Any Way You Want It

So, what did you think? Of course I'm talking about the Sopranos finale last night, in which -- hey, I've been wanting to do this anyway, so spoiler alert, spoiler alert -- the series ended not with a bang, but with, well, Tony and the rest of the Sopranos sitting around in a diner eating onion rings while Journey sang in the background and then...black screen. Nothing. Done. Series over.

Of course, this episode had its share of bangs, or one in particular, a bullet into the head of that bastard prick Phil Leotardo, followed by one to the chest, and then a final crunch of SUV rolling over skull. There were what felt like fairly big resolutions -- Bobby Baccala's funeral, a final visit to Uncle Junior, which revealed without a doubt that he has indeed lost it, and wasn't planning some big caper from the nursing home, AJ's rather radical recovery from depression, which involved an underage model, a burning SUV, and a crappy movie script about a detective who "gets sucked into the internet," and talk of Meadow's wedding to Patrick Parisi.

I was glad to see The Sopranos return to the humor, dark as it may be, that was such an important mix in the series' genius all these years. The final episode was probably the funniest of the season, or the past several seasons. Plus, we learned what the ringtone is on Paulie Walnuts' cellphone.

But it's what didn't happen that will have everybody talking today. A quick survey this morning and it looks like reaction is pretty evenly split. As always, Heather Havrilesky of Salon.com sums up the essential question better than anybody:

As the screen went black in the middle of a line from the song "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey, it was hard not to wonder, Is Chase brilliant for so thoroughly subverting our expectations, or... is he just an asshole?
Actually, that doesn't quite do justice to how it really ended. It ended with an ingeniously crafted, very drawn out scene that was surely intended to fuck with us. And fuck with us they did. We saw each of the Sopranos enter the diner, one by one, starting with Tony. The first indication that Sopranos creator David Chase might be fucking with us came when Tony examined the jukebox in his diner booth. "This is it," we thought, "the last song." In retrospect, the fact that we were watching Tony select the final song to a show that has been known for its use of music is a little "meta," and was probably an indication, although there's nothing that would have prepared us, that something was up and we were, indeed, being fucked with (I'm sure somebody will publish the list of songs -- and, perhaps, possible endings that each might have implied -- but I can't find it yet). Anyway, he finally settled on "Don't Stop Believin" ("Any Way You Want It," a title that better describes the ending itself, in no uncertain "meta" terms, was just below the one that Tony chose). The Sopranos drifted into the diner, along with one particularly shady looking dude in a members-only jacket. The jacket dude glared at Tony and then walked into the bathroom, Michael Corleone style. We watched as Meadow tried again and again to park her goddam car, then ran across a crowded street. It was the end of the end. Death around any corner. How is he going to end it? And then, well, nothing.

So back to the question: what did you think?

I actually liked it. Even in this last season, with Tony's mysterious, peyote-fueled revelation ("I get it!"), and his seeming coming to grips with his mother ("they're bus drivers, they drop us off, and then continue on their own journey"), the show has always been about how Tony and his crews, work and home, are able to keep on keepin' on despite what Tony and the boys do for a living, and all that it implies. If the series had ended in some good versus evil showdown, with Tony shot full of holes or heading off to witness protection, it would have been against the spirit of the show from start to finish (this is why, by the way, Sarah Jessica Parker had to end up with Mr. Big, and why Laurelei Gilmore had to end up with Luke). It's not about wrapping up big plot points, grand conspiracies, but rather about staying true to the characters.

I think.

My favorite moment of the entire series was when teenage AJ was pondering the meaning of life and his grandmother snapped "It's all a big nothing. What makes you think you're so special?" The show has always fucked with our moral expectations -- we love Tony, but we've watched as he's killed his friends and relatives, ordered hits, slept with countless women who aren't his loving wife, did god knows what else. We've watched him struggle with the Big Questions while also trying to manage the little things -- in his case, many of which fly in direct contradiction to those Big Questions -- that make up his everyday life.

We've watched Sil and Paulie Walnuts and the rest of the crew murder time and again, sometimes characters that we've come to know and love (Adriana, Big Pussy, cousin Tony Blundetto), then we've giggled as they return to bickering pver random minutiae in the back room of the Bada Bing. To me, the story has always been about how this entire group of characters is able to keep on keeping on, knowing what they know, doing what they do, and the massive and profound contradictions that allow them to do so. That's where the humor and the drama comes from. I think. Maybe.

