Monday, June 18, 2007

Seven reasons why Tony Soprano did not die (updated and expanded)

Note: post bumped and expanded considerably, for reasons explained below.

  1. There is no actual evidence that anything bad was about to happen -- just people in a diner who we suspected were bad because we watch a lot of movies.
  2. There is no way way that anyone with a motive to kill Tony knew that he'd be at that diner.
  3. The Sopranos never relied on off-screen action and secret twists. We were privy to everything. It was filmed in the third-person omniscient. The theory of a surprise killer violates the show's narrative structure.
  4. The show didn't romanticize violence. Violence was dirty, casual and explicit. The murder of its protagonist wouldn't be softened by climactic, artful, debatable twist. If David Chase wanted to kill him, we would've seen Tony blue and gagging on his own blood.
  5. The show rarely offered closure. What makes you think it would start in the final episode?
  6. Just desserts were not a theme.
  7. The makers filmed an ending implying that he was shot, then rejected it.
Additional recommended reading:
Update: Sincere thanks to Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door for the link. It's an honor.

Update II: This little post generated some traffic. Since it was a summary attempt to knock down what I think is an errant reading of the episode, my comments were pithy and conclusory. A link to my seven observations, partnered with opposing views, was published on an HBO message board and later reproduced here at Comment No. 7. My original remarks, the opposing view, and my rebuttal follow below.

I wrote, "There is no actual evidence that anything bad was about to happen -- just people in a diner who we suspected were bad because we watch a lot of movies."
Opposing view: "The evidence is the way that Chase shot, cut, and scored the scene to indicate mounting tension; it's undeniable. I won't even go into the very long list of possible 'evidence' left over the whole season (and this episode in particular) to indicate Tony's imminent demise."
True on the first sentence. It was indeed shot, edited and scored in a tense way. We'll never hear Journey the same way again. Like "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Layla" (Goodfellas) or "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (The Big Chill), "Don't Stop Believing" has been commandeered.

On the substance: Literally all that happened was people going about their business in a diner. That was it. People in a diner, shot very artfully, very tensely, in utterly mundane activities. Obviously we're waiting for something bad to happen. On first view the tension was almost unbearable. I was a few minutes behind due to a mid-show phone call and I had to fight the urge to fast-forward the Tivo to see where it ended. We all had the expectation that something dramatic was about to happen (myself, I wasn't expecting a killing so much as a humiliating Henry Hill-style arrest) and it was filmed in a way to tease our expectations.

That doesn't change the fact that there was literally nothing occurring in that diner that indicated sinister doings. We expected something sinister -- that's the way these stories are supposed to end. Instead, dinner happened.

For the devotees of the murder theory: Why was it that Tony was staring up at his killer instead of an agent flashing a badge? Because of a line of dialog that Bobby uttered? (The exact line was, ""I bet you don't even hear it when it happens." Nothing about going black.) As someone noted elsewhere (I'd link back but don't remember where I read it) Bobby's death was anything but quick and silent. He saw everything and he suffered badly. (Poor Bobby.) If the penultimate episode illustrated anything -- Bobby, Sil, the innocent on the motorcyle -- it was that these acts of violence do not hit their victims that elegantly. They're not "cut to black" moments. They're ghastly and unromantic. Bobby was telling himself the kind of lie that some people need in order to live. This show was the anti-mythology; it vigorously deglamorized violence. You suffer. You don't get a cut to black. It's not that gentle.
I wrote: "There is no way that anyone with a motive to kill Tony knew that he'd be at that diner."

Opposing view: "Of course, there's an extremely simple way to find Tony Soprano at the diner. Follow his idiotic son (who'd never notice) to where he's going for dinner, and then simply walk in front of him as he's close to entering the door and go in first. Then sit at the counter and look for whom the son is joining, which is exactly what Members Only guy does."
This depends entirely on unsupported speculation. There was literally no evidence that this happened. I could speculate that Members Only Guy was the Russian after he underwent radical plastic surgery, or insist that evidence to the contrary it really was, in fact, Phil's nephew behind the counter. Rampant speculation isn't an argument.

This is, however, a microcosm for the problem with the Death Theory. It's based on pure guesswork (as well informed as it might be) rather than anything that actually occurred on screen. You buy into it, and you're required to take several leaps of faith unsupported by actual events. Leaps of faith, by nature, aren't rebuttable. If you believe that an entire subplot unfolded, wherein AJ was tailed off-screen by an assassin, it's hard to have a conversation grounded in what we know. Knock it down, and another speculative answer is always in the offing.

A note on the Members Only guy: This is a connection that I never would have made but-for the post-game commentary, but I think it's wildly off the mark to infer based on a jacket and episode title that he was an assassin. The entire closing episode had moments harkening back to earlier points in the series: the cameo by Hunter Scaglione (which I loved), specific lines of dialog ("Always with the drama."), the final act of sitting down to dinner. When the two black guys walked into the diner, and we were still anticipating some final act of violence, I of course remembered the botched hit on Tony. It never occurred to me that these were the same guys (as some initially and erroneously posited) but it certainly was an intentional nod to that episode. I'm guessing that there were many other points in this final episode that drew from past seasons that we haven't pieced together yet. This was a book-end, and it was symmetry. A guy in a Members Only jacket doesn't portend death any more than Hunter's reappearance portends a choir performance.
I wrote: "The Sopranos never relied on off-screen action and secret twists. We were privy to everything. It was filmed in the third-person omniscient. The theory of a surprise killer violates the show's narrative structure."

