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Almost 12 million people tune in for the series finale of HBO’s critically acclaimed, multi-award-winning Mob-family drama The Sopranos on June 10, 2007.
The mastermind behind The Sopranos was David Chase, a longtime writer, producer and director for TV series such as The Rockford Files, I’ll Fly Away and Northern Exposure. Chase drew inspiration for his latest series from his Italian-American childhood growing up in New Jersey, when he was fascinated by William Wellman’s great 1931 gangster film The Public Enemy, starring Jimmy Cagney. The Sopranos was an immediate hit with critics when it premiered in January 1999. At its center was the New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), whose attacks of anxiety early in the series send him into the office of a therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). It soon becomes clear that Tony has a stressful life managing his family–including his vindictive mother (Nancy Marchand) and uncle (Dominic Chianese), his materialistic but good-hearted wife Carmela (Edie Falco) and his two teenage children, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and Anthony Jr., or A.J. (Robert Iler)–as well as his crew of lieutenants, notably Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico), Silvio Dante (Steve Van Zandt) and Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli).
The Sopranos brought to television a complex, compassionate vision of Mafia life similar to those previously portrayed on the big screen by directors like Francis Ford Coppola (the three Godfather movies) and Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets, Goodfellas). Both The Godfather and Goodfellas were touchstones for Chase (and his characters) throughout the series, as was The Public Enemy, which Tony memorably watches after his mother’s death in the show’s third season.
According to Alessandra Stanley, writing in the New York Times during the final season of The Sopranos: “The series lowered the bar on permissible violence, sex and profanity at the same time that it elevated viewers’ taste, cultivating an appetite for complexity, wit and cinematic stylishness on a serial drama in which psychological themes flickered and built and faded and reappeared. The best episodes had equal amounts of high and low appeal, an alchemy of artistry and gutter-level blood and gore, all of it leavened with humor.” As Stanley recounts, critics and pop-culture observers were often hyperbolic in their praise for the show, calling it Dickensian or Shakespearian; the author Norman Mailer, for one, called The Sopranos the closest thing to the Great American Novel in today’s culture. Fans loved it as well: The show’s audience reached a peak of some 18 million viewers during its fourth season. The show’s breakout success, along with that of the comedy series Sex and the City (which debuted six months before The Sopranos), established HBO’s reputation as the home of some of TV’s most popular original programming.
In the final season of The Sopranos, Tony survives a near-fatal shooting and begins to contemplate his own aging and mortality. Meanwhile, it appears that a full-scale war is brewing between the crime families of New York and New Jersey, as the hated Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) takes control of New York after former boss Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) dies in prison. When Phil goes after Tony and his crew, they react in turn, and the bodies stack up. In the closing scene of the open-ended finale, Tony meets Carmela, Meadow and A.J. in a diner for dinner. As soon as the screen went black, fans immediately began debating what actually happened, and mourning the end of a show that many had considered the best in the history of television.
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It’s easy to forget, but plenty happens in the final episode of The Sopranos: Someone gets shot in the head in broad daylight. An aimless and depressed A.J. decides to join the Army — in the middle of the war in Afghanistan, no less — only for Tony and Carmela to bribe him with a “development executive” role on a Tony-financed movie. And in a scene that delivers the pathos we’d expect from a beloved and long-lived series saying its goodbyes, Tony comes to terms with the extent of Uncle Junior’s dementia.
Yet almost none of these moments made a lasting impression, because none of them drove the show’s audience into as much of a collective frenzy as what came next: nothing. More specifically, 10 seconds of pitch-black silence that blindsided us to the point of wondering if our TVs were malfunctioning. Within hours, theories proliferated (what was with the bathroom guy?), blog posts raged (what a cop-out!), and all the while, the creative team kept their mouths firmly sealed — an omertá creator David Chase still hasn’t broken. Ten years later this Saturday, we’re still feeling the aftershocks. Just as The Sopranos revolutionized our idea of what a great TV series can be, “Made in America” revolutionized our idea of how a great TV series can end.
The television finale has always been a tricky gambit a series’ end is a chance to deliver on the one thing TV is expressly designed not to provide: conclusiveness. Television’s goal is to keep going, and its writers will renege on any number of plot developments to meet that goal. Characters can come back from the dead, or reappear in flashbacks, or return for a check-in after being written off one season’s long-teased romantic payoff can be the next’s beleaguered relationship. Series finales, meanwhile, fight against TV’s every impulse they are the end of the road, so to speak.
