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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Better Late Than Never: I Finally Watched The Sopranos

SopranosIn January 1999, there was a buzz about a new HBO series, The Sopranos.  As a huge fan of the mobster movie genre, there was little doubt I would enjoy the series, but, at the time, I had too many "appointment" television shows and thus never watched it.  It did not take long for the series to achieve accolades and critical acclaim, winning Emmy's, Golden Globe awards, Peabody's, and multiple major guild awards.  At that point, I knew I had missed the foundation of the story, and therefore I never watched a single episode.  I knew someday, I would have the time to watch the entire series. 

The Sopranos spanned six seasons before ending on a high in June 2007 with a very controversial series finale.  Despite all the Sopranoshype, blogging, and prolonged critical analysis of the final episode, I managed to avoid any spoilers.  All I did understand is that many fans of the series were outraged and / or confused by the ending.

So, three years later, I have found the time to watch this series---all six seasons.  I started in July and finished yesterday.  What a ride!  Almost every episode made me laugh out loud as well as cringe at the suspense and violence.  Homicide: Life on the Street still holds its rank as my all-time favorite television series, but The Sopranos holds a close second.  It was a roller coaster ride, watching Tony Soprano, an innately evil man, come so close to redemption only to fall again.  Unlike most other gangster movies in which the audience is subconsciously encouraged to check their morals at the door and unwittingly cheer for the evil gangster, I found myself longing to see Tony overcome his dark inclinations. Again and again, I was disappointed in him as he came so close and then failed.

I assume if you are reading this far, you are not concerned about having the ending spoiled for you, so let me, as many bloggers before me, give my $0.02 on the ending.  Perhaps I was at an advantage with having watched the entire series within two months as opposed to 8 years.  I quickly became accustomed to the writing and directorial style of The Sopranos.  The creators take for granted that their audience is intelligent, and therefore details are not spoon-fed to the audience as in many network serials. 

There are entire essays analyzing the final scene of The Sopranos, so I will not presume to duplicate them.  The final scene can be summed up like this: Throughout the series, it is alluded to---if not emphasized---by Tony himself, that there are only two possible fates for men like him: "dead or in the can." Additionally, in the final few episodes it is proclaimed that the guy taking the bullet never hears it.  In the final scene, a tempo and pattern is established.  We see Tony, then the very next image is from his point of view, i.e. what he sees.  This pattern is repeated at least six times in this final sequence, therefore, the viewer is trained to know that the image following any scene Tonywith Tony looking up is what he sees.  Now, there are other shots, mind you, to maintain continuity and to add to the mood, but make no mistake, if Tony is center frame, the next image is from his point-of-view.  This is further emphasized by the ringing of the bell that occurs when the diner door is opened.  So, we have both visual and auditory clues: The bell rings, Tony looks up, we see exactly what he sees, then we see his reaction.  The viewer already knows this is the final episode which no doubt adds to the tension. Finally, we hear the bell, we see Tony casually look up expectantly awaiting his daughter, the only member of his family not yet seated at the table, then---the intelligent audience knowing the next thing we see is what Tony sees---nothing.  The screen goes black.  The music playing in the diner simultaneously and abruptly ceases.  Black...silence...nothingness.  For a full 10 seconds we are shown only a blank screen, then the credits roll, even still, no music.  In 86 episodes, this is the only episode that has no music during the credits.  It is jarring and unsettling.  The only logical explanation is that we saw what Tony saw.  He died.  Presumably from a gunshot to the head given the abruptness. He "never heard it". The Sopranos creators assumed their intelligent audience would be taken off guard, but ultimately would understand it after the initial shock given the foreshadowing. Pure.  Genius. 

Here's the final sequence in question:


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