Opposing view: "This is totally untrue. There were many occasions where the show surprised us about things (mostly about who was or wasn't a rat; but there are other examples as well)."
Yes, the show often surprised us. We were surprised when Heidi and Kennedy sent Chris careening off the highway; when Tony killed Christopher; when Junior shot Tony; when the identity of Melfi's patient was outed at a dinner party; when Janice suddenly entered the world of the show; when Finn spotted Vito; etc. The show never lacked for surprise, but the surprises were rooted in on-screen human behavior. We might have seen some of Tony's paranoia as to whether someone was an informant -- but we never had a moment where a surprise informant burst on the scene, upending the story. We were in on Adrianna's machinations, for example. The one notable exception was Big Pussy back in Season 2, but that was a long, drawn out, carefully constructed, direct story line. It wasn't a jerk-the-neck twist. Contrast the way The Sopranos told its story with how Lost tells its stories. Lost (to brilliant effect) constantly keeps us guessing about (to borrow Rumsfeld's rhetoric) the unknown unknowns. The Sopranos occasionally had some known unknowns. They were rarely the fulcrum of a story. It never employed Lost-like "unknown unknowns." This is why I think that the Death Theory anchors itself to a narrative cheat not in the show's character.
Opposing view proceeded to state: "Also, I keep hearing this argument about first (POV) versus third person shots in the final scene. Certainly the majority of the final scene is in the third person, except for two significant exceptions: when we have Tony's POV when looking at the songs on the jukebox, and an important establishing sequence of shots which occurs throughout the scene: the bell of the door rings; then a shot of Tony's face; then there is Tony's POV of who is entering the diner. This occurs 5 times in the scene; but the 5th time, where Tony's POV of the door should be, we have 10 seconds of black silence."
Respectfully, I don't think this comment understands first person and third person. We see things happening, we see Tony watching things, but this description of how the sequence played does not amount to a first-person perspective.
I wrote: "The show didn't romanticize violence. Violence was dirty, casual and explicit. The murder of its protagonist wouldn't be softened by climactic, artful, debatable twist. If David Chase wanted to kill him, we would've seen Tony blue and gagging on his own blood."

Opposing view: "Sorry, I don't buy this at all. I think Tony's visible death would be much more anticlimactic. Besides, we've already seen Tony shot and bloody on two different occasions; the power of the final scene is that it breaks with the show's own 'traditions', and we never see or hear it coming."
We're not talking about what's dramatic or climactic, but rather, how the series treated violence, depicted violence and philosophized violence. For one thing, I don't think that Chase's intention was to give us a conclusion with resolution, and Tony's prior brushes with death don't mean that his death is going to come artfully.

The reason that we never see or hear it coming is simple: It didn't happen, and there is no existing reason -- existing in actual events that happened in the series, as opposed to guesswork built on rank speculation -- to think that it happened.
I wrote: "The show rarely offered closure. What makes you think it would start in the final episode?"

Opposing view: "Whether Tony died or didn't, there was no closure and never will be. How can you argue that if one of the possible outcomes of an ambiguous ending is true that this means there was closure; thus that particular outcome is not possible? Absurd logic."
The violent death of the show's protagonist is maximum closure.

And while I don't want to get into any kind of confrontational posture (we're all friends here), since a fairly open-ended remark was labeled "absurd," I'm going to make an observation about what I see as absurd: The way the Death Theory is articulated. There's a conspiracy flavor: "Oswald's shadows in the Life Magazine cover don't line up!" There seems to be a certain impulse to find support (any support, no matter how thin) for a preordained, desired conclusion. As a result, the death theories rely heavily on wild conjectures (see above) and iron faith in thoughtful but unproveable guesswork about what may or may not have happened off-screen (in a series that never relied on Macguffins or off-screen twists) regardless of observable evidence. I concede that the ending was somewhat ambiguous (that night I briefly entertained the death theory, concluded that I was clever, and then rejected it as meritless) but given that ambiguity and an interest in puzzling through what happens, there is nevertheless only one way to begin an analysis: Base it on what was depicted and what we know. There are only two pieces of evidence that support a death theory: A Members Only jacket (my own take: Urban Meyer wore a Members Only jacket after Florida won the national championship; Junior once golfed in Florida; a guy in the diner wore a Member's Only jacket; therefore, Urban Meyer and a miraculously sentient Junior arranged for Members Only guy to shoot Tony) and a line of dialog from Bobby that proved to be 1.) expliclty inaccurate and 2.) tragically naive.
I wrote: "Just desserts were not a theme."

Opposing view: "Some would argue that Phil's death was 'just desserts'. Others would say having Tony live, stand trial, and serve prison time (due to Carlo's testimony) would be 'just desserts'. This is purely subjective."
Fair enough. It is purely subjective. To me, this was a show where key villains (including not least of all Tony) literally got away with murder, repeatedly and shamelessly, while the innocents (ranging from a waiter unhappy with his tip, to a pregnant stripper, to a dude on a motorcycle, to the Buccos, to Adrianna, to a Rutgers student on a bike, to name just a few -- let alone the wives and children wrecked by immersion in the lifestyle) were the ones who suffered most. There was a very limited code of justice among these thieves, but only when honor coincided with self-preservation.