Prior to The Sopranos, finales could shock and surprise, but they always did so in fairly specific, limited ways. There was the infamous “it was all a dream!” maneuver, the instant cliché codified by the one-two punch of the ninth season of Dallas in 1986 and St. Elsewhere two years later this option was jaw-dropping in the moment, but at the expense of cheapening everything the audience had spent months or years investing in. There was the meta grace note: The Cosby Show breaking the fourth wall by panning out to the studio audience, and Newhart retroactively framing itself not just as a dream, but the dream of its star’s last lead sitcom role. And there was Seinfeld’s misanthropic middle finger: sending the central quartet to prison. Sometimes, a show just ran out of source material, as in M*A*S*H’s self-explanatory “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” — the war ends, so the characters say … goodbye, farewell, and amen. At more than 100 million viewers, M*A*S*H remains the most-viewed series finale in history, and one of the more textbook examples of how to revisit a series’ highlights while closing up shop.
All those finales conditioned viewers to have certain requirements (self-congratulation, bow-tying for each major character and plot) for a satisfying farewell. “Made in America” proceeded to disregard all of them — or more accurately, to come close enough to tease the possibility of a more traditional close before yanking it away with a single cut to black. Upon rewatch, the ramp-up to the abrupt silence is as unbearably tense as it was in 2007. If Tony wasn’t headed toward something explosive, why the cutaways to all the other diner customers, as if to implicate them? Why does the camera linger on Meadow’s amateur parallel parking job? Why drop a music cue as pointedly ironic as Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” epic and inspiring in contrast to a scene that was presumably meant to be the opposite? Sure, the episode ends with an anticlimax — but that anticlimax manages to land with heart-stopping force.
But tension alone doesn’t explain why “Is Tony dead or isn’t he?” so dominated, and continues to dominate, the discussion surrounding The Sopranos’ ending. A scumbag who’s killed or alienated everyone of real importance to him outside of his nuclear family, Tony Soprano spent six seasons evading the fate most mass-market fiction delivers the wicked. In one last casual shrugging off of TV’s once-bedrock rules, “Made in America” confirmed we’d never see Tony truly suffer for his sins — at least onscreen. It made sense in context: Why wouldn’t the show that confronted us with a protagonist murdering a man with his bare hands in its fifth-ever episode continue to push the limits of what we find acceptable, even appealing, in its final moments? But to float the idea of karma at long last coming for the crime boss of Northern Jersey and then give him a free pass seemed unthinkable, and so a sizable plurality of viewers has refused to acknowledge it. Tony had to be dead, and the only question was how hence the 16 million-plus Google results for “man in Members Only jacket,” and the theorizing over jacket man’s motivation (as if Tony Soprano’s killer would need any), or the endless accusations that the cut to black was somehow a dodge. All Chase gave the masses to go on was that everything we needed to know was “all there” in the episode itself.
Chase’s commitment to keeping his open ending open — foreshadowed, in retrospect, by the still-missing Russian from “Pine Barrens” — led to a brand-new kind of finale: one with no ending at all. Instead of wrapping the series up in a neat and orderly fashion, The Sopranos flabbergasted viewers by declining to even try. This was the series’ latest — and perhaps greatest — innovation. Tony was a mobster unlike any we’d seen before, forcing fans to confront what it meant to romanticize a criminal, but he was still a mobster, and one explicitly positioned in the lineage of pop culture mobsters past. (Sil’s Godfather impression!) “Made in America” had no precedent to tweak. Relinquishing a now-or-never shot at resolution for sustained ambiguity remains The Sopranos’ most radical move among many.
