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David Chase Lends New Credence to the “Tony Is Dead” Interpretation of the Sopranos Finale

The Sopranos series finale.
The final scene from the  Sopranos series finale.


Less than a year removed from the last great controversy over whether David Chase had confessed to killing Tony Soprano, the creator of The Sopranos has left more bread crumbs for those still seeking a definitive interpretation of the show’s maddeningly ambiguous final scene.

He did so in a shot-by-shot walkthrough of that final sequence for the Director’s Guild of America that acknowledges key elements of the most deeply analyzed and celebrated “Tony is dead” theory without directly confirming or refuting it. The latest comments from Chase will presumably reignite the perennial discussion about what he meant by that sequence, and whether it even matters.

The last such flare-up occurred in August when Vox reported that Chase had told their writer Martha Nochimson that Tony wasn’t dead, only for the showrunner to issue a statement saying that his words had been “misconstrued” and that the quote was “inaccurate.” The exchange sparked a debate about the meaning of art and the value of obsessing over textual analysis and author’s intent when dealing with ambiguous works.

Chase’s newest comments actually mirror much of the analysis in the famous interpretation laid out on the Master of Sopranos blog, which argues that Tony is killed and that the final shot cut to black is a point-of-view shot showing his demise. But they also seem to negate one crucial element of that interpretation.

In the new interview, Chase stresses the importance of the character billed as “Man in Members Only Jacket,” saying that Tony seeing him in a point-of-view shot was a way to signify that his life would always be consumed with paranoia that threats lurked around every corner:

Everything [in Holsten’s diner] should make him feel at ease, and yet there is a slight ill at ease feeling which we bring to it because we know who he is and what he’s done. And he can never be sure that any enemy is completely gone. He always has to have eyes behind his head.

With Member’s Only Jacket guy, Chase says he was intentionally nodding to the scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone goes to the bathroom to get a gun to commit an assassination:

Yes, the scene in The Godfather [when Michael Corleone kills Sollozzo and McCluskey] occurred to me; it’s an iconic scene. I would say that Tony checked the guy out at some level. I mean any middle-aged male that would get that close to him, I’m sure he would do some summary surveillance of. It may be very quick; his instincts are very sharp. He doesn’t feel threatened by him but I’m sure he clocks that that guy’s in the bathroom, and that that guy should come out. It’s more like “I want to see that guy come out.” This is all on a subconscious level, I’m sure.

Finally, Chase acknowledges the foreboding sense that Member’s Only Jacket guy would come out of the bathroom and shoot Tony in the back of the head as his daughter Meadow entered the restaurant, which builds up during several shots of her struggling to park her car:

I did want to create the idea that you would wonder if something was going to happen in there. Meadow is filled with nothing but very, very deep emotions about parking her car. But possibly a minute later, her head will be filled with emotions she could never even imagine.

After confirming every other aspect of the Master of Sopranos reading, though, Chase pulls back on the final one. “I’m not going to go into [if that’s Tony’s POV],” he writes of the final shot. He goes on to say that he “never considered the black [to be] a shot,” which would seem to negate the idea that this was a continuation of the point-of-view sequencing and that Tony Soprano has been killed in that final shot. Finally, Chase reiterates the point he’s made many times before that, whether or not Tony was killed in that diner, death was eventually coming for him, since “the end is coming for all of us.”

It’s this sort of tease that has led writers like Jonah Weiner to accurately describe Chase as a “a gnomic obfuscator and first-rate sadist” and that have kept people obsessing over this artistic mystery for eight years with, in Weiner’s words, “necrophilic” ardor. Chase will probably never say definitively what he meant by that final scene, and perhaps the ambiguity is itself the meaning. But there is at least one clear-cut new explanation in the Director’s Guild of America interview. Chase concludes by saying that the Journey song chosen for that final scene was also meant to give a very specific message: “Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.”