Four of our writers debate the show's controversial last scene

By Ken Tucker
Updated June 15, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Sopranos

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People don’t change. They think they can, they tell themselves they want to, but they never do. For 86 hours, that was the wrenching, funny, brutal, pessimistic message David Chase sent via The Sopranos, and in the last episode, he drove the point through the hearts of his characters like a stake.

Where did he leave them, and us? With Tony trying to snow a therapist with now-practiced psychobabble about how his mother was ”a borderline personality” (poor you!); with dopey, distractible AJ alternately belittled and bankrolled by his hapless parents; with Carmela’s unconvincing moral struggle ending as nothing more than a fight to preserve her luxe cocoon (half the people she knows die, and all she wants is to get back inside the conscience-proof walls of her McMansion); and with Meadow, the girl who, way back in season 1, gave her brother the tough news that Daddy wasn’t in waste management, now basing a law career on the lie that Daddy is nothing but a victim of ethnic profiling. She’s truly her mother’s daughter after all, a princess of self-willed oblivion. And things will only trend further downward: Tony’s future, if he has one, may be as a sad old bastard peeing his pants in a nursing home, unable to remember or care that he once ran North Jersey. Whaddayagonnado? Let’s eat.

There were things about the Sopranos finale I didn’t like — the gimmicky last scene seemed more about filmmaking than family, the feds-versus-terrorists plotline fizzled — but there was nothing that didn’t feel true to the moral universe Chase created. He didn’t give us closure; we got something more like Melfi’s briskly shut door, an ending that said: You know everything you need to about these people. They’re not redeemed, they’re not punished. They just go on, with or without you. You can complain, but, to paraphrase Carmela’s indelibly tough-minded therapist from season 3, there’s one thing you can never say: that you hadn’t been told. — Mark Harris

After eight years, this is what we get? Onion rings? Okay, so David Chase is a visionary. He can’t be expected to obey ordinary rules of dramatic structure (you know, the ones about having a beginning, a middle, and an ending). But the Sopranos finale didn’t disappoint merely because it lacked closure — nobody was expecting Tony to wake up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette. It was a letdown because it didn’t offer any payoff; on the contrary, the episode felt more like a lame practical joke than the resolution to one of the most intelligently crafted and original programs in all of TV history. It was as if Chase’s parting word to his fans was ”Psych!”

Others can argue about how brilliant it all was — how that last scene was a metaphor for the life of paranoia Tony will suffer for the rest of his off-air existence. Or how that blank screen meant he had actually been killed. To me, such explanations sound too much like projection; it’s the viewer doing the work to fill in the dramatic and thematic gaps. It’s understandable people would make the effort. The show had built so much respect and goodwill, it’s inconceivable it could end so astonishingly anticlimactically. But watch it again and pay close attention. Frankly, even those onion rings Tony is raving about look pretty bland. — Benjamin Svetkey

One way of interpreting the finale’s title — ”Made in America” — is literally. Don’t look for deep meanings, look at Phil’s SUV when he pulls into that fateful gas station: The Ford logo conjures up the ad slogan ”Made in America.” Chase implicitly told us over the years to look at what’s on screen before analyzing it up the wazoo. So complaints about lack of resolution baffle me; so much was resolved. Just skimming the surface: Tony made his own peace with Uncle Junior; Carmela, with her glances in the office of AJ’s therapist, revealed she’ll never buy Tony’s psychopathic self-pity, thus aligning her with Dr. Melfi; and AJ proved he’ll always be a screwup.

My stomach was in knots during the final scene, so anxious was I that Tony and some or all of his family were about to die. George Lopez made a lame joke on Live With Regis and Kelly the morning after, saying it was a cop-out to waste time having Meadow parallel park. But those moments, so intricately shot and edited, built to a suspense that was like classic Hitchcock. When Meadow burst toward the restaurant, I felt as though my heart were bursting — with elation, relief, and the appreciation of an artistic feat pulled off so thrillingly.

The music? Say all you want about Journey and ”Don’t Stop Believin’.” My two favorites were Randy and the Rainbows’ 1963 doo-wop classic ”Denise” and the silence?the lack of music?at the end. As for the black screen, I saw it as a big period, placed with firm finality at the end of the long story that was The Sopranos. — Ken Tucker

To anyone expecting a finale that tied up all the loose ends with a pretty ribbon on top — what show have you been watching all this time? The Sopranos was never about closure; story lines and characters drifted in and out with no great fanfare, much like they do in real life. Most finales are so predictable they have conditioned viewers to expect certain things: Redemption! Resolution! The fact that Chase resisted those urges and told the story in a way that stayed true to his subjects deserves raves, not rancor. It would have been easy for Tony to either walk off into the sunset or be gunned down — too easy. Is that really what he — or we — deserved after six seasons of genre-defying complexity? Instead, we’re left with ambiguity. Will Tony be shot? Will the feds put him behind bars? Or will he live happily — or as happily as possible — ever after? How dare they leave us with questions!

But here’s the thing: Those questions have always been a part of Tony’s life. The characters’ lives existed before we started watching them, and they will exist long after. (Well, unless that dude did come out of the bathroom Godfather-style with a gun.) And what better way to end the series than to give us a little taste of what Tony feels every single time someone unknown enters a room — a toxic mix of dread and paranoia. What’s gonna happen? Is this the end? Tony never knew. And now, neither do we. Perfect. — Dalton Ross

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