Only one death in final episode of mobster show



James Gandolfini

EXIT SCREAMING: You’ve probably discovered by not that the howls of distress you heard ring out late Sunday night were actually Sopranos fans reacting to the wildly anticipated finale of the HBO series – that is, if you weren’t one of the chorus of dismay.

The last episode of David Chase’s television milestone wasn’t the Hamlet-like bloodbath that many fans and critics – myself included – anticipated. There was only one death, though it was up to the highest standards of Sopranos whackings – Tony’s rival Phil Leotardo bought in a Long Island gas station, but the coup de grace was delivered by his own SUV in a scene that was both comic and horrific.

The last Sopranos ever was business as usual; A.J. is a spoiled whiner without a clue, Carm is always able to take refuge in her own little world of projects and delusions, Paulie is as more nuts than a guy with access to guns should be, and Meadow continues to flail upward, proof that pretty girls almost always do well for themselves. Even in a coma, Silvio did a good job of just being there, which was always his job, at least as far as Tony was concerned. It’s unlikely that anyone would have complained about any of this if it weren’t for the ending, which will either go down as the worst ever in TV history, or a final flash of brilliance from Chase. (You’ll figure out where I stand by the end of this – maybe. No reason why I shouldn’t be consistent with the whole theme.)

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can stop reading right now. Like so many endings to Sopranos episodes, the show finds Tony with his family, in a diner, where he’s selected the final Sopranos song. Music has always been as crucial to Chase as it is to Martin Scorsese, his fellow chronicler of the mob, and while his crew have always been fond of retro mafia favorites like Dean and Frank, Tony’s taste is a man who grew up in the ‘70s, and he picks Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing from the diner jukebox.

We’ve learned that the Feds have flipped someone in Tony’s crew, and it looks like it’ll end in court, if not jail. Phil’s dead and the war is over for now, so Tony is luxuriating in his two great passions – fried food and his family. The diner is full of suspicious characters, one of whom makes a conspicuous trip to the bathroom, echoing Michael Corleone’s first forthright step into the family business in The Godfather; it’s the kind of thing we know Chase wants us to notice. Carm joins Tony, followed by A.J., and finally Meadow, after her agonized attempt at parallel parking. Tony looks up at his daughter, and a black screen cuts of Steve Perry in mid falsetto; The Sopranos is over.

Possible endings proposed by fans and critics have been banal (Tony flips for the Feds) and unlikely (Meadow takes over the family business), but this was both challenging and defiant; after all the effort imaging the end, Chase is defying us to keep at it, and write those final seconds for ourselves. It’s already been compared unfavorably with the ending of Six Feet Under, a finale I thought bathetic and needlessly explicit; we didn’t get our hands held here, no pyrotechnic spectacle or final close-up on Gandolfini’s baleful eyes and, frankly, I have to ask the screamers out there just what they expected.