Consequently, the “Made in America”–inspired finale has become as much a signifier of a prestige series as the antihero, the dream sequence, and other Sopranos staples — both in terms of the actual way series end, and also the way audiences anticipate and dissect those endings. Mad Men, The Sopranos’ literal successor (the show premiered just a month after The Sopranos wrapped) as well as its spiritual one (The Sopranos was writer-producer Matthew Weiner’s bridge from CBS sitcoms to cable dramas) continued what “Made in America” started. That series ends with a shot that’s less jarring but equally ambiguous — a cut from Don Draper’s enigmatic smile at a seaside meditation retreat far from Madison Avenue to the classic Coca-Cola ad he may or may not have subsequently created. The happy ending instantly curdled into an ambivalent one, a rapid pivot audiences felt more prepared to accept and comprehend thanks to its predecessor. In a pre–“Made in America” world, I doubt we would have been so quick to pick up on the Coke ad as evidence Don had turned his enlightenment into yet another consumer product. But in a world where The Sopranos’ vacuum was intentional, Mad Men’s commercial could be part of a show. And just this month, The Leftovers inspired a fresh round of argument over the deliberately unanswered question of whether heroine Nora Durst had actually solved the mystery of the Sudden Departure or just made up a convenient fiction.
Beyond its influence on subsequent finales, though, “Made in America” changed how we think about finales. Never again will we bring the same expectations into a final chapter that Sopranos viewers did when they turned on their sets 10 years ago. Choosing surprise over closure is now considered a feature, not a bug it’s now widely accepted that a lack of resolution isn’t mutually exclusive with a lack of satisfaction. And finales are now held up as much against The Sopranos’ ability to keep us on our toes as M*A*S*H’s ability to tie up loose ends.
While “Made in America” has its imitators, none have matched its force or impact by so totally rearranging our understanding of what TV is obligated to give us. The Sopranos will always have the competitive advantage of working without precedent where its successors now operate in a TV landscape in which violence, sex, and, yes, mystery are now normalized. More than that, The Sopranos came up with an ending just as murky and disorienting as the 85 hours that led up to it. Rather than betray its ethos by bowing to convention, The Sopranos went out on its own terms.
No more therapy for Tony Soprano
One of the most important relationships in The Sopranos, if not the most important relationship, is between mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his therapist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (played by Lorraine Bracco). For seven years, the two danced around each other in Melfi's oval office, as the therapist was often entranced and sometimes repulsed by her gangster client. Making things even more complicated, Tony was sometimes in love and sometimes sick of his therapist. Through it all, the personal and professional connection very nearly ended on more than one occasion, but the two always seemed to find their way back to each other.
Then, in the penultimate episode of the series, Melfi comes to a realization after a colleague encourages her to read up on how Tony, as a sociopath, might simply be taking advantage of her. Convinced that he's been using her, Melfi cuts Tony off during a tense final session. Throughout the war with Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) and the Lupertazzi crime family, Tony doesn't attempt to call or contact her, and as far as we know, he considers their relationship over, just as she does. If Tony made it out of the series alive, it's possible he would've he looked for similar care at some point in the future, but Melfi seemed hellbent on shutting him out of her life.
University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
The final fate of America's favorite mob boss remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: When the last episode of "The Sopranos" airs June 10, the show will go down in American television history as one of the all-time greats, according to UB pop-culture expert Elayne Rapping.
Prior to the debut of "The Soprano's" sympathetic portrayals of bad guys were strictly the prevue of movies, according to Elayne Rapping.
"There's no doubt about it," says Rapping, professor emeritus of American studies and author of "Law and Justice as Seen on TV." "'The Sopranos' ranks with 'All in the Family' as one of the most innovative and influential TV shows in American culture."
According to Rapping, "The Sopranos" gave TV "permission" to show gangsters as sympathetic characters with whom the audience can identify. Prior to the series' debut on HBO, sympathetic portrayals of bad guysmobsters, rebels, and other outlawsstrictly were the prevue of movies, Rapping points out.
"What you got with 'The Sopranos' was permission to sympathize with bad guys who a lot of us envy for what they get can away with," Rapping says. "I think that was the secret of the show's success people fantasize about making the big kill and getting away with it."
Although daring for TV, "The Sopranos" still was much safer than movie portrayals of mobsters because at heart the Sopranos are a family the audience can identify with, Rapping explains.
"The Sopranos" came the closest to movie portrayals of sympathetic bad guys as TV genres allow, but the show's focus on familyand the typical problems of a suburban familymade it more palatable to a TV audience, and was a major reason for the show's success, Rapping says.
"'The Sopranos'" took its cue from Francis Ford Coppola's very original take on the genre in 'Godfather I and II.' Coppola inter-spliced family and 'business'and the contradictions between the twoin a way never done," she adds.
