Tony Soprano Ain’t Dead. Now Shaddap and Pass the Cold Cuts
I hate to wait so long to fire back at my esteemed colleague Bob Ruggiero and newcomer Mace Wilkerson and their takes on The Sopranos series finale. While both got me equally fired up and itchin’ to respond, as Tony Soprano says, “revenge is like serving cold cuts.”
He means, of course, that it’s best served cold, that it’s better to wait and retort. Fortunately, I’ve already spent an inexcusable amount of time thinking about Sunday night’s series finale. Thanks to TiVo, I’ve watched it again and again, like it’s some sort of Zapruder film. (Hey, when I was HouStoned’s blog editor, I named the TV section “TGITiVO” for a reason: TiVO may be the greatest gift to man since Paz Vega. Thank God, indeed.)
Ruggiero and Wilkerson represent two very popular post-Sopranos sentiments: the finale sucked and Tony is dead. To both, I say wrong.
To the “ending sucks” crowd: Let’s forget about all the viewers who freaked and wondered if their cable signal had been lost for 10 seconds during Sunday night’s show. As we all now know, the series ends on an abrupt shot of Tony’s face as the door to Holsten’s opens and a bell chimes.
Given that there were a few sketchy dudes sitting in the ice cream shop, not to mention Bobby’s repeated, ominous “you never hear it coming” mantra about being offed, you’d think that our man T just took one to the melon. To quote the esteemed Wilkerson: "It all makes sense if you use your brain a bit and don’t have to be spoon-fed the obvious."
Sure, the “obvious” ending is that Tony dies, especially since most Americans are programmed to think that a sudden black screen equals death. But you don’t have to be Robert Wilonsky to know that's not always the case.
Look, David Chase has allowed that if viewers watch the first episode, the ending makes sense. The first ep immediately drops us into Tony's existence as he ogles some art in Dr. Melfi's office. We don't know what's happened before; we only find out in flashbacks which offer the backstory. Boom – we’re in. So essentially, Chase took us out the way he brought us in -- in a flash. Whether Tony’s dead, or makes it through to enjoy his onion rings, we’ve been ripped from his existence. It’s a moment of zen, if you will: There is knowing in the not knowing. Sucky ending? Nah, it’s brilliant in its simplicity, the kind of fable a king fu master tells his protégé before making him catch gnats with chopsticks while doing the splits over burning coal.
Which brings us to the “Tony’s dead” crowd: It’s far too neat, nay, obvious, to kill off your protagonist/antihero at story’s end – especially when the entire story has focused on violent death. For those who insist that the closing scene means Tony’s surely been whacked, consider:
No one with any means wants him dead. Though it seemed quite the stretch, there was a truce between the two cities. And enough about Members Only Jacket Guy! He’s not Phil’s nephew, and even if he was, the dude walks ominously into the restroom. Hello! Tony’s a cagey pro, a survivor who’ll run though the snow-stacked woods (literally) in his loafers to escape danger. If he truly believed there was a hitter in the bathroom, T would’ve suddenly taken a phone call outside, knowing that the hitter would have no interest in just Carmela and A.J. He would’ve just made for his SUV and grabbed his fancy-shmancy shotgun.
Which isn’t to say that Tony wouldn’t second-guess every single person in that and every other public place. To a paranoid, me-first sociopath like Tony, every young African-American looks like a carjacker. Every hick in a trucker hat looks like the brother of a now-dead trucker. Every paesano could be a hitter or worse, a Fed. (We already know that he’s in danger of being ratted out again, and there’s that whole messy gun charge that won’t go away.) Hell, after Uncle Junior, he can’t even trust family.
No, Tony is a survivor. And the very invincibility that feeds his confidence is the albatross (or as his dad Johnny would say, the “albacore”) around his neck. Tony must live to watch his son A.J. turn into an even bigger puss than anyone imagined. He must live to witness his golden daughter Meadow go from aspiring doctor to wife of a crooked, mob-tied attorney, a wife even doomed to Carmela’s penchant for denial. His best soldiers are gone (he even killed one himself), the most interesting of his current staff being an orange cat who’s wont to taunt Paulie.
And that is Tony’s fate. If we’ve learned anything from this mob boss’s charmed life, it’s that he’s not destined for heaven or hell, but purgatory. (Think back to the whole Kevin Finnerty episodes.) Why would David Chase -- who enjoys obvious endings the way Craig Malisow enjoys Hilary Duff – end his story with our hero taking one to the skull, when the poetic justice would have Signore Soprano spending his days running a dwindling Family and a deteriorating family? (Seriously, would you want to be A.J.’s dad? How about having to sit next to Paulie every day?)
If you’re a Sopranos fan who’s hell-bent on dissecting scenes in the finale, then you’d be best served playing back Tony’s visit to Uncle Jun. Whether the bald, comically bespectacled Corrado is faking his current Alzheimer’s situation or not, dude’s hardly the big-time boss of north Jersey that he used to be. He’s the embodiment of what a mob boss who actually lives to see old age becomes.
There’s no glorious ending with blazing gunfire and an honorable death in the street or restaurant, a few Hail Marys marking a terminal breath. Nope, it’s a state-run old folks’ home with crappy food, boring company and urine-stained bed sheets.
A bullet to the brain? Please. Tony should be so lucky. – Steven Devadanam
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