My wife points out that the secret to the episode is in the title of the B side of “Don’t Stop Believing.” It’s as good as any of the conspiracy theories I’ve read this week. David Chase constructed an IED of a closing episode, chose a New Jersey confection landmark as his tableau, and just before leaving to take cover in France, he gave the Star Ledger, his hometown newspaper, an exclusive interview—around the same time that he told the New York Times he’d have no comment on the final episode. He decorated the dining room at Holsten’s with faux sports tribute posters from the local high school (CLASS OF 1971!) featuring a production assistant from the show’s art department (football) and the aforementioned parking coordinator (baseball). He stocked the room with enough extras to launch a thousand bogus theories, all of which were somehow forwarded to my BlackBerry over the past 48 hours.
Except for the whole sociopath thing, Tony’s family is my family. I have a wife, a son, and a daughter—and our time together as a quartet is my only grounding mechanism. During family meals in our favorite places, I look at them across the table and take justifiable pride in the life I’ve built. I have a beautiful daughter who is a young woman in full, and who would rather walk an extra mile than parallel park. All of this is how I know with such certainty that the next shot (in visual and not ballistic terms), had there been one, would have been of Tony’s face, turning from expectant stare into a proud, conflicted, crooked smile as his beautiful girl entered the restaurant and completed the family picture.
That 12 million Americans sat down on Sunday night to a communal viewing experience on pay cable says something about the tug of this morally ambivalent family drama. That the debate over the decide-it-for-yourself ending has yet to cool proves that old media can indeed be interactive. That Gandolfini has grown a Unabomber-like beard in the few weeks since production ended tells us he was anxious to leave Tony back at Holsten’s. I won’t be at all surprised if he turns up in a summer touring company of Cats, just to drive home the point. The Man in the Members Only Jacket received $3,000 for his much-chronicled walk to the men’s room and is now easily the most famous pizzeria owner in Bucks County, Pa.
Then there’s the issue of what we’re left with.
I have stood in front of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, and I have admired the beauty of it. I’ve looked at it up close and from a distance and through squinted eyes, and I get it. As the troubled artist hunched over it, there came to be a particular drip—it’s unknowable now which one—that completed it … and it was declared art. It is what it is. I’ve now repeatedly watched the closing scene that David Chase splattered across his own canvas, and I come away with much the same feeling: It is what it is. He placed it before us, and then he walked away. It hangs there with his other works, part of a genre of his own creation, and we get it.
It’s hard to believe there are those who think we’re making too much of a television show.