The Sopranos final episode
When I was in college way back when, taking a poetry workshop with Sandra Sprayberry, there was this poem called "Tick Kill." It was obscure and confusing, and a group of us spent a long time before class talking about what the heck the title meant. Then when time came to workshop the poem and the author began to read, she pronounced the title, quite plainly, "Tickle." Groan. The poem sort of made sense then, and it was obvious the writer took some delight in our confusion. Ha, ha, you didn't get what I meant, my brilliant trick worked, I am smarter than you, poor, deluded reader.
I'm probably being too hard on the writer, who as I recall, was a talented poet, and most of her poems weren't deliberately obscure riddles. And, after all, we were all like twenty years old.
But I was thinking of that poem -- and that attitude toward art -- last night and this morning as I contemplate the final episode of The Sopranos. I'm talking here about the final, like, one second. Before that, I'm cool. I didn't mind anticlimax; in fact, that's sort of what I wanted. There was sufficient closure with Tony and Janice, and Tony and Uncle Junior. The mob war was settled in a way that didn't seem all that contrived. Phil Leotardo's death was satisfyingly (and comically) grotesque. Tony's family and his Family seemed to be moving along, continuing to do the best they can given their limitations and a looming indictment. Etc., etc. All good. And the final scene was righteously tense, with the nuclear Sopranos meeting for dinner. Every time Tony looked up, you expected a hitman or an FBI agent to come down on him, and as Meadow struggled to parallel park across the street, the tension grew and grew, with Journey's Don't Stop Believing providing the soundtrack. Then Meadow hurries across the street, and she opens the door, a bell over the door dings, and Tony looks up as Steve Perry sings, "Don't Stop." Instant black screen. Silence. Show over. Series over.
If this scene had lasted three more seconds, long enough for Meadow to slide into the booth next to her family, I would be entirely happy with this ending. I didn't want huge fireworks. I don't need to see what happens to every character, a la Six Feet Under. I don't need some kind of Seinfeld-like cornball ending that wraps up every moment from the past however many years. Not knowing exactly what happened next is fine. But ... but ... but ... the sudden cut to black was like turning the final page of a novel and finding it blank. It's a gimmick. It's outside the scope of the narrative. It's like a practical joke by the show's producers played on the audience. I read on a Sopranos discussion board last night that it was like a giant fuck you from David Chase to the fans. It was self-indulgent. It was so abrupt, so blatant, that you wondered for a second whether your cable had gone out. It allows the writers and directors to duck the question; it comes across as if Chase & Co. are saying we (the show's many, many, many fans) are stupid and shallow for expecting any kind of ending. It comes across as saying, "Oh, you thought I was making this show for you? Simple viewer. This show was for me all along." As pointing out how silly we are to care about the characters; this is, after all, only a TV show.
I'm sure some critics and viewers will call it a ballsy ending and celebrate the fact that Chase declined to wrap everything in a neat package with a ribbon on it for us. Ballsy, maybe. Pissing on your boss' desk is ballsy, too, but that doesn't make it a good thing to do. More importantly, it doesn't make it good art. We watch shows like The Sopranos for the same reason we read novels. We crave narrative. We crave interestingly drawn characters, and we enjoy growing to care about what happens to them; we enjoy rooting for them, or against them. We enjoy being conflicted about complex characters like Tony Soprano. And we don't need neat and tidy endings; in fact, if The Sopranos had tied things up too neatly, it would have been disappointing. A life goes on ending, an ending that my college fiction professor called the "loss of a last chance to change" conclusion (citing Rust Hills, I believe) -- that is perfectly fitting. But the meta ending, the sudden black screen, clearly deliberately intended to elicit a "What the hell?" from viewers -- that lets the writers (and the writing was always a strength of this show, one of the reasons this was one of the best television shows ever) off the hook, saves them the hard work of creating an aesthetically interesting, artistically complex, narratively satisfying conclusion by using dialogue and characterization.
All due respect, D, but that was a fucking cop-out.