I don't think it was the least bit ambiguous. Tony Soprano's lights went out last night, and David Chase, his TV Daddy, barely crawled out of television alive.
I've been watching The Sopranos with a group of friends for... eight years. During that time all but one of us turned our televisions off for good, cut the cable, and admitted we were hypocrites when we gathered at our one pal's house, Helen's, who kept the box going for our Sunday night fix.
Last night, I fixed our last supper (stuffed grape leaves, sticky olives, and wild arugula, meatballs, melon and prosciutto, Pasta Vongole, New York cheesecake) and we raised a glass of Schramsberg Cremant to salute the end of our ride.
My first toast was to the original season of the Sopranos, and my favorite character, Tony's mother Livia.
"POOR YOU!" we all cried.
I'm afraid that's my message to Chase. You live by the TV, you die by the TV. You end up hating your audience, sucking the tit of the business you wanted to stuff in a bad nursing home and forget about.
At first, we all wondered: why did the screen go black in the middle of Tony's dinner, just as he was about to get whacked? Are we being spared something? What—we'd just seen his latest enemy's head get smushed by a SUV, and suddenly our stomachs are being considered?
Well, let's play English Comp Teacher to analyze this. It's not that difficult to see what happened, it's just crass, bullshit screen-writing.
(And for the best discussion on this show, bar none, please let me refer you to Tim Goodman's Bastard Machine).
Up until that moment, David Chase had written this series in the third person. We got to see lots of different people's point of view. Richie Aprile's sadism, Adrianna La Cerva's terror, Dr. Melfi's foreboding— just to name a few of my favorite memories. We saw how Tony's mind worked from the inside and also the exasperated, loving, frightened eyes of his crew, family and victims.
We were addicted to this story because it was Old Fashioned Tolstoy Cinema: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. We lived for foreshadowing, we collected clues like stamps. Our ears pricked up when Tony and sentimental favorite Bobby Bacala talked openly about how "you never hear the one that gets you." The drama deserved an ending that befit its beginning, and that justified a climax.
But no. In the last scene, we see a crew of misfits walk into the diner where Tony's family gathered for supper. They're all minor characters who have murderous grudges from previous slights and seasons. There's unbearable tension as Tony's darling Meadow struggles to parallel park outside the scene of impending doom. And then Chase pulled a gimmick that would give him an "F" in my class.
He switched to Tony's point of view. The first person. It went from "Tony's getting whacked in front of his entire family," to "*I* can't see anything, *I* can't hear anything. No white light for me!"
Well, *I'm* disgusted. It wasn't artistic, it wasn't innovative, it wasn't anything except the door smacking us on the way out and then the hinge falling off.
It was Chase's fuck-you to the audience, but we didn't deserve it. What, you hate us for loving a story and a vision that went bigger and longer than any Russian author could've dreamed? "Poor You" is right.
From the rare interviews we've seen with Chase, we know he's had a long resentful career in television and that he always wanted to do films.
If he had made a movie of the Sopranos, he wouldn't have had anyone breathing down his neck wondering what the episodic end was. He wouldn't have shot multiple endings, to keep the whole crew and cast guessing along with the rest of the country. He would have had the freedom of Francis Coppola, who got to make Godfather three times on cinematic terms, and who Chase copied right up until the end— didn't you get a chill when Nikki Leotardo suddenly gets up at the diner and goes to the bathroom, a la the young Al Pacino?
But instead, Chase played the TV game he knows so well. He kept seasons going for money instead of story, he let enormous developments lead up to bupkis, he toyed with drama instead of delivering the goods. Where was the fucking ziti? He left it behind a couple seasons ago, and only came back to stick a fork in its cold remains.
The upside of my first-person doomed affair with the Sopranos is that I'm glad I got rid of our television; I love watching movies at home, including long serial dramas and comedies. My brain, my life, my metabolism is all the better for killing the idiot box.
Screenwriters need to see cinematic legacy as their destination, instead of the three-second white-noise of HBO's pause between programs.
Moments after the last Sopranos credit rolled, when we really SHOULD have had a moment of silence, the network ushered its audience into the worst "surfer soap opera" I've ever seen in my life. We couldn't turn it off fast enough.