed this. I cannot thank you enough for the insight and passion that you’ve brought to this project. You have honestly introduced so much into my appreciation of this series, and into art in general, that it’s hard to actually verbalize. This must have been incredibly difficult and stressful to see to its completion, but I have to say (and I don’t know you, so this will likely mean nothing) that I actually felt genuinely proud of you as I finished this. Truly an inspired undertaking, and I can’t believe how well you’ve executed this. Well done, sir.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. So when Ron quotes “I went away [from the original death scene idea]” it’s not that Tony lives but that the execution of Tony’s death would be different. I can’t explain it better than the Master of Sopranos but he/she experts the actual quotes from Chase giving the “I went away from it” quote elaboration and context. MOS then elaborates:
    Chase: But I changed my mind over time. I didn’t want to do a straight death scene. I didn’t want you to feel like “Oh, he’s meeting with Johnny sack and he’s going to get killed”. That’s the truth of it.*
    *(For any readers who have any doubt that both versions were intended to be “death scenes” (not just the first version), see this quote from Chase from the Daily Beast in 2014. Chase had yet to accidentally slip with the term “death scene,” but his comments, now seen in context with his later accidental admission, completely confirms that Tony was to die in either version, although the execution of that idea turned out to be slightly different:
    Q: Did you toy with different endings?
    Chase: No. There was an earlier version but it was basically the same thing, it just happened slightly differently.)
    Chase, in “The Sopranos Sessions” interview, then continues to discuss the alternate and original “Death Scene”:
    Chase: If you were producing that [tunnel scene], you’d say, “Well, obviously he’s a gangster, and his death means the end of the show, so he should die. Anyone would, so he should go through that.” But in the end, I decided I didn’t want to do that. Otherwise I would’ve filmed him going to the meeting with Johnny.
    Chase explains in that last quote that his original version of the scene (which Chase describes as more of a “straight death scene”) would be perceived as a more traditional gangster death since the scene itself has Tony meeting his fate at a gangster meeting. Chase explains that that ending would simply be perceived as the preachy “crime doesn’t pay” message (as Chase explains: “obviously he’s a gangster…so he should die…so he should go through that”). The question then arises is what is the distinction for Chase between the original death scene and what we ultimately saw in Holsten’s-a scene showed partially through Tony’s POV while he eats dinner with his family, and then ends with the audience sharing Tony’s POV at the moment of his death. Extensive comments from Chase will bring his thought process into focus and explain his main purpose in executing the scene the way he did:
    David Chase’s comments on the final scene to Jack Coyle of the Associated Press in 2012:
    “Tony was dealing in mortality every day. He was dishing out life and death. And he was not happy. He was getting everything he wanted, that guy, but he wasn’t happy. All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away.”
    Chase explains here that the ending was about the fragility and preciousness of life and the only way he could make that point was to instantly kill Tony. Chase, through his point of view pattern, puts us in Tony’s eyes at the moment of death, which expresses what sudden death may be like for all of us: one second we are there, the next second we are gone. We don’t always get a chance to say goodbye and we may not even know that we are dead. Tony and the viewer are simply “ripped away” from life, like a sudden pulling of the plug (remember that many of us thought our cable went out the first time we saw that final scene).
    Chase then continues:
    “He [Tony] was an extremely isolated, unhappy man. And then finally, once in a while he would make a connection with his family and be happy there. But in this case, whatever happened, we never got to see the result of that. It was torn away from him and from us.”
    Here, Chase explicitly equates Tony with the viewer in the final scene, confirming the use of his POV pattern that puts the viewers in Tony’s eyes at the moment of death (“It was torn away from him and from us”). Tony and “us” do not get to see the results of Tony’s death and the specifics of what exactly occurred in Holsten’s (“But in this case, whatever happened, we never got to see the result of that. It was torn away from him and from us”). There is no closure in death. Chase also emphasizes that Tony’s sudden death occurs in a rare, happy moment for Tony (“And then finally, once in a while, he would make a connection with his family and be happy there”). Tony was then “ripped away” from the most important thing in his life: his family (Part 2 section A: “What does Tony’s death mean?” thoroughly discusses this concept and the ultimate meaning of the final scene and how it relates all the way back to the pilot episode). Tony will never see his family again and never know the fall out of them seeing Tony murdered or what will happen to them in the future.
    In 2013, Chase was asked by Metro New York to shed light on the final episode. Chase would only say:
    “Well, what Tony should have been thinking, I guess, and what we all should be thinking — although we can’t live that way — is that life is really short. And there are good times in it and there are bad times in it. And that we don’t know why we’re here, but we do know that 20 miles up it’s freezing cold, it’s a freezing cold universe, but here we have this thing called love, which is our only defense, really, against all that cold, and that it’s a very brief interval and that when it’s over, I think you’re probably always blindsided by it. That’s all I can say.”
    Again, Chase reiterates that the final scene was about Tony failing to realize the fragility of life and about how perhaps we all fail to realize it as well. Chase is again equating Tony with the viewer, which explains his use of Tony’s POV in the final scene. Chase explains that we are often “blindsided” by death which explains why Tony was killed instantly and without warning. More importantly, Chase again suggests the importance of Tony being with his family in the final scene as he says that love is truly the only thing to protect us against the lonely universe. It was this essential truth that Tony failed to realize in the final season (Again, please see Part 2 section A: “What does Tony’s death mean?” which thoroughly discusses this concept and the ultimate meaning of the final scene and how it relates all the way back to the pilot episode).
    Chase, in a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, again emphasizes the meaning of the ending and all but explicitly states that Tony died while at the same time questioning how Tony has lived his life. Chase also states that the final scene asks a “spiritual question” and is then asked what that spiritual question is:
    “[Long Pause] I’ll say this: The [spiritual]question [that the final scene asks] is, to be really pretentious, what is time? How do we spend our really brief sojourn here? How do we behave, and what do we do? And the recognition that it’s over all too soon, and it very seldom happens the way we think. I think death very seldom comes to people the way they think it’s going to. And the spiritual question would be: ‘Is that all there is?”
    Further comments from David Chase to the Directors Guild of America in 2015 regarding Tony looking up for the last time and the cut to black:
    “I said to Gandolfini, the bell rings and you look up. That last shot of Tony ends on ‘don’t stop,’ it’s mid-song. I’m not going to go into [if that’s Tony’s POV], I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed.”
    Also, again, Chase to the DGA in 2015 about the final scene (both comments):
    “A.J had remembered a moment at the end of the final show of the first season when they were sitting down, eating in Vesuvio’s Italian restaurant and Tony said, ‘Just remember…value the good times,’ the moments, there really aren’t that many of them. And this is one of the very good times.”
    “The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them.”
    Again, Chase wanted to express the idea that life is fragile and that death can come suddenly and without warning. The first quote is a tacit admission that Tony died and that we saw it through Tony’s POV. The second and third quotes are critical in understanding Chase’s ultimate agenda for the final scene: That we should appreciate the moments with people we love and truly care about because we’ll never know how it will end and we won’t even realize that we are gone. That was the ultimate point of the viewer vicariously experiencing Tony’s death. In making this point, Chase sets up a happy moment for Tony (as Chase says “…and [Tony at Holsten’s with his family] is one of those very good times”) so that we understand his loss when he is killed.
    Chase’s comment at a live discussion in Brazil in February of 2013 at the Rio Content Market festival is also very telling regarding why we didn’t see Tony murdered and his use of Tony’s POV in the final scene:
    “I didn’t want the ending to be about showing that ‘crime doesn’t pay.’ The scene is about what Tony’s life meant to him, not what it meant to the people out there [Chase gestures to the ‘people’ in the audience]. If that makes sense?”
    Here, Chase again explains that he didn’t want the ending to be perceived as a preachy “crime doesn’t pay” message. Showing Tony murdered would simply make the scene about what Tony’s life meant to us (i.e. Tony-as a typical gangster-gets what he deserves and “justice” is served). Instead Chases uses Tony’s POV, in a relatively happy moment with his family, to show what his life meant to him, so that the scene becomes about what Tony has lost when his POV goes black and he’s separated permanently from them. Of note is that Tony’s instant death robs him of his view of his precious Meadow as she is about to come through the door. When the screen cuts to black, Tony can no longer see or “experience” anything-including the people he loved the most.
    Consequently, the critical distinction between Chase’s original “death scene” and the final death scene in Holsten’s is that the final version occurs while Tony is enjoying a moment with his family. The latter version allows Chase to carry out his ultimate meaning behind the final scene. The original version-despite cutting to black as Tony enters the Lincoln Tunnel-would make it fairly obvious that Tony’s dies the predictable gangster’s death. Further, Chase explained that we would essentially know Tony is going to die at the meeting with Johnny Sack (we could assume that the events leading to the scene would imply that New York had a motive to kill Tony; as Chase says, it is Tony who is “called” to the meeting with Johnny Sack, to ostensibly meet his fate). As Chase said, he rejected the original version partly because “I didn’t want you to feel like ‘Oh, he’s meeting with Johnny sack and he’s going to get killed.’” The final version would have no apparent plot to kill Tony that we are aware of, setting up the “never hear it” concept that is so crucial to illustrating how quickly and without warning that we could die (As Chase said about the final scene: “..when it’s over, I think that you’re probably always blindsided by it”; “I think death very seldom comes to people the way they think it’s going to”).

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    • Meadows – Use paragraphs please! It’s too difficult to read your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

    • To quote Billy Madison (as opposed to Bathgate): “…What you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Good grief, give it the fuck up….we get it, you disagree. Please do so respectfully and allow others their opinion….

      Liked by 2 people

      • I really don’t get the point of having to convince others that your interpretation of the masterfully presented, final scene of the finest television series ever is the one and only correct version. Madone, there IS no correct interpretation….just as everything everyone is a part of everything else, ‘any way you want it’ is what happened in that diner on that fateful evening in New Jersey, you can’t be right or wrong. It’s wrapped in my memory with everyone playing their part, and I see it differently in different years/viewings.
        Congrats, Ron, on an awesome analysis…this episode deserved it and you delivered.

        Liked by 1 person

    • For some reason, this post leaves out the crucial first two sentences of this Chase quote: “Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point. To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.”
      So even though Chase says it’s not the point, you hang your hat on the fact that it’s the ONLY point, then cherrypick partial quotes in an attempt to prove that you’re correct. Remember when Tony, in his hospital bed and reading a book about dinosaurs, brings up to Christopher the “postage stamp on top of the Empire State Building” analogy when talking about human beings time on the planet? In this case, perhaps some viewers have become so obsessed with finding and proving the answer to the last four minutes of a 77 hour series that they miss the question.

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  16. Wow. I’m going to have to break this down into a couple of days. So glad you did this. Going out with a bang. What a great write up just based on the first 1/4 or so of it I read so far.

    Regarding whether America would be different today had Bobby Kennedy not been assassinated and become president. It’s kind of like asking whether a runaway circus bear would have mauled it’s victim if it had a better trainer. It’s possible, but a bear is a bear.

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    • That’s a harsh view of the country, but you may be right…

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      • More less talking about the military industrial complex than the country itself, the people, the idea, etc. I don’t want to sound like David Chase here but I have a tough time with nationalism, the belief that the land between the imaginary lines you live in is better than the land outside of them. My brain just doesn’t work that way. Pretentious, I know. But eyyy.

