My journey back through The Sopranos ended today with “Made in America.” I remember watching it as it first aired and being totally blown away by the audacity of it. Well, after getting over my initial rage at my cable company choosing that particular moment to lose the signal, that is. But when I realized it had been deliberate, I just smiled and laughed. Laughter that only grew as I read the frenzied reaction online, from people who felt cheated of their grand finale, unable to see that what they’d just watched for six season had pretty much told them there are no such things.
However, on this viewing, the moment that struck me as a possible summation of the show wasn’t that final cut to black. It was the scene preceding it, when Tony visits Uncle Junior for the last time in the series and, we presume, in their fictional lives. Tony tries to get through to Junior and remind him who he is, telling him, “You and my dad, you two ran North Jersey.” Tony says this with pride, both in that it was his father that did that, and in that he’s following along in his footsteps. And all Junior can do is look serenely at Tony and say, “That’s nice.” And right there, we see both Tony’s heritage and his legacy summed up with nothing but a shrug. He said in the very first episode he felt like he was getting into the mob as it was ending. What glorious ending did we think he had in store, even with his final victory over Phil Leotardo? All the death, all the loss, all the pain, and he’s claimed an empty crown.
Which is why I remain firmly in the “Tony doesn’t die” camp when it comes to that ending. I was almost swayed by Master of Sopranos. It claims that we’re consistently shown Tony reacting to someone entering, then shown a shot of that person entering from Tony’s POV, except the final time, when Tony looks up and we cut to black. Which means Tony no longer has a POV, since he’s dead. But we’re shown multiple people entering the restaurant accompanied by no reaction from Tony at all. So I stand by my initial reaction that I posted some eight years ago:
You know how you felt while the Journey song was playing and those strangers kept walking in and Meadow kept trying to park and you were sure something horrible was going to go down?
Well, now you know how Tony is going to feel for the rest of his life.
What’s more, having Tony die? That would be a release for him. All this would be over. And after everything we’ve seen Tony put other people though during the course of this series, a clean shot to the head would be a relief he’s in no way earned. Nope, not only is he going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life, both for the New York mob and for the feds, but he’s stuck with this family he can’t stand. He gets to grate as Junior escapes into dementia. He gets to seethe as Janice turns into his mother. He gets to suffer along with Paulie as his top guy. And he gets to fume about everything that’s annoyed him about his wife and kids for the last six seasons. Going out in a hit would make Tony a legend. But he’s going to end up like Junior, losing his mind in a hospital. Or Johnny Sack, dying in prison. Or Carmine Lupertazi, stroking out as an old man everyone is plotting against behind his back. Getting shot? Tony would trade all of that for getting shot in a heartbeat. No way was the show we’d been watching going to give it to him,
Even knowing it was coming, that slam to nothing at the end of “Made in America” was still a thrill. I rewound and watched it three more times just to savor it. Even if you hate the ending, you have to appreciate a show that didn’t settle for a boring, run-of-the-mill final bow. The best drama should evoke a response, a set of emotions, a cascade of thoughts. The Sopranos did that for six thrilling seasons, and left us on a note we’ll be chewing over forever. That’s an earned rest right there.