I mean of course he was going to die.
One of my biggest entertainment wishes is to go back in time and watch The Sopranos finale live. I want to experience that blackout like those who watched it for the first time. I know I’d be furious. I know I’d have a temper tantrum. I know I would have smacked the side of my TV hoping to get the picture back on. But I also hope, as time settled, I would’ve recognized two things. 1. That Tony Soprano was for sure dead. 2. That it had to end that way.
The separation of season 6 into two parts is an odd choice. It obviously is in some ways a production decision. But there are also distinct thematic differences between part A and part B. As I wrote previously, part A was full of remembrance and nostalgia. It fit the mold of a more traditional series finale by casting glances backwards in order to bring closure in a “remember the journey” kind of way.
There are elements of that in part B. Some characters like Hesh are given a final wrap up, but much more of the finale is focused on death and ending. That tone was set in the fantastic first episode when Bobby and Tony were on the boat talking about offing guys. Tony asks Bobby what it’s like, to go, and Bobby replies, “At the end, you probably don’t hear anything, everything just goes black.” Goes black… sound familiar… like the finale. On top of that, there was Silvio’s moment in a restaurant where a guy from New York got whacked. The sound went out and everything slowed down. And at another point Tony tells Carmella that there is usually only two ways out for guys like him, on the slab or in the can. Or there is the moment in Dr. Melfi’s office when Tony asks, “Is this all there is?”
All of these are illusions to Tony’s ultimate end, but they also make death a theme that brings the narrative to a conclusion.
After conversations about killing and dying in episode one, the crew confronts death head on when Johnny Sack meets his end due to cancer. The vacancy at the head of the New York family leads to a series of whackings. Then there is Junior, who shows us death might sometimes be better than life, and Anthony Jr. who actually puts that thought into action by trying to commit suicide. Tony contemplates offing Paulie, mostly because he annoys him, and Paulie can’t stop thinking about his own almost-death due to cancer while he mourns the loss of his mother. And all of the conflict with New York (the core of the season) was rooted in the unfortunate taking of life-Tony B killed Phil’s little brother, and then Phil killed Vito, partially in retribution. And we learned that nothing is harder to overcome than the loss of life.
So as the series separated the last season into two, and part B plodded its slow trek towards concluding, season 6B uses finality and the ending of life to tap into the heavy emotions any long-time viewer feels as the characters they have come to know and/or love don’t necessarily die, but do cease to exist.
We get introduced to what will be the ultimate conclusion to the show, with Chrissy’s death, which is as shocking as any death in all of television (Game of Thrones fans can lay off), and becomes a precursor for the penultimate episode, one of the most heart-wrenching episodes of all time, and also the finale, which should be seen through the vein of what the season laid out, not what we hoped would happen.
I appreciate the distinction between Chrissy’s death and those of Bobby and Sil (though he was still technically breathing). First of all, from a show and character standpoint, Chrissy deserved an episode dedicated to his death (Game of Thrones could learn from this too). Doing this also spread out the slow demise of Tony and his crew. This last part of the last season is about Tony’s sins coming back to haunt him. These sins laid beneath the surface in part A, haunting moments that should have been special, but they surfaced in part B. Seen through this lens, Chrissy was always a different mistake from the politics of the family. He was an interpersonal mistake, a failure to understand and love someone who was in need, an inability to see someone as more than a means to an end. Chrissy’s demise was the product of Tony’s selfish nature, and Tony needed to reconcile himself with that separately than his mistakes with New York and his crew. Chrissy had always been separate from either family to which he belonged, in fact that was the frustration with him all season. He was only half in. And to see Tony decide he wasn’t worth the trouble, was powerful and devastating.
Equally as powerfully and devastating was the penultimate episode (which wrecks me every time I watch it). Bobby’s death- and that damn ringing cell phone he left in the car- surrounded by trains, the symbol of his purity and innocence and desire for a simpler and better life, will never not shake my soul. And then seeing Sil in the car, a mess, blood marring his perfect suit, the opposite of his normal perfection, is uncomfortable at best. It breaks the nature of the show. But what gets me the most is seeing Tony, on the lam, surrounded by his guys in a safehouse, and seeing who those guys are. Where is Pussy, where is Chrissy, where is Sil and Bobby or Vito or Ralphie? They died so fast we didn’t even get to know Carlo or Walden or any of the other guys who now hold Tony’s life in their hands. And it stands to reason, Tony doesn’t either. It’s just Paulie, a guy he had considered killing a few episodes prior.
The world The Sopranos established was dead in that episode. There was no going back. Any deals or negotiations in the finale, would be a band-aid on a wound that needed surgery.
And this was the theme of the show from episode one. What happened to the Gary Coopers? What happened to the old ways? What happened to America? The Sopranos ended in a time where war, terrorism, and a poor economy made America seem like it was on a similar slide to that of the Soprano crew, and these were all themes David Chase deftly wove into the show. Tony never saw a better tomorrow, and as the series played out, we saw he was incapable of creating one either. American life was just too complicated. There is no going back to a simpler time.
So when the final scene played, and Don’t Stop Believing roared in the background, and Meadow couldn’t park her car for shit, our anxiety built. We hoped for a positive end, promises of a better tomorrow, leaving off with hopes that Tony could rebuild despite his losses. Maybe Sil will wake up, maybe Carlo has a reason for his disappearance, maybe AJ straightens out. But then it all fades to black. And, in our heart of hearts, we know we have lost the promise of a better tomorrow. But we also can’t help but deny what is plainly in front of us. We wish and hope he is still alive, that only the narrative has ended.
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