Several people commented, privately or otherwise, that they were looking for “more” from me about this episode than the few comments offered in the General Review thread. One expressed a desire for the kind of interminable posts I used to be associated with at Sopranoland.
Be careful what you wish for. This post attempts to sum up my still-evolving thoughts and emotional reactions to the finale and the unexpected way that some of the symbolism from this season played out. And, in the end, I take David Chase up on his mandate for viewer autonomy, becoming awed all over again at the kind of genius that even makes that possible, not only for me but for every single viewer that wishes to exercise it.
When I previously expressed disappointment with how the show “ended,” understand that I wasn't talking about the cut to black, the last three minutes, or even Made In America as a whole. My hopes for Made in America were particularly high only because it was obviously the last chance for what I felt were a couple of crucial, inevitable narrative points to actually come across and rescue me from the personally sacrilegious but growing feeling, particularly since Kennedy and Heidi, that this [The Sopranos] was “all a big nothing”, as Livia might say. But, since those story points didn’t happen, I can’t say that that “failure” (to use a handy word) was a failure of this specific episode but of the last half of this last half season.
Closing a Circle
David Chase said in an NPR interview near the premiere of season 5 that he knew the ending, where he was going, and that it would “close a circle”. Boy were those words descriptive, but not least in the way I expected.
In the last scene, Tony is ostensibly the same man he was in episode one, a guy who shares loving dinners with (but casually and incorrigibly cheats on) his wife; who affectionately teases his son with the nickname “gagoots”; and whose life is most completed and prideful with respect to his intelligent, spunky daughter. He also steals money for a living and uses a plethora of other felonies (bribes, assaults, and murder) to assist in that enterprise. And he has to have one eye out at all times for guys that want to trade him to the FBI or do to him that thing he’s done (or had done) to so many others over the years.
Everyone else at that table is largely the same as they were in that first episode, too. Carmela is still a virtuoso of self-deception who quells occasional flares of conscience by dropping a few grand on a new purchase. AJ is still an aimless, chronic adolescent whose infrequent, transient bouts of depression cause infrequent, transient existential crises and superficial intellectual delving. And Meadow still has problems parallel parking, still likes to climb the fence between family loyalty and idealism, but, when the chips are down, will always be daddy’s little girl.
The Soprano family have all seemed to be in motion these last years, but their paths are ultimately as circular as the onion rings they were eating.
As I pointed out in my end scenario post, orbits and concepts of gravity and space have been a recurrent theme in season 6.
Kevin Finnerty was a solar heating salesman. The Tony of the coma dream was a seller of precision optics, technology useful in building telescopes and other instruments for space investigation. The conference had something to do with space, as there was an Air Force Colonel (Collona) speaking at the convention and a sign at the event reading "Western Div. Mil Spec '06" with a space satellite icon. Coma Carm tells him on the phone that he should come home immediately and "not go on to Houston", home of the U.S. space program. The rising, flaring sun was what caused Tony to yell "I get it" at the end of K & H. The previous episode was titled "The Blue Comet", which billymac brilliantly proposed as a metaphor for a depressed Tony who is about to "change orbits" (disintegrate near the sun or attain escape velocity, leaving the solar system) as comets often do when approaching the sun or a sufficiently large cosmic mass. The poem from which the episode Second Coming was derived speaks of the orbital motion of a falcon, an orbit that eventually fails and flings the bird free when the "gravity" of its trainer is overcome by the delicate force counterbalancing that gravity. There was the espelette pepper of France (home to Carmela's brief spiritual awakening and the beacon that heavily resembled the "death beacon" of Tony's coma). The espelette pepper was "guaranteed to send any grilled steak into orbit." And Tony himself, right before his Eureka moments in the casino and in the desert, observes that a roulette table works on the same principal as the solar system, the ball orbiting the center like a planet around the sun, held in balance by cooperative centripetal and tangential forces until friction finally causes the ball to collapse towards the center.
