Better Late Than Never: I Finally Watched The Sopranos
In 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 hype, 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 with 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.