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Sopranos Open Thread

It’s possible that I will write something more substantial in coming weeks, but for now, I want to have an open thread on the last episode. Since it is the most-discussed episode in TV history and is in any case ambiguous, I will dispense with the “spoiler” worry. There does seem to be enough evidence to support the interpretation that Tony is killed in the final moment. I read this much-linked Bob Harris post about the episode before I’d watched the series at all, and it seemed pretty rigorous — but now I wonder if all the subtle hints are anything but an invitation for the viewer to share in Tony’s paranoia. After all, he’s gotten rid of all immediate threats, and the person coming through the door at the moment the screen cuts off is presumably Meadow.

October 1, 2008 - Posted by | television


  1. I feel similarly about the Harris article — it’s absolutely right in all the allusions it sets out, but it begs the question whether these form the cipher to “what happens empirically” or to Tony’s psyche. (One only has to think about the numerous dream scenes in previous episodes where Tony’s psyche and reality were blurred — often this was the case in Chase-written episodes as well.)

    There is a sort of “moral” to the story, but it’s not that ulimately one (in this case Tony) gets killed oneself, it’s rather that death (in its imminence as well as immanence — in this case they amount to the same thing) is something like a transcendental condition of existence. The transcendental and the empirical deaths of Tony blurring.

    And really, I’d say, it goes beyond Tony, it’s a meditation on Italamerica — and again, with Italamerica, death is not only its empirical fate but its transcendental imaginary. Tony’s (transcendental-empirical) death is always already inscribed in the categories structuring Italamerican experience.

    (This, not simply the postfordist milieu, supplies the sense in which Chase is superior to Scorcese, much less Coppola.)

    Comment by discard | October 1, 2008

  2. When I was thinking through this post, I remembered a comment of yours from last time I posted about mafia narratives, namely that things are never “okay,” that there is only ever a temporary oasis.

    Thinking in those terms, Paulie’s superstition is ridiculous — it’s not some particular thing within the mafia lifestyle that leads you to wind up dead, it’s the lifestyle itself.

    What distinguishes Tony from the other characters is that he’s smarter and more self-aware (even if minimally), and you could say that the subplot with Paulie in that episode is setting that up — which would lead to a different interpretation of the orange cat imagery than what Harris does.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 1, 2008

  3. Bob Harris, I think, goes a little bit too much into detail. He presents too many hints and weakens his argument. That Tony talked to his Judas, for example, would indicate that he were about to be arrested by the FBI, but not that he is about to be killed. If the Members Only Guy had a bulge in his pocket which alludes to a gun – then the whole Godfather allusion (killer goes into the bathroom to retrieve his weapon) would make no sense. Some points are simply far-fetched, the original background decoration of Holsten’s would just seem visually distracting. Altogether too many coincidences explained; to be convincing Harris would need to compare his observations to the techniques and the symbolism employed in the rest of the series. If I wanted to go out of my way, I would note that, as far as I remember, the *only* time a murder was set up in a similar way, was Christopher’s *mock* execution in season one.

    That being said, the last scene is an almost cliched setup for a killing. If you want to film a mafia boss getting whacked in a restaurant – this is the way to set it up. Also the Members Only Guy and the ›you won’t even hear it‹ story are pretty strong hints. You have to explain *these* is Tony wasn’t killed.

    Now, the question is this: if Tony was killed, why wasn’t that shown? Harris mentions American Beauty, but there we saw the killing and the hiding of the killer had a perfectly good reason.

    If we are not shown Tony’s death it is because ultimately it doesn’t matter. The buildup means *something* is going to happen. Maybe the Members Only Guy shoots Tony; mabe Meadow does; maybe she rushes in to tell her family she is pregnant. But whatever happens, it will be nothing new, *something* always happens.

    The Members Only Guy could be explained by Tony’s paranoia. But the threats to him (Junior, Richie, FBI) are not figments of his imagination.

    The series always made the point that the next generation will have the same problems as the one before (cf. panic attacks). A closure would be as false as a continuation. This might be the failure of the »work« or its truth.

    Comment by fb | October 1, 2008

  4. Only 2 more episodes left for me in the last season! I’m skipping all of the above comments in case there are spoilers, at least until this weekend when I will have finished the show.

    Comment by Rebekah | October 2, 2008

  5. Adam, I’d agree with what you said. Paulie in fact often plays the figure of the one who doesn’t “get it”, such that he is less transcendentally troubled. Think of his response very early on to Christopher, when Christopher is worried about the “story arc” of his life, that he just accepts that his life has no arc and that’s that.

    Comment by discard | October 2, 2008

  6. Also, regarding the Journey song, I think Harris gets too specific in trying to assign it to Carmela’s future without the boys. To me, it seems the complement to awareness of the transcendental role of death — if death imminent and immanent, what’s the point?

    This, in fact, is the ultimate source of Tony’s nihilism/depression. An understandable reaction. But complementing this is an irrefutable will, a will to keep living. This, in my mind, is the role of the song in that scene — despite everything, despite the fact that death is inevitable, and is a constant possibility, “don’t stop believing.”

    Think for example of the first time Tony was shot … he was at the time extremely depressed, barely could get out of bed, but as he described it afterward, he realized that despite all of this he still had this desire to live, and the strength for that.

    As for the fact that the song of course is associated with shots of Carmela, I would say that’s more to get at the role of the woman. In the mythology that the show is drawing on, it is a woman that saves one from death, one calls out to “Madon'”. Indeed, if I remember correctly, in the episode of Tony’s first shooting, the dominant figure was the imaginary woman — his being shot and surviving was wrapped in this myth of the redemptive woman (who exceeds, as Melfi noted, his actual mother). Carmela in this case is (or is the particular incarnation of) the aim but also the condition for his desiring to live.

    Comment by discard | October 2, 2008

  7. the most-discussed episode in TV history

    Is this really the case? I’ll bet more people were watching “Dallas” when J.R. got shot, even though it wasn’t exactly great art and it happened before I was born. And if you include shows discussed outside the United States, the last episode of The Prisoner has to be up there.

    Comment by strasmangelo jones | October 2, 2008

  8. Stras, I was exaggerating.

    One recurring plot event that supports what discard is saying is how reinvigorated Tony always is after just barely escaping death — as when Junior’s original hit fails. In the last episode, we get a hint that that is also passing on to the next generation, when AJ barely escapes the burning car.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 2, 2008

  9. Another point to consider: “Don’t Stop Believing” appears to be irrevocably stuck in my head.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 2, 2008

  10. I watched it once and got all “conspiratorial” about the Members Only Guy and the possibility of Tony’s death. However, watching it a few days later, I was convinced there was nothing to it. The Sopranos just ended for us. Though I do think Tony is going to be picked up by the Feds and things are going to take a severe slump after we leave the series behind and Meadow is probably pregnant.

    Comment by Alex | October 2, 2008

  11. We thought the young Arabs were a red herring, but the man in the members’ only jacket is truly one. Would the blast extend that far into NJ? I don’t know.

    Comment by Jonathan | October 2, 2008

  12. OMG — paradigm shift!!!

    Another thing: what’s the deal with Meadow’s inability to get into a parking spot? She goes to school in NYC for several years and can’t parallel park?

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | October 2, 2008

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