June 23, 2007

A Last Crack At The Sopranos Finale (Update/Bump)

The beauty and horror of HBO is that everything airs repeatedly, especially with the satellite HBO package, which has seven HBO channels. When they air Serenity or Thank You For Smoking, it's a blessing, but pure torture with Date Movie. Over the last few days, I've had a chance to watch the Sopranos finale two or three more times, and I think I understand the ending much more clearly than before.

The key is the very beginning of the diner scene. When Tony first walks into the diner, he sees himself at the booth, and he's dressed differently. He comes in wearing a drab gray shirt under his leather jacket, looking frazzled, but at the booth he's wearing a different shirt [update: same shirt] and looking rather normal and relaxed. That's the setup that tells us what happens in the rest of the scene is a fantasy, lived only in Tony's mind.

What does Tony fantasize about? A normal family life. His son has become well-adjusted. His wife seems happy. But reality begins to intrude; Carmela starts talking about Carlo, and Tony notices the man wearing the Members Only jacket nervously.

The entire series has been about Tony's attempt to fantasize himself as a normal family man. Since the first episode, Tony sought therapy as a means in which to resolve the conflict between his fantasy and his reality. He lived in denial of his true murderous, sociopathic nature for the entire arc of the series, abetted by Dr. Melfi, who actively tried to help him do so. He wanted his belief in his supposed goodness and normality to become his reality.

Instead, in this fantasy, Tony finally realizes that he's deluding himself. David Chase throws in a red herring with Meadow and the parallel parking, but otherwise it's all about Tony's delusion crumbling. His daughter succumbed to his fantasy, giving up a career in medicine to defend people like Tony, whom the FBI supposedly persecute because of their Italian descent. His son now works for him and Little Carmine. His wife openly discusses the one brutal piece of reality that he most wants to forget -- Carlo, the guy who's probably going to put Tony in the joint for the rest of his life.

It's not for nothing that fantasy-Tony plays "Don't Stop Believing" at the jukebox. Tony has held tight to this fantasy of normality for years. It's been the root of his depression and probably of his panic attacks, which started when he began the life; recall that Tony's first faint happened when he was supposed to go do a heist with his cousin Tony Blundetto. His fantasy self is telling him not to end the delusion.

But that's exactly what he does. Tony doesn't get whacked in the final episode; Tony just kills the fantasy. That's what the abrupt ending means, with the song cutting out at "Don't stop --". The delusion is dead -- and Tony finally has to face reality about who he is and what is in store for him. The series' main story arc has come to an end.

And that's an ending that befits the series.

UPDATE: The First Mate had an interesting interpretation of Meadow's parallel parking in the final fantasy sequence. She has been pulling away from the family at times, and at other times, in the same kind of denial as Tony. The back-and-forth of the parallel parking in Tony's mind might reflect her vacillation, but in the end she joins the family fantasy. That might be what brings Tony to end the delusion -- once she rushes into the diner, it abruptly ends.

UPDATE II: CQ commenter Jimboster discovers why I'm such a Sopranos fan -- were James Gandolfini and I separated at birth? Only Vayapaso knows for sure ...

UPDATE III: It could be the same shirt, as commenter mscala believes I've watched the sequence in slow-mo a few times, and it looks like a different shirt to me, but I could be wrong about that detail. I don't think it undermines this analysis, though.

UPDATE IV: I've added the YouTube for the final 4:49 of the show. Tony walks into the diner, then the camera cuts to Tony's perspective staring at an empty booth. It cuts back to Tony's face, and then back from Tony's perspective again, with Tony sitting in the previously empty booth. It's a signal that we're in Tony's fantasy.

Here's another series of clues. When Tony is waiting for Carmela and the family to join him, the camera focuses on three song selections on the jukebox. The first is "Who Will You Run To/Magic Man" by Heart. The second is "Don't Stop Believing/Any Way You Want It" by Journey. The third is "I Gotta Be Me/A Lonely Place" by Tony Bennett. Tony chooses the second choice in his fantasy rather than the third; he doesn't want to be himself, which would certainly put him in a lonely place. Unfortunately, Tony stops believing.