But to me, this is essential in how people view Tony's fate. To some extent, it depends on whether the show saw a world that allows for karmic payback, or whether its world was dirty, random and often inexplicable.

(By coincidence, as I type this, I'm listening to a Fresh Air podcast where Terri Gross interviewed David Chase in 2000. Chase states: "I don't really believe that whacking is that endemic to -- what I want to show is his daily life." That's what he showed, and that's how the series ended.)
I wrote: "The makers filmed an ending implying that he was shot, then rejected it."

Opposing view: "Actually, this could imply exactly the opposite: that Chase's own true feelings are that Tony does die, but he wants it to remain ambiguous enough to allow other interpretations. The original ending (as shot) leaned too heavily towards Chase's own 'Tony dies' suggestion, so Chase just cut it differently to leave it slightly more open-ended. It proves nothing else."
This is my weakest point. I don't know that it clearly cuts one way or the other, and I shouldn't have stated this so confidently. Peter Bogdonovich has said that he filmed a scene where he comforts Melfi. Whether there is any significance to discarded footage, or whether Chase just filmed a bunch of stuff so that the actors were left in the dark about what happened, is anyone's guess. It could be that he originally intended to end with the death but found the conclusion unsatisfying or unworkable. Final sequences are recut all the time. We're left with what we have, which may be hard to swallow. What we have is people eating dinner.

As a postscript, I should add that the fun of a great book or movie often is the ambiguity. A novelist or director finishes his project, unleashes it, and from that point forward it belongs to all of us. We intepret differently. In arguing this position, I'm not trying to deny that to anyone who loved The Sopranos (as we all seem to have) and read it differently -- it's more that I think the Death Theory is a wildcard and I'm mystified by the vehemence of its proponents.

31 comments:

Mr. Shain said...

closure is for the weak american mind.

Zilla Rocca said...

No one's brought this up in any of the stories I read, but I thought a great moment of the last episode was when AJ was jogging up the road after his SUV had exploded.

Tony sees him, grinning like an idiot, rolls down the window and does the "Rocky" theme. Hilarious.

Midwesterner in NYC said...

The Sopranos never relied on off-screen action and secret twists. We were privy to everything.

Yeah, like at the end of season 5 when Tony dropped the gun in the snow running from Johnny Sac's house. Your right, we were privy to that... 2 years later.

CrimeNotes said...

They showed him dropping the gun, and then they showed the kid in a later episode picking up the gun. That was all on screen.

The one time that they relied on unrevealed activity was the Big Pussy plot and the uncertainty of whether he was an informant, so the rule hasn't been absolute. I think that was it Otherwise I can't think of another plotline that depended on the kind of off-screen guessing that you get on Lost or that was used heavily in Godfather II. I don't think there's anything wrong with telling a story that way, it just wasn't the MO for this show.

Renee said...

Your logic is faulty.

The fact that there was no evidence is the largest piece of evidence of all that something did-it's already been stated that the conversation with Bobby was a very important key to understanding the end of the series.

You know, the coversation where they speculate that when you die, "You don't hear anything or see anything...everything just goes black"?

That is exactly the way the episode ended...we saw nothing, heard nothing that indicated anything...but the screen went black.

Never before has the Sopranos gone out like that-it's always been a fade out, always music. This time, there was no sound, no music, no fade out...an abrupt ending for the series, and for Tony Soprano.

Also, the symmetry of Tony having his life ended in front of his family matches what happened to Phil Leotardo.

David Chase, above all, wanted to keep the audience guessing, and the ending was absolutly brilliant.

CrimeNotes said...

Agree that the ending was absolutely brilliant, but I don't think that the Bobby quote renders anything that I wrote faulty. Why wasn't the cut-to-black mimicking Bobby's remarks as a signal for the death of the series? Tony's not dead, but the show is, and as viewers we're the ones out of the picture, not Tony.

Or, if we're going to get to that level of scrutiny, why were the final words of the series "don't stop" when it cut to black? The song has lines about how the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on. It goes on for Tony et al. -- painfully, miserably -- but not for us.

There's room to debate (which is part of why the conclusion was so exciting) but I think the death theory doesn't have any affirmative evidence behind it. Who killed him? How did they know he was there? Why do we see Phil plotting all along, Agent Harris at work, Agent Harris taking calls -- the acts and thoughts of outside agents and enemies, but for this one moment, the show foregoes its narrative form? To believe that he dies, you buy into a narrative cheat (and a ghost in the machine) that The Sopranos didn't employ as a practice.

Anonymous said...

Seven incorrect reasons why Tony Soprano did not die

1. There is no actual evidence that anything bad was about to happen -- just people in a diner who we suspected were bad because we watch a lot of movies.

The evidence is the way that Chase shot, cut, and scored the scene to indicate mounting tension; it's undeniable. I won't even go into the very long list of possible 'evidence' left over the whole season (and this episode in particular) to indicate Tony's imminent demise.