        I guess a better way of putting it is this, what happened to Bobby Kennedy (and his brother, and Camelot as a whole) has to justify my harsh view of the country to some degree.

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    • The idea that RFK could unite the country is simply a byproduct of his assassination. The Kennedys were a terrible blot on this country’s history and perfected the art of stealing elections. It’s easy to fall for the fairy tale that he would have extricated us from Vietnam but reality is a lot sticker than oratory. The best RFK moment is when he was grilling Raymond Patriarca, mob boss of Boston. After the session, Patriarca sneered to RFK and said “your retarded sister has more brains than you and your brother together.”

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  17. Wow Ron. That was perfect. Even better than expected. Thanks! Thanks for opening my mind and making me think.

    My first bout of Sopranos binge watching, long after it aired, I concluded Tony didn’t die. He couldn’t. He had too many lives. He was larger than life. More perceptive than most and he would have seen it coming. Cut to black was the sad end to a series. Not to Tony. By the third binge I’m thinking maybe. Maybe it could have gone either way. Probably started leaning this way with the thought that James was not longer with us so it could happen.

    My forth binge, with the pandemic making it’s way with us my thoughts became more negative. Reading similar comments to those you mentioned and I’m thinking, “Yeah, he got it. Cut to black.”

    This blog has been a highlight over the past couple of years. Thanks for bringing me back to a more positive light. In the Sopranos world and the current made in America one.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. ~ Carmela sure got her comeuppance when Hunter told her that she was in her second year of pre-med! It was pretty obvious from the get-go that Carm and Tony wanted Meadow to be a doctor. However, I didn’t see her demonstrate any heartfelt empathy for others, even though she seemed to be ‘concerned’ with the plight of Muslims.

    ~ I liked the last scene with Tony and Janice, especially when she told him that she understood that his comments about roadies and blow jobs weren’t to be taken seriously.

    ~ What struck me as rather odd was Tony’s decision NOT to be seated with his back closest to the wall. Instead, he’s in the center of the diner across from the bathroom. It’s almost an open invitation for someone to ‘whack’ him’!

    ~ If – IF – Tony wasn’t shot, what would his future look like? Well, he’s facing nearly 2 decades in federal prison on RICO charges, unless he starts naming names, which I find very hard to swallow. However, just about everyone ‘big’ in his mob world is dead, so he could have told the FBI who was responsible for some murders (obviously not the ones he committed), etc. As I commented earlier, he certainly wouldn’t have tolerated being relocated.

    ~ OK. Let’s say that Tony only ends up facing 5 – 10 years in prison. By then, his savings would pretty much be deleted, as attorney fees would have cost millions of dollars. And neither Partsy nor Paulie would be making a ton of money for him, as they were likely ‘taken over’ by the NY famiglia.

    ~ Tony’s life expectancy is ‘up in the air’, so to speak. His physical health has deteriorated significantly; he’s at least 80lbs overweight, is at- risk for high blood, smokes cigars, is at-risk for various forms of cancer and diabetes (and possible stroke, like his mother), had years of unprotected sex with multiple women, has led a very sedentary lifestyle, and drinks/gorges on fatty foods to excess. His emotional health is also impaired; he suffers from significant panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. According to Carl Biadek (Sept 2014), medical experts theorize that Tony might live up to anywhere between age 56.2 to 68. (I highly doubt whether all of those potential risks would have any effect on his lifestyle.)

    Liked by 2 people

  19. More ‘ifs’:

    • Meadow: I don’t think that Meadow’s life would change whether or not Tony lives. She’ll work with Patrick’s law firm until they call off their engagement; he might leave her due to her snarkiness/cruel put-downs (evidenced by her history of nastiness toward mommy and daddy)..She will dedicate her life to protecting mobsters and white collar criminals. And she will never, ever have any children!

    • AJ: The kid will not be able to keep his job with Lil Carmine’s company because he’ll soon realize that he’s nothing more than a paid flunky. He’ll find peace of mind living with his mother until he gets married. Of course, his bills will be paid by mom and his wife because he’s happiest when doing nothing, other than sitting (shirtless) on his computer chair and giggling like a silly little girl in chit-chat rooms!

    • Carmela: If Tony lives, he’ll probably be imprisoned out of state, so visits from his wife will be very limited. If he dies, she’ll be able to maintain her lifestyle by flipping houses. She might even get remarried – maybe to some rich schnook who gives good head and gives her lots of pocket money and expensive gifts!

    • Janice: It’s highly unlikely that she’ll find another man rich enough to support her, so she’ll have to sell her mansion and move into an apartment. She’ll lose custody of Bobby’s kids because they’ll rat her out to Social Services (cruelty, violence, neglect). Nica will be a runaway at a very young age and/or a drug addict, and might even be placed in foster care until she ages-out. Poor Janice!

    • Paulie and Patsy: Given their lack of resources (manpower), these guys will cave into the NY faction, and will be overworked by Butchie until they both keel over (from old age or a bullet to the back of their heads)!

    Everybody’s futures look pretty bleak because they aren’t good people. 😣

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Congrats ron looking forward to reading this

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Congrats Ron
    Very interesting analysis

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I would Chase would just come out and say what happened. He needlessly adds to the ambivalence and uncertainty of life, instead of providing us with the warm, loving, feeling of closure.

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  23. Please “Bear” With Us

    Oh my effing God. The final summary. I’m so excited. Plus I introduced my family to the Pilot ep today. Now I am happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. No wonder it took so long for this “Made in America” piece to come out – it’s quite an opus, and it reflects a lot of work, thought, and research. I tend to see this episode in much the same light as you (insisting on one interpretation diminishes the entirety of The Sopranos). “Truthers” seem to consider that the writers, those who created the characters, could have crafted an after cut-to-black ending so that, for example, Members Only Guy’s gun backfires or misses its mark and Tony overpowers him (if MOG was really an assassin) ala the first attempt on Tony’s life in “Isabella.” There are near an infinite number of resolutions. Hell, maybe A.J. tackles the guy and saves his father, springboarding him into adulthood and Tony’s good graces. Maybe MOG pulls a Gigi Cesonte and has a heart attack on the throne.

    Anyway, I never picked up on the Schrodinger’s Cat thread until now, and I find it very thought-provoking.

    In “Cold Stones”, Carmella’s remark while in Paris offer perhaps additional foreshadowing (sorry, Ron) into the cat theory that the observer affects reality: “When you go to a place you’ve never been before, it’s like… all the people were imaginary till you got there. It’s like until you saw them, they never existed, and you never existed to them.”

    Ro, of course, maybe channeling Paulie, responds: “I don’t know, maybe you’re more a philosophical person than I am.”

    Thanks so much for this wonderful site. I use it each time I rewatch and it’s become indispensable. Now, get some rest!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. What a fantastic journey this has been. I did my first rewatch in 2019 for the 20th anniversary and proceed to immediately start the show again after finishing the finale. Been rewatching the show since then. Came across this site during that first 2019 rewatch and have loved all of your work Ron! Thank you so much!

    So the bells at the diner. Been lingering on that for a long LONG time. Obviously there is a very strong association between bells and death. We have the “death knell” and “funeral toll” as two examples. The thing I can’t shake is that bells and Tony’s POV are actually NOT exclusive to the final scene at the diner.

    There are two other examples (I’m aware of) where Chase establishes “bells equate Tony’s point of view”. The first is outside the hospital in “Fleshy Part of the Thigh” when Janice wheels him outside. Church bells ring across the street and Tony looks up and we see his POV of the bells going off.

    The second example is in “Sopranos Home Movies” when a battered and bruised Tony is sulking outside and staring at the lake. The dock bell is ringing and the wind and he looks over. I believe we get TWO POV shots during this scene.

    My personal interpretation is that Chase had laid the groundwork that the bells are literally signifying “Tony POV” shot. And he set the precedent almost a year in advance. Because of that, I’ve always taken the simple stance that the black is Tony’s POV. It’s his literal nothingness.

    Whatever interpretation/conclusion you come to should feel personal. There are no right or wrong answers here.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Shout out to the poster who read Ron’s novel and still thought “People want 30+ paragraphs out of me.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hahaha, I thought the same thing. “Big ups to the person that saw this entry and was like, ‘Nah, not deep enough – let’s really dive into every little thing DC said ever and let me hang my hat on these words instead of those words.” I’m dizzy with laughter.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. I’ll never forget the feeling in my stomach after I finished watching this episode for the first time. It’s not an exaggeration to say that feeling would in time end up changing the way I see and think about life, and so much of that has been reflected in your 86 essays. My sincere thanks to you for all your work – The Sopranos is the very best piece of art made this century, and this blog is the very best companion available.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Thanks for the reference to my video! I’m honoured. And great work on this. But what do you mean `looking forward to some rest’? Get started on The Many Saints of Newark!

    Liked by 2 people

    • haha thanks Steve

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      • Following on from what you wrote about theories, I would be interested to know what you consider to be evidence against the argument that Made in America is a dream.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t like to make an argument against a particular theory, I was only trying to make an argument against the insistence that a particular theory is correct.

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          • In that case you are extending the concept of ambiguity beyond its proper reach, in terms of both The Sopranos and its application in other forms of art and philosophy. Ambiguity means that there is a way that reality is and how it operates, but the ability of our minds to understand and represent it is limited. There is a bedrock of fact below our perspectives even if we can only express it as an interpretation. By saying that `I was only trying to make an argument against the insistence that a particular theory is correct’ you are overlooking this foundational structure.
            To apply this to the show, the subjectivity that Chase makes so much of, that `nobody knows anything’ and so on, still presumes plenty of objectivity. For example, the crew often meet at Satriales and the Bada Bing!, Tony treats Meadow as his daughter, and the events and dialogue of each episode. These types of thing are unquestioned. Within the narrative they are `hinge propositions’, as Wittgenstein put it in On Certainty.
            Even in previous dream sequences such as in The Test Dream or Join the Club / Mayham there is this bedrock. Ambiguity does not mean that reality is not a particular way, only that our comprehension and evaluation of it is filtered through our minds. Either Made in America is a dream or it is not.

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        • Speaking of that theory, isn’t this the episode where Tony is digging in the back for juniors treasure and brow, looking up at the sun, and the sun looks suspiciously like the light he saw when he is a coma? I watched the series again a couple years ago and was truly stunned by that scene. Anyone else have any thought on that?

          There is also significance to that episode of the twilight zone playing in the stash house. I don’t really know what it is, but Chase and a lot of the other writers were huge tz fans. There has to be some reason why that episode was chosen out of five seasons worth.

          Liked by 1 person

          • The scene you refer to is not in Made in America. The episode of The Twilight Zone is called The Bard and it is about a screenwriter who summons William Shakespeare using black magic. Along the lines of the artistic technique of magic realism this is another clue that the reality of the episode is not working according to the usual rules, i.e., it is a dream.

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          • My apologies, that scene is there. I was confused by the suggestion that Tony is digging for `Junior’s treasure’. You could be right about the connection to the beacon in the coma dream.

