Possibly the greatest accomplishment of The Sopranos was David Chase’s willingness not to explain. Tony, Carmela, et al, did what they did without apology or justification from the writer. Loose ends were sometimes left to dangle, or had less than satisfactory explanations. Surprises were deftly balanced with anticlimax. (Remember the feds taking several episodes to wire a lamp in Tony’s basement for eavesdropping purposes, only to have Meadow immediately and unsuspectingly take said lamp for her dorm room?)
Life is like that, and The Sopranos, more than any other entertaining show, reflected life, through the admittedly warped prism of Tony Soprano. Anyone who watched all eighty-six episodes learned to take the characters as the sum of their parts, as though they were real people. Chase rarely took us where we expected to go; when he did, it was via the road less traveled. Not always wholly satisfying, but, as Brian Williams noted in Slate, “the journey is the reward.”
The ending of the last episode was a disappointment because there’s a difference between feeling let down and feeling cheated. An audience has the right to expect that tension, once raised, will be resolved in some manner. Chase spent the last several minutes of Sunday’s finale building tension as well as anyone ever has; the Crazy Like Me Correspondent said her stomach hurt, watching the comings and goings in the diner, Meadow parking the car, Tony’s innocent banter with AJ.
I’ve read over a dozen articles deconstructing the ending, and I’m willing to admit Tony has probably gone to that great pork store in the sky. Flashing to him with Bobby on the boat, “maybe you never hear it,” seems more satisfying a set-up than expecting the entire audience to analyze rock lyrics they may be unfamiliar with to figure the ending. Still, in real time, it was a let down, like hearing the doorbell ring when on the verge of an orgasm.
A more satisfying ending might have been to end the show a week earlier, with Tony sitting in Uncle Junior’s bed holding his AR-10, looking at the door, awaiting his destiny. That was the nadir of the season, and of the series; nothing in the final episode is as bleak.
The pundits are talking me into it, though. As Craze said a few minutes ago, if Tony had to go, better like this than to see him a bloody mess. He went out happy: Phil defeated, Carmela happy, Meadow’s prospects bright, and AJ a whiny douche bag, which is about as much as anyone can hope for from AJ. The end came as fast for us as for him; maybe that’s Chase’s last life lesson. Malicious prick (his words) that he was, no one really wanted to see Tony die.
Maybe it was brilliant after all; it sure was a disappointment when it happened.