2. There is no way that anyone with a motive to kill Tony knew that he'd be at that diner.

Of course, there's an extremely simple way to find Tony Soprano at the diner. Follow his idiotic son (who'd never notice) to where he's going for dinner, and then simply walk in front of him as he's close to entering the door and go in first. Then sit at the counter and look for whom the son is joining, which is exactly what Members Only guy does.

Please note: in the entire final sequence, the only time the door is ever shown BEFORE the bell rings is when both Tony and Members Only guy are approaching it.

3. The Sopranos never relied on off-screen action and secret twists. We were privy to everything. It was filmed in the third-person omniscient. The theory of a surprise killer violates the show's narrative structure.

This is totally untrue. There were many occasions where the show surprised us about things (mostly about who was or wasn't a rat; but there are other examples as well). Also, I keep hearing this argument about first (POV) versus third person shots in the final scene. Certainly the majority of the final scene is in the third person, except for two significant exceptions: when we have Tony's POV when looking at the songs on the jukebox, and an important establishing sequence of shots which occurs throughout the scene: the bell of the door rings; then a shot of Tony's face; then there is Tony's POV of who is entering the diner. This occurs 5 times in the scene; but the 5th time, where Tony's POV of the door should be, we have 10 seconds of black silence.

4. The show didn't romanticize violence. Violence was dirty, casual and explicit. The murder of its protagonist wouldn't be softened by climactic, artful, debatable twist. If David Chase wanted to kill him, we would've seen Tony blue and gagging on his own blood.

Sorry, I don't buy this at all. I think Tony's visible death would be much more anticlimactic. Besides, we've already seen Tony shot and bloody on two different occasions; the power of the final scene is that it breaks with the show's own 'traditions', and we never see or hear it coming.

5. The show rarely offered closure. What makes you think it would start in the final episode?

Whether Tony died or didn't, there was no closure and never will be. How can you argue that if one of the possible outcomes of an ambiguous ending is true that this means there was closure; thus that particular outcome is not possible? Absurd logic.

6. Just desserts were not a theme.

Some would argue that Phil's death was 'just desserts'. Others would say having Tony live, stand trial, and serve prison time (due to Carlo's testimony) would be 'just desserts'. This is purely subjective.

7. The makers filmed an ending implying that he was shot, then rejected it.

Actually, this could imply exactly the opposite: that Chase's own true feelings are that Tony does die, but he wants it to remain ambiguous enough to allow other interpretations. The original ending (as shot) leaned too heavily towards Chase's own 'Tony dies' suggestion, so Chase just cut it differently to leave it slightly more open-ended. It proves nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Chase said, "No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God. We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people's minds, or thinking, 'Wow, this'll (tick) them off.' People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them and it's not true. You’re trying to entertain them. Anybody who wants to watch it, it's all there."

What can he mean by this? If the final sequence, shot and edited as if something momentous was about to happen, was, in fact, just a normal family dinner, then clearly it would have been as if they were 'trying to mess with the audience' (which is what Chase said they were specifically not trying to do). Go back and study the way the scene is constructed: as Chase says. 'It's all there'. Every shot and edit in the scene has a purpose, not only in the tension of the scene, but also in its meaning.

Rather than show the beloved main character being horribly murdered in front of his family, Chase has chosen a simpler, less graphically disturbing (but perhaps more powerfully emotionally) method of conveying Tony's death. All the clues for this have been laid out in this season's episodes. The flashback of Bobby saying 'You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?' was the most obvious one.

The arc of this whole series was about Tony Soprano's rise to boss and reign over the DiMeo Crime Family. Two other important intertwined subplots were Tony's therapy and Tony's relationship with his Uncle; both of which finally concluded these last 2 episodes (Junior’s loss of memory of their relationship was the final end of their saga). It made sense to me to end the show with the end of his reign as boss.

Questions which people have raised about this interpretation:

Why was Tony murdered? Weren't the troubles with New York resolved?

Does it matter? As the victim of a hit, you would often never know that the decision had been taken by others to have you killed. Did Phil know that he was betrayed by members in his family? No, of course not; Chase shows us in this episode that even a boss can die suddenly without expecting it. God knows, Tony has 'deserved' it, for all the trouble he's caused.

Who did the hit?

The man in the Members Only jacket. He came in at the same time as AJ, implying that he could have been following him to locate Tony (AJ would be too naive to know he’s being followed). The man was shown looking two times over towards the Soprano's table:
1) The first time he looks, there's a cut to the Soprano's table with the man clearly in the background watching.
2) The second time he looks when the bell rings and the front door opens, implying that he might have noticed that Tony was checking the door.

Why did he go to the toilet instead of shooting Tony directly?

Tony's no fool; he outlived a couple of murder attempts. Tony was keeping his eye on the guy when he first arrived and again when he walked towards him and past him to the toilet. A safer approach would be to go past to the toilet, pull out the gun, then return to kill Tony when the bell on the door rings and his attention goes once again to the door.

Why make Meadow have such a hard time parking, thus making her arrive late?

