Better Late Than Never: A Latecomer's Season by Season Guide to The Sopranos

Season 6 Act 2
The final act of The Sopranos carries quite a bit of weight behind it. The show's creators made it quite public that this was the end so everyone's expectations were risen quite a bit knowing that one of the biggest series in television history was coming to a close. But assuredly the question was asked by fans, critics, and me alike. How can they wrap up a show so vast in length, so high in technical and narrative quality in an abbreviated 9 episode season?

Easily, according to David Chase the show's creator and head writer.

The final 9 episodes sees a lot occur. The war between Jersey and New York finally comes to some kind of head as a number of main characters are involved in various shootouts and wind up dead. Some characters meet their demise completely removed from mob violence. I'm looking at you Christopher.

So after 8 episodes we're left with Tony's final hour of television. He's lost a number of great friends and associates. His son is dumber than ever. His daughter is a rising star at a law firm. His wife is finally spreading her wings in the real estate world she's been trying to break into for 3 seasons. But where is Tony? He's pretty much exactly where we found him six seasons ago. And thats the fucking point.

Life is full of experiences. Quite literally every waking moment is an experience whether is memorable or not. The Sopranos was probably the first show I've ever given my time to that really just shows a linear passage of time without ever truly stooping to dramatic storytelling. Any drama that does occur in the series is never far removed from anyone human being's own life. Car accidents, panic attacks, violent and devastating deaths. None of these are reserved for the realms of film and television. They happen every day.

It could be David Chase's supreme love of anti climax that brings the show to its controversial conclusion. Its as if we as viewers are just picking up the show again. We see a man and his family. We know what he does for a living but not really what he's going to do. We know nothing about his friends other than that they work with him. The final scene of The Sopranos could just as easily be the first. Tony sits down in a booth and puts “Don't Stop Believing” on the table's jukebox. He looks around the room seeing a couple and a small troop of boy scouts enjoying their meals. Carmella enters and the two of them discuss where their kids are and how long until they'll meat them at the diner. Tony quickly mentions the state of affairs with his job but the two of them shrug it off. AJ appears eager to order some of the restaurant's famous onion rings. Meadow pulls up outside but can't for the life of her parallel park the damn thing. AJ complains about work and Tony tells him to buck up. AJ responds by saying he should “focus on the good times” a direct quote from Tony earlier in the show. Tony smirks and says “Well, its true I guess.”. Meadow continues to have trouble parking. Tony watches every adult man in the restaurant for fear of mob violence taking place against him and his family. A waitress brings over a basket of onion rings. Meadow runs across the street from her car toward the restaurant's entrance. Tony puts another quarter in the jukebox. He hears the restaurant door bell and looks up.

And thats it. The song cuts out with the picture. The 86 hours of The Sopranos comes to a close.

But what does it mean?!

Well it means whatever the hell you want it to mean. And isn't that the point of art in general? To draw your own conclusions from stimuli? There is plenty to be said about the ending scene for sure. The use of an abrupt cut to black followed by several seconds of silence led many viewers to initially believe that their cable had cut out at a crucial moment. Opposing interpretations soon emerged among viewers regarding the ultimate fate of Tony Soprano with some believing that he was killed while others believe that he remains alive. One argument for the former points to a conversation that Tony had in the Act 2 premiere episode, “Members Only” with his brother-in-law Bobby, in which Bobby comments on how suddenly and without sound death can happen in their lives as gangsters: "you probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?" A flashback to this scene also appears in the final minutes of "The Blue Comet", the episode preceding "Made in America".When questioned on the theory, HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer stated that the conversation is a "legitimate" hint. The final scene showing a man credited as "Man in The Members Only Jacket" who goes to the bathroom has been interpreted as a nod to a scene in the The Godfather, in which Michael Corleone retrieves a gun from the bathroom before shooting his enemies. Speculation has also linked the jacket to the title of the opening episode of the abbreviated season in which Tony is shot and also as a symbolic reference to membership of the Mafia. Actor Matt Servitto told Entertainment Weekly that in the script, the scene continued with the man in the Members Only jacket emerging from the washroom and starting to walk towards Tony's table before the screen cuts to black, but he preferred the ending that made the final cut of the episode.

But the other side stands to reason as well. Absolutely nothing could have happened. The man in the jacket could simply be the man in the jacket. How do you end a show like this? Whats wrong with simply ending a show about the life of a man? We know he will die. We don't know how but why does it really matter. The most human knowledge is that death comes no matter what and in the grand scheme of things why on earth does it matter how it finds you?