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  29. Ron this was just nothing short of amazing. I probably spent close to two hours reading this last night and I think it is completely brilliant.
    There are just so many things I would love to talk to you about, but my favorite parts of the essay were your discussion of John Schwinn , connective tissue, the opposite of nihilism, separate realities and Schrodingers Cat. With all that in mind, I was wondering why you didn’t mention this one additional point. With regards to the cut to black, when Tony is choosing the song and we see him flipping through the jukebox to “Don’t Stop Believing,” notice the flipside of that song: “Anyway You Want It.” It fits perfectly with your theory… that the ending can be whatever you ( the viewer) want it to be. Anyway you want it that’s the way you need- it anyway you want it. So even though we don’t hear that song, it fits with the cut to black being a separate reality for the viewer watching it. The fact that Tony may be alive, may be dead, it’s your choice. But whatever our reality is, we won’t stop believing it. Ron thank you for all of your hard work it has opened my eyes to so many things. I will go back and re-read your autopsy for years to come, for pure enjoyment, As I’m sure many others will do. Have a lovely holiday season and again thank you!!!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks so much Sue. It’s true I didn’t mention “Anyway You Want It” but I made sure to include a screenshot of the card with both song names because, yes, that sums up this entry..

      Liked by 3 people

  30. PS I forgot about your Buddhist word for scripture coming from the word sutre meaning thread. I’m not sure if you mentioned this in a previous write up, but could there be some connection between that and the fact that Tony has an open incision- one that isn’t all sewed up????? And could this connect to the fact that the series itself isn’t all “sewed up”- it’s an open incision. that final thread isn’t closed, leaving its interpretation open, like Tonys incision? Just a little morsel for you to munch on Ron- thanks again.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Please "Bear" With Us

    Ron,
    Your achievement is pretty amazing here, with the overall blog and this final write-up. This essay is not only enlightening and wonderfully written, it is also emotionally moving. I’ve never seen a better analysis and it’s a piece of art unto itself.
    Steve

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Dinner at the Spacely’s

    There’s no question that the theme of uncertainty is all over this show, particularly in the latter seasons. And the cut to black is undeniably a choice that plays into ambiguity and subjective interpretation. It’s also a choice that forces us to consider Chase’s intentions, as it draws our attention to the artifice of the medium. But all that said, Tony getting hit is the only explanation that fits the evidence with a satisfying neatness. From the opening moments of 6A, with the Burroughs piece on the seven souls and the order in which they leave a body, the final episodes are stuffed with portents of death. And as you note, the final scene in Holsten’s ratchets up the tension and foreboding to an almost unbearable degree. Then we get the sequence of shots as explained by Master of Sopranos, which pretty definitively shows the final shot is Tony’s POV. At the very least, Chase wanted us to think that it’s very possible Tony just got whacked. And if we accept that, then there aren’t multiple interpretations of the ending, but two: Either Tony was killed, or the show simply stopped.

    I would suggest that the theme of uncertainty is more about the nature of reality—is life some kind of dream; does our soul go on after death; does life have a purpose; etc.—and not so much about the sequence of events, Russians in the Pine Barrens notwithstanding. I’d argue that this is precisely what irritates Chase: the show is about so much more than whether Tony gets his just desserts, and everyone’s stuck on this relatively transparent plot point that’s really well supported in the text.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Ron – I was both teary eyed & clapping after finishing this review. Thank you for your tireless work over the years and for helping us better comprehend that this indeed is the greatest television show of all-time.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. I haven’t read all the post yet but I’m so excited it finally is here.

    I’ve been thinking a lot of the final episode, and the final few scenes. Specifically, Tony’s last meeting with Paulie. I never see anyone talking about how Paulie may have been the person who sanctioned the hit on Tony in Holsten’s.

    What have we seen from Paulie before when he’s upset over something? Whenever he gets that puss on his face, that angry look, he lashes out in some form or fashion. A moody Paulie is not rational. He is vindictive, selfish, and makes rash decisions that benefit him. To add to this, there has been anger brewing all of 6B between Paulie and Tony. In the last episodes, an emphasis on “when my time comes, will I stand up?” comes over Paulie. I don’t think this was ever resolved; he was never tested as far as I can remember. *So why put that in?* I think his test was being placed into the role of leading the Aprile crew. His search for identity, him seeking an understand of whether he’ll be that stand-up guy and do the right thing; much like Tony, I don’t believe he succeeds. I think he reached out to Butchie/NY to set something up.

    I see a lot of parallels between Paulie and Christofah, the main one underscores how they have both have perceived slights from Tone and harbor some deep resentment. I think of when Paulie sits in his seat, staring at the beautiful artwork of Pie-o-My and Tony in his general uniform. Glaring at it. Almost seething at it. This simmering heat that Paulie felt never, in my opinion, was resolved. When could it have been? When Paulie opened his heart to Tony and told him about the virgin Mary, and was promptly shit on? I think the feelings he he felt were only heightened by the final scene with Tony and Paulie outside of Satriale’s. Christopher turned his pain and harbored ill feelings into a movie; what did Paulie turn his into? We see the cat pull up to the final scene outside Satriale’s.

    Paulie has always been a cockroach. He survived by the skin of his balls during the Colombo days, and I’m sure he felt pushed into a corner by being given the cursed Aprile crew. He has also always been on Tony’s side, kissing ass. But in the final scene, we can see he’s clearly had it. He is pensive, lost in thought and seemingly distraught. We see Paulie sitting back, relaxing in the sun, and we think it’s the last we see of Paulie. But a lot of the times when we see Paulie after a major event, he is usually relaxing and then seems to focus on what’s bothering him. I think of Pie-o-My again, I think of him waking up from his nightmare, etc. When we see the cat sitting and staring at Paulie, we think, “Christopher” and maybe have a little chuckle that despite his anger at the cat being around, there is he, staring. I think this would serve as a reminder to Paulie had we stuck on the frame just a little bit longer, a reminder that Tony doesn’t give a shit about him and what he thinks.

    And why should it just end there for Paulie? I recall when Butchie suggested to Phil, we cut the head off the snake and deal with whatever’s left (paraphrasing I’m sure). There is evidence of a previous inkling that Butchie would be inclined to do just that; kill Tony and deal with the next-man-up. After all, the leadership in that pygmy thing is redundant and bleeds the kick. Is it inconceivable that Paulie, finally pushed into a corner and not wanting to be ill-fated after his brush with cancer, combined with having nightmares about his loyalty to his family/Tony, combined with everyone missing his Ma’s funeral (something he would never forget; so fuck the rest of the guys, basically), combined with an opposition that may want to put him in the ultimate position of power & money, combined with the utter lack of respect given to him by Tony, is it inconceivable that he would not stand up now that his time has come?

    Ahh, probably. I don’t ever hear anyone talking about if Paulie is the one who set it up, so it seems I’m the only one conceiving this idea lol. But to be fair to myself, Chase did one time say that “the ending is *all* there.” I realize this is probably another paraphrase- and the emphasis is my own, obviously- but if it’s indeed *all* there, then who did it/put it together should be, in theory, there as well.

    I know I’m probably wrong I want to know who killed him or at least set the wheels in motion, and this is my theory. I really threw this together quickly so I think I missed some points or got some wrong, but I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this and to tell me that (and how) I’m wrong.

    You the man, Ron. Can’t wait to read this in full.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah I can see it being Paulie

      Liked by 1 person

    • manny44ameritechnet

      The other reason I can see David Chase being ok with the idea that Paulie could conceivably sell out Tony is that Tony Sirico famously made it a stipulation when joining the show that his character never becomes a rat i.e. cooperate with law enforcement. I can see David Chase thinking fine, don’t for a second think that makes you or your character honorable in any real, meaningful way… and so he makes him a rat in a different sense. That could be why the cat hangs around him.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Daniel – Why do you think you’re ‘probably wrong’? Your comments/thoughts/observations are quite valid! Aside from Phil Leotardo, Paulie was the most anti-Tony person around; Tony blatantly disrespected Paulie for years, and didn’t even try to hide it! Paulie, like Tony, was always seething with rage and frustration about his ‘lot in life’. And we all know how often he complained to Johnny Sacrimoni about his ‘situation’. I think that Paulie colluded with Butchie to whack Tony, as well as for Butchie to ‘buy out’ the NJ crew in return for him (Paulie) cooperating with – and making money from – the NY faction. What about Patsy? I think he’d go along with Paulie without a second thought. They both knew that the NJ crew had been whittled down to a ‘nub’, and that neither one of them was really strong enough to out-wit/outmaneuver the NY famiglia. 🐽

      Liked by 1 person

  35. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see this!! Brilliant as ever. Thank you so much for your excellent work over the years Ron.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. First of all, congratulations on posting this. I happened to be in Rome when I checked out your site (like I do many days) for an update, and I let out an “Oh my god.” My girlfriend thought something was wrong!
    I’m going to leave some comments as I go because this thing is long and I don’t want to forget. Looking forward to reading other people’s comments too.
    I just got to the part about Little Italy, and since we’re talking about consumerism and the American Way, it reminded me of a bizarre story from 2015 that seemed like it could be from the Onion. An 85-year-old Italian-American woman was being evicted from her Little Italy apartment to make way for an expansion of The Italian American Museum, which owned the building. Apparently the bad publicity wasn’t enough to deter the museum, though they gave her an extension on the move-out date. She’d lived in the neighborhood more than 50 years and was once the queen of the San Gennaro festival.
    Story here: https://gothamist.com/news/italian-american-museum-is-evicting-85-year-old-italian-american-woman

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a story! I always thought one of the themes of the sopranos was the erosion of Italians into the mass of America. I thought that was the point of the little Italy tour bus speech and butchie stumbling into Chinatown. Basically, it’s over. Italians assimilated. It had already happened by the time it became cool to be Italian in the 1970s. And so too has the mob. The old neighborhoods are all broken up. No one sings doo wop on the street corners anymore. The only Italian anyone knows is half remembered regional slang words that would be hopelessly antiquated in Italy today……Everything changes and goes on and on and on…

      Liked by 1 person

  37. Characters that were recast on this series:
    ▪Father Phil ▪Irina ▪Angie Booensiero ▪Gino/Vito ▪Barbara Soprano
    ▪Philly/Patsy ▪Agent Deborah Ciccerone ▪ Joanne Moltisanti ▪ (young) Livia
    and finally: ▪Sophia Baccalieri

