TV Club

Darkness Visible

Tony visits a comatose Silvio

Dear Jeff, Tim, and Brian,

It’s been my lot to feel precisely the opposite about The Sopranos as everyone else does. So I thought I’d take my last licks. I found the ending flawless, more of which in a moment. 

But first: For me, the show had, in its recent iterations, become like church, an every-Sunday obligation long on piety and atmospherics, short on actual belief. To extend the metaphor further, the first season had been for me, as for everyone, a revelation. As I sold the concept at the time to the father of a friend, who was skeptical about the level of casual degradation the series took for granted, The Sopranos was about a man who goes into therapy for reasons that mirror, perversely, the reasons most of us do. Most of us bourgie schlubs discover, beneath our decent exteriors, something lurking and uncivilized; Tony Soprano, a career monster, went into therapy because he discovered in himself an unwelcome streak of humanity, and this had started interfering with his work. 

Season 1 had been a novel—it had form and complexity to rival anything on the printed page. Its feeling of anomaly derived not from the cussing and gore, but from its adherence in an American context to the BBC model of dramatic programming: a series conceived largely by a single creator, as a terminal unit, unfolding over a few short, discrete seasons, like Prime Suspect or Cracker. The show declined in subsequent seasons, when it crossed this paradigm with the standard American factory model of series television: an interminable milking of characters and situations by hired guns, in largely go-nowhere setups, meant to keep a revenue stream alive indefinitely.
(Nota bene: Terry Winter’s work on the series has been consistently superb.)

For me, what started as Jane Austen meets The Valachi Papers had become a jumble of blind alleys and anticlimaxes. That said, whenever Chase clearly retook the creative reins, and whenever the series demanded some degree of resolution (the sacrificing of Adrianna to mob expediency, for example), it regained its earlier form. And it was always better than network.

Once again I find myself at odds with most everyone: I thought the finale, especially the very end of the ending, was brilliant—maybe the most harrowing three- to four-minute sequence in the history of the medium. I believe we witnessed the murder of Tony Soprano. The key clue comes from the penultimate episode, when Tony lies down to sleep in the safe house, his AK at his side, preparing for the possibility he may die that night. He then flashes back (to Episode 1 of this season) and Bobby Bacala saying to him, “You probably don’t hear it when it happens.” 

And he didn’t, did he?

Meadow’s trouble parking makes sense—beautiful, tragic sense. She bursts in to see her father’s murder as a tableau. This is in pointed contrast to A.J. and Carmela, who form part of that tableau—the blood and agony—while she, Meadow, stands apart. Chase is always telling us something: Meadow is the one family member who “gets it,” i.e., who has cultivated enough of a life within mainstream culture to see her father’s vocation for what it was. 

Anyhow, I do find I will miss the show, and the dialogues it inspired. Thanks for letting me join one last time.