David Chase was hounded (and probably still is) about the end of the show. In an interview conducted by Brett Martin several weeks after the finale's original broadcast, Chase shared his views on the final episode and the reaction to it. On the fans of the show and the demand for an unambiguous and definitive ending, Chase remarked, "There was so much more to say than could have been conveyed by an image of Tony facedown in a bowl of onion rings with a bullet in his head. Or, on the other side, taking over the New York mob. The way I see it is that Tony Soprano 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.' They wanted to see his brains splattered on the wall. I thought that was disgusting, frankly. The pathetic thing—to me—was how much they wanted his blood, after cheering him on for eight years."

Chase also made comments about the purported lack of finality in the final episode: "This wasn't really about 'leaving the door open.' 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 matter." On the future of the Soprano children, Chase said, "A.J.'s not going to be citizen-soldier or join the Peace Corps or try to help the world; he'll probably be some low-level movie producer. But he's not going to be a killer like his father, is he? Meadow may not be a pediatrician or even a lawyer, but she's not going to be a housewife-whore like her mother. She'll learn to operate in the world in ways Carmela never did. [...] Tiny, little bits of progress—that's how it works."

On moments during and after the final scene, Chase referred to a scene from the episode "Stage 5”: "There are no esoteric clues in there. No Da Vinci Code. Everything that pertains to that episode was in that episode. And it was in the episode before that and the one before that and seasons before this one and so on. There had been indications of what the end is like. Remember when Gerry Torciano was killed? Silvio was not aware that the gun had been fired until after Gerry was on his way down to the floor. That's the way things happen: It's already going on by the time you even notice it. [...] I'm not saying anything. And I'm not trying to be coy. It's just that I think that to explain it would diminish it." Chase also addressed the widespread opinion that the open-ended finale was insulting to the show's longtime fans: "I saw some items in the press that said, 'This was a huge fuck you to the audience.' That we were shitting in the audience's face. Why would we want to do that? Why would we entertain people for eight years only to give them the finger? We don't have contempt for the audience. In fact, I think The Sopranos is the only show that actually gave the audience credit for having some intelligence and attention span. We always operated as though people don't need to be spoon-fed every single thing—that their instincts and feelings and humanity will tell them what's going on.

David Chase had set himself up with a no win scenario. I don't think there's an ending to a show like The Sopranos that more than half the viewership would have been cool with. What I will say is that I truly loved the ending and I applaud David Chase for not copping out. He had his ending and he gave it to you, like it or not.

So on the whole, how would I rate The Sopranos? I'd call it a solid and important piece of television. It is FAR from the best show I've ever seen particularly in its early seasons. But like most long form stories you can't just jump into the later arcs without a solid foundation to work on. So even though I'm not huge on the show's beginnings, they are 100% necessary. I would never say I regret watching the show. In fact, I think I learned a lot about what makes good TV by pushing through The Sopranos. I recommend the series to anyone who has the time to give it a fair run. But be warned. Its not an easy journey.

Final Word:

If there is anything the show didn't give me at the end, its more time with Dr. Melfi. The show's original premise was about a mobster in therapy (IMAGINE THAT!). Melfi became one of the most important parts of the show and though I realize series have to grow and chance I think that the writers simply lost their way with her and I think it does the series a disservice.

If I had to give the show a more comprehensive ending I would only add one thing. The ducks. Tony becomes obsessed with a small family of ducks that live in his pool in the first season. I'm sure it completely contradicts what David Chase had in mind for the end of the show but I truly think that the ducks reappearing in Tony's pool right before he heads off to the restaurant for the final scene would have given the show a strangely complete feel. But hey, thats me. Thanks for reading along everyone. I wish you all-