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Comments (36)

Posted by Carl | June 23, 2007 9:22 AM

I never watched the Soprano's that often (had to cancel the package that had HBO after I lost my job last year) but your interpretation of the finale is very interesting and could be pretty spot on. To take your theory a little further, would you think Tony might be having this fantasy of a normal life AFTER he's been shot up and being rushed to the ER?

Posted by Captain Ed | June 23, 2007 9:28 AM

Possibly, but I think Chase would have hinted at that.

Posted by Charlie Eklund | June 23, 2007 9:58 AM

That's a very interesting take on the episode, Ed. Of course, nothing truly definitive can be said about what really happened at the end of the series, despite the plethora of clues Chase presents to us and despite the many nimble minds who seek to find a definitive answer.

It's not for nothin' that the B-side of the "Don't Stop Believin'" single is a little tune called "Any Way You Want It", eh?

Posted by jimboster | June 23, 2007 9:59 AM

Sounds like your interpretation is a good one, Captain. Unfortunately, I'm more of a meat and potatoes kinda guy, and like the kind of endings where Jimmy Cagney shoots Humphrey Bogart at the end of the movie for being a dirty rat. Also, is it my imagination, or did Tony start looking a lot like W.C. Fields? Something was going on with his nose. Could there have been some hidden meaning in that?

Posted by MCATL | June 23, 2007 10:07 AM

Very Good! I thought I saw Tony look at himself and family seated at the booth as well but thought it might be sloppy editing.

Posted by RBMN | June 23, 2007 10:18 AM

You may be right. We may find that Tony's been half-awake somewhere imagining these things. But Hillary's takeoff on the Sopranos; talk about elaborate fantasies of normal life....

Posted by NahnCee [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 23, 2007 11:27 AM

Hillary Clinton has said that she saw a shrink to save her marriage with Bill. I wonder if either Bill or Hillary live in a fantasy world where *they* are normal. With the rest of us being manipulable but happy puppets. And poor little Chelsea will be parallel parking for ever and ever and ever ...

Posted by MarkJ | June 23, 2007 12:59 PM

Interesting take on the ending. I've seen this basic theory posited elsewhere in that Tony's "punishment" is even worse than getting whacked: namely he has, in the end, thoroughly corrupted and compromised his own family. Therefore, in time, they too will pay mentally, emotionally, and even legally for electing to remain with him.

Remember the chilling scene, early in "The Godfather Part II," in which Senatory Geary lambastes Michael Corleone and "your whole f***ing family" for portraying themselves hypocritically? Corleone coldly replies that both he and Senatory Geary may be hyprocrites, but the hypocrisy doesn't in any way involve his family.

I suspect the final scene is David Chase's riposte to Michael Corleone and Tony Soprano: "Wrong, goombahs. Your hypocrisies cannot be separated from your families, because you've now turned them all into your enablers."

Posted by Gwydion | June 23, 2007 1:00 PM

Tony's first panic attack wasn't the Blundetto thing. He revealed in therapy that he fainted as a child in connection with deli meats and his mother.

Posted by docweasel | June 23, 2007 1:39 PM

I detest the Sopranos. They are portrayed as boorish, violent, sociopathic and stupid. And that about sums up the portrayals of Italian-Americans on TV and in the movies. Since DaVinci and Michelangelo are no longer taught in schools -replaced by multi-cultural hacks like Maya Angelou and - Italian culture is pretty much represented in most Americans' minds by this kind of criminal adoring crap. When positive Italian icons are mentioned at all, its destructive, libelous atrocities like The DaVinci Code or to celebrate the fact that Michelangelo might have been a homosexual.

If you get entertainment by gross stereotypical insulting portrayals of ethnic groups, hooray for you. But I find it as bigoted and distasteful as Amos n' Andy or Butterfly McQueen's Prissy or the Frito Bandito or Stepin Fetchit. There is freedom of speech and all that stuff protecting Chase's right to make this dreck, but the adulation and acclaim heaped upon this steaming pile of libel makes me want to puke.