For two reasons:
1) Building suspense towards the conclusion; the music is getting louder and louder as she keeps attempting to park.
2) To show Tony's death from his POV (the black screen and sudden end of the sound), Chase had to establish a sequence of edits which set this up. The way he did this was to write a scene where Tony was waiting for his family to arrive one by one. That way he establishes a premise for a series of edits which follows the same rule over and over:
a) The bell of the door rings.
b) A close-up of Tony's face looking up to the door (looking for family members).
c) A POV shot of what Tony sees (whoever comes in the door).

Meadow had to be late so that the scene could play out, the tension would build, and Tony would still be checking the door when the bell rang, waiting for the arrival of his daughter. That way, when she finally enters and the bell rings, we again see Tony’s face, but where his POV shot should be, is instead, 10 full seconds of black; no sound… roll silent credits.

Midwesterner in NYC said...

That is the longest anon post I have ever seen. Nice work...

evil girl said...

you people are assholes. move on.

CrimeNotes said...

There will be no moving on, bitch.

marmad said...

Since I’m the one who posted the original rebuttal to the ‘Seven reasons why Tony Soprano did not die’; and since my rebuttal seems to have provoked a reaction, I thought perhaps I’d respond to the ‘updated and expanded’ version.

This time, instead of rebutting each of the 7 reasons (a few of which I think are, honestly, rather weak and highly subjective – ‘just desserts’, etc.), I’ll just respond to a few points CrimeNotes made; and then I’d like to focus primarily on what I personally feel is the main reason for suspecting Tony WAS shot (of course, I admit it’s not definitive; Chase intentionally left it open).

We could argue back and forth about whether enough background information was supplied to believe Tony might get whacked, or whether it was possible for someone to find him there if they wanted to kill him. I personally feel Tony’s troubled history with Butch, coupled with the nasty business of killing one the bosses of the 5 NY families in front of his family (Walden might have shot him by the phone booth instead), mixed with the complete decimation of Tony’s own DiMeo Family since he took over, are plenty of reasons to suspect that he could be double-crossed and whacked.

How a hit man might find him there (there are certainly possibilities that exist) is irrelevant in the end, since many times during the show it’s not made clear how someone was located (Bobby Baccalieri and Jackie Aprile Jr. are just 2 examples which spring to mind; I can come up with more if required).

CrimeNotes makes the following comment (all his comments will be in quotes):

“This is, however, a microcosm for the problem with the Death Theory. It's based on pure guesswork (as well informed as it might be) rather than anything that actually occurred on screen. You buy into it, and you're required to take several leaps of faith unsupported by actual events.”

Well yeah, that’s true. But I believe if Chase wanted us to be stunned by the death of Tony, he did it exactly right. What were the alternatives? Show us decisions being made to have Tony clipped; the Members Only guy being hired; Tony or someone in his family being eavesdropped on or followed? Or alternatively, show the murder, and then continue on with the show, filling in background information afterwards about how and why it had all been arranged (like some cheap crime drama)?

In my opinion, both of those options range from much less powerful to downright silly. Besides, Tony was always the focal point and surrogate for the audience. To me it makes complete narrative sense that he (along with us vicariously) is unaware of the reason why (and where) he would die (just as Phil likely was). Thus, Chase makes us undergo (minus the actual pain) exactly what it might be like to experience sudden and unexpected death.

He also notes:

“As a result, the death theories rely heavily on wild conjectures (see above) and iron faith in thoughtful but unproveable guesswork about what may or may not have happened off-screen (in a series that never relied on Macguffins or off-screen twists) regardless of observable evidence…. The one notable exception was Big Pussy back in Season 2, but that was a long, drawn out, carefully constructed, direct story line. It wasn't a jerk-the-neck twist.”

Again, as I mentioned in the first rebuttal, this is just wrong. CrimeNotes, with all due respect, you need to go back and re-watch the entire series. The ‘Tony is clipped’ ending would not be based on off-screen ‘twists’; it would just be based on off-screen decisions/actions which cause an on-screen surprise. There are MANY examples of this throughout the show (Big Pussy is NOT one of them):

The murder of Phillip Parisi (never saw the order to kill him being given).
The shooting of Christopher Molitsanti (never saw Sean and Matthew decide to hit him).
The revelation of Raymond Curto as a rat (never saw him flipped by the FBI).
The revelation of Eugene Pontecorvo as a rat (never saw him flipped by the FBI).

I could go on and on, but hopefully you see my point.

Next point; CrimeNotes comments about Bobby’s famous words:

“Bobby was telling himself the kind of lie that some people need in order to live. This show was the anti-mythology; it vigorously deglamorized violence. You suffer. You don't get a cut to black. It's not that gentle.”

Again, this is just completely wrong. I can reel off a slew of deaths during the series that were probably exactly a cut to black (one doesn’t know for sure, of course, unless one dies that way): Emil Kolar, Jimmy Altieri, Jackie April Jr., Phillip Parisi, Rusty Millio, Phil Leotardo. It doesn’t matter if Bobby died that way or not; the fact that Chase showed the scene in flashback (which they used very sparingly in the series) in the penultimate episode can certainly be read as a prophetic reminder to people for the episode to follow.

Alright, now to my main point (the reason I think Tony was killed). It’s not based on any conjecture but just deals with the construction of the scene itself. CrimeNotes writes:

“For the devotees of the murder theory: Why was it that Tony was staring up at his killer instead of an agent flashing a badge?”

