David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, is my hero. He is under attack for his controversial final episode of the HBO series. Like a politician who tells the truth, he is being savaged by those who have
They want easy answers; they want the Guantanamos of entertainment; they want black and white resolutions. Actually they want red resolutions – the walls of a diner in New Jersey saturated with blood.That would appeal to their short attention spans.
In the next to last episode of The Sopranos, Chase gave them what they wanted. Bobby Bacala (Steven Schrippa) and Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) were whacked.
In fact, in the penultimate episode, an entire profession got whacked. When several psychiatrists blab at a dinner party, and then Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) suddenly boots Tony after eight
years of treatment, it seems abrupt and arbitrary. But it whetted our appetite for whacking.
So an impatient audience all across the country tuned in for the finale of The Sopranos. They expected the whole western world to be whacked. Only the repulsive Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) is done in with memorable head-crunching panache. That was the only killing. What, how could that be?
And so the ending of The Sopranos brought visceral howls of derision. Instead of a mobster Armageddon, the long-running show ended with a sequence of a family in a diner at night. Tony (James Gandolfini), Carmela (Edie Falco) and AJ Soprano (Robert Iler) sat in a booth calmly
munching on onion rings. Outside their daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) awkwardly tried to parallel park. On the juke box Tony plays Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.'” Meadow dashes across the street. A bell tinkles. Tony looks up. The lyrics croon, “Don’t stop.” The
screen goes blank. This quiet finale brought howls of visceral derision.
Ironically, as normal as it is, the last images may stay in the mind as longer or longer than violent ones would.
I must admit that it took me a while to get on Chase’s wavelength. Halfway through the last segment of The Sopranos, I thought ‘This isn’t working. A lot of viewers will hate it.’ I was half right.
David Chase has learned his Alfred Hitchcock well.
In the next-to-last episode, Chase’s use of Hitchcockian suspense was artful. The whacking of Bobby Bacala in the hobby store was a classic of editing.
And in the final episode, the scene in the diner, where little happens, is surprisingly suspenseful, heightened by Meadow’s driving back and forth. Park the damn car, Meadow!
Chase also uses red herrings. When AJ’s SUV catches fire, our first guess is that it has been booby-trapped. But it is only that AJ has parked the car on leaves that ignite.
The Hitchcockian gift that Chase uses most proficiently is the master’s manipulation of the audience. What Chase does wonderfully is he gets the viewers to participate. And, like Hitch, he probably stands back with a wry, little smile on his face. Living rooms all over the country were alive with creative guesses and opinions:
“Paulie is going to whack Tony.”
“No, he’s going to turn state’s evidence.”
“That man going to the bathroom is going to kill all three — Tony, Carmela, AJ. Remember The Godfather.”
“Meadow is the only one who is going to survive.”
“Meadow’s going to be hit by a car.”
“That guy at the counter is an FBI agent.”
Then it all ends, as though Tinker Bell has arrived.
“That sucked. Nuthin happened.”
A lot happened.In the last episode Chase provides
social criticism, and it’s not optimistic. Adolescent
idealism gets lost.
It appears that Meadow is going to enter a legal firm defending mob figures and CEOs. And AJ – poor misbegotten AJ — who quotes Yeats but mispronounces his name, gives up plans to save the world for plans of business success.
Chase is one of the few creators who is not violated by the literal pronouncements of focus groups. In this age where television has gone down the rabbit hole of reality TV and manufactured competition, that’s rare.
So many programs today get little or no chance. One of the most promising shows of the season on commercial TV, “Raines,” was quickly obliterated. It couldn’t compete, even though Jeff Goldblum gave a pitch perfect performance as a cop who speaks to the spirits of victims.
Chase does not leave fertile ground behind him. But he does leave the finale of The Sopranos. It wasn’t theatrical; it was human. The last chapter of The Sopranos, bless its throbbing heart, ended in conversation.
The audience was talking.