I’m okay with how The Sopranos ended, and here’s why:
1. David Chase is the writer. The writer is “the decider.” He gets to decide how it ends, regardless of the usual television convention of wrapping things up in a neat package. (In most of television, the writer is not the decider. Thanks to HBO for having the guts to let the writer do his job.) It is not Chase’s job to help the American public deal with their emotional connection to fictional characters, nor to deal with their loss of a Sunday night tradition.
2. David Chase didn’t kill Tony, he killed the audience. By “pulling the plug” at that most pregnant moment, he forced us to look at our own anticipation of that moment, to fill in the blank for ourselves.
The blank said two things to me: 1) Well, that’s a wide avenue for the start of a feature film. 2) The bad guy does get away with it. Despite taking some hits, Tony is still king. Same as it ever was.
Eating out in public was Tony’s way of affirming his supremacy, and it was also a convenient way to bring out the next wave of opposition (the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming).
The timing of the blank screen was a brilliant way for Chase to challenge our assumptions about what we believe television owes us. We wanted Tony to get whacked, because that would be justice. We wanted him to get whacked in front of his family so that, even in their grief, they could finally escape their denial about Tony, escape their complicity in his crooked business.
That blank screen also woke me out of my tv slumber. Has my cable suddenly gone out? Chase challenged my own tv addiction. I was not a regular viewer of The Sopranos, but of course I watched the final show. Like the rest of America. Who wants to be left out of Monday-morning quarterbacking (especially if you’re a writer)?
That screen went blank, and I knew it was over, but I didn’t want it to be over because at some level I wanted that neatly wrapped package.
Upon reflection, that blank screen opened a world of possibility, a world of possibility beyond watching tv. I might have spent my Sunday evening reading. Or even better, writing.