Arrivederci, Tony

"You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So asked Bobby Bacala when he and Tony Soprano were out fishing earlier this season.

So is that what we're to think when the screen went black, the sound silent, at the end of the final episode of HBO's "The Sopranos" last night?

Here's my take. The Sopranos has always been about the ambiguities of life. Balls are left in the air. False clues are dropped. Life is, well, life.

So at the end of the day, Tony will always have the threat of an indictment hanging over his head, and he won't be sure as to who is speaking to the grand jury. (If you're unclear who Carlo is, by the way, he has his own Wikipedia entry HERE).

His kids will be spoiled little brats, with Meadow never having anything worse than an annoying parallel parking challenge facing her, A.J. an amoral Tony-in-training.

And yes, there will always be someone lurking -- a would-be trucker in a "USA" baseball cap, a swarthy single male striding from the counter to the bathroom -- who could pose a threat, whether legal or lethal.

We wanted a catharsis -- an ending. Tony dead, Tony safe, Tony in the witness protection program. But that's not life. It would not have been true to the antihero we watched for the last decade to neatly wrap things up.

Although I have to say the demise of Phil Leotardo (aka "Shinebox" from Goodfellas) was a vicious, guilty pleasure.

Writing in 2001, the late Ellen Willis saw Tony as representative of humanity, writ large. She wrote (LINK): "The murderous mobster is the predatory lust and aggression in all of us; his lies and cover-ups are ours; the therapist's fear is our own collective terror of peeling away those lies. The problem is that we can't live with the lies, either. So facing down the terror, a little at a time, becomes the only route to sanity, if not salvation."

Peggy Noonan too saw something universal in Tony's struggles. "One of the reasons the show was so popular--one of the reasons it resonated--is that it captured a widespread feeling that our institutions are failing, all of them, the church, the media, the law, the government, that there's no one to trust, that Mighty Mouse will not save the day," she wrote (LINK). "In Mr. Chase's world, everyone's a gangster as long as he can find a gang. Those who don't are free-lancers."

But how about this final episode?

In the Boston Globe (LINK), Matthew Gilbert interpreted the ending as creator David Chase saying: "Fill in the blank. It’s up to you. If you want Tony Soprano punished for a life of murder, adultery, and narcissism, imagine gunshots and blood spatter. If you want Tony saved, save him."

Hollywood troublemaker Nikki Finke disagrees (LINK) quite strongly, writing: "Chase needed to exert himself to a concoct an artful denouement. But he took the lazy way out. The show we all loved deserved a decent burial. Instead, it went into a black hole."

At Salon, the lovely and talented Heather Havrilesky wonders (LINK) if this wasn't Chase acting out. "Creating a cultural phenomenon this huge is an experience that can change a sensitive soul, after all, and make him act out against his fans. Look at J.D. Salinger. His books were obscenely popular, but no one understood! They were all jackasses, as far as he was concerned. Was Sunday night's finale Chase's way of telling us all to f--- right off?"

What do you think?

Oh…we're now going to be introducing a new feature to the blog, whenever I have time -- caricatures.


-- Jake

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