"You can't talk about 'The Sopranos' without referencing 'The Godfather' flicks. Gangster movies have been major movie staples forever and, unlike cop movies and TV shows, they often depict sympathetic portrayals of outlaws."
In the final analysis, "The Sopranos" made mobsters and murders "no big deal," on TV, Rapping says. "The show will live on in its imitators on mainstream TV."
A Space Odyssey
The editing of the final scene in the diner receives tremendous scrutiny even after almost a decade and a half since its debut. As it creates a rhythm of cutting from the sound of the bell above the diner's door to showing Tony's point of view as he sees the next patron of the diner, the editing creates tension that the cut to black disrupts. But even more notable is the visual reference to the famous ending of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Just as Tony enters the diner at the start of the scene, he looks across the restaurant to the table he will soon sit at. The camera cuts back to his face, and then once again to the table across the restaurant as though Tony is seeing himself moments later. Similarly, 2001's David Bowman experiences much the same effect as he looks across a room and sees himself at the end of his life. But whereas Bowman is elderly and infirm on his deathbed, Tony's end of life takes place mere moments later. It's an extremely subtle bit of camera work, but considering the titanic reputation of the film, the reference is too clear to be a coincidence.
List of The Sopranos episodes
The Sopranos, a television drama series created by David Chase, premiered on the premium television channel HBO in the United States on January 10, 1999, and ended on June 10, 2007.  The series consists of a total of 86 episodes over six seasons. Each episode is approximately 50 minutes long. The first five seasons each consist of thirteen episodes, and the sixth season twenty-one.
The Sopranos stars James Gandolfini as the Italian-American New Jersey-based contemporary mobster Tony Soprano.  Edie Falco plays his wife Carmela Soprano,  and Lorraine Bracco as his psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi.  The continuing story arc of The Sopranos is of how Tony Soprano deals with the often conflicting requirements of his home life and the criminal organization he heads. 
HBO broadcast the sixth season in two parts. The first twelve episodes ran from March to June 2006, and the remaining nine episodes ran from April to June 2007. HBO also released the two parts of the sixth season as separate DVD box sets.  This effectively turns the second part into a short seventh season, though the show's producers and HBO don't describe it as such.  All six seasons are available on DVD in Regions 1, 2, 3, and 4. 
Unlike most broadcast and cable networks that put their television programs on a four-month hiatus between seasons, The Sopranos took longer hiatuses between seasons. Season four, for example, premiered 16 months after the third season finale,  and the sixth season returned almost two years after the end of season five. 
Episode cast [ edit | edit source ]
- James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano
- Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi *
- Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano
- Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti **
- Dominic Chianese as Corrado "Junior" Soprano
- Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante
- Tony Sirico as Paulie Gualtieri
- Robert Iler as Anthony Soprano, Jr.
- Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Meadow Soprano
- Aida Turturro as Janice Soprano Baccalieri
- Frank Vincent as Phil Leotardo
- Ray Abruzzo as Little Carmine Lupertazzi
- Dan Grimaldi as Patsy Parisi
- Sharon Angela as Rosalie Aprile
- Maureen Van Zandt as Gabriella Dante
* = credit only ** = photo only
Guest starring [ edit | edit source ]
- Gregory Antonacci as Butch DeConcini
- Max Casella as Benny Fazio
- Carl Capotorto as "Little Paulie" Germani
- Arthur J. Nascarella as Carlo Gervasi
- Matt Servitto as Agent Harris
- Frank Albanese as Patrizio "Uncle Pat" Blundetto
- John Cenatiempo as Anthony Maffei
- John "Cha Cha" Ciarcia as Albie Cianflone
- Michele DeCesare as Hunter Scangarelo
- Michael Drayer as Jason Parisi
- Frank John Hughes as Walden Belfiore
- Michael Kelly as Agent Goddard
- Geraldine LiBrandi as Patty Leotardo
- David Margulies as Neil Mink
- Angelo Massagli as Bobby Baccalieri, Jr.
