The ending of the Sopranos has been something that has infuriated many people, left many others in a quandary, and seemingly satisfied only a few.
My argument is that the ending is simply that and there shouldn’t be an attempt to predict or argue for an ending that might be more absolute.
Prior to the now infamous fade to black there is the establishment of several threats to Tony’s life and happiness.
One is indictment on the gun charge though he has beaten legal battles previously his luck may be running out.
One card up his sleeve is that we know the FBI has already entered a document into his record to be used when a judge considers sentencing if convicted.
The second and third threats are the two black men by the jukebox and the man in the ‘members only jacket’ who goes into the restroom all of whom could be hit-men sent by Butch DeConcini or some other rival. We know that Tony had arranged a compromise that included the death of Phil Leotardo but Butch had never liked Tony and could betray their agreement.
We have a sense of impending finality in part because at the beginning of the scene as Tony walks into the diner, a deceptive shot is used that suggests Tony sees himself sitting in the diner possibly as a mortal object in space without his own psyche making his experience.
Similar shots were used in 2001: A Space Odyssey to suggest Dr. Dave Bowman witnesses the rest of his life and death in a nearly objective state of being.
For once the narrative, and our frame of reference is not Tony’s as had been used during his spiritual experience after having been shot by Uncle June but possibly objective and existential in nature.
Additionally to the feeling of finality we know that Tony’s therapy with Dr. Melfi has ended because of her own fears that she is helping him become a better criminal and manipulator.
In many ways his therapeutic need had been satisfied years prior and it was Dr. Melfi who continued the relationship at least at first to be associated with his power and capability because of her own victimization and rape while leaving work.
This is the least of Tony’s threats as he sits with his family. In prior episodes black men have been used as the footmen for the mafia in an attempt to dissuade and obfuscate any possible organized crime ties. This was the case in the first attempt on Tony’s life in the series when Uncle June and his mother attempted to have him killed. Also men like the one in the ‘members only jacket’ have been used as they are usually the most expendable of the organized crime association.
It has been argued that the fade to black and the pause of sound is to signify the death of Tony however I don’t believe this is true. There could have been something more significant to signal this end, perhaps a gunshot or maybe not, maybe a heartbeat that slowly fades which could be reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
For those who want an absolute ending the possibilities include:
Everyone gets shot- though having some relevance to actual mafia hits would be the saddest of endings.
Tony gets shot- the family would bare witness to their father, the patriarch, murdered in front of them could be the most realistic of endings possibly reminiscent of actual hits including Albert Anastasia, Willie Moretti, and Paul Castellano among many others.
All threats are removed- would perhaps be the happiest of endings, maybe, for those cheering for the Sopranos. This would also be the least realistic of endings.
Tony could be arrested- the least likely scenario would be that police bust into the diner and arrest Tony before he can be killed if this even is a possibility. Though unlikely we have seen writers use this method previously in the show when Uncle June himself was arrested at the end of the first season saving him from Tony’s wrath.
I don’t believe any of these were attempted. I think the attempt was to have an ending like that of the first Godfather movie where Kay asks Michael about his succession which he denies but she bares witness to the truth of him as the new Godfather.
This was a great ending for that movie because the Godfather was about succession of generations, the inheritance of not just wealth but power.
The Sopranos live a very different life. In the Sopranos all succession is clumsy and poorly managed from Soprano’s father Johnny Boy to Tony, Jackie Aprile to his son, and possibly Tony to his son Anthony Jr. (AJ) who knows of his father’s association and who already has participated, though rather passively, in criminal and violent behavior, however for Anthony Jr. his reaction to violence and general sociopathic behaviors of people is grief and depression.
|William Butler Yeats, 1919|
It is Paulie’s response that unintentionally and crudely echoes AJ’s intention yet dismisses it.
Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri: "In the midst of death, we are in life", huh? Or is it the other way around?
Meadow Soprano: I think it's the other way around.
Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri: Either version, you're halfway up the ass.
We know this funeral is different because the focus is not on the burial, shown only briefly through surveillance footage, but instead at the wake.
After all these tragic events we observe a mundane event as Tony is seen raking the leaves. Carmela confirms plans with him and he says that he has something to take care of then goes to see his uncle, Junior Soprano, in state run care facility. His presence is ominous to say the least and Tony is looking for a confrontation, some resolution to how and why his uncle shot him.
As he finds the old man indigent and senile he realizes that there is no answer to be given, no rationale to the man's act yet there is also a sense of finality to the visit. This is similar to when he visits his sister's home in a possible attempt to reconcile his feelings.
We learn Janice's possible fate but more importantly her psychological state of being which is similar to that of their mother. There is a sense of finality to her being. This is also true with Silvio Dante who he sees briefly in the hospital in a long-term vegetative state.
We know where they came from and we know where they are going.
This won't be the same for Tony.
Much like the end of the first season the family is gathered together at a restaurant to eat, though this time it is not Nuovo Vesuvio but a diner which suggests that the Sopranos themselves have changed or possibly some other danger as they are not on familiar turf.
It is AJ who reminds us of the similarity as he attempts to quote his father and continue the sentiment.
Anthony 'A.J.' Soprano, Jr.: Focus on the good times.
Tony Soprano: Don't be sarcastic.
Anthony 'A.J.' Soprano, Jr.: Isn't that what you said one time? Try to remember the times that were good?
Tony Soprano: I did?
Anthony 'A.J.' Soprano, Jr.: Yeah.
Tony Soprano: Well, it's true, I guess.
[the waitress arrives with a bowl of onion rings]
Tony Soprano: I ordered something for the table.
But this time it is Tony who initially misunderstands then seemingly dismisses the relevance before the screen cuts to black and silence.
For me the ending is exactly that. There is no more expectation, no more fantasy, suspicion, and wishes. There is no absolute.
It is a dangerous moment unto itself.
We don't hear a heartbeat or a gunshot. Instead it is a moment of silence as if we are all to appreciate a moment of life itself then there is music, perhaps an optimistic tune.
For that moment that Tony can enjoy with his family he is a man in a chair balanced on its rear legs at a rooftop ledge of a skyscraper and he is trying to enjoy the view.