It’s always funny to me how much the general TV watching public needs explicitness in storytelling. Heaven forbid a creative choice full of ambiguity ever just be what it is without years and years of outcry and speculation. The end of HBO’s The Sopranos is perhaps the most prominent example. The infamous abrupt cut to black amid what may or may not have been Tony Soprano’s last moments alive has been a continuous subject of debate since it aired in 2007. Up until now, creator David Chase has refused to put a fine point on it. But in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the writer explains Tony’s death was always the intention. Whether it “actually happened” or not.
Part of a lengthy (and quite interesting) conversation with Scott Feinberg, Chase explains that the decision for Tony to meet his end the way he did was in the cards for two years prior to the finale.
“…the scene I had in my mind was not that scene. Nor did I think of cutting to black. I had a scene in which Tony comes back from a meeting in New York in his car. At the beginning of every show, he came from New York into New Jersey, and the last scene could be him coming from New Jersey back into New York for a meeting at which he was going to be killed.”
That wasn’t how it went, of course. That would have been too Goodfellas an ending, if you ask me. Chase went on to explain his choice for a more mundane, banal way for our favorite New Jersey mobster to go out.
“I was driving on Ocean Park Boulevard near the airport and I saw a little restaurant. It was kind of like a shack that served breakfast. And for some reason I thought, ‘Tony should get it in a place like that.’ Why? I don’t know. That was, like, two years before.”
So while the attention on the finale episode was entirely focused on the ending, Chase says what annoyed him most was the audience’s bloodthirst.
“They wanted to know that Tony was killed. They wanted to see him go face-down in linguini, you know? And I just thought, ‘God, you watched this guy for seven years and I know he’s a criminal. But don’t tell me you don’t love him in some way, don’t tell me you’re not on his side in some way. And now you want to see him killed? You want justice done? You’re a criminal after watching this shit for seven years.’ That bothered me, yeah.”
So there you, I guess, have it. While he never said “yes, Tony is for sure dead,” he certainly seems to imply that from conception to execution, that was what he wanted. But the idea that he’s not actually dead because we didn’t see the hitmen riddle his body with bullets is ridiculous. The point of the ending isn’t to glorify or romanticize the mob life, but to prove how pointless, banal, and ultimately tragic it all is. Which was one of the main themes of the series. Out with his family, reaching for the ketchup—pop! Blackout. Done. Whether it was that moment or one 10 years later, the life of a gangster ends in violence.
Anyway, with The Many Saints of Newark proving there’s still life in The Sopranos universe, it’s highly likely we’ll explore, in some way, more of these characters’ backstories and origins. And probably, this generation’s “Who is ‘You’re So Vain’ about?” will keep on going.