June 16, 2007

The CW on the final episode has gone from WTF? to Brilliantly ambiguous !! to Tony got whacked, and now it seems to be settling back down to the second reaction. Since the most important message any work of art can express is not what the artist intends, but what the audience perceives (which is why "Born in the U.S.A." will always be an upbeat patriotic fight song, not an anti-war jeremiad), let me give my two cents on how the Sopranos ended last Sunday.

As in every TV show, there is an invisible character at the table munching onion rings with Carmela and A.J.: the viewer. Since the beginning, we have been living vicariously through this mob family (both Tony's crew and, of course, his blood family), and we have had even better luck than Tony Soprano, who never went to jail and survived a bullet to his gut. We may have been taken by surprise on occasion, and there are some missing pieces we've never been able to sort out, like the whereabouts of that Russian, or who raped Dr. Melfi, but we've always escaped unscathed.

In that final scene, our luck ran out. Bobby Bacala told Tony at the beginning of the season that you probably never hear the shot that kills you, a clue that others have taken to mean that the sudden ending Sunday was the final moment of Tony Soprano's life; after all, didn't he flashback to that scene at the end of the penultimate episode. I agree that this was a clue, but not the heavyhanded one the consensus has taken it to be.

It is our perception that suddenly goes black at the diner. The scene is not shot through the eyes of Tony, or any of his family, but from our eyes (we even see Meadow trying to parallel park across the street, a vantage that is denied Tony). When the screen went black, and Journey's chorus was stilled, it was the viewer that was confused, just as a person shot in the brain must feel in the bewildering milliseconds before death. David Chase has allowed us to indulge our dark fantasies about living within the underworld, only to show us in the final moments that no one gets out alive.

We got whacked last Sunday. Probably by the guy in the Members Only jacket.

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