Good article by Camille Paglia that pretty much mirrors my thinking,

and in another:
"Here is the best of Italian culture -- as opposed to the worst, currently promulgated by HBO's vile series, "The Sopranos," no episode of which I've been able to watch for more than a minute. (What ham acting! What crude stereotypes! The critics deliriously praising this factitious tripe are presumably the same urban elitists who thought the crappy, condescending 1999 film "American Beauty" told the bold truth about suburban American culture.)"

Good riddance to show, it was an insult and a slander to everyone with Italian heritage, and if you can't see that I wonder if you judgment as a whole. The celebration of this series is a disgrace and disgusting spectacle that has galled me for years.

And David Chase as a person is an asshole, which is pretty much reflected in his work. I don't think the ending means jack. He did it to piss people off because he got a kick out of it, and what are they going to do about it?

Posted by mscala | June 23, 2007 3:06 PM

interesting. but i'm positive you're wrong about the shirt (just watched the scene closely). however, the camera work at that moment strongly supports your theory -- notice the discontinuity: tony moves from the entry to his seat yet the song plays uninterrupted. also, due to the camera work, we have been primed to think that when the camera faces the dining room (from the entry), it is Tony's point of view. Conclusion: it's hard to avoid the sense that at that moment, Tony is looking at Tony.

Posted by bour3 | June 23, 2007 4:07 PM


*strokes imaginary beard*

That's a very insightful analysis.

Posted by mnw | June 23, 2007 6:17 PM

I can offer one thing no-one anywhere has noticed, as far as I know.

Several seasons back, Michael died, went to hell, & was brought back to life in the operating room. Michael told Tony he had talked with one of Tony's victims down in hell. The man in hell sent a message back to Tony, via Michael. The message? "Three o'clock. That's all he said. He wanted me to tell you, Tony. Three o'clock."

Analysis: Clearly, Tony thus received warning (foreshadowing) of the exact time that Tony would die. Since there was NO REFERENCE WHATEVER to this in the finale, Tony does NOT get whacked in the last episode. Had Chase wanted to imply thathe would soon be killed, there would have been a reference of some sort to the time of day/night being 3 o'clock in that diner.

Posted by Carol Herman | June 23, 2007 7:36 PM

It's too late, Captain. Hillary's usurped the ending.

And, the tire smashing into the curb, now belongs to Bubba. he recognizes "Chelsea's parallel park."

And, ya know what?

Hillary's not afraid of the Soprano "image."

But I'll go along, here. Is Hillary fantasizing that she has a shot at becoming President?

At 3:00 AM for that Diner scene? It's flat as a pancake.

But ya know? I never even saw one episode. So the Sopranos have been running for the length of time my TV has been "off."

David Chase thinks he has sequel material (per Drudge.) That's why his last show was so inconclusive.

But in the world where the Internet now binds people together; I think the Sopranos won't gross.

Well? Isn't Hollywood also guessing wrong when it comes to guessing the American public?

On the other hand? The Clinton's. And, the Mafia. WHAT A WRAP!

Posted by Michael B | June 23, 2007 8:17 PM

I agree that your theory is interesting and well-supported. The shirt, however, is the same. As Tony approaches the door from the outside, you can see the black collar a little more clearly and as he stands inside the restaurant, the gray is plainly visible. The odd cut is confusing - not sure why it was done that way - but Tony stops and stares at the table because it's empty - he's disappointed that he's alone - not because he sees himself.

When Tony leaves his uncle, he appears to be on the verge of a panic attack after realizing (again) how life may well end for him - everything coming to naught and nothing to look back on. The restaurant is full of normal people living normal lives and Tony is outside of it all. Yet he plays, "Don't Stop Believin'" and his family, not normal but all he has, begins to enter and he's clearly comforted. AJ's remark, "Focus on the good times" is the key in the scene - this is one of those "good times" for Tony and his family. Brief respite between the threats and mayhem, but with the underlying suspicion (or is it certainty?) that upheaval will return as they live their lives inviting it. "And the movie never ends, it goes on and on ..." says the song. The story arc of Tony's conflict is not resolved in this scene, in my opinion, it's confirmed as permanent. In this sense, it doesn't matter if Tony gets whacked at the end of the scene or in 2 or 10 years from now, or never. New events and challenges will present themselve but the pattern is set and it won't change. I think this is the point of ending the scene so abruptly, encouraging us to wonder "What happened next?", though the answer should be obvious: The same [expletive] that has always happened before.