This last point seems especially important in light of the following excerpt from the David Chase interview dad1153 linked in the countdown thread:
And now we know what Tony “got”, or at least the most obvious version of what Chase wanted us to get about Tony: that he would “go on and on and on and on” in his orbit, in his “Journey,” just as the earth goes round and round the sun; that he will fool you into thinking he’s actually going somewhere but will always end up right back where he started; that his “character arc,” as Christopher would observe, is a multiple of 360 degrees; that when he collapsed in laughter at “he’s dead”, he was referring to the football coach of his Test Dream, the voice that plagued him with questions of his own identity, the one whose mixed message he always wanted to silence, in one direction or the other; that the opposing forces which shape his character would always pull in opposite directions but without inertial impact, ala the inclinations of the girls Kennedy and Heidi; that Tony would always be the kind of man who could dispassionately smother one son while compassionately rescuing another; that when the ER doctor of his coma told him he had “Alzheimer’s”, he confirmed for us that Tony had an incurable identity crisis; that Tony, or at least Chase, will never resolve the dual forces of (little) good and (mostly) evil that hold his character in the delicate balance that has made him so dramatically fascinating to us. Tony will remain on a moral merry go round and only the individual viewer, if he or she so chooses, can get him off.Chase, who growls to himself when he feels the audience missed the point of an episode or a particular story line, cleared up a few minor points from this season.
In an unforgettable episode that began with Tony "assisting the death" of his own nephew, Christopher (the great Michael Imperioli), Tony later went to Las Vegas and did peyote with a young woman who'd known Christopher intimately (virtually all the married male characters had mistresses and got sex from additional women).
The episode ended with Tony in the desert, still high, beholding the morning sunrise and leaping to his feet to shout: "I get it!" Some viewers, including bloggers, insisted that Tony said, "I did it." Chase says they are wrong.
"It was very upsetting when I realized people thought it was 'I did it,' " he said. "To me it was so clear, you know; he had a transcendent moment. Early on, when he was at the roulette table and saw the ball going around, he said, 'Oh, it's the same principle as the solar system.' "
At least a few of us have already come to an agreement that Made in America seems as much about David Chase as it is about Tony Soprano. As I pointed out in the review thread, it was by far the most “meta” episode of the series, an episode that really requires no DVD commentary because it is already a commentary on itself.
The scene which best epitomizes this is the scene in the car between AJ and Rhiannon where they listen to a Bob Dylan song, one that seems unlikely to have real musical or even lyrical resonance with them:
Because I’m so keenly aware of public opinion about the show, in all its embattled and opposing factions, not to mention keenly aware of my own obsession, I honestly think I can vicariously appreciate the feeling of aloneness, the feeling of being constantly watched and judged, the pressure that must have plagued Chase all these years as both praise and scorn for his creation mounted in exponential fashion. And I certainly understand and applaud the need he would feel to say "Screw all that. I will not be ruled by a world-wide focus group. I'll do it my way and who doesn't like it can lump it."Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.
You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.
A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.
My immediate problem with this ending – and, again, I’m not talking 30 seconds of black or whether Tony lived or died at the end but the last few episodes of 6B – is that it calls to my mind a great basketball game that’s tied on the last possession with the superstar getting the ball and being asked to make the last play or take the last shot, win, lose, or tie. You give it your best and you live with the result, whether it comes off as a sweet swish, a missed shot, a pass to an open teammate for their shot, a missed foul call by an official, or even a turnover leading to an opposing basket. But you don't just stand there and hold the ball or dribble without doing something, content to end right back where you started at the start of your circular orbit. And you don’t pull an NBC and preempt the last few seconds of a tied game of epic proportions, ala the Heidi game. (And yes, this conclusively proves, in my mind, that the Heidi game was what was in fact intended by the name “Heidi” in Kennedy and Heidi, albeit meaning perhaps less what I thought than what KrakowerThing came to believe.)
For those inclined to look at my words only superficially, by "doing something" I mean having the courage to end somewhere different from where we began, to portray a personal vision for a character arc that doesn’t involve a multiple of 360 degrees. And it also means rewarding, or at least not making fools of, audience members who took your characters and your work seriously enough to seek out the meaning behind every symbol, real or imagined, or delve for the motivation of every character action, the subtlety of every complexly quiet scene.
If it’s foolish to take a work of art that seriously, or if it’s foolish to consider a TV show a work of art to begin with, then I readily admit my folly. But if the Sopranos is “just a TV show”, then Handel’s Messiah is just a collection of baroque songs and Cologne Cathedral is just an old building with a lot of windows.
A Viewer Skeptical of Free Will Exercises Free Will
I recently pointed out an interesting and paradoxical dichotomy between myself and David Chase. He is an outspoken proponent of the existence of free will yet has consistently portrayed characters that seem to lack it. His characters can't change, can't seem to do or be anything other than what their genes and environment have programmed them to be.