- Peter Mele as George Paglieri
- Donna Pescow as Donna Parisi
- Joseph Perrino as Jason Gervasi
- Anthony Ribustello as Dante Greco
- Daniel Sauli as Patrick Parisi
- Jenna Stern as Dr. Doherty
- Emily Wickersham as Rhiannon Flammer
- Danielle Di Vecchio as Barbara Soprano Giglione
- Ed Vassallo as Tom Giglione
- Ricky Aiello as Raymond "Ray-Ray" D'Abaldo
- Melanie Minichino as Tara Zincone
- Amy Russ as Female FBI Agent
- Paolo Colandrea as Man in Members Only Jacket
- Rajesh Bose as Gas Station Manager
- Avery Elaine and Emily Ruth Pulcher as Domenica Baccalieri (photo only)
6. The Wire // "-30-"
The Wire was never going to end anything in a clean, cut-and-dried way, but its series finale did mange to wield the various talents at play in the series to end everything on an ambitious and fairly comprehensive note. The finale reckoned with many of the same questions the entire series did—from the nature of justice to the fragility of power systems and how far people will go to keep them in place—as it worked to resolve the homeless serial killer hoax, illegal wiretapping, and the all-important future of Tommy Carcetti. One last montage reminds us that life goes on in Baltimore, whether the show’s characters have reshaped it for the better or not.
The Sopranos ended 14 years ago but we still want to know: Did Tony die?
It’s been 14 years since the final episode of The Sopranos aired, but one big question about the show has never been answered.
The final scene from the hit show The Sopranos.
The final scene from the hit show The Sopranos.
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Source:Supplied
Exactly 14 years ago, millions frantically yelled, thinking they lost their cable connection as HBO’s The Sopranos ended its final season – thanks to creator David Chase inventing one of the most brilliant, suspenseful last scenes in television history.
That finale, Made in America, draws to an epic and ambiguous close the story of northern New Jersey crime boss Tony Soprano, played by the late, remarkable James Gandolfini.
You know the scene: Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ plays as Tony, Carmela (Edie Falco) and their son, A.J. (Robert Iler), eat the best onion rings in Jersey at Holsten’s. The song cuts off at 𠇍on’t stop” and we see 10 seconds of black screen before the final, silent credits roll.
Now, with years of hindsight and a prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, on the horizon, the mystery behind Tony’s fate has been chipped away at – and it’s much more subtle than Saw meeting The Godfather.
James Gandolfini in the final scene of The Sopranos. Source:Supplied
Falco revealed on Chuck D’s New York Knicks podcast that an alternate ending to the show was filmed with her and Gandolfini in 2010 in an effort to attract LeBron James to play in Madison Square Garden – even though she didn’t know who he was.
Similar to the end of Goodfellas, it depicted Tony’s life in witness protection, likely thanks to the symbiotic relationship he had established with federal agent Dwight Harris (Matt Servitto). Despite heightened fanfare and speculation, the scene was never included in the show’s canon and simply remains an unused, alternate-ending take.
So, what actually happened to Tony?
Soprano’s own foreshadowing
In the show, Tony previously acknowledged to Dr Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) that “there’s two endings for a guy like me, a high-profile guy: dead or in the can”.
Thanks to the anticipated testimony of Carlo Gervasi (Arthur J. Nascarella) after his troublemaking son Jason was arrested, Tony is left preparing for an indictment that would likely put him behind bars for the rest of his life – so even if Soprano lives past dinner, his old ways are essentially over, symbolising a proverbial death.
Although, it doesn’t appear Tony lives to see a trial.
Cast of The Sopranos: Tony Sirico with Steven Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Pastore. Source:News Limited
As the s rock song rings throughout the diner, there is a recurring shot of a man seated at the eatery’s counter constantly looking back at Tony. He’s credited as Man in Members Only Jacket, a reference to the first episode of Season 6, Members Only, which saw FBI informant Eugene Pontecorvo (Robert Funaro) of Soprano’s crew commit a very graphic suicide after neither party allowed him to retire with family to Florida.
The final moments of the show see that man walk into the Holsten’s bathroom, about 30 seconds before the cut to black. The move mirrors Tony’s favourite scene in The Godfather, when Michael Corleone takes a planted gun behind a restaurant’s toilet to avenge his father’s attempted assassination.
While Members Only is in the bathroom, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) parallel parks successfully after many false starts. She runs toward the entrance of Holsten’s as Tony looks up right before … the end.
If Tony was clipped at that moment, it would align with the shot continuity that Chase, who directed only the first and final episodes of the series, had selected.