    Like

  38. manny44ameritechnet

    Well, Ron…you did two things I thought weren’t possible with this essay…made it worth the wait and made me change my perspective on the ending. I don’t know you but I love you. Buono Fortuna.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. This is all stream of consciousness as I was so excited to finally read this! My apologies if it seems like rambling…
    I do think that the recent interview actually did lend a little more evidence to the “Tony is Dead” fan club, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the “death scene” slip up or him talking about getting done-in at a diner, though I think it certainly helped. I really don’t think about the barber scissors, or the weird little coincidental details that many of the evangelics point towards. I think Bobby’s line obviously matters, and I think that narratively Tony dying in the end makes the most sense, especially the way Season 6A/6B are constructed. To me, it’s very much focused on Tony’s spiritual journey. There is a lot of symbolism I think starting from the first episode, where I always saw Tony digging for the lost money in the backyard as him “digging his own grave”, so to speak. I don’t know why I felt it, but I absolutely remember thinking back to that scene at the end, more than most scenes. And to me, the climax of his journey was “I Get It!”, which I always interpreted as his realization that he’s a terrible person, but he’s nowhere near as conflicted about it anymore. Or maybe that he’s not a terrible person, but he’s more comfortable and content with who he is and his place in the world than he ever has been before. Despite some obvious overlap, which is why I rarely say the show is “about” the mafia, “boringness”/”regularness” of life for Tony IS different than compared to most people. He himself says it ends in one of two ways. That’s “regular” for someone like him. So I think part of his “I Get It!” is also coming to terms with it and why that is usually the case
    But what I really took away from the most recent interview was really hammering home that idea of “you loved this guy, you SAID you want to see him face down in a bowl of spaghetti, but you really don’t want to”. He’s made mention of that before too, but he seemed very focused on it this time, for whatever reason. To me, it’s the simplest explanation of the ending. Yeah he died, and you THINK you want to see it, but you really don’t. You loved the guy. Even if he was a monster. Chase didn’t want to see him facedown in spaghetti. You don’t either. Whether you think that makes him an asshole for making that creative decision or “speaking for us” is up for debate, but I think it’s a really simple explanation for why the show ends the way it does, and I often tend to gravitate towards the simplest explanation. I completely agree about “ambiguity” being a central component of the show, but a big chunk of that ambiguity was our relationship to a monster and how we were supposed to feel about it, and I think it has a direct connection with the ending.
    Of any of the more “secondary” theories, I could see the Paulie one. But even that is a little more convoluted than I’d like it to be, which is why I gravitate to the interpretation above. Chase has repeatedly hammered home the hits-and-tits stuff in discussions about the ending. The show is about far more than a mobster potentially getting his comeuppance. But to a lot of the hits-and-tits people, that was the point. All that Chase is usually saying in these interviews, to me, is that however it ended (dying or not) wasn’t the point, but why it ends the way it does is the point, and many people tend to ignore the “why” for the “what”. I don’t think it really matters that Tony dies, even though I think it makes the most sense the way S6 is constructed. But I do think it matters why he doesn’t show it. And to me, it’s because it makes us confront the ambiguity of how we feel about Tony and whether we think he “deserves” it or not (ARE there people “far worse than Tony” as Carmela would say), and why at all should we want to see someone we admittedly “liked” get shot in front of his family.

    Liked by 2 people

  40. ‘The Sopranos’ was, as we all know, a series that not only won international acclaim, but still continues to garner (and ‘hook’) new viewers on a daily basis! It was nominated for multiple awards an incredible 280 times and won 86, including 21 Primetime Emmys! Not bad for an 8 year run! [ Note: ‘Game of Thrones’ is the all-time record holder. To date, it won 269 of 738 nominations.] Thank goodness HBO had as much faith in it as we all did!

    Liked by 2 people

  41. Thanks so much Ron for all your work on this amazing site. I’ve been waiting with baited breath for this final episode analysis and of course you have not disappointed.

    I fully agree with your take on the ending – it can be whatever the viewer wants it to be. And in a world where things are increasingly required to be either black or white, as we all know in this life (and its fucking regularness) things are rarely so clear-cut. It’s the many shades of grey that for better or worse, make life in this plane of existence what it is.

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  42. You’ve knocked it out of the park 85 times already, and I have no doubt the 86th is a grand slam.
    Another thanksgiving feast. Thank you!

    I must admit, I’m surprised by my reaction to the event of your final autopsy. I usually tear into it like
    a kid on Christmas morning, but this time I find myself holding back, like Bobby with Karen’s final Ziti.
    I didn’t want the Sopranos to end, and now I don’t want these deep dives to end, but I’m being shortsighted.
    New viewers find this site all the time and that will only continue. Lucky devils! They now have a completed
    canon just waiting for them.

    Ron, you have not only created a work of beauty, you have continuously nurtured thoughtful commentary.
    That’s a rare combination. Big Lift! What an accomplishment! Congratulations! A Salut’.

    Liked by 2 people

  43. Thank you Ron. I have been eagerly awaiting this final write up and you really nailed it! I refer this site to so many of my friends in spreading the evangel about the greatest TV series of all time. Great to see it finally completed.

    Just one thought to add to the discussion of this episode is the setting where George Paglieri brokers the sit down always reminded me of the set from the movie Cleaver of the garage where the “Christopher” character kills the “Tony” boss character. I always felt this was an allusion/foreshadowing of Tony’s possible fate at the end of the episode (whatever fate you choose).

    Liked by 1 person

  44. In the words of Monsignor Jughead: “Woah…”

    Going into this piece I certainly didn’t expect it to venture into the realm of quantum physics and actually fitting into the larger concept! I wouldn’t say your opinion on the (in)famous ending much differed from my own but merely added to it. I’ve always felt what happened during the cut-to-black didn’t matter because Tony was a hollow golem by that point, basically already dead and what actually might have happened at the time is yours to speculate… that’s the only truth.

    You brought forward many good examples from the show of how Chase might have hinted at the idea of perceived realism but I’d like to add one I think also encapsulates this well. From “Stage 5” as Tony unloads his frustration about Chrissy to Melfi.

    M: I’m sure on some level he loves you too.
    T: Yeah? Take that, judge for yourself. Last five minutes should answer that question.
    M: I’m not going to do that.
    T: Not a horror fan?
    M: It’s what you think that matters.

    And I too share your frustration about “truthers”. In a sense, they seem to be the Paulies of the world, stuck to a rigid view they’ve constructed and denying the possibility of mystery.

    Thank you for this piece, Ron. It brought us full circle and proved it was worth the wait!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. “Golem” is a great word to describe Tony. The Hasidic Jew in 1.03 called Tony a golem. The deconstructionist Jacques Derrida has written about the “undecidable” nature of golems, zombies and Frankenstein—all caught in a state between life and death—and I thought about tying that into the Schrodinger’s Cat idea. But I didn’t want to add more complications to this write-up…

      Liked by 1 person

  45. Outstanding, Ron. Long time reader, first time caller (at least under this handle). I’ve read all of your contributions, all of which have been excellent, and this was the best.

    I buy the Schrodinger’s Cat interpretation. Everything is everything. It is what the show is, and it is what I want it to be. The possibility of Tony’s simultaneous death and life, and our responsibility to flesh out which is which, is why the greatness persists. Goddamn.

    But for real: Patsy? That angle fits like a glove. Spoons, and the moping at the dinner table at the Bing next to Furio. Pissing in the pool. Recognizing Tony’s jealousy at the Bing when he tells him about his kid flourishing at college. Calling the same kid away from the table at Bobby’s funeral. Playing it cool when his wife splutters at the Soprano house. Members Only, etc. “It’s all right there”? Unless that’s a red herring, But in this series, at the strategic level, everything’s been this speed. On the nose, sure. Too on the nose? Maybe the jokes on the deep thinkers.

    So maybe I’m setting for closure, but I don’t actually think I need it.

    Anyway, great work.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. The scene where Meadow tells Tony she probably would have become a doctor if she hadn’t seen him dragged away by the cops so many times is rarely talked about, but that look of utter disappointment on Tony’s face in that scene is just devastating. He knows at that moment that he poisoned her, too, just like AJ.

    Congrats on finally finishing the series! Now WHERE’S THE MOVIE REVIEW? HUH? Just kidding. IMO “Sopranos Autopsy” is the single greatest Sopranos resource on the planet. No one’s ever dug into these episodes like you have. There are some Sopranos tomes (which I’m not going to mention by name) where the “episode recaps” just blow right over highly significant scenes and events like it was just filler, which is almost never the case with this show. I recommend your site to anyone interested in the show and I will of course continue to do so, as it’s simply unparalleled.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree completely. Tony even begins to perhaps contradict Maedo: “Well,…”, before she cuts him off with her “Boring Suburban Doctor” scenario. Then he just seems completely gutted by the development. Every one of his three visits with relatives in this episode is filled with melancholy and disappointment. Interestingly, in the visit with Junior, we see Tony again walk into the space he just viewed via jump cut (after being startled by an orderly coming from his rear 3 o’clock) this time we see him reflected in the wall mirror, as if Two Tonys are approaching Corrado. Mirrors and birds.
      He always had a Virginia ham under his arm, but even Dr. Melfi couldn’t convince him to stop crying about his lack of bread.

      Liked by 1 person

  47. Thank you for this entry, Mr. Berman. You knocked it out of the park here. Lots to think about. You’ve greatly enriched the entire series for me, and especially the finale.

    I always had a theory of my own about that last scene, not nearly as elaborate as yours: Tony is shot and killed in front of his family as punishment for selecting Journey on the jukebox.

    Liked by 2 people

  48. I was half-expecting you to wait until David Chase had appeared on Talking Sopranos for Made in America before you posted this, just in case he dropped a massive bombshell which would fuck up all your carefully considered analysis!
    To the essay…great write up – such a nuanced, persuasive and well-thought through analysis (all 30,000 words…). Nice parallel established between the black/white view of the world (Tony death ‘truthers’, as you call them) versus a more ambiguous, open dialogue that considers other viewpoints. The Sopranos final scene and the ongoing debate surrounding it is a microcosm for current American political discourse, no wonder the country is so fractured!
    Just came across this write up today, a lot to digest but again, ‘Thank you, that was great’

    Liked by 1 person

    • I obtained an advance copy of the “Talking Sopranos” interview with David Chase, and I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing a piece of it here…
      Steve: “So David, what was the significance of three o’clock?”
      David: “There was no significance at all.”
      Michael: “I thought it might be a reference to Three O’Clock High, which starred Phillip Baker Hall, who I worked with in several off-Broadway productions. Great guy, terrific actor.”
      Steve: “Speaking of bakers, there was the greatest bakery over by Silvercup, they always had the best bialy. You ever try their bialy, David?”
      David: “No.”
      Steve: “The best bialy I’ve ever had. You remember that bakery, Michael?”
      Michael: “No, I don’t remember.”
      Steve: “So David, mayonnaise. What was the significance of mayonnaise?”
      David: “There was no significance at all.”
      Steve: “You like mayo, Michael?”
      Michael: “Sometimes, I dunno.”

      Liked by 1 person

  49. Wow, what a fantastic read. This definitely hit on several significant emotional buttons and as you pointed out in the form of the Northern Exposure character, that’s ultimately one of the most substantial questions to answer when looking critically at any work of art. Not so much what did it mean but rather what did it make you feel?

    I personally feel like Tony was shot and killed just before the fade to black. At the same time I have never believed that there is a definitive answer to that question. If there is one then only one person knows it and despite whatever meaning people want to attribute to David Chase’s many quotes on the subject I think it’s clear that no definitive answer has ever been given. Some people (Paulie?) are so defined by the need to have orderly answers to every question that the very idea that the universe (whether Sopranoworld or our own) doesn’t have those answers is simply too anxiety inducing to consider. As I said I personally feel that Tony died but I would never have the ego to say that my feeling is the only reasonable one. I would also never tell someone who wants to put their own imprint on the ending to “Stop Believing”. To my way of thinking that would be closing off the question of how did this work of art make you feel and I would never want to take away someone’s engagement with such a beautiful piece of work in that way.

    I am a new reader of the blog so I’m far from having read every write up so my apologies if the points I’m about to make have been covered at length before but I’d like to throw in some food for thought on top of the theories you listed after discussing Douthat. Neither of my points are meant to be taken as solid evidence towards one interpretation or another I simply find them interesting to think about.