CrimeNotes; no offense, but this comment clearly indicates that you don’t understand what most of us believe might have happened (if Tony was shot). I’ll detail further below.

He goes on:

“A note on the Members Only guy: This is a connection that I never would have made but-for the post-game commentary, but I think it's wildly off the mark to infer based on a jacket and episode title that he was an assassin.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to evidence that Chase WANTED us to consider him a possible assassin. There is a massive amount of intentional framing, shot movement, and editing that suggests it:

1) Only two people are ever shown approaching the front door BEFORE the bell rings:

Tony and Members Only guy (afterwards referred to as MOG).

2) Only two faces are ever shown right AFTER the doorbell rings:

Tony and MOG.

3) Only two people are ever used in tracking shots:

Tony and MOG.

4) Only one person is ever shown looking at Tony (aside from his family):

MOG (twice).

5) MOG’s face is in more shots than Meadow.

MOG: 14 shots; 6 distinct foreground shots and 8 background shots (over AJ’s shoulder).
Meadow: exactly 10 shots.

Whether you think Tony was shot or not, you just can’t ignore the fact that Chase set up a huge amount of intricate detail to suggest MOG might be a killer.

Here is a detailed description of the filmed scene:

a) During the scene, the doorbell rings exactly 6 times. After each of the first 3 rings, we see Tony’s face looking at the door, and then a shot from his POV of who is entering the diner.

b) Right before the 4th ring, we see MOG approach the door and start to push it open. This is the only time in the scene we see that happen, except for Tony’s own entry to the diner.

c) Then comes the doorbell ring; the shot of Tony’s face looking up; and then the shot from Tony’s POV of MOG (followed by AJ) walking in. As AJ approaches the booth and sits down, we can also see MOG sit down at the counter in the background.

d) MOG is next shown in a close-up sitting at the counter, and then nonchalantly looking towards the Soprano’s table; followed by an explicit cut to a shot looking over Tony’s shoulder with MOG staring towards him in the background.

e) Later in the scene, the doorbell rings for the 5th time; but this time (and ONLY this time) instead of Tony’s face, we see MOG’s face looking over again at Tony (implying he sees Tony watching the door ; this point is obviously conjecture on my part).

f) 47 seconds later, MOG gets up and walks towards the Soprano’s. Tony is shown watching him approach their booth for a full 2 seconds (the first look).

g) This cuts to a tracking shot of MOG as he walks past the Sopranos table to the toilet at Tony’s 3:00 position (the only tracking shot in the scene aside from Tony’s entry to the diner; I won’t even bother going into what a tracking shot implies in film language). During the tracking shot, we see Tony yet again glance at MOG as he turns the corner towards the toilet (this is the second look that Tony gives him during his walk from the counter).

h) 31 seconds later is the 6th doorbell ring, when we once again see Tony’s face looking at the door (checking for his late daughter’s arrival), and then, where next should be his POV of who walked through the door, we get 10 seconds (Chase wanted 30) of black silence.

We (I think I can speak for the majority of ‘Tony was shot’ believers here) don’t think Tony was staring up at his killer. We think Tony, distracted by the bell (this being one of the narrative reasons why Chase had Meadow arrive late), was shot at relatively close range in the right side of his head (3:00 position) by MOG (who had been waiting for the next doorbell ring near the toilet).

Again, whether you believe this theory or not, Chase certainly shot and edited his final scene in such a way as to completely support this interpretation.

CrimeNotes said...

Much thanks for the very detailed reply. I'm flattered that you not only to read and rebutted the initial short post, but came back and took the time to set forth another detailed and thoughtful response.

Reading your most recent iteration, I guess that I'm more than before left with the impression that these readings come down to a difference of philosophy in what the show was about and how we watched the show all along. I often read the analysis on Slate and wondered whether those guys saw the same episode that I did, and tracking assorted reactions to the conclusion (first, the initial uproar by some who felt cheated; then, by the buzz surrounding the death theory) I've been thinking the same thing.

For instance, I've read the careful moment-by-moment parsings of the diner scene, which was artfully and tensely filmed. How this leads to a conclusion that MOG shot Tony, I'm baffled. Like most of us, I've gone back and reviewed that closing scene many times, trying to find a reading that supports a shooting; with the standard "none of us knows" qualifier, I simply don't see it. The relevance of the bell ringing and the number of reaction shots don't, to me, amount to anything. In that final sequence, I see a lot of eye-winking from Chase that goes back to past episodes, a grin-worthy Godfather allusion, and a Virginia Woolf-type thesis (think Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse) that life's small moments are really the big moments.

Another example: referring to Tony as our "surrogate." I never thought of him as our surrogate. He was the central character, but I thought the show was about the pain in the life of a very bad man who was a very bad man because of where he came from and how he grew up. I considered Melfi our surrogate; ultimately I felt a certain rooting interest in Tony, but he was someone to judge and puzzle over; he was Conrad's Kurtz. He was the central mystery and the heart of darkness. We experienced his world alongside him, but I never felt like it was through his eyes, or that he had a capacity for heroism. For every moment of compassion or self-awareness, there were three acts of brutality and rationalization. Melfi's sense of intrigue and repulsion seemed the most relatable.

