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Got Questions About "The Sopranos'" Ending? Fine. Just Don't Ask David Chase

Television
by Sam Adams
May 1, 2014 5:31 PM
7 Comments
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It was perhaps inevitable that David Chase's appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image, which followed a screening of the landmark drama's first and last episodes, would, as the Daily Beast's Alex Suskind reports, would turn to a discussion of the series' famous smash-cut ending.

"Well the idea was you get killed in the diner or not killed," Chase responded, somewhat incredulously, to a fan who was "disappointed" by the ending. "And what’s the idea? You know I am not trying to be coy about this. It's not trying to guess if he’s alive or dead. That’s not the point for me. I don’t know how to explain this. Actually, here’s what Paulie Walnuts says. In the beginning of that episode he says, 'In the midst of life, we are in death, or is it, In the midst of death we are in life? Either way we’re up the ass.' That’s what’s going on there."

Like so many shows that have followed in its wake, "The Sopranos'" ending prompted an endless sifting for clues, with the undefeated champion being "The Definitive Explanation of the End." Last year, Matt Zoller Seitz convened a panel of TV critics to discuss the show, which began, ignoring "The Sound of Music's" sound advice, at the end:


It's unfortunate but telling that the self-proclaimed "Master of Sopranos" who posted the "definitive explanation" has never devoted that level of scrutiny to any other aspect of the show. But then what fun is a puzzle you can't solve? He -- and I'm not going out too far on a gender limb here -- shows evident skill in breaking down the final sequence in terms of structure, camera placement, editing and so on, but devoting that skill to a single sequence in search of an answer he's predetermined exists is a profound waste, especially when there's so much more show to savor.

As with "Mad Men," "The Sopranos" is not a show that was meant to be "solved," and treating the ending as such misses the one thing about it that is indisputable: If David Chase had wanted to give us a definitive answer, he'd have given us one. If we were meant to know, we'd know. As he told the Moving Image audience, "I didn't want people to be reading into it like 'The Da Vinci Code' or something. I was amazed when it happened. It wasn't meant to be like 'Wow, the Walrus was Paul.' It wasn’t meant to confound anybody. It was meant to make you feel."

There's a paradox at work here, or at least a kind of willful obduracy. People ask Chase to explain the ending, and he does -- but because it's just not the answer they want, they act like he never answered at all. He says it was meant to be ambiguous, that he meant for the series to end on an open chord rather than a resolved one, and they say, "Yeah, sure. But did Tony get whacked?" 

For the record, I rewatched "The Sopranos'" ending on a whim a few weeks ago, and to me, it sure looks like Tony gets one in the back of the head, "Godfather"-style, from the man in the Members Only jacket. Otherwise, I don't know what that guy is doing in the sequence, or why the camera keeps cutting away to him. But that's my decision, one that Chase gave me the tools to come to on my own before he walked away from the table. 

It's not surprising that, seven years after the fact, Chase's ending, which he envisioned years before the fact, still prompts questions from viewers. But David Chase is not going to answer them. David Chase is never going to answer them. He's not avoiding the question; it's the wrong question. 

Television
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7 Comments

  • Jake | May 6, 2014 1:27 AMReply

    The ending is such a bold move that I feel like I have no choice but to respect it. However, I'm really glad that every time I return to it, in or out of the context of the episode, it works like gangbusters. The inter-cutting, pace, and playing around with eye-lines is masterful.

    The quote from Chase resembles what I've taken away from the ending. Whether or not Mr. Members Only gives T two in the hat, the rest of Tony's life will be defined by the tension that he could be killed at any moment. Banal moments-- parallel parking, a basket of onion rings, the music of Journey-- are invested with new found dread and anticipation. In its final moments, as ever, The Sopranos does a fantastic job of attempting to bring us into Tony's inner life and psyche.

  • Suspended_disbelief | May 2, 2014 11:56 AMReply

    Odd, that an adult would question a work of fiction in the same way he might demand an explanation from a defaulting dry-cleaner.

    Asking what's "really" happened, as if there's an underlying factual reality behind The Sopranos, is something you'd expect of a five year-old. The question makes about as much sense as asking why Don Draper accepted that lousy job offer, when the only answer is, that's where the writers decided to take the story and Don, being their creation, isn't in a position to object.

  • Rick | May 2, 2014 8:56 AMReply

    At the time, I hated it because I didn't recognize the callback. When i watched through it again and caught the reference the first time through (SPOILER I GUESS: the scene with Bobby in the boat), I definitely saw the greatness in it.

  • Sanker from India | May 2, 2014 4:29 AMReply

    Beautiful ending. Beautiful show. Even in the "third golden age" or whatever you wanna call it, the wire and the sopranos are the greatest achievements in the history of the medium. With only breaking bad and mad men maybe in the same league as those two great shows.

  • Get Real | May 1, 2014 7:42 PMReply

    Sam obviously never read the brilliant Sopranos wordpress definitive explanation website. All of part two is about the series AS A WHOLE. Chase even acknowledged the site in an interview he did in 2013 in Brazil saying he goes back to it often and can "learn something from it" (just google it and use google translate). So educate yourself instead of criticizing.

  • Jamieson | May 1, 2014 6:19 PMReply

    Also that guy was SUCH a toolbag.

  • Jamieson | May 1, 2014 6:18 PMReply

    I yelled out "Don't be sorry!" when he shrugged at that guy and said "I'm sorry" (you feel that way). He shouldn't answer. He shouldn't be sorry. I still love that ending.

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