    There are at least two references that I can think of in the Sopranos of Meadow acting as a sort of guardian angel for Tony, protecting him from the early death that most of his life choices would seem to indicate awaits him. The first was in the College episode when she impedes Febby’s clear shot at Tony when he tracks him to the motel they were staying at. Once the shot is clear the witnesses arrive that make shooting Tony and getting away unseen too difficult to pull off but it was Meadow’s presence that delayed the shot long enough for other witnesses to arrive. The second instance that comes to mind is from the episode where Tony wakes up from his coma as it is Meadow’s voice through the trees imploring him not to leave that leads to Tony/Kevin’s reluctance to let go of the briefcase and step into the “reunion”. She quite literally calls him back to life. If Tony did die that night at Holsten’s I would see it as his devil’s luck finally running out. All of the choices in his life to me always seemed to be borrowing against time and karma. In a cruel twist of fate it could be interpreted that Meadow’s inability to park in a timely manner provided enough delay to restrain her from taking any kind of role in Tony’s life that night that would have saved him from death, whatever that role may have been. In absence of his guardian angel it could be that Tony’s luck finally ran out.

    The second point I found interesting is the camera showing “This Magic Moment” on the jukebox before Journey is selected. This immediately reminded me of Sopranos Home Movies where Bobby returns to Janice and Nica having just committed his first murder while this song plays leading up to the credits. I need to think about it more to come up with a more solid connection to the final scene but somehow the shot of that song title seems significant to me.

    Anyways thank you for the time and effort spent on all of this. I find it fascinating and I appreciate it very much.

    -Mike

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mike. I’m glad you brought up those points about Meadow because I forgot to. I had talked about how Meadow essentially saved her dad’s life in my “Mayham” write-up but forgot to connect back to it here…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will make sure to go back and look at the Mayham write-up now, thank you. I’m really looking forward to diving into all of the write-ups. This is the dissection I’ve been looking for! it’s a great companion piece for rewatches of a show that benefits more than any other I can think of from multiple watches.

        Liked by 1 person

  50. Wow – that was obviously cathartic for you. Bravo

    Regarding Chase dripping out revelations in recent interviews – I do wonder if (and how much) he has strayed away from his original thoughts and vision. It’s entirely possible that 15 years later, the same points have been brought up so many times that the edges has smoothed – to the point that if he time travelled back to 2007, he may even get into an argument with himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jamie. I think it’s very probable Chase has said some things that he only thought of “after the fact.” All of us have occasionally rewritten history…

      Like

  51. Ron,

    What an epic conclusion to your series. The Sopranos is the greatest TV show of all time — possibly the greatest audio-visual work on the last 25 years in my opinion. But your analysis is worthy of this great show, easily the most comprehensive and fulsome criticism I’ve ever seen. I’ve no doubt that reading your website will become essential for anyone doing scholarship on the show. At the risk of undermining the point of your write up, there may not be a definitive meaning to the ending, but your series is THE definitive companion to the show. Bravo, I donated happily to show a token of my appreciation.

    Liked by 1 person

  52. What I find additionally fascinating about the light-slit experiment is; it (and Schrodinger’s in general) gets at some very interesting / slippery questions about what it means to “observe.”
    Is the experiment not being observed when the human scientist watches, without detectors in place? The detectors themselves are inorganic … but run by people, ultimately. Perplexing! Isn’t it awesome to live in a universe which is already THAT weird at the roots … AND which also contains the Sopranos?
    I say ‘yes!’ (But won’t insist on it)
    Thanks for all your work Ron, you’ve added something that’s really positive to the world and we’re grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I became fascinated with quantum mechanics while I was working on this, it’s such a strange world. Uncertainty by David Lindley is a great book that goes into some of the weirdness but also focuses on the drama and contention between those who had originally worked on the theory, including Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger…

      Like

      • The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment (developed by both Schrodinger and Einstein, through a series of letters sent back and forth across the Atlantic) plays a more significant role in season 6, and especially in the finale, than meets the eye.

        Liked by 1 person

  53. Hi Ron, in my humble opinion The Sopranos is television’s greatest show. And your Autopsy is the greatest Sopranos’ write-up. Very grateful for you.

    I might’ve mentioned in a previous comment: I wrote a book about overcoming my addiction to meth. To write it, I used what I learned about storytelling from your Autopsy.

    We’re donating my book (it’s called “My Addiction & Recovery”, too bad I didn’t apply what you taught me to a more creative title, haha) to prisons. To help incarcerated people turn their lives around.
    
So far we’ve sent 1,000 books to 100 facilities in 10 states. Serving over 100,000 incarcerated people.

    Wanted you to know: Your Autopsy’s positive impact stretches beyond fans of the show. Your dedication to sharing your ideas and enlightening people such as me, is transforming the lives of many of our incarcerated sisters and brothers.

    Take care and happy holidays.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Ed, I remember you had mentioned your plans for a book some years ago, and I’ve seen on social media the success you’ve had with it… Thanks for the kind words and for all the good work you do. Happy Holidays.

      Like

    • Ed – I looked up your name out of curiosity. My goodness! You were a recipient of the FBI’s 2018 Directors Community Leadership Award! Well, bless your heart and many, many Congratulations! Well done! 🤩

      Liked by 2 people

  54. 1. My personal view of the ending has long been that it is a “death scene,” as Chase has put it, but only in the sense that Tony’s death is present in the room – an intentionally proffered possibility at that moment. But it breaks through the nihilism of the show’s darkest moments by suggesting that we ought not “stop believing” in the possibility of change. Tony Soprano is going to die, and so are you. And with Melfi out of the picture, and his moral descent throughout Season 6, most of the potential for change in him has been extinguished. But you don’t even hear it when it happens. You don’t get a visible shot clock before you’re going to perish and lose the chance for redemption. So change and be a better person and make an actual effort, the way Tony and Carmela and AJ never could commit to do, NOW. Soon enough you’ll hear the third bell.

    2. I would love, Ron, if you would tackle the Many Saints of Newark, which I think is overstuffed but has some genius elements. Thank you endlessly for this wonderful critical project.

    Liked by 2 people

  55. And here I was… just figuring the “cut to black” was a way to end the series with the lingering question, so that someday, if things were right, the show could return when Tony got out of prison and has to restart his life.

    Liked by 1 person

  56. I really enjoyed Emily Todd VanDerWerff’s final notes (12/19/12 about the ending of this series:
    ~
    “Chase leaves us nothing but the blackness, and he’s giving us space to think, ponder, and consider, not a puzzle to be solved. Embrace the mystery. You’re not dead. What you gonna do about that?”
    ~
    Now, that’s an ending I can live with!! 😎

    Liked by 2 people

  57. Great art is eminently interpretable. I agree that the faith-based one-way-to-see-things way is the bane of our times, in art or politics. The silos and echo chambers in which people now live have in many ways been enforced, encouraged, and polarized by social media. The old school internet and the advances in technology we have with us in 2021 can be used for good, for deepening understanding and accord, but I tend to think they are more often likely to encourage our grouping into like-minded tribes and enforce retrograde and atavistic exclusions and otherings.
    The consumerism has consumed even the other avatars of Americanism that you note, Ron. Materialism has gobbled up militarism and religion, as those latter two become less useful, needed, or desired, and their absences leave gaps unfilled — men don’t have to fight wars and masculinity as a whole is often called de facto “toxic” now, and we are clearly less religious (and less civically virtuous in terms of social capital) than we’ve ever been despite ugly and anti-humanist sparks that flare up in various forms of bastardized Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.
    But like The Beatles (now experiencing a renaissance due to Peter Jackson’s documentary Get Back) or Mulholland Drive and Citizen Kane (4K first-releases just out from the Criterion Collection) or The Arabian Nights (newly translated and for the first time ever by a woman, Yasmine Seale) or many of the great works of literature, physics, and music you allude to, the good stuff opens up debate and constantly changes over time. The depths of a great film, song, scientific theory, novel, or long-form series should invite more questions than answers, and an ever-evolving mix of interpretations by interested, engaged, and committed recipients of those texts, theories, and artworks.
    Some interpretations (like the Barthes you mention) will bear greater marks of quality than others and will themselves be remembered and studied. Good job providing a dedicated reading.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Sean. I agree with everything you’ve said, but right now, I almost feel like we can put consumerism on the back burner for a bit (despite the future cost that would have on the environment). Over the last couple of years, and especially since Jan 6, I’ve been more troubled by a certain type of religious attitude (blind devotion) and a certain type of militarism (domestic!)…

      Liked by 1 person

      • As have I….the nonstop looting and rioting last summer was real eye opener. Look what it led to….a near complete breakdown of order. The militarism of the left truly is a cancer…..good thing most of them can’t shoot or fight worth a crap….

        Like

        • Is it supposed to be a good thing that American right-wing militants are so much better at shooting and fighting? (It would certainly explain why they’ve killed almost six times as many people as far-left militants since 2010, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies…)

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  58. Wow, I have a lot to say about everything you’ve written, which is really excellent so far. I just got up to the section about the different theories for the cut-to-black. I am agnostic on what happens to Tony and 100% agree that it’s open to interpretation. However I will say that the “Tony dies” theory is the only one (in my opinion) that’s supported effectively through David Chase’s use of the language of film. It’s been broken down six ways from Sunday so I won’t do that here. I don’t see how a lot of the other theories could be backed up strictly using the scene itself as evidence.

    Nevertheless, I believe it’s largely irrelevant, that Chase wanted to remove the power of the “finale” and perhaps let the body of work stand on its own, just like a life stands on its own. There are 85 other episodes and to focus on a single split second in this one does a disservice to The Sopranos as art – like analyzing one square centimenter of the Sistine Chapel.

    As Iris DeMent, sang, “Let The Mystery Be.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Since I had mentioned Northern Exposure in this write-up… Chase chose Iris DeMent’s “Our Town” to close out the final episode of that series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Naaaah. The REAL final episode of Northern Exposure was The Quest, not Tranquility Base. All the episodes after Rob Morrow left were just some unrelated alternate non-canon show. Chris and Maggie… SERIOUSLY?!? 😛

        Did you ever see the episode of Northern Exposure set in the town’s “Little Italy” (four houses around an intersection) and where the new Italian doctor (who replaced Morrow) tries to mediate a vendetta between the town’s “Four Families” (literally just four families)? In my mind, it’s very much the “Proto-Sopranos”. Some of its actors reappeared in The Sopranos as well… like the guy who played Melfi’s on-again/off-again husband with all the hang-ups about Italian-American cultural identity and respectability.

        Liked by 1 person

    • But why *would* you divorce the scene itself from the rest of the episode and the series? From the fact that the war with the NYCers is over? And how much textual evidence from the scene itself do you have to ignore? “Don’t Stop Believing.” “Any Way You Want It.” I’d be interested in hearing alternate explanations as to why Walden was given time in the finale of HBO’s hottest show to talk about a cat’s seating and viewing habits…but I’m quite sure what Ron calls “truthers” aren’t offering any. [Imagine trying to construct a defense of how the most pivotal aspect of the resolution of a TV landmark series actually depended upon assigning motivations to one-time appearances of diner extras. I guess you needn’t imagine; some have, sadly, tried. These are the mental hoops people make themselves jump through.]

      The error in that kind of thinking begins with the idea that there is a puzzle to be solved, and is compounded by the idea that one must somehow use a limited set of inputs from the scene to solve what it *really* meant by reverse-engineering it somehow…as if the creators wouldn’t simply show someone being killed if that was their point (and the “language of film” was used to show that happening plenty of times on the series before). Some viewers experienced a kind of mass hysteria where they pretended the black before the credits had been somehow externally imposed, and content had to be interpolated to replace it. They refused to view the black as content unto itself. But it was! Really! No one took the end of the show out of the creator’s hands, folks! It’s as connected to the rest as it can be. As it turns out, that’s quite a lot.