So my vote is: satisfying? No. Fitting? Yes.

So we're all supposed to be writers here, right? What did you think? Was the ending a brilliant artistic stroke, or a cowardly way to fuck with us for awhile without making the big decisions?


Joe said...

I think it's pretty awesome that Chase found a way to give us a more or less "safe" ending, but a safe ending, that in its execution, totally fucked with us. I mean, if he had shot up Tony, or had him sneak off in to Witness Protection, it would've seemed like bullshit to anyone who knows the series. In fact, almost any actual conclusion, any real resolution, no matter how original, would've likely seemed like bullshit because it wouldn't have lived up to what many of us had built up in our minds. And that's what I mean by saying Chase took the safe route by, as a friend of mine noted, allowing the audience to give Tony whatever end that audience member wanted to give him. If you wanted him shot up in what would've been the next frame, you could have that. If you wanted him to live out the rest of his days eating onion rings as boss, you could have that, too. However, that crazy tense last scene, could've gone a million different ways. It made us sit on the edge of our seats, and then Chase totally subverted our expectations by going to black, which I thought was pretty awesome. And he did it all to Steve Fucking Perry. That's what I'm talking about Mother Fucker! This is the way Sopranos ends: not with a bang, but with a Journey. Yeah, sit on that, bitch.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Here are some disjointed thoughts:

Phil Leotardo fled to Long Island suburbia until the storm blew over. Tony was already in suburbia.

Phil may have standards (the way they made people over there, harboring a "fag", etc.) but the scene a few episodes ago with him yelling out his window at Tony made him out to be no more than a petulant child who ia not AJ. So he was gonna get whacked.

I think Matt Zoller Seitz noted that the 1st season episode in which an attempt is made on Tony's life was titled "Members Only."

Given the realities of this world changing -- what with Little Italy no more than a tourist destination crowded with Asians -- Suburbia is where it's at. John Sacrimoni tried to make it over in Jersey and failed. All Tony cares about is earning; he was close to forgiving Vito because of his earning potential. Makes me wonder if New York really had the 200 soldiers Tony said they did. Beginning to wonder if a subtext was the bluster of the New York crew.

Paulie's "I live only to serve you, my liege" seemed very un-Paulie-esque. Perhaps that was a meta insert to broadcast his medieval origins -- he's crazy superstitious, and his mom was a nun.

dave said...

Commenting on my own post, but here are a few interesting things/theories I heard yesterday.

Diner Patrons: one guy on the radio (this was all they were talking about, even on sports talk radio, yesterday) said -- and I have no idea if this is true, and I'm guessing that it isn't -- that all the people in the diner were significant in some way: the members only guy is a low-level guy in Phil's crew, the trucker is either an FBI agent or somebody whose partner was killed by Tony's crew, the boy scouts were in the train store when Baccala got hit, and the African-american dudes were the ones who threatened Tony's life way back in season 2 or something. I have no idea if that's true or not, but interesting to think about.

The cat: I heard various theories on this, that it was Adriana, Christopher, or, my favorite, Big Pussy. Also that Paulie had ratted out Tony and the crew somehow, and the cat was following him because, as Tony said (a few times, actually, if you think about it), the cat was catching mice/rats for the crew.

AJ's Girlfriend: One interesting theory is that she ratted out Tony and the crew, and left them sitting ducks at the diner. Theory goes that she's way too hot for AJ, which is, I believe, a solid foundation for a theory. Also that Tony said something like "who's she gonna tell?" in reference to where the family was holed up at the shore. Also, going to the diner was "general consensus," according to Carm, so she could have influenced that decision, then bailed out, left the family to get whacked. After you get past the "she's too hot for AJ" part of that theory, it kind of breaks down.

Agent Harris: I loved the way they fleshed out his character in this final season. Turns out he's on the other side of the law, living pretty much exactly the same as Tony -- getting hassled at work, hassled at home, screwing around on his wife, and the best part, not so silently rooting for the Jersey crew to come out on top over the Brooklyn crew.

Songs: Still waiting for somebody to break down the songs Tony could have chosen on the jukebox, and the possible endings associated with each one. Maybe I'll have to do that myself -- it's just the kind of bullshit speculation with no basis in actual fact that I enjoy.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The thing about the cat: staring so hard at Christopher, perhaps he was the rat? Despite Paulie's fear of the cat, calling it "a snake with fur", it didn't seem to have any hostility toward him.