I've wanted to revisit the Tony Soprano death debate in light of some recent comments by David Chase. My post on the subject may be the most-read piece in this site's history. It still receives frequent Google hits and message-board links. My original observations included the following:
- 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. ... We expected something sinister -- that's the way these stories are supposed to end. Instead, dinner happened.
- 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.
- 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.
On The Sopranos finale, I give myself an A+. Per David Chase:
Breaking his silence months after the HBO mob drama ended its run, he is offering a belated explanation for that blackout at the restaurant. He strongly suggests that, no, Tony Soprano didn’t get whacked moments later as he munched onion rings with his family at Holsten’s. And mostly Chase wonders why so many viewers got so worked up over the series’ non-finish.
Chase says the New Jersey mob boss “had been people’s alter ego. They had gleefully watched him rob, kill, pillage, lie and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted ’justice’...
“The pathetic thing — to me — was how much they wanted HIS blood, after cheering him on for eight years.”
In the days, and even weeks, after the finale aired June 10, “Sopranos” wonks combed that episode for buried clues, concocting wild theories. (Was this some sort of “Last Supper” reimagined with Tony, wife Carmela, son A.J. and daughter Meadow?)Chase insists that what you saw (and didn’t see) is what you get.
“There are no esoteric clues in there. No ‘Da Vinci Code,”’ he declares.
He says it’s “just great” if fans tried to find a deeper meaning, but “most of them, most of us, should have done this kind of thing in high school English class and didn’t.”
He defends the bleak, seemingly inconclusive ending as appropriate — and even a little hopeful.
A.J. will “probably be a low-level movie producer. But he’s not going to be a killer like his father, is he? Meadow may not become a pediatrician or even a lawyer ... but she’ll learn to operate in the world in ways that Carmela never did.
“It’s not ideal. It’s not what the parents dreamed of. But it’s better than it was,” Chase says.