I think that the best circumstantial support in favor of Tony dying is how closely it would track Phil's death: shot in the side of the head in front of his wife and descendants, in an unassuming public place. I find that a little too tidy, but there you go.

Then there was Wanda Sykes's theory stated on Conan last night: Tony got sick of the whining, so after it cut to black he shot his whole family.

Thanks again for taking the time to write and giving me a reason to keep thinking about the show.

marmad said...

CrimeNotes,

Thanks for your quick and thoughtful reply (and for allowing me a reason to keep thinking about the show also :-)

I agree with your description of Tony and Melfi, and realize that the word 'surrogate' for Tony was not really correct (I was actually thinking that as I typed the word. I guess what I was trying to express was that I suspect that Chase realized that if he ended the saga in a traditional way, a large segment of the audience might be dissatisfied with the loose ends of Tony’s life (whatever they might: a looming trial, family members left behind, etc), so I think he made a conscious choice to produce an ending which could provide the same experience in a way as sudden death does (whether Tony’s or ours in his universe). Death is the ending of all possibilities; it closes the door on things to come. Whether you think Tony died or not, I think the ending suggests a finality to our participation (for whatever reason) in the life and times of Tony Soprano.

The more I analyzed and studied the scene frame-by-frame, the more brilliantly I thought it was constructed. I tend to believe that Tony died, but I certainly see how the scene can be read as a simple dinner with the family. I really believe that Chase must of put many many hours of thought into it’s precise structure; an extra special effort for the finale.

Thanks again for your insights.

Anonymous said...

Ever think what Chase was saying is you never who who it may be or when you might go.

The ending is delibratly vage, in the end you can only speculate either way, what is certain is that The Sopranos never glamorised violence, it made a statement saying family life is not good for family life. Tony could have died, he may not have, what is certain is the life of a mobster, someone who relies on violence and murder to make their way in life is an uncertain and dangerous one. It could happen any time and it could be anyone.

Perhaps, as is a theme throughout the Sopranos, this was a metaphore for the American governments policy at the time.

Anonymous said...

I think marmad's analysis establishes that we would hardly be silly if we thought MOG was a threat (or if we thought Tony thought MOG might be a threat).

Furthermore, when asked what the seed of the idea for the final scene was, Chase answered: "As I recall, it was just that Tony and his family would be in a diner having dinner and a guy would come in. Pretty much what you saw."

I don't think it's a leap to suggest that MOG is the guy in question, and thus he was (as far as Chase is concerned) an essential component to the scene. (Incidentally, Chase takes charge of the edit of every single show.)

Not that this is at all means that Tony was whacked. In fact, since I didn't see it happen, I'm assuming he wasn't killed. (The 'blackness is Tony's POV shot' biz is a nice theory, but that's all it can ever be.)

But the Tony-lives camp need to at least acknowledge that the scene is (at least partly) about the MOG, even if it is only about the paranoia and tension that will perpetually exist around Tony until his end. As Chase says, "There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clean trend on view - a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela's future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn't really matter."

hilde said...

My wife and I just finished the series on Netflix last night. This thread is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent series of posts.

I'm ambivalent about what happened, but I'm pretty sure that's the intended ending. Like a great painting, no one can say what it finally means. ("Starry Night" is about insanity in the country--would be an example of how some art defies final interpretations.)

My own intuition (and that's all it is) is that the tension and apprehension that comes with being a Soprano is the lot of this family. Tony will always be watching the door, the stranger, etc. Carmela will always be spouting homilies out of denial. In this regard, I suppose I read the show as CrimeNotes does. As an anti-genre series that wants to use the mafia to bring out the ennui and anxiety of trying to make it in America.

I'll add one final thought for a pet theory which I was convinced of just as the show ended. The FBI Arrest Theory. Here goes: the show is realist. It mirrors real world events. In the real world, the mob in the NYC and NJ area was largely fractured and then disassembled by the FBI. Times are changing--the lawyer says something to Tony about "this day coming" and Meadow's boyfriends revelation that one can make 170k/year doing criminal work just shows that the culture is now rewarding attorneys more than mobsters. White collar crime is the big fish, now--and Tony, Junior, etc. are all becoming dinosaurs before the viewers eyes. The end of a family, so to speak, mostly caused by the history rather than gunfire.

Again, my central point is not to take a firm stand on the ending, but to argue that the ambiguity of the ending is endemic to all great works of art. Thus, there must be a multiplicity of possibilities, always possible for the different ways different people would construe the various pieces of evidence on which they need/choose to focus. This is the arc and message (if you can call it that) of the entire series. Day to day life. That's the end.

Anonymous said...

Evidently you didn't see the previous episodes to this serial. The man who walked in the diner in front of AJ was one of the hit men on the street corner talking to members of the family that wanted to take over the Soprano turf. These were from Scicily if you will recall and all hit men brought over. Tony was told they were brought over for one purpose and that was why he hid out in the house with a gun that would bring down an elephant. If you also will recall there were remarkes made in previous episodes that when the head of a family was taken out- the whole family went--and you never see it coming when it happens. Go to black!

Anonymous said...