Better Late Than Never: A Latecomer's Season by Season Look at The Soprano's

Season 6 Act 1 -->
Season 6 Act 1 of The Sopranos comes with quite a lot of weight behind it. It's the beginning of the end. Its the calm before the storm. It's the deep breath before the plunge. So where does it all begin to end? It ends with the episode Members Only and with a man we met in season 3 and who sort of bounced around in the wings between then and now. His name is Eugene Pontecorvo and he wants out. He's inherited 2 million dollars from a deceased aunt and fully plans on moving to Florida with his wife, leaving the mob life behind. And what does he get for his good fortune and his aspirations? He gets Tony up his ass about leaving at this point we learn that Eugene has been an informant for the F.B.I. and they too can't see letting him leave at it would mean a serious loss in information in their case against La Cosa Nostra. So Eugene, paralyzed by the stresses of two immovable objects weighing down on his life, hangs himself in his basement. Good. For a second there, I though The Sopranos might go soft in it's final season. Now we can begin.
Now Eugene isn't the only storyline we follow in the premiere. In fact, in the grand scheme of the season its probably the least important. But it sights precedent and that's whats important. Again we see a person who finds a safe and easy way to escape the life of crime he's lead for so long. But he simply cannot. Whether it be fate or otherwise the stakes end up being too high and they can't get out. Eugene taking his own life is a nice touch. It ties back in quite well with the notion that at the end of the day a criminal only has his or herself to blame for their situation.
The big moment that starts off season 6 takes place at the end of the season premiere. Junior Soprano, increasingly overcome by his Alzheimer's, shoots Tony during a fit of strong memory loss. Tony then spends the next two episodes in a coma. And I'll go out on a limb and say that those two episodes are some of the best the series has ever produced. Tony takes a serious journey through his subconscious. He spends his time there as another man named Kevin Finnerty who is in turn looking for Tony Soprano to return a mistakenly taken briefcase. Tony's journey takes him through some strange adventures. He meets violent monks. He consistently sees a beacon, not unlike a lighthouse, on the horizon. He even meets a few characters who had died in seasons past. Outside of the coma, Carmella, AJ, and Meadow all struggle with Tony's situation and do all in their power (well...maybe not AJ) to be as supportive and positive as they can. On the mob front, everyone begins to wonder if Tony will actually ever come back and start to figure out who'll run the show if Tony does pass. But it all takes a serious back seat to Tony's dream experience. The key scene in Tony's coma comes when he gets to a giant house part out in the woods. The house is lit up like a Christmas tree and is filled with guests. Tony as Kevin Finnerty runs into Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) who is playing a waiter at the party. He comes to learn that this house is heaven and Blundetto is playing the role of St. Peter. Tony is very hesitant about entering the house and is even more put off when he sees a shadowy figure, no doubt a woman, standing just inside the doorway. Its pretty clear that we're looking at Livia Soprano and it makes sense that Tony would be especially put off at the idea of seeing her again.
Tony does escape the coma by the end of the 3rd episode (to my disappointment) and we the audience are told exactly what this season is about. Tony's survival is a blessing and now he plans to live with that constantly in the front of his mind. But, this is The Sopranos we're talking about. Thats not the way things work. And sure enough, not long after Tony is recovered he heads right down the same road. He comes very close to cheating on Carm, though doesn't actually, and makes so attempt to clean up his life or his business practices.
Now a big focus of the first act of season 6 is Vito Spatafore. Vito's always been around but early in the season the entire cast learns that Vito is gay. He makes a sad but smart decision and runs to New Hampshire knowing that at least some of his fellow gangsters will be so offended by his sexual orientation that they'll come after him in a violent way. Audiences really weren't happy about this side plot. They found it a tad contrived especially this late in the game. I don't see it that way at all. In fact, I think it hits home better than a lot of the series' attempts to show the dangers of living a life of crime. Vito's homosexuality becomes a character flaw as far as his associates are concerned. They feel they can't trust him because he's lied to them for so long about it, though with good reason. Vito runs north, falls in love with a small town firefighter and actually moves in with him. But he can't escape the mob lifestyle and more importantly, his love for it. He runs back to Jersey after spending nearly the entire season in New Hampshire. Before he's even back he kills an innocent bystander to avoid an encounter with the police and finally meets Tony in secret to apologize and show that he can still be quite valuable to the crime lord. Tony is reluctant but accepts his proposal. Unfortunately Phil Leotardo, who's taken the most offense to Vito's lifestyle, finds and kills him in a motel room not long after he returns home.
I'm sure audiences were happy to see this subplot finally come to a close. I was happy but not because it was over but instead because of how it had ended. The Sopranos didn't disappoint. Vito's homosexuality wasn't his job. It wasn't how he earned money. It was him more than anything else ever could be. It was his truth. And he found an escape and true love, love that he'd never been able to fully experience or enjoy before because he'd finally admitted this truth to himself. But like so many before him he simply could not escape because of his ties to crime. And like Eugene his death was his own fault. He didn't take his own life but if he never went home to Jersey there's a great chance he could've lived as close to happily ever after as anyone in the series' universe ever could.
There's plenty of other subplots going on across the twelve episodes that comprise Act 1 but most of them are pretty much fluff. Only Carmella's brief but potent trip to Paris in the penultimate episode really rings home as being important but even that sort of falls to the wayside when measured against Carm's experiences in the the beginning of the season and the end of the previous one.
What Act 1 is really about is the idea of redemption. So many characters are given the possibility of a second chance. Tony being chief among them. What The Sopranos tries to say is that redemption doesn't simply happen to anyone. They have to work for it. They have to earn it. And frankly, they have to want it.