So I doubt that the Members Only jacket guy whacked Tony. I think he's in the scene as part of the permanent pattern of suspicion and dread.

For those who do think he killed Tony, who sent him?

Posted by Streaker | June 23, 2007 10:01 PM

OR... it could be that no one had a good ending to the series.

Posted by Tom Higginson | June 23, 2007 10:11 PM

I have read that they ask Tony Bennett every year if they can play his music on the show and he always turns them down saying something to the effect that it casts Italians in a bad light. Ya think? So showing, but not playing a Tony Bennett song, was their tribute to appreciating his music. Hope that doesn't screw up the plan.

Posted by RBMN | June 23, 2007 10:44 PM

Maybe Tony just had a heart attack and blacked out:

Holsten's Slide Show

Posted by HUTCH | June 23, 2007 11:21 PM

Ahh the beauty and simplicity of Chase' ending... Everyone can theorize on how it all ends, but no one really knows.

The real brilliance? It ends exactly how you want it to, or perceive it to be.

The only sad thing is that a truly exceptional program has come to an end.

Posted by Paul Levinson | June 24, 2007 12:15 AM

Good, original interpretation - another example of how the ambiguous ending can really get us to think about the show, and its meaning. The Sopranos and Hamlet

Posted by Mike K | June 24, 2007 12:20 AM

Isn't the guy in the USA hat at about 3:00 the dude who got into gambling and allowed Tony and the crew to take over his hardware store? He lost everything if I remember correctly.

Posted by Jimmy in Texas | June 24, 2007 12:21 AM

Personally, I think the show was whacked. Seriously, think about it. That's pretty much how it ended for many of Tony's victims. Suddenly and without warning...cut to black.

Posted by Bozoer Rebbe | June 24, 2007 12:26 AM

This is all about DVD and rerun syndication.

Remember the original The Fugitive series with David Jansen? It was a very successful show and the finale had the biggest audience of any tv show prior to the Seinfeld ending. However, they had a terrible time trying to sell the show in reruns. Why? Because in the finale, they solved the mystery. Lt. Gerard came to believe Richard Kimble's story about the one armed man who really killed Kimble's wife. They find him and Gerard shoots him while he and Kimble wrestled up on a water tower. Station owners felt that nobody would want to watch the reruns because they knew how the series turned out.

Chase gave a clue to this in one of his interviews. He said they'd briefly considered doing the finale as a flashback but Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Rober Iler are too old to be able to play younger versions of themselves and that there would be no dramatic suspense because everyone knows that Tony would survive that episode.

Chase wants to sell DVDs and reruns. Leaving the show open ended, with no resolution, maintains the dramatic suspense for newcomers to the show.

Posted by John Carollo | June 24, 2007 4:57 AM

You should take the time to read: bobharris.com-Tony Soprano didn't just get whacked; he practically got a funeral.

Posted by sanssoucy | June 24, 2007 7:23 AM

Orange cats, Princeton Tigers, Members-Only ... blah-blah. The bobharris.com "analysis" serves as a textbook example of a fanboy reading waaaaaay too much into something.

Here's a couple of points, though:

(1) The DVD version of this episode is apparently going to feature alternative endings. One of these alternatives will almost certainly depict Tony getting killed. If that's the *alternative* ending, then the ending they televised does *not* feature Tony's death.

(2) The "Tony got clipped" crowd can never have proof for their theories - but the "Tony survived" adherents just might. A Sopranos film would have to explain what happened - and only a retard would make a Sopranos film without the main and most interesting character.