Yes, from comments made in previous episodes I would say that was what happened to Tony and family. That is prob. why the waite for Meadow to enter the diner. In order to get all of the Sopranos. This way they finished "all of them" in one final swoop. I thought the guy at the bar looked familiar.

crimenotes said...

Keep on imagining. David Chase has told journalists that nothing happened to the family. While I don't think that should be dispositive, and that we're all free to interpret books, movies and television however we like, it appears to me that this ending will always have people seeing shots fired from the grassy knoll.

It's awesome to me that this post is still getting comments more than a year after the blog shut down.

Anonymous said...

thank you crime notes, and marmad!
both extremely plausible explinations...
..and I am no closer to closure than I was before.
5-30-09

CrimeNotes said...

Do you know what? We should convene a panel, put together some Power Point slides and hold a convention. I'm in!

Angelo. Of course Tony was clipped. said...

Tony was murdered. Clues are everywhere if you look for them. What does Silvio say when he was present at the dinner when that guy got clipped? "I didn't even know what happened till after" or words to that effect. The Bobby comments, although it was ironic that Bobby did hear and see it coming.
Also to suggest that nothing happened because Tony is just there with his family for dinner and nothing suspicious is going on...I mean c'mon, this is how the mob works. Bobby is shopping for trains, Phil is talking to his wife about pills and talking to his grandkids, he gets shot right in the head,point blank, he would never of even heard the gun go off.
These are the clues we need to consider, the who dunnit and why is pointless, Tony doesn't know, why should we? We were seeing it from Tonys POV, the Members Only guy would have comeout of the toilet, Tony hears the bell ring looks up to see Meadow and the Members Only guy shoots him in the right side of his head, we don't hear a gun shot because this is Tony's POV. There is nothing just blackness.
Do we need to know what happened after? No. We can sguess though from seeing what happened after all the other hits though.
For years we cheered for Tony and his schemes, then what, we now wanna see his head splattered all over the place?
Chase did a fantasic job on that last scene in Holstens, and he treats us, his audience with respect, not like idiots that need to be spoon fed the whole way.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the last episode two times. The original date and On Demand tonight.
Originally I thought too bad T is dead to us, in parlance of their type. He's just gone.

My second screening was different, maybe he was killed but some say the Black is where we should see from T's POV. If that is the case we should have heard the pop while we were looking at his face.
But I realize that this is pure nonsense and we know nothing except what we see.
He was killed if only because the order was made and he wandered back out in public. The other "top two" were already gone so it was a natural progression. He came out of hiding and paid the price.
If you are a viewer of Family Guy you may have heard Stewie get a dig into the Soprano's for leading viewers for years and ending the shoe without a real ending. (snubbing the dedicated viewer). As I thought about it, yep Stewie is right. It's not right. The show should have just went away, he'll they took years off between seasons anyway.

So there, as timely as it gets. How do you like that Chase!? That'll teach you! Ha.
Man - Miss this show.

Anonymous said...

The above anonymous entry was left in April of 2010.

Anonymous said...

There's been heaps said about this subject did Tony die or did Tony live, i have this too say:

1:When the bell rings and Tony looks up for the last time and the screen goes black,this is not Tony POV it's actully Carmella's POV.As she is looking at Tony and has her back towards the door,if it was Tony's POV we would have seen Meadow coming through the door then the screen turn black.

2: So i think with the above statement it was a assassin, and he killed Carmella first (Hence it was her POV we were seeing) and then shot AJ, and then shot Tony as none of the three are looking in the direction the assassin came from (they were all looking at the menu's) We then get cut into Carmella's POV and see Tony look up,but he would have seen his wife killed and his son killed.And Meadow would have seen her whole family murder. The assassin might have shot Meadow on the way out....This is just a thought.

3: Or it's as simple as nothing happened and we are/were looking for something sinister to happen because we all new it was the last episode of the show.

Libellule said...

Lol, it's 'just deserts,' not 'just desserts.' Not desert as in a dry, barren land, but not dessert as in something sweet and delicious either, which was your choice of words. Just deserts in the sense of what one merits or, in other words, deserves.

Unknown said...

While everybody is free to interpret the ending as they like, it is clear that David Chase ended it all with a subtle and artistic way of ending the life of Tony Soprano.

Tony got hot by the man in the 'Members Only' jacket, who went for a piece in the restroom. As Meadow enters the diiner and walk towards the table, the "Members Only" guy comes out of the restroom and walks up to Tony and shoot him in the right side of the head, killing him instantly. This was in the script, and you'd know if you'd read it. Now at the last moment David Chase cut out the initial ending, for artistic reasons only, and the scene is cut but 8 seconds. When the screen turns to black, the life of Tony soprano ends.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share........

skinny guinea said...

He didnt die. Because it wasnt filmed and we didnt see it. Making conjecture in your mind doesent make it true. Killing a boss was not something they did lightly. there was peace with new york again. No one had a beef with him. Its more likely he went to jail somewhere down the line.

skinny guinea said...

You were spot on in the beginning. If the black screen was where tony was shot we should have seen a final sippet of meadow tunning into the diner before the black. It just ended. He didnt die. He didnt live. Hes a fucticious characger whos life we blipped in and out of. You cant say he died because the screen went black without saying he was born in melfis office in the pilot.