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  59. The most important Chase quote as to Tony’s end is: “Meadow is filled with nothing but very, very deep emotions about parking her car. But possibly a minute later, her head will be filled with emotions she could never even imagine.” Clearly, Meadow’s head would not be filled with unimaginable emotions were she to have walked in on the family happily eating those onion rings and listening to Journey. Chase is *clearly* alluding to Meadow witnessing her dad being shot in the head.

    Thank you, Ron, for the wonderful episodic write-ups. Recently re-watched the series, with your reviews as a guide, and received far more enjoyment and insight than I did when the show first aired. Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mark. That quote is from the Directors Guild article I linked to, I think the key word in it is “possibly.” I believe all the possibilities are available…

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  60. This writeup was honestly therapeutic to me, Ron. I’m on the Tony Died team, but I’m not a truther by any means. I personally find the cut-to-black to be a satisfying (and comforting) way of looking at the harsh uncertainty of death. But with Chase getting closer and closer to validating that notion every day, it feels suddenly unsatisfying (and not so comforting). It feels like just another death scene in a television show filled with death scenes. This writeup has revitalized my original love for the mystery of that ending and the affect it had on me personally. Ron, thank you so much for these essays and I hope to see more of your excellent writing in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much GB

      Like

    • Whether we love it or hate it, the sopranos last episode was a stoke of unending brilliance. If the idea of fiction is to make its digesters think then hands down Chase is, again, a genius. That episode will not only be discussed forever but people will watch it endlessly like the zapruder film, searching for clues.

      To me, the show was just like an alternate universe window that closed at that point. That’s it. Sorry you don’t get to see more. It’s almost like it DID exist and we got it on frequency and then the frequency ended. It’s brilliant. It’s the best, smartest, most good ending ever. Bc obviously nothing was resolved. And too little is given to the fact that Tony corrupted Agent Harris. Agent H is now compromised by giving Tony that info. In a sense it can be argued Tony set the stage for flipping bc he gave Agent H info. Sure it was about terrorists….but….that’s the gateway drug. First it’s about unrelated mob activity, then….

      I have this theory that Tony internally decided to flip when he was briefly jailed on the gun charge. Remember the look on his face? I think then and there he said eff this. Which is a larger indictment of the Americanization of the Mob. Too soft, too rich, too placid, too far removed from its roots, too fat.

      When I marvel at Chase’s brilliance I can’t help but compare this episode to the sopranos movie, which I’m sorry, I wanted to love it, but thought it was atrocious. Cant’ believe it’s the same guy.

      Liked by 1 person

  61. Shoot your cuffs, Ron

    You’re a made guy now

    Liked by 1 person

  62. R.I.P. Brad Grey (2019):
    Grey co-produced ‘The Sopranos, and is credited for ‘finding a home’ for this series. He spent 12 years as head of Paramount Pictures, and was reportedly forced to resign in 2017 because of ‘massive’ [financial] losses – reportedly amounting to half-a-billion dollars. Sad end for a once well-respected talent agent.

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  63. I kind of said everything I had already, but… A Bronx Tale (1993) ending similarities (it’s really shot for shot, pun intended) with The Sopranos ending doesn’t even get a mention? Come on… It is literally one of the strongest arguments for it. The way you put it was ignoring everything but opinion, personal impressions and so on… didn’t really analyze much of what was going on, yet accused those who disagree with your idea to be fascist… what was that about, man. Even the Schrodinger cat thought experiment has very different answers to it, some of which are directly opposing others. It’s a too broad metaphor, used as a metaphor for a show that is a metaphor. It ends up being so vague that it defeats the purpose of any ending, and I never, ever heard Chase saying anything close to “it’s all a big nothing” about the entirety of the series, as to imply ending it as you’ve read it. On the contrary, but I already made that point on an earlier post.
    Since when is Tony racist? He killed no Black people that weren’t trying to kill him in the entirety of the series. He was right about Meadow’s boyfriend, even apologized to her, after. In the show, just like in real life, it’s the Black male that is statistically the biggest threat to a wellbeing of another Black person, not the Italian-American who is the only character in the show to be compared to an animal (gorilla), by a very dark haired and dark skinned Italian lady. It’s complete nonsense, the real racist who beats innocent Blacks is his hyper-liberal son, AJ, not him. He also never leans toward either political side, he is a pure opportunist that even goes to defend Vito for being gay, and the only one (THE ONLY ONE) that is willing to let it slide, simply because he cares only for money and his own feelings. He’s a libertarian at best. It’s just so dishonest to suggest that he is a staunch racist and/or conservative, when he doesn’t even go to church unless somebody died or is being wed, does not vote and only talks that talk, while never walking that racist walk. Also, having that in mind…
    Why would it be karmic justice, then, for him to be taken out by two unidentified black males? The only people who used the minorities in the series were of the same color as those being disenfranchised (just like in The Wire, and just like it is in real life, at least at the moment). In fact, the only karmic justice would have been for Tony to be offed by working class Italian-American immigrants. The Sopranos is, as you pointed out Chase saying, an immigrant story, a direct continuation of The Godfather Part II, half a century into the future. It’s about survival, and survival comes with a price of selfishness, and The Sopranos is, as you pointed out, a study of selfishness. Not shallowness, because contrary to what you have claimed here, Americans are not selfish culturally because they are capitalist (most of the world is capitalist, and all leftist and liberals I have ever met were far more selfish then conservatives, and there are even statistics that confirm it in form of who donates more: conservatives, by a far margin), they became selfish because they are a nation of immigrants, as is wonderfully extrapolated in The Godfather Part II: they (all of them, but in this case, Italians) came with nothing, and selfishness developed as a side effect of that fact. You banalized it and blamed it on an economic system. It’s such an ideologically driven statement, and shits on the complexity of human character in favor of easy way out – blame the entire system, blame America, blame all Americans. Cool, then, let’s give up electricity. It was made by an immigrant. Even though he was willing to give it for free, isn’t it better to have it and pay for it (a bad side effect of selfishness, not capitalism, because it was never free under communism), as even he admitted is, or have it free and essentially, never have it (like in Armenia, Russia, Yugoslavia and so on, in the 1990’s, at that, not at the beginning of the century as one would assume)? Why the Marxism?
    Also, it’s not in the people’s hands. Power is in the artist, and you cannot have it both ways. You have your powers, but the creator of what ever is the God of what ever, and that is not changeable. Roland Barthes was challenged on this, and essentially disproven completely by a lesser known French post-modernist Antoine Compagnon, decades ago. There is a reason why post-structuralism is dead. Because it’s wrong.
    “The Truthers”, or fascist, which ever one you prefer, simply insist on facts. And than by picking the biggest set of facts that can be organically integrated into a theory, go on and actually develop a theory. It’s not a movement, and it’s not radical: it’s common sense and basic reasoning. I repeat myself here, but, if we were able to comprehend in a reasonable manner everything up to Holstein’s, what is it that happened to invalidate this ability of ours? What has, exactly, happened, to prevent us from understanding the ending just as we did everything before it? It’s insane. We didn’t suddenly go blind. We can perceive a black out.
    Also, Master’s saying that he is 99% sure, you kind of butchered his statement. He basically said that he is 100% sure that he explained it, in detail, but he leaves 1% chance he is wrong simply because we do not explicitly see the bullet go through the brain. That is not what you made it out to be, and it is perfectly normal to have endings in the form of insinuation, and by dialectical expression: the absence of luxury denotes, for one example, the lack of funds of a certain character. The lack of new clothes, the lack of sight, and you can see where this is going, so, there are many ways, as I am sure you are well aware, that allow an artist to say something by not saying it. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) is an example of this, yet, no one is questioning if Blanche was raped or not: we KNOW she was, even if we didn’t see it, or read the screenplay or watch it in the play itself. So, that 1% is a throwaway, a gift to the egos of those who are not ready to accept the evidence to the contrary. It’s symbolic and there to say, OK, I will give you that 1 theoretical % since we don’t see-it -see it. I wonder though, why would a “fucking fascist” do such a thing, and I really am not trying to annoy you, but it’s so cringe to read that, when all he and many others ever did was analyze and try to prove their point.
    But therein lies the Devil: we are fascists simply because we are a majority. It matters to you little if “we” are right, what is “problematic” is that we are many. Well… there’s that word, again. The P word.
    But to end on a positive note… Paulie’s scissors possibly go to denote the way Tony was shot even further: every man (and many women and non-binary folk too, of course) on this earth KNOWS that feeling at the barber-shop when the motherfucker starts cutting your hair behind your ears, just doing his job, perfectly normal and polite, yet that fucking clacking sound of scissors juuust behind your ear gives you that eerie (no pun) feeling that your fucking head, if not your life, is in his hands, coz that sharp object is just enough to kill you if he so chooses, or cut you, yet it never comes. Or does it?
    Yes, it motherfucking does. But we just don’t get to see it. And that is not ambivalence. That is the good old less is more, be original, take something away to not make it completely A Bronx Tale finale remake, even the character-dynamic setup is the same: the only person in The Soprano family to have Tony as a true friend, is Meadow (reflective of Calogero/Sonny relationship). Carmela is his frenemy, AJ is from a different planet, literally. The only one to defend him despite her political views AND the generational strife while being fully aware of what he does for a living, is her. And if one was to have to choose who loves him the most out of the three, I would think that 99% would say Meadow (A Bronx Tale ends with the “I know he was your friend” monologue, near an open casket that, as you have pointed out here, is the shot that opens both the first and the last episode of the last season of The Sopranos). But, that’s just my opinion, anyway, so… what ever.
    Why would anyone be so scared of what is most likely the truth is beyond me… You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to accept it. But you do need to give us better reasoning if you want to criticize “us” so harshly, the not so silent majority who done did their homework, too. Otherwise, it’s all a big nothing.

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    • I’m not going to waste any time arguing with you Koz, except to correct one blatant mischaracterization of my words: I have never once called anyone a fascist for disagreeing with me…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sure you won’t, I don’t require you to. But you did call people disagreeing with you “fucking fascists” and “shitbirds”: “Like most true-blue fans of the show, I feel like I can relate to many of the moments and events on The Sopranos on a deeply personal level. And this is why I recoil from all those shitbirds who insist that any interpretation that doesn’t fully jibe with their own is flat-out wrong. These fucking fascists want us to toss out our own deeply-felt experience of the series in favor of a theory they stumbled across on some blog or YouTube channel. ” You just named them “people who insist on their views”. Insisting on one’s views used to be called debating, not fascism, but what ever.
        Also, you have literally called another user here a “backwards-looking MAGA reactionariy” simply for pointing out the fact that Asians are suffering terrible discrimination and violence at the hands of, yes, deeply fascist “antifa” thugs and unidentified Black males who repeatedly attacked and killed them last year simply for being of a certain race.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you genuinely believe that your particular method of argument can be considered “debating.” I think you don’t know any better. And that’s why I have not blocked a single comment you’ve left on these pages, despite multiple requests from other readers asking me to do so…

          Liked by 1 person

          • I have never said that I am debating anything with anyone. I have said that calling someone a fascist and a shitbird because they don’t agree with your stance on something is not a debate (referring to a debate with oneself or any other form of indirect debating with what was said or written or thought anywhere in the world before that point, and not referring to anyone personably). It had nothing to do with anything that I wrote, but with what you wrote about other people who responded to your view of the ending. That is a misrepresentation.
            I already told you that you can block me, without any hard feelings, I simply do not care. You are God, here. And I pretty much said all I had to say. To do it in the name of other people complaining, though… Complaining (and personally insulting me, like children) for what? Having an opinion and unapologetically voicing it? It’s a rhetorical question.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Koz – GEEZ!! I thought that you finally understood the need to restrain yourself! What is causing you so much rage that you need to lash out in anger towards everyone – well, toward Ron specifically, that is. I’m sure that your intentions may be good, but your presentation appears to be a personal vendetta! Chill out, or you’ll end up falling headfirst into a plate of ziti, like Gandolfini did! 🤡

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      • Hahaha… I “lashed out in anger towards someone”? Do tell, when have I ever done that? A “personal vendetta against Ron”? And you are telling me to chill down… God, you really need some self-reflection. I merely pointed out what I thought in every comment I have made, and many a times been outright insulted by other readers for doing just that. Yet y’all just keep coming, and misrepresenting the stuff I write… The mob mentality of the triggered millennials… Good luck with that.