Tony is the first of his family to arrive at Holsten’s, and several people enter afterwards, including Members Only. Each time someone comes in that front door, a bell rings and a close-up of Tony’s face is shown to visualise his point of view to the audience.
In the episode’s closing seconds, that bell is heard, as Meadow is implied to be entering the restaurant. The camera cuts to Tony, presumably as Members Only emerges from the background, gun in hand, before the blackout. That silent darkness becomes Tony’s point of view, something the show’s final season symbolised on multiple occasions.
“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens,” Bobby Baccalieri (Steven Schirripa) tells Tony a few episodes before, in Soprano Home Movies, as the duo share a morbid conversation about how they could perish.
In The Blue Comet, the penultimate episode of the series, Bobby is gunned down on the orders of an opposing mob boss. Later, Tony holds the gun that now deceased Bobby gave him for his birthday and flashes back to the 𠇍on’t even hear it” line.
Another instance of silence surrounding a mob hit is in Stage Five, when consigliore Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) has dinner with Gerry Torciano (John Bianco) and a shell-shocked hush emerges while a gunman opens fire on Torciano.
Tony Sirico, left, and James Gandolfini, right, film scene from The Sopranos. Picture: Mike Derer/AP Source:AP
Last year, Chase may have slipped up in interviews. After a decade-plus of refusing to explain the final scene, he referred to it as Tony’s death.
During a leaked interview for his book The Sopranos Sessions, Chase inadvertently revealed the outcome when co-author Alan Sepinwall asked: “When you said there was an endpoint, you don’t mean Tony at Holsten’s, you just meant, ‘I think I have two more years’ worth of stories left in me.’”
Chase responded “Yes, I think I had that death scene around two years before the end … But we didn’t do that.”
“You realise, of course, that you just referred to that as a death scene,” co-author Matt Zoller Seitz then said.
It didn’t take the accidental admission to put the pieces together, though.
Tony’s failures come to fruition
The entire sixth season revolves around Tony’s failures, even leading into the last scene.
Tony sees he could not put an end to Christopher’s (Michael Imperioli) rampant drug use in Kennedy and Heidi, just before killing his cousin, whose former fiancee became an FBI informant.
That’s followed up by A.J.’s attempted suicide in Tony’s pool in The Second Coming.
Tony then drains the pool water, which at the show’s beginning he waded into to feed ducks that symbolised his family. The Sopranos are now left with an empty, covered pool during colder weather.
In the last episode, Tony has a silent visit to Silvio in the hospital, who is not expected to regain consciousness.
Again in silence, the boss likely reflects on the situation, which he could have done more to prevent.
He later sees a demented Junior (Dominic Chianese), who throughout the show teased Tony for never having “the makings of a varsity athlete”.
Sure enough, a mural of a local high school football standout is painted on the wall in Holsten’s in the next scene.
Sopranos creator David Chase. Source:Supplied
A question remains even if he is dead: Who killed Tony Soprano?
Was it a relative of Eugene’s? Did the New York crew not honour the ceasefire? Or did an interior decorator who killed 16 Czechoslovakians get his revenge? Where has Furio (Federico Castelluccio) been all this time?
Not knowing for sure is a symbol in itself. Just as the family and loved ones of other killed-off characters never got their closure throughout the series, neither does Chase’s audience, with the future of both the nuclear and criminal Sopranos family up in the air.
Hopefully, September’s prequel film, which stars Gandolfini’s 22-year-old son, Michael Gandolfini, as young Tony Soprano, will give even more closure to one of television’s most cryptic puzzles.
This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission
The Ending of 'The Sopranos' Explained
Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. In this entry, we dig into the Sopranos ending and try to make sense of that shocking cut to black.
In 1999, David Chase changed television forever when he introduced us to Tony Soprano (played by the late, great James Gandolfini) and his charming brand of sociopathy. Paving the way for small screen antiheroes for years to come, fans were excitedly conflicted about supporting a protagonist who kills with a smile on his face.
Still garnering conversation from fans who watched the pilot more than twenty years ago as well as the swaths of new fans The Sopranos still attracts, the conclusion of the series, with the June 2007 episode “Made in America,” quickly became one of the most iconic finales in television history.
So. What happened that night in Holsten’s? What does that cut to black mean? Is Tony dead? Is he alive? Was the Man in the Members Only Jacket sent by one of the many, many people Tony has pissed off over the years to finally whack him once and for all?? Do the lyrics to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” offer any hints?
