June 11, 2007. You remember. “I thought my cable went out!” You heard it all day. Hell, you might’ve said it too. Didn’t you? And with that, one of the most anticipated and best grand finales in the history of television was reduced to an assumption that one of the most brilliant and respected television writer/directors of this generation got together with HBO, Time Warner, Dish Network, CableVision, and Ashton Kutcher and played a little joke on America. Fucked with our heads a bit. You dolts. If I had to hear “I almost called the cable company” one more time, I was liable to take an x-acto knife to my own skin so that I could feel a different kind of pain that I could control.
The Sopranos team did an incredible job of fusing intellectual art with raw, gratuitous violence. The result was a series, on cable no less, that had both obscene mass appeal and critical appreciation. The reason for the unrelenting attacks against the show’s creators for their efforts in the last episode was the void in that bringer of viewers: the almighty shootout and explosion. All that was left was the blank screen and that shitty highbrow ambiguity, right?
But I digress.
Look here reader, I’m not going to point out to you the discernible interpretation of the quick cut seen ’round the country (David Chase’s statement clearly being that it doesn’t matter if Tony breathes again or eats it, just understand that the life Tony chose is one filled with constant anxiety and a lack of trust for anyone…oh, I just couldn’t help myself), but I will discuss why the climax of the series was actually filled with classic American themes that should have been clear to anyone who paid attention in their high school American literature course.
Exhibit A: The last episode is entitled “Made In America.” This suggests that Tony, his immediate family, and the entire Soprano mafia are products of this country and a culture that facilitates their ability to thrive, despite their underhanded, greedy, and homicidal tendencies. Like the title character of The Great Gatsby, Tony Soprano is a man that will do anything to get his hands on as many almighty dollars as America makes available. (He’s a mafia crime boss; I hope I don’t need to give supporting details here). However, Tony’s brush with death towards the end of the series forces him to consider the world in a new way.
After Uncle Junior shoots him and the road to recovery begins, Tony is placed in a room with an older man and they watch a boxing match together. The patient next to Tony points out that when people see two boxers punching each other, they are only witnessing a minimal percentage of reality. In fact, he says, “everything is connected” because the punches, all the activity in the universe really, are just a bunch of atoms bouncing off of each other. After 9/11 and this bit of scientific philosophy, Tony finds himself oft-worried about another terrorist attack; he constantly talks with that FBI agent, not only regarding the supposed strategies of the New York bosses, but also about terrorist threats. Tony, even through the last episode when he is still concerned with getting whacked, goes out of his way to give the fed tips that may lead to terrorist arrests. So, this man, who has done his share of killing, is becoming very anxious and aware of threats to the safety of people he loves, people he doesn’t even know, and to the country that provides him with the luxuries of his existence. This sounds to me like a guy who is reevaluating mortality.
Meadow and A.J. play a central role in David Chase’s plan to develop his theme regarding America’s opportunities. With all the money that Tony has dubiously acquired, he can afford to put Meadow through law school after leaving med school. He and Carmela also keep A.J. around, despite his constant ability to be the founder of revolutionary methods of fucking up (He doesn’t even cut it in a pizza joint). In the grand finale, it is clear that Meadow is on her way to happiness and success with her impending six-figured salary job. Though done with some hasty script-writing, A.J. too, after an exhaustive search and a plethora of pouting faces, seems on his track too in the movie business.
So, Tony is successful at achieving many of the common goals that many Americans have, though few see come to fruition: he has enormous wealth, is looked up to (or is it just feared?), can provide for his family, and enjoys the freedoms this country provides. The big question though is, “At what cost?”
Because we are all connected, Tony is worried in that famous diner scene. He knows that he has done wrong, many times. Despite the supposed “fact” that family members of mafia targets are not typically victimized, as per Tony’s earlier claim to Carmela, he is concerned that anyone who walks into the place is liable to off him and his wife and his kids (Why else would he have put them all in hiding in previous episodes?) There are many, even with Phil, the New York Crime Boss, vanquished, who could potentially seek revenge. So, in that fateful or not-so-fateful final second, Tony’s apprehension boils to the point where he is even worried that his own daughter could kill him. Certainly that won’t actually happen, but Chase, with the buildup of Meadow’s terrible parking job (I grew up in Queens, New York. We know what we’re doing there.), creates this tension for our antihero. This is what Tony Soprano’s life has become: an endless string of worries and sizing up all the people around him, while he waits for the one with the nerve.