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    • Have you ever thought of starting your own website/blog rather than constantly hijacking this one?

      Liked by 1 person

  64. Do tell….hey how’s that paisan from Louisiana doing? Scalise? Memba him? Republican senator who was nearly killed by a Bernie bro who opened fire on repubs at the senate softball game a few years ago—who was looking to take out as many repubs as possible? And it ain’t Trump supporters cold cocking old Asian ladies I’m broad daylight is it? And all the looters and wanna be toughguy antifa sissies hiding behind masks living out their fevered revolutionary basement dreams? Are they right wingers too?
    Political violence in this country is and always has been overwhelmingly committed by leftists….going all the way back to Oswald and even further to Czogolz. Love your site but your politics is way off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was indeed Trump supporters attacking Asians, particularly after he unapologetically kept referring to coronavirus as the China virus and the kung flu. I would never defend the horrible attack on Scalise, but he survived. Heather Heyer did not survive. Nor did John Britton. Nor did 168 victims (including preschoolers) of the OKC bombing. Or the victims of the El Paso Walmart rampage. Or the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Or the Portland train attack….
      I probably would have leaned a lot more to the right back in the time of Oswald. But today? Hawkman, we live in the world TODAY—which I know is a very difficult thing for backwards-looking MAGA reactionaries to accept. Czolgosz?! You’re talking about someone who carried out his attack more than 70 years before I was even born…

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, it’s not Trump supporters who are committing the current wave of attacks on Asians…that only happens in the alternate universe of liberalism and maga attacks on black gay actors in the dead of the chill Chicago night. Check out the news stories and the videos of the attacks of the attacks on Asians for yourself. I understand the truth hurts but it has to be faced. Scalise was nearly killed by a volley of bullets and has significant physical and no doubt psychological effects from his attempted murder. But he has long as he survived it’s all good right? No harm no foul. Check.
        And yes we do live in the world of today. So why do we all obsesses over a tv show that ended 13 years ago? Why do you write volumes about a fictional show that ended so long ago and why do so many read and comment on it? Are we living in the past? The must be studied to understand the present and shape the future. Geez that sounds vaguely like far eastern mysticism. Maybe I got it from Sun Ta-zoo subconsciously?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Sun Ta-zoo 😃

          I didn’t mean to sound like I was minimizing what happened to Scalise—that was a horrific event. But we all know Scalise’s attacker doesn’t represent a significant portion of the Left any more than Gabby Gifford’s attacker represents a significant portion of the Right. What is troubling, though, is how Sarah Palin—who does represent a significant portion of the Right—refused to take down the crosshairs she had posted over Giffords’ face even while the congresswoman was recovering in critical care after getting shot in the head at point-blank range. And Palin continued using her “Don’t retreat, RELOAD” slogan long after the shooting. Most people on the Left, in contrast, don’t constantly think or talk or sloganeer about guns, and many would actually like to cut the 2nd Amendment off at the knees, if not decapitate it entirely. There’s no comparison between the two sides when it comes to militancy and aggressive positions and rhetoric.

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  65. Interesting. Though I would submit that if she has deep emotions about parking her car, she could also have unimaginable emotions about family and onion rings. Maybe Meadow was learning to live in the here and now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  66. In the words of a very wise man:
    ~
    “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!”
    ▪ Dr. Seuss

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  67. I just saw you on Talking Sopranos, Ron
    Salute!

    Liked by 2 people

  68. Could it be that the picture of an athlete (two of them) at Holstein’s is an on the nose reference to Tony never having the makings of a varsity athlete? He sits there for a minute, alone, slouching, eating junk food, bigger then ever and middle aged as shit, “waiting” for that bullet to, to quote Chase, “blindside” him, juxtaposed to pictures of health, winning, competing and a high school building, all signs of what-could-have-been, moments before it’s all over… It’s weird that nobody (as far as I can see) even mentioned it, is all.

    Liked by 1 person

  69. OOOOHHHHH! You did “Talking Sopranos”! Congrats and nicely done! Well deserved IMO.

    Liked by 1 person

  70. Ron, I’m not whether or not you’ve actually gotten to recognize my name yet over the past six months or so,
    but
    a) I’m sorry I haven’t written a proper response to this essay yet. I’m still collecting my thoughts.
    and
    b) I literally pumped my first when I heard Steve Schirripa say “Sopranos Autopsy” on the podcast.
    I’ll write more soon.
    Love ya, and my MOST sincere congratulations on finally finishing the project. I’m glad I was here to see it happen. And to see the hilarious months and months on end of waiting. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  71. Thanks Ron! Loved the idea of it all leading up to that bell that jolts us out of our seats, taking that meta-reading to the furthest levels! Brest rend And thanks for thé d’aventure.

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      • This is not a reply to the last comment. I couldn’t find a way to post without logging in…
        I used to think that everything we see in the last episode leads us to an inevitable conclusion.
        But now, I consider the episode in terms of the literary narrative of “The Sopranos”. In most great literature, that isn’t told directly in the first person, the writer tells us the story from a limited perspective. How this works in the series, is that we see almost everything from the perspective of Tony.
        The last episode plays on this on multiple levels, making it complex, but also simple.
        Because we see everything through the perspective of characters who are sociopaths, and through one of them in particular, the last episode plays directly into our expectations and encourages us to consider Tony’s perspective more minutely.
        When Chase says “It’s all there”, and that it doesn’t matter whether Tony meets his fate in this scene, or sometime later – and that speculating on this misses the point – he DOES mean this literally, as a writer.
        Looking at Tony’s trajectory, there are only the options laid before us – he either dies now, or faces the consequences of his actions sooner, rather than later somehow or other. This probably means death soon, but it could mean jail. Bit it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he’s pulling you away from this perspective. He’s saying “stop the fuck rooting for this guy – there is no way this ends well for him, and the consequences are coming right now, or very soon.”
        The only other alternative is he had an epiphany and changes his life. It is so obvious that this can’t happen because of the way he has behaved since Uncle Jun shot him.
        So I do see it as am ambiguous whether Tony dies in Holstein’s. I think he probably doesn’t, simply because the scene deliberately leads you into that cliche, before ripping it away.
        It’s inviting the audience (reader), to positively evaluate Tony’s conduct up till now, and realise that such a character, the one we identified with and rooted for, has only one way to go – to face the consequences of his conduct for the entire story.
        It’s genius. It’s not ambiguous at all. It’s all there. The only thing we are not given is the gunshot and the gore – because it simply doesn’t matter to the story whether Tony dies at Holstein’s, or whether he dies later, or whether he faces those consequences in some other way. He faces then every day regardless, as he can never – Never – enjoy a moment with his family. He will always be looking over his shoulder until, inevitably, his sins catch up with him.
        Pure genius.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I would also regard all other bits of speculation as irrelevant to the writing, and therefore the story. Eg: Did the family get shot? It doesn’t matter to the story if they did or didn’t, and the reader’s lust for those details misses the point. It’s not about that. It’s a morality tale that we have become involved with. And, in the end, we are invited to reflect on our own vicarious complicity – and by direct association – our own moral compasses.

          Liked by 1 person

  72. Something no one ever suggests: what if Members Only guy and the “unidentified black males” were feds? “Dead or in the can for the rest of your life”…who’s to say that Tony’s story doesn’t end with a team of FBI agents hauling him away while his family gawks in horror? By that point we know Carlo is ratting and he could implicate Tony in all sorts of things, thus once the feds pick him up it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever see the light of day again.
    On “TS” Steve mentioned the scene where the family returns to Casa Soprano after the Phil hit, where Tony is carrying a canned ham for some reason. My favorite aspect of that scene is Carmela complaining about all the unopened mail, like they just came back from a big family vacation as opposed to hiding out to avoid any potential mob violence. Carmela has such a unique ability to bury her head in the sand. She isn’t even especially rattled or anything, it’s back to business as usual for Carmela and all it took was Phil Leotardo’s death to make it happen. The disconnect from reality is just so jarring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “FBI Agent” does make sense…

      Like

    • Dude – I’ve been ‘mulling’ over your suggestion that some of the characters at Holsten’s could have been FBI agents. However, the only time they went ‘undercover’ to nail Tony was in season 3, episode 1 (when they put lamp in his basement). OK. Then I thought, hmm …
      ~
      Maybe they went undercover to Holsten’s to SAVE Tony from being assassinated!? Hmm …
      ~
      Then I began to wonder … WHY would the FBI would go through all that trouble to save Tony? Well, they WOULDN’T! After all the times Agent Harris et al raided Tony’s house, met with him at Satriale’s, etc., they wouldn’t hesitate at all to make a huge production of arresting him in a very public way in a very public place! If, of course, they had enough evidence to ensure a conviction – which they did NOT have at that point.
      ~
      You are absolutely correct about Carmela’s oblivion! She’s ALWAYS been the proverbial ostrich, burying her head in the sand in order to avoid dealing with reality. Your comments are quite good, thank you! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  73. I love your focus on John Schwinn’s outlook as it relates to the broader show in these writeups. As I see it, two unspoken titans loom over the whole show – who are never directly referenced, but whose ideas make their impact all the same – Marx and Engels (and Hegel, to a lesser extent). Their formulation of dialectical materialism – the unity of opposites, the transformation of quality into quantity, and the negation of negation as they relate to the material, observable world – is essentially John Schwinn’s ‘everything is everything’ philosophy realized in a formal analytical method. This, coupled with Chase’s distinctly class-aware critiques of Western society, the potshots he takes at both liberals and conservatives, and constant displays in the show of gradual changes eventually leading to consequential tipping points (quantity into quality), leads me to believe that The Sopranos was at least in some part influenced by Marxist philosophy and that Chase may hold some of these ideas himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know what Chase would say about Marxism but I can see in the show the Hegelian dialectics you mention. The cut-to-black feels like a synthesis of opposites to me…

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  74. Ron – Thank you SO very much for everything you’ve done on this ‘blog’! Your site is definitely NOT esoteric – you’ve kept me (and hundreds/thousands of people) entertained for many years. Whether or not we agreed and/or disagreed with your comments, and your responses to our comments, we always looked forward to ‘hearing’ from you. My last question is:
    ☆Is this ever gonna END??☆
    Love, hugs, and many kisses,
    LK

    Liked by 1 person

  75. Hi I have been putting off this series for few months since I got our HBO account and stopped after the first episode. I like mafia shows even Yakuza ones and heard so much about The Sopranos so was really keen to watch. It felt like a slow burner at first. Only when I saw the scene of the Sopranos’ pictures on the FBI wall pinned up got me hooked to finish the series. I always read your write up after each episode. I just finished the last today and saw you updated it recently this year. What a coincidence. I want to thank you for the wonderful work put into this. This show warrants a re-watch (once I can digest all this from my first watch haha) and I’ll definitely reference your page time to time. I won’t be able to comment in detail as much I would love to (as I haven’t fully absorbed the meaning and complexity of the show) but I agree the last episode was to be an open-ended ending. I teach music so I love Chase’s usage of the songs’ symbolism too. I am teaching Charles Ives’s music and there’s something on transcendentalism and his inspirations. I hope to get my students to understand from your page explanation on it as I was wondering about this philosophy. Your write up shed much light on it. In future I hope they will like the show.
    Thank you for deepening my love for the show. Your perspective is well thought through and symbolism links are interesting. I am looking forward to the many saints — hearing a lot of criticism but will go in with an open mind like this series.