First, let’s recap: “Made in America” opens with a God’s eye view shot of Tony, evoking an ominous visual of him laying in a coffin. Bobby Bacala is dead. Silvio is in a coma, presumed to never regain consciousness. And Phil is nowhere to be found.
But still, Tony jolts awake, living to see yet another day.
Since the tension with New York boiled over to a full-blown war, both Tony’s family and Family have been on the lam. But in classic Sopranos form, the war with New York ends not with a bang but with a perfectly anti-climactic whimper. After all the fear and hiding, Tony gets the go-ahead from Butch to deal with Phil however he sees fit.
After his comically gruesome demise, Phil is no longer a threat and Tony gets a temporary moment of reprieve. That is until his lawyer informs him Carlo’s talking to the feds and there’s an eighty-to-ninety-percent chance Tony will get indicted within the next few days.
As we approach the final fifteen minutes of the finale, there is a heavy sense of closure for Tony his consigliere is in a coma, his brother-in-law is dead, and he’s staring down the barrel of the trial of a lifetime. So what does Tony do? Well, he meets his family at an ice cream parlor for dinner and orders a basket of onion rings.
The final sequence of The Sopranos at Holsten’s begins innocently enough. Tony walks in and looks around for his family. He’s the first to arrive. After Tony is seated, the tension starts to build as we see a quick succession of shots of the rest of the restaurant. Tony flips through the jukebox on his table, looking up each time the door dings and someone walks in.
Just as Steve Perry begins crooning, Carmela walks through the door. “Just a small-town girl.” A cut back to Tony, “Just a city boy.” The editing continues at an unnaturally fast pace, flipping between close-ups of Carm and Tony as they catch up and wait for AJ to arrive. The door dings again. AJ walks in, a few steps behind a man who sits at the bar.
The man at the bar quickly glances back toward the Sopranos’ table. An abrupt cut to AJ and then we’re outside the restaurant. Meadow is struggling to parallel park. There’s a flurry of shots from different angles as she hits the curb and keeps trying. The music and tension continue to rise.
Inside, the man at the bar looks back again. Carmela, AJ, and Tony continue chatting. AJ complains about the banality of his new job. Carmela reassures him it’s worthwhile work. Tony tells him to buck up. Suddenly we’re outside again and Meadow is still trying to park. Back inside. The man at the bar stands. Tony looks up. Cut to AJ. The man walks by the Sopranos and into the bathroom.
There’s a brief shot of other patrons and then back to Meadow. The shots are cut together at a dizzying speed and the tension is almost too much now. Jump inside to a wide shot of the family. One by one, shots of Carmela, then AJ, and finally Tony each placing whole onion rings in their mouths as if they’re taking communion. Meadow runs across the street, narrowly avoiding being hit by a car.
One more cut to the table as the door dings one last time. Tony looks up and
That now-infamous cut to black inadvertently catalyzed over a decade of heated debate. Many fans thought for certain it meant Tony was dead. Others argued that he had to be alive: after all, we’ve been with Tony for eight and a half years at this point, and if he’s going to die, we had better get to see it. A lot of us sat in front of silent screens, wondering why their cable cut out at the worst possible moment.
“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?” Bobby says to Tony in the Season 6 episode “Sopranos Home Movies,” which aired two months prior to the finale. This quote is echoed at the end of “The Blue Comet,” the series’ penultimate episode that sees Bobby’s own extremely violent death. Is the cut to black Tony not hearing it when it happens?
For those who believe that the cut to black signifies Tony’s death, the most common theory is that the man at the bar (credited only as Man in the Members Only Jacket) went to the bathroom, grabbed a gun behind the toilet — a la Michael Corleone in The Godfather — and whacked Tony from behind.
Perhaps a more optimistic bunch, fans who see no reason to believe Tony is dead point towards the empirical evidence of the Holsten’s sequence. This is an ice cream parlor. There aren’t any secret assassins or crazed gunmen, just a young couple on a date and a Boy Scout troop. In their eyes, the cut to black is simply the end.
