Monday, June 11, 2007

At our house "The Sopranos" got whacked

Martin and I returned from the airport after picking up our son, who'd e-mailed to say he'd take a cab since his flight would be arriving during the final episode of "The Sopranos", which he knew would be a religious event here. However, as parents, we're every bit as committed as Tony and Carmela, so we told him we'd TIVO it (and the Tony Award Show). It was a major moment as we settled in and turned on the set. I hit "List". What appeared on the screen were the names of holocaust and travel shows I'd been saving, but no Tony Soprano, no Tony Award Show. A message popped up saying there was no room left for new shows.

Martin, enraged that I'd overstuffed our TIVO, vented while erasing the bulk of my list. "If you haven't watched 'Patton' by now, you never will!" he spit out. All travel shows were trashed, meaning if I want to see Lyon or Reykjavik, I'll have to go there. Though this was precisely the sort of occasion where I remind him he'd dropped the keys to our Toyota next to the car, causing it to be stolen (and never returned), I didn't. Even I felt there was a statute of limitations to this 16-year-old harangue.

Aggressive erasing appeared to give Martin a measure of release and he then searched HBO On Demand and found "The Sopranos" would be airing again at 1AM. We'd get to see Tony though Lyon and Reykjavik were irretrievable. The Travel Channel doesn't offer On Demand, TV's version of room service, giving each viewer the opportunity to feel like a network programmer.

By 1 AM, I was too tired to watch, so I jumped up at 7 and hit our now pathetically minimal TIVO list so as not risk learning about the plot elsewhere. The episode was one of the finest hours of television, the truest and most philosophical finale. With all the speculation, no one had anticipated that David Chase would defy convention and piss on our need for closure. To be fair, he'd never presented himself as David Chase On Demand. He used the finale to make the point that resolution is only an illusion, a temporary respite before new challenges present themselves.

This series was always about more than it appeared to be, and last night was the finest example. We were left us with the message that so long as we live, there will be changes -- dramatic, mundane, predictable and shocking. This continues even after we're gone, just not for us. To freeze a moment is artificial and a conceit of art; it's not real life.

If the series had continued, it's possible that A.J, having been steered into show business by his parents, viewing it as better than his enlisting in the military at wartime, would fly to location in a small plane, a plane that might crash...or not. We may be desperate to have the illusion of control, but, alas, there's little we can do to insure our own safety or that of our loved ones.

Many of us were convinced that last night might be Tony Soprano's last, but we have only to look at today's newspaper to see that we can't know whose turn it is. Family and friends of Matthew Hopkins, a 26-year-old Brooklyn man, had no reason to expect he'd be killed by a hit and run driver this weekend. Another story about the absurdity of fate is revealed in the same paper by Yoko Ono, who said that John Lennon returned to their apartment to be offed by a stalker at the moment he did because he chose not to go out to dinner but to return home to see their son, Sean. The simplest, most innocuous choice can be fatal.

The realities of life are largely unpredictable. I learned that lesson last night, both from David Chase and TIVO. Things rarely happen the way you'd expected. The other surprise was I'm not suffering from post-Sopranos withdrawal, at least not yet. The episode left me satisfied, more so than I would have thought possible.


Adam said...

A wonderful piece, superbly written...

Oh, that I weren't still left unsatisfied.

A finale is supposed to be an END, but in The Sopranos we were left with a MIDDLE. This last episode - indeed much of the whole last season - was one scene after another of time-fillers that were truly worthless in moving any sort of story forward. The last episode kept us waiting for something, ANYTHING, to happen. Of course, this isn't unlike our lives at times, I'll admit.

The difference lies in the fact that our lives don't have a manipulative hype machine in full gear, moving us emotionally towards some fixed appointment with a crescendo - Sunday at 9.

The difference lies in the fact that eventually the other shoe DOES, in fact, drop. Eventually something does happen. There is resolution - even if, as you point out, it's rarely the resolution we expected.

They had a chance, after seven years, to do what many others have done with this genre, the "mob movie" - close out an epic. Think Godfather, as we see Michael anointed as the new family head. Think Goodfellas, as we leave Henry Hill on the front porch of his new suburban, witness protected home. Think Casino, where we see Sam narrowly escape a carbombing to pursue a far more subdued life - perhaps the life he really always wanted. Or Scarface, or the Untouchables, or Road to Perdition... These, like all great works of storytelling, finish the story. A few even left open the opportunity to continue the story. Surely, closing the door on Michael's coronation didn't end the Godfather saga (though, I'll admit that I wish Coppola had stopped at II).

In this case we're left with a promise of a tidy conclusion unfulfilled. HBO promised, and I feel cheated. I want an answer. I want the folks behind The Sopranos to provide me with their best version of the range of possibilities - as PROMISED. I want to know how a gangster, a depraved, cold, cynical, malapropism-spewing, drinking and drug abusing, violent, calculating, sociopath winds up all this time since we met him with ducks in his pool. Surely there's more to it than "the hit's been called off, so let's have dinner at a crappy diner tonight."

Quite simply, without an ending this series just doesn't finish what it

Sybil Adelman Sage said...

I loved getting your comment, which represents the feelings of many, but there's a piece in today's "NY Times" about the reaction of other TV writers to the ending, who were equally deferential to David Chase's choice, so maybe my having been a tv writer entered into my response. Going against the convention of TV endings was so refreshing for those of us who'd been constricted by form, and we appreciated the sheer defiance of this.

There's another really interesting aspect that was lost on pretty much everyone, but was brought up this morning on the Joe Scarborough show - that the menacing figures in the diner had appeared in the show. It was a convergence of Tony's life.

Well, we're all still thinking about it and talking, which means something is happening to us - not bad.

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