    Liked by 1 person

  76. Excellent! Awesome! Amazing!
    I’ve only gotten through half of this, however — who knew? Season 6 and Quantum Theory. LOL
    This what I know about the Finale:
    * I really want onion rings
    * “Oh, no” feeling in the pit of my stomach when the screen went back and even more eerie when credits rolled silently.
    Great writing. Thank you for your work!

    Liked by 1 person

  77. Thanks for confirming that in an earlier episode (6.05) Tony had rejected onions. I thought it was weird them getting onion rings if Tony couldn’t eat them but couldn’t find a reference to it anywhere – and wasn’t ready to start a full rewatch just for that! Anyway there is probably nothing more significant to it other than maybe Tony feels invincible at that point. And it provides another possible fatal end for the boss.
    Look forward to catching The Many Saints of Newark soon and then coming back here to get your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  78. Ron, I’ve been refreshing this website for so long awaiting your thoughts on the final episode. Thank you so much for all of your brilliant analysis and fun interpretation over the years. I look forward to your take on The Many Saints of Newark! My favorite line from this entire article: “Perhaps Chase’s intention was to remind us to appreciate each moment because it can all be ripped away from us at any time.” Really felt like the most honest way to describe how folks must’ve felt when this happened live and still hits the same way when I re-watch the show and/or episode.

    Liked by 1 person

  79. “The Holsten’s scene is very conscientiously edited with the music in mind. (I think I read somewhere that when Chase was younger, he would turn down the volume on his TV set and turn up the volume on his record player just to see what kind of interesting emotional effects would occur in the overlay between the music and the television images.)”

    Not only was Chase’s song choice, spot on, I thought it was perfect that Case also decided to turn up the volume on ‘Don’t Stop Believin’, bringing background music firmly to the foreground. IMO it’s almost as important as the editing in building the suspense to it’s infamous crescendo.

    Liked by 1 person

  80. Its a rorschach test. That’s it. Chase leaves us with a blank canvas to do with it what we please. And he did it masterfully considering we are all still trying to “decipher” this ten seconds of blackness that we all “consumed”. The medium is the message. That medium stopped sending anymore messages. That is the message.
    Its like a hard look in the mirror only much more effective at generating dialogue.
    The emporer has no clothes, people. Shouldn’t we be analyzing ourselves as much as we’ve analyzed these ten seconds? Why is it so much more important than the world around us?

    Liked by 1 person

  81. Great write-up once again Ron. Your fans have been anticipating your take on ‘Made in America’ for a long time, and your careful, extended thoughts on the show’s finale were certainly worth the wait.

    I really do believe that Chase’s ending has been grossly over-thought by fans of the show. To me, it’s clear Tony was killed in the final episode. The references earlier in the season which you mention, Bobby’s talk with Tony on the boat, Silvio’s reaction to his guest being shot during a restaurant meal, aren’t random. Nor was Chase’s decision to abruptly cut to black, which of course is a film editing technique used to indicate sudden death. All these clues, I believe, were deliberately put in there to indicate Tony was, indeed, shot and killed in the last moment of the series. I think Chase was fine giving us a standard, Godfather-type mob killing for Bobby, perhaps because he knew the show’s fans would be otherwise let down, but for Tony’s death, he wanted to do something different than The Godfather or Goodfellas. And I do truly believe Chase did not expect viewers of the show to see his ending as ambiguous. I think that caught him completely off-guard.

    Who had Tony whacked? Again, it seems to me the answer is right there in the final season. The first episode of season 6 is titled, ‘Members Only Jacket’. The person in that episode with the members only jacket is Eugene, a member of Tony’s crew. Eugene has recently inherited a large amount of money, and wants to retire from the mob. Tony ultimately decides not to allow him to retire, and as a consequence, Eugene kills himself. The final shots of the episode switch from Eugene dying at the end of a rope, and Tony in danger of dying on Junior’s kitchen floor. I think that’s a deliberate parallel on Chase’s part. The fact that Eugene did die, but Tony survived, suggests to me Eugene’s family, who obviously had mob connections through him, and a huge wad of cash through his inheritance, arranged a hit on Tony which was executed that night at Holstein’s. Why else would the man in Holstein’s be wearing a members only jacket? Why else would that actor be identified in the closing credits as ‘Man in Members Only Jacket’? How much underlining do we need?

    To me, the real unanswered question of ‘Made in America’ is, Did Meadow survive?

    The shooter has blown a hole through the back of Tony’s head, scattering a blood and brains dipping sauce atop those delicious looking onion rings. He’s at the back of the restaurant. He has to go through the front door to escape. Meadow is standing in the front door, the bell on the door having rung again. Which I believe Chase, as another clue, means as a reference to ‘The Three Bells’ song played in Season 6’s The Fleshy Part of the Thigh, and again, surprisingly, in the very next episode, Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request.

    The song chronicles the three times in his life bells have rug for ‘Little Jimmy Brown’: At his birth, his marriage, his death.

    The final lines:

    “Just a lonely bell was ringing
    In the little valley town
    ‘Twas farewell that it was singing
    To our good old Jimmy Brown.

    “And the little congregation
    Prayed for guidance from above
    ‘Lead us not into temptation
    May his soul find the salvation
    Of thy great eternal love'”.

    To get past Meadow to the outside, to freedom, he probably has to shoot her too. Likely, in the face.

    Or does she faint? Or does she run away, back outside, fleeing down the sidewalk?

    That, to me, is the only unanswered question about Chase’s ending to his magnificent series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ralph. I’ve appreciated your thoughtful comments over the years.

      Like

    • Ralph – I totally agree with your belief that Tony dies at the end! However, I think that he gets shot in the right side of his head; the killer wouldn’t go BEHIND Tony to shoot him (there’s another booth there)! As far as Meadow goes, I believe that the guy just pushes past her as he runs out the door. A guy in a hurry isn’t going to worry about witnesses! I’m not so sure that Eugene’s family is responsible for Tony’s death. His wife inherited the $2 million dollars, so she is likely well on her way to Florida – and as far away from Tony as possible!! 😎

      Liked by 1 person

  82. Rufus T Firefly

    Robert F Kennedy would have united the country if elected President in 1968 (if he had been able to steal it like his brother did in 1960)? You mean the guy who as Attorney General tapped Martin Luther King Jr? Besides were were told in 1964 how Lyndon Johnson saved us from shoot from the hip Barry Goldwater making it safe for little girls to pick daisies only to have people like Uncle Walter Cronkite praise Goldwater as a straight shooter in 1973. Sirhan Sirhan should have been given a real late term abortion in 1969. Failing that, let him rot in jail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • RFK’s concern, coming out of his profound Catholicism, for both marginalized white people and marginalized black people seems like it was genuine to me. The anxieties and issues of those two demographic groups gave rise, respectively, to MAGA and BLM decades later. If a political leader in the ’60 had been willing and able to show us that the anxieties and problems of the two groups are fundamentally the same—instead of just exploiting the differences between the groups—then maybe we wouldn’t have the polarized, tribal situation we have now…

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  83. “Every time the Holsten’s doorbell jingles, Tony looks up and then we viewers see the person that is entering, almost as though we are seeing the person from Tony’s point-of-view”
    Well this really isn’t entirely the case. For instance, when MOG and AJ enter, we see them both BEFORE Tony looks up, so what we initially see cannot be Tony’s POV, it’s just ours. The viewer also sees the three unidentified black males enter, yet Tony does not look up at all.So Chase has established that we also have a view of that door independent from Tony’s. I guess what I’m saying is I’m still not sure whether it’s Tony’s view or ours that cuts to black. And BTW, I’m not someone who thinks it’s impossible that Tony finally paid the piper at Holstens. I’ve gone back and forth for on this more than 14 years now. Hell, I don’t know, maybe I look at it from Schwinn’s perspective.
    Chase had his reasons for the ambiguity in the final scene, and has chosen to be coy about it all these years, saying “It’s all there.” What an understatement. There is SO much there in the final two episodes, and the final scene: symbolism, connectivity, clever edits, slight (and obvious) facial expressions, innuendo, mysticism; and so many red herrings to throw one off in a different direction. I keep coming back to another Chase quote, essentially saying it doesn’t matter if MOG gunned him down; Tony, and all of us, will meet our end, and it can happen unexpectedly, anytime. Tony by that time was a beast, spiritually dead already.

    Liked by 1 person

  84. When Tony goes to the former Sacrimoni home to visit Janice, she tells him, again, that Harpo has changed his name to Hal. Why tell him this again? Maybe because he just referred to him as Harpo, but possibly as another nod to Kubrick. As has been mentioned many times, Chase uses Kubrick’s jump cut from 2001: A Space Odyssey repeatedly, with Tony, in the final episode.

    Liked by 1 person

  85. I see lots of hidden rage in this review fella. Appreciate the many essays.

    Liked by 1 person

  86. Sometimes I Cry Till I Laugh

    I think this essay, much like the Sopranos itself, has captured what being alive in America is. We sit simultaneously at the point of great liberation and discovery and totatl nihilistic self destruction. It’s almost as if America is about to cut to black.
    Imagine if the series had its run during the Trump years, or now? I don’t think any of us alive before 9/11 saw America becoming what it is now.
    A real tour de force, this project has been. I don’t agree with you on some points, but I respect your passion. You are an amazing writer. But more than that, you are courageous. You should try your hand at fiction. You’d be great.
    Love to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much SICTIL. I would love to see Chase do another series about our current situation. In the meantime, at least we have Succession, Handmaid’s Tale, Watchmen…

      Like

  87. Great thesis and exploration as always.
    I think my personal mark for a truly great work is when it causes me to self reflect. Here, both the finale and your essay hit that mark. How often do many (all?) of us find ourselves trying to put everything into neat categories, searching for certainty. If we could make our peace with ambiguity, we would be much more at peace. Something to work on.
    In the end, thought, there’s one big question we’re all left with. Why do pissin, shittin, and fuckin happen within the same three inches?

    Liked by 1 person

  88. The Last Song:
    ~
    If you delete the first word of the song, what are you left with?
    ~
    As Chase said, “It’s all there”. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

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