You’re kidding, right? So the ending of "The Sopranos" is Tony and his family having dinner at Holsten’s, an old-time ice cream joint/diner in Bloomfield, N.J. (I took my kids there for ice cream last week — the place was jammed), while some suspicious guy Tony is eyeing up walks into the bathroom (a la "The Godfather" with Michael Corleone looking for the hidden gun). Suddenly, abruptly — at first you thought something was wrong with your television — the best TV drama in history ends without clarifying anything for us; without tying up all those loose ends we have lived with for nine years; without dealing with our favorite New Jersey mobster, Tony Soprano, in some definitive, decisive way.
Along with millions of others, my wife, Jennifer, and I had been anticipating "The Sopranos" finale all weekend. At a family party in North Jersey, the Adubatos, like so many others, were analyzing all the possible endings. My cousin Richie said, “Tony’s gotta get whacked by Phil Leotardo” (played by our long-time family friend Frank Vincent); my Uncle Vinnie said, “Tony’s gonna whack Phil first — screw those bums from New York.” Uncle Vinnie was right about Phil getting shot, but no one anticipated his head being crushed under the wheel of his own car as his grandchildren sat inside.
So, Tony and his family survive it all, shot by Uncle Junior, who’s now sitting in a New Jersey mental facility and has no clue who Tony is (“I’m Johnny’s son”), the countless bouts with depression, losing virtually all of his closest guys, many of whom, including Big Pussy, Cousin Tony and Nephew Christopher, he had a direct hand in doing away with. He also survives his miserable marriage with Carmella. Carmella, who made a deal with the devil a long time ago along with A.J. (they were never going to let him join the Army) and Meadow (who said she was switching from Medicine to Law “after seeing the way Italians are treated”). How ironic.
Truth behind the fiction
David Chase had us guessing up until the last minute. For nine seasons "The Sopranos" has been like no other TV drama. For those of us who are Italian-American and live in New Jersey and have uncles or cousins who went away “to college” because they were somehow “connected,” "The Sopranos" has been a terribly guilty pleasure. Sometimes the series felt way too close for comfort. So provincial, yet so profound. There really are mobsters like Tony Soprano, even though guys like Silvio, Bobby Bacala, and Paulie Walnuts are a lot more typical. "The Sopranos" was true to life in so many ways. Talk to any guy who knows about the mob and they’ll tell you, “Chase got it right.” (Except for the shrink thing with Dr. Melfi.)
Beyond the mob story that David Chase nailed, he told an even better story about a brutally dysfunctional family and a terribly tormented patriarch who appears so powerful yet is so weak. In many ways, Tony and Carmella’s family was amazingly typical of so many Italian-American families, including my own — the arguments, the sibling rivalry, the jealousy, the screwed up kids, the obsession over money and materialism and the struggle to keep things together.
Tony’s battle with his evil and tortuous mother Livia was as interesting and frustrating as any mob war he fought. Livia was in Tony’s head right up until the end. Tony and Carmella are meeting with A.J.’s shrink trying to figure out what’s going on in this wacky kid’s head and Tony starts talking about his own screwed up childhood (“I never could please my mother.”)
Relatively happy ending
Yet "The Sopranos" finale in many ways represented a relatively happy ending given the other possible outcomes. The “life goes on” ending leaves it to millions of Sopranos fans to analyze what could or should happen next. Will A.J. follow in Christopher’s screwed up footsteps as a movie maker and put out another “mob classic” like "Cleaver"? Clearly now that Tony and Carmella bought A.J. a new BMW and set him up as a “development executive” for little Carmine’s production company (“I thought they only did porno?”), A.J. no longer is obsessed with the evils of capitalism. It appears Tony and Carmella will stay together. Through all the strippers, goombahs, murders and secrets, Carmella knows where her bread is buttered. If Tony’s the devil, it looks like she’s in it for the long haul.
Is Paulie, in line to become the next head of the construction crew, to die prematurely? And speaking of Paulie, what was the deal with that stray cat that Paulie was so obsessed with, the one staring at Christopher’s picture on the wall? Does Silvio ever come out of the coma? How badly will Janice, Tony’s equally screwed up and jealous sister, mess up Bobby’s kids now that she has tapped into the motherly instincts she learned from her own sick mother, Livia?
So many possibilities, including this consideration: Did David Chase actually write a different ending with Tony and his immediate family getting whacked at Holsten’s by the suspicious guy after he went into the bathroom to get the hidden gun? Did Chase decide that such an ending would be too predictable, and decided to end the scene with Journey’s incredibly appropriate song “Don’t Stop Believing” as Tony and his family were about to order? I was blown away by the ending, but my wife, Jennifer, thought something was wrong with the television. While the credits rolled in silence, she looked at me and said, “That sucked. ... I was bored.” Luckily Jen and I agree on the important things.
So that’s it. "The Sopranos" is over. For those of us who made it hard core, appointment viewing for nine years, Sunday night just won’t be the same on HBO. Even though "Entourage" is great stuff, there will never be another television event like "The Sopranos."
Controversy among Italian-Americans
P.S. "The Sopranos" has also generated great controversy in the Italian-American community. Many of my fellow paisanos argued Tony and his crew “gave Italians a bad name.” They also say the series did much to malign our already maligned reputation in New Jersey. Italian-American anti-defamation types said that people in Nebraska or Iowa would think that all Italian-Americans in New Jersey were somehow “connected” after seeing "The Sopranos." They wanted HBO to feature honest, hard-working Italian-American doctors, lawyers and other upstanding citizens. I get the point. It’s the same one that was made about "The Godfather" glorifying the Mafia.
But those people in Nebraska or Iowa will think it anyway. No, I don’t think "The Sopranos" helped the reputation of Italian-Americans — that wasn’t its intent. It was entertainment. It was an escape. While it felt true to life, it was still a drama. I’m thinking that even though Italian-Americans are still discriminated against by some, we’ve accomplished so much since our parents and grandparents came here from Italy. We can appreciate a television series like "The Sopranos" for what it is. We know who we are and we know what we’re not. But to deny that organized crime is a small but pervasive theme in Italian-American culture and that ultimately "The Sopranos" was a great story about a complex Italian-America family is a mistake.
Write to Steve Adubato at email@example.com.