Posted by Jim | June 24, 2007 7:49 AM

One more point -

In the jukebox, the B-side to "Don't Stop Believing" is shown as "Any way you want it".

In the real-world, the B-side to "Don't Stop Beliveving" is a song called "Natural Thing".

Is this Chase saying that the ending can be interpreted "any way you want it"?

Posted by The Yell | June 24, 2007 8:00 AM

It ends as it began: Tony Soprano, meat neurotic, "blacks out" before the main course.

Posted by Djinn | June 24, 2007 8:11 AM

You were right the first time that the change in shirt is the key to understanding the finale. Tony's shirt when he is talking with Junior and later when he enters the diner does not have a black collar. Tony's shirt at the diner table has a black collar. I recommend you delete the [update] insertion in your main article indicating Tony is wearing the same shirt. If you were to scan the various blogs on the Internet of Sopranos fans, you would see that most of the viewers who comment on Tony's shirt believe he was wearing a different shirt at the table.

Posted by eaglewings | June 24, 2007 8:35 AM

You also see how the camera pans around the restaurant as the fantasy begins, and shows apparently normal loving families, lovers, in contrast to the mess Tony has made of his own family and his belief even in fantasy he can't lead a normal life.
As to the 3 o'clock reference from hell several seasons back, while it may be a reference to Tony's death, it should be noted that Jesus died at 3 pm, so it's possible that this was a reference for Tony to repent before its too late.
However such an oblique reference to Jesus' cruxifiction might have been beyond the scriptwriters consciousness.
At least Captain's theory is more acceptable than when episode was originally aired.

Posted by Don Emslie | June 24, 2007 9:08 PM

You must remember that the general audience of TV and Newpapers has an IQ of the eighth grade. The writers of this show are aware of that. Get over your wishful thinking and face the fact that it's all just the way it was presented.

Posted by Kevin Murphy | June 24, 2007 10:58 PM

This would fit nicely with the odd coma-episodes at the beginning of Season 6, where Tony dreams that he's just a salesman having difficulty getting home. It isn't until he rejects the dream that he wakes up.

Posted by Kevin Murphy | June 24, 2007 11:31 PM

But, looking at it all again, I go back to my first impression:

Chase justs ends it in the middle of a breath because there IS no natural end. It's just time to say goodbye. Lots of people WANTED an ending and can't accept that there is none, so they try to read one into it.

It ends with a mixture of business tension and family relaxation because that's Tony's life.

Nothing more.

Posted by Phil | June 25, 2007 10:11 AM

Captain, you're analysis is beautiful and remarkable even if not intended by the producers.

PS. I think the next 20 seconds would have shown the girl getting the bullet intended for Tony. Remember she was supposed to get killed the 3rd or 4th show of the series but Providence intervened to give Tony a chance to straighten his life out. Instead, I presume, the drugs he took for depression inhibited the soul searching required to produce that outcome.

Posted by Tim | June 26, 2007 4:14 PM

The 3 o'clock comments....... Think of a clock....
from where Tony is facing, the door is 12 o'clock...the men's bathroom where Mr. Members Only is going...Tony's 3 o'clock.
I read it somewhere and thought it was pretty plausible.

Posted by krazyrich | June 28, 2007 10:34 AM

Interesting analysis.

After looking at some of the comments above, I have to say that I've also wondered whether part of what we're shown is Tony's fantasy, although my thoughts run more along the lines of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". The oddity of the cut once he enters Holsten's - maybe that's where it happens? Who knows...

In any event, it does remind me of something that I noticed but never thought to relate to the controversy. Wasn't Tony going to be late because he had to see some people (who turned out to be Uncle Junior)? But then he gets to Holsten's and he's apparently the first one there.

Or maybe Junior finally had him whacked. Playing the idiot to keep himself safe like Vinny "the Chin" Gigante. That would finally explain all of the to-do about the $$$ he supposedly has stashed somewhere. It's the only thing that's kept Junior from getting killed first.

Or maybe... or maybe... Chase can explain it all any way he wants, whenever he chooses to do so.