By Michael Bérubé
OK, so I’ve now seen the final minutes of the final Sopranos episode for a second time. And a third and a fourth and a fifth time. Then I went back (once I remembered that I have DVR and that Janet actually knows how to use it) and watched the whole thing again, and talked it over with Janet. And you know what? I’m no longer convinced that the final ten seconds of dull black screen (and I counted– it was ten, not twenty) signifies Tony’s death. I still think that’s a plausible reading (though I’ll mention a few caveats), but I don’t think it’s at all certain. But then, even when I suggested the Tony-gets-clipped reading over at Digby’s place, I hedged my bets, as any ordinarily pusillanimous literary critic should, by suggesting that “We’re left to wonder whether we’ve been duped into thinking that Tony dies because all the staging in that final scene– the brief shots of each of the restaurant patrons, the focus on the guy going to the men’s room, the closeups of Meadow having trouble parking the car– feels like the generic suspense-creatin’ mechanisms that precede a catastrophe. We stop and ask ourselves how much of our reaction depends on those narrative mechanisms.”
And yet, and yet. If indeed we were supposed to conclude, from those final sequences in Holsten’s, that Tony’s life will just go on and on like that damn Journey song, why not cut just when Tony looks up, just before Meadow enters the restaurant? Why give us that brief blackout?
In the Digby thread, Factlike asks who did it; alkali follows up with a question I’ve been asking myself– how could any of Tony’s adversaries know that he would be at the diner that night? Fair questions, these. I still think the shady guy at the counter could have been dispatched from the New York crew somehow, because, after all, The Sopranos was a series filled with bit players who wind up playing a brief but critical role in the drama. But how did he get there? I don’t know.
But I do know this: we of the WAAGNFNP must reject out of hand the reductive Marxist readings of certain bloggers who insist that the open-ended ending is all about the benjamins in the end. Despite the fact that Jane Hamsher knows infinitely more about the business of makin’ movies and TV shows than I do, I am a bona fide professor of dangeral studies, and, as you surely know, dangeral studies began in Britain in the late 1950s as a repudiation of precisely the kind of reductive all-about-the-benjamins Marxism that would suggest David Chase wrote the ending so as to keep the cash cow alive. So I think I can safely pull rank on Jane here.
All theoretical dangeral-studies kidding aside, though, let’s get real: how in the world can Chase follow up on this series? Christopher is dead; Adriana is in another dimension; Bobby is dead; Sil isn’t breathing on his own; Uncle Jun doesn’t know he’s in The Sopranos; Phil Leotardo is dead; and all the other supporting players, from Big Pussy to Johnny Sack, are also dead. What would a Sopranos encore look like? Something, perhaps, like a 1995-96 Chicago Bulls reunion consisting of Michael Jordan, Jud Buechler, and Jason Caffey?
Besides, there’s something else going on in that final episode; there’s another subplot we never see on the screen. We learn about it only when Paulie enters the empty Bing (and there’s a nice visual summation of the series right there) and realizes that Carlo is a no-show. Paulie thinks that they’ve “been had” at that sitdown orchestrated by George and Little Carmine, and that Carlo has been killed by Butch (who was supposed to kill Tony); but Tony suggests that Carlo has flipped, and Paulie suddenly remembers that Carlo’s son Jason, the “imbecile,” was picked up for selling ecstasy.
Who’s Carlo, you ask? Well, just scroll through the summaries of season six to find out. The idea that Tony might be brought down by Carlo, for reasons that we never witness onscreen, is of a piece with the idea that any one of the things Tony sees in Holsten’s might be the last thing he sees. For Tony might be indicted, after all he’s done, for one of the most trivial little plot asides in the series– the gun he threw away after his meeting with Johnny Sack at the end of season five. And that, in the open-ended end, might be an appropriate ending for Tony: fingered by a minor underling and indicted for crimes committed with a gun he no longer owned. As Episode 65’s summary reminds us, “Johnny is chased down and arrested, but Tony escapes through the woods. A safe distance away, he phones his lawyer, Neil Mink, who tells him not to worry, it was a Brooklyn sting operation and Tony wasn’t named on the warrant. ‘Be of good cheer,’ Neil advises. Then Tony hangs up and continues his long walk home.” But in the final episode, episode 86, Mink is not of good cheer. The series with Tony suggesting that he had arrived in the final days, long after the Golden Age of organized crime; the series closes on a series of dimuendi, as Tony’s world gets smaller and smaller and more claustrophobic.
And thus, folks, we have the basis for a new conclusion about the conclusion: Carlo’s offscreen flip to the feds will bring down what remains of the family. And the suspicious guy at the counter kills Tony not because of his mob connections; indeed, the suspicious guy at the counter, despite his extra suspicious Members Only jacket, has no mob ties at all. Rather, he kills Tony precisely because Tony has subjected the entire restaurant to that damn Journey song.
Works for me!
Responses to “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”