Maybe Tony Soprano lived out the rest of his days until he died old and riddled with dementia, like Uncle Junior. Maybe Carlo the rat revealed too much to the FBI and Tony was indicted, this time finally the big one. Maybe the Man in the Members Only Jacket was sent by Eugene Pontecorvo’s widow. Her husband killed himself when Tony refused to let him leave the Family in the aptly named Season 6 opener, “Members Only.”
No matter what really happened, this is the end of the line for us.
Bobby’s musings on what happens when you get killed, while often offered up as definitive evidence of Tony’s unfortunate fate, can just as easily be applied to us. Whatever happens, as the door opens, we didn’t hear it happen. We’re plucked from Tony Soprano’s world just as quickly as we would’ve been if we’d shared the same fate as the long line of those whacked before us.
“There’s two endings for a guy like me… Dead or in the can,” Tony once told Dr. Melfi. Considering those two possibilities, David Chase’s subversive ending is something of a Rorschach test: did you see Tony die or live long enough to make it to the can?
What we believe happens here says much more about each viewer than it does about Tony. Even after seeing all the pain and suffering that men like Tony put out into the world, are we heartbroken that this life we’ve shadowed for so many years is gone? Like Tony after Livia’s passing, are we guilty about not being sad enough?
Did we want to see Tony live?
Or are we just disappointed we didn’t get to witness his blood spill for ourselves?
The Sopranos: The Definitive 86-Episode Ranking The quotes, notes and hits from every single episode
Twenty years ago, The Sopranos changed the landscape of network television by airing on a premium movie channel that dabbled in children’s shows and anthology series’ like Tales of the Crypt in the 80s, then moved onto sitcoms like Arli$ and Dream On in the 90s (including the rights to Mr. Bean from 1992-1997). The Home Box Office took two big swings: The first being the buzz-worthy word-of-mouth Sara Jessica Parker vehicle Sex and The City, a 30-minute single-camera soap that specialized in excessive fashion and agonizing over romances the other was as anti-buzz or the farthest thing from stylized a show could get, starring a little-known character actor, to play a man in the Waste Management business.
The Sopranos premiered on the now premium cable giant on January 10th, 1999, to little press-worthy heat, and a negative cognition of being a mob-related television show when critics felt the genre was old, tired, and stale. They took a gamble on a veteran television writer/producer who made his bones with The Rockford Files, and whose success began to taper off after hitting career peaks with the Peabody award-winning I’ll Fly Away and executive producing the critical darling Northern Exposure. That man was David Chase, who is one of the most talented writes to ever helm a television show, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t stumble into his share of aliening-of-the-stars, old-fashioned, dumb-luck.
Chase, originally, wanted to cast guitar and mandolin Miami Steve of the E-Street Band (Steven Van Zandt) as Tony Soprano, and Carmela was going to be played by Goodfella’s veteran actress Lorraine Bracco. He eventually came to his senses and selected the very best people for the job, including James Gandolfini, who specialized at explosive bad-guy types with a lovable side (see Night Falls on Manhattan). Gandolfini, at the time, wasn’t a classic film or television star who could carry a network show, which in that era had incredibly high rating’s standards. Chase, also, needed an actress who could match and then stand up to Gandolfini’s ability to bring out a switchblade temperament, and he found that in Edie Falco, who before her career-defining role at that point, was known for a recurring role as the wife of a blind cop on Homicide: Life on the Street. With those stars aligning, and an embarrassment of riches being gathered in the rough writers and directors, the impeccable casting without giving into big-name guest stars overtaking a series, with some of the sharpest writing television has ever known, The Sopranos became an American cultural touchstone.
HBO thought they were creating two soap operas at the time (a fact David Chase confirmed in the season one DVD set his career-defining show is, in fact, a soap) and had no idea The Sopranos would kick off the Golden Age of television that hasn’t ended and may have been directly responsible for the increase in cable stations across the world starting their own television brand. The darkly comic and thrilling look (no, this isn’t Analyze This) at a Northern Jersey crime family practically gave birth to the anti-hero, and shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, and countless others would have never been given air time without it.
Please read our definitive 86-episode ranking of arguably the finest show in the history of the television, one that, in my opinion, has never produced a bad hour of television, complete with some of the show’s best lines, notable appearances, factoids, and the boundless amount of hits.
Note: Use the numbered links at the bottom of the page to navigate this mammoth article. Want more Sopranos? Click these words for a ranking of shows greatest “hits!”