The Never-Ending Tragedy
Tony Soprano lives--for now.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
There’s this guy I know— a long-time local, a business acquaintance I know and trust. Let’s call him Sal. (I can’t give you his real name because he swore me to secrecy.) Sal is certain there’s going to be a Sopranos movie— and Sal knows someone in the business, down in LA. That person assured him that there is in fact going to be a movie. It’s his cousin, or his girlfriend’s cousin. It doesn’t matter. Sal swears it’s a done deal.
I think I believe him. For one thing, he told me this last month, weeks before the last episode inspired half the blog-nerds on the Web to hypothesize about the possibility. Plus, the way he said it, in his working-class Monterey Italian accent— which makes him sound just like half the guys I knew in New Jersey— I had to believe him. And I want to believe him.
Like Sal and a lot of other people, I dreaded seeing “The Sopranos” come to an end. That dread was made worse by the sure sense that it would not end well, not for Tony Soprano, and not for his family or any of the handful of his associates who had survived this bloody season. The last couple of weeks have been bad.
Sal and I had discussed various dark destinies that might lay in store. I’m sure a lot of other people were asking themselves the same questions. Would the feds indict our anti-hero? Would Phil Leotardo and his buddies from New York whack him? Is Paulie Walnuts a rat? Would AJ, Tony’s troubled son, kill himself? Would Carmella, his troubled wife, turn on him? Would Tony put himself and everyone else out of his misery by blowing his own head off with a large-caliber automatic weapon?
That black screen was a dizzying letdown, but it was a perfect way for The Sopranos to end.
Any of this stuff might have happened, and of course none of it did. For 60 minutes, 20 million Americans sat on the edge of their couches Sunday night, through scene after ominous scene, waiting for a vicious climax that never came. There was one nauseatingly violent incident, played for sick laughs, but mostly we sat through scenes filled with inconclusive portents, and a bunch of other stuff that was simply strange— Paulie obsessing about a cat that was staring at a photo of Christopher Moltisanti; Tony yammering pathetically about his mother to AJ’s shrink. And then the screen went black, the show ended, the series ended, and there was no ending.
I sat there gaping at the television, not knowing what I had just seen (or not seen), unable to move. HBO jumped immediately into the premiere episode of “John From Cincinnati,” a surf-noir series from David Milch (creator of “Deadwood”). I watched, still on the edge of my seat, half-expecting a bunch of mobsters to drive up to the beach in a Crown Vic and machine-gun everyone in sight. That didn’t happen, of course, so eventually I went to bed not knowing what to think about the non-ending of the best series in television history.
~ ~ ~
Monday morning I awoke to some NPR chatter about the national disappointment over “The Sopranos” finale. For some reason that struck me as a boring response— and it felt wrong. Sure, that black screen was a dizzying letdown in the moment, but in reflection, it started to dawn on me that this was a perfect way for the show to come to a close. The final episode didn’t offer any resolution or tie up all the loose ends, but that’s what made it emotionally true to the story.
For six years, fans of “The Sopranos” did exactly the same thing we did last Sunday night: watch in fear and puzzlement. It was obvious from early on that Tony Soprano’s days were numbered; we sat through countless episodes on the edge of our couches as he narrowly escaped arrest and bloody murder. But this show gave its audience something more than mere suspense— “The Sopranos” delved so deeply into the painfully complicated inner lives of its hero and his family, it often left us feeling bewildered, even troubled.
One thing was clear from the get-go: Even though it had its funny moments, “The Sopranos” repeatedly reminded us that we were watching a tragedy. Tony Soprano was a classic tragic hero. And there’s only one way a tragedy can end. Unless it doesn’t end.
Or maybe that last scene really is a kind of conclusion— Tony, Carmella and AJ, sitting in a booth at the diner, content amid the chaos, waiting for Meadow to park her car, listening to that Journey song, “it goes on and on and on and on… .” Maybe instead of imagining the bloodbath, the kidnapping, whatever horror might have been hidden by that black screen, we can believe that the worst that will befall this family are the everyday heartbreaks we all endure.
Then again, Sal is probably right, and we’ll just have to wait for the movie to get the tragic ending we want.