I've been a firm believer that all behavioral choice is essentially illusory, that people are like celestial bodies whose behavioral paths are determined by dynamic, external forces and a certain amount of randomness. Yet I have consistently hoped for a portrayal of Tony in this series that would contradict that belief.
With that hope, you can see why I have joined those posters that reported going through the 5 stages of grief after MIA aired. (See, even "5 stages" is connected!) And (adding this line in hindsight) I can now say that by the time I finished writing this, I was ready not only for acceptance but for a complete embrace of the ending. I am embracing the notion that, as Chase has demanded, I must write my own ending, even though I will never be more than a fraction of the imaginative dramatist that he is and would much have preferred his determinism to my autonomy. Chase is God, afterall, right CIG?:icon_biggrin: I’m but a mere child seeking my master’s will, and I have no choice but to accept his will that I be free.
So, per Chase's viewer empowerment, I reject that Tony did a mere 360. I reject that Tony Soprano is an irredeemable sociopath. I reject that the man we saw in therapy all these years, well after his panic attacks subsided, was there only to manipulate and cry “poor me” to a gullible, attractive woman. I reject that his tears and increasingly deep shows of emotion there were ever contrived or false. I reject that he was never genuinely interested in changing or that he was never seeking one, true identity or some kind of personal responsibility and moral accountability in his life. I reject that he could have a near death experience and impulsively murder his surrogate son without those events helping to transform him. And I firmly reject that 2 seasons’ worth of foreshadowing that Carmela would suffer death (or a comparably horrible fate) were just cruel jokes or teases.
Consequently I write an ending where, at the instant of black, a gunman stepped forward (whether the Michael Corleone-dude coming from the toilet or the unidentified black males at the counter) and somehow fumbled a hit attempt on Tony, who stood to greet Meadow at the very instant the gunman started firing. In my ending, a bullet winds up ricocheting and hitting Carmela in the head before Tony reaches his own weapon and kills the gunman. In my ending, Carmela does not die but suffers a catastrophic brain injury that leaves her comatose with little hope for regaining consciousness (a fairly common scenario in season 6, it seems). Her fate, an example of the all-important collateral damage we saw so much of lately, provides at last the celestial body of sufficient gravity to alter permanently the course of our “blue comet,” Tony, and to cause a true “second coming” where the center does not hold and the delicate balance of his orbit is colossally, permanently altered, giving birth to some new, "rough beast".
In my ending, Melfi contacts Tony after hearing news of the shooting, feeling residual guilt over the harsh, unethical way she dismissed him. In time, he returns to therapy, confiding that he felt he was never good enough for Carmela, that he was like a mangy goat that lucked up and snagged a beautiful thoroughbred horse. This provides Melfi with an instant glimpse into the symbolism of Tony’s grief over Pie-O-My and shows that his feelings for Carmela – not a child and not an “animal” – are profound and intense.
In my ending, Tony is not indicted but simply leaves mob life, abdicates his throne, resisting suicidal urges out of a feeling of duty to his grief-stricken, traumatized children and brain-dead wife. While he debates what “life” really is and whether Carmela has one, he recalls that there was a time when his own coma meant he was similarly “dead” and gains insight, through dreams or spiritual sublimation, into how Carmela was his lifeline during that time. Knowing that she is in that same frightening, limbo state, he is moved to a reciprocal show of love and duty, one that sees him care for her in a way that she thought him incapable of in her confession to Father Phil in Sentimental Education. In my ending, the foreshadowing of Tony and Carmela as Abelard and Heloise is fulfilled when Tony, by putting down his gun, is “castrated” and becomes increasingly haunted by dreams where he and Carmela live an idealized love life, dreams that always end with the nightmare of their unreality.
In my ending, NY is intent on annexing Jersey for financial reasons and for retaliating against Tony for the particularly ugly way the Phil hit went down. It’s revealed that Pat Parisi, still ambitious and holding a grudge over his twin’s murder, helped NY set up the perfect location for the Holsten's hit, one designed to replicate Phil’s hit in front of his wife and grandchildren. He does this by using Patrick to find out Meadow’s (and Tony’s) dinner plans that evening, giving NY enough time to set up a hit there (ala Louis’ restaurant in Godfather), a hit to be carried out in front of his whole family.
In my version, Meadow learns, courtesy of Tony, what Patrick’s father’s role was in Carmela's shooting and immediately terminates all involvement with him. She stays in law school but decides to get her feet wet in criminal law by becoming a federal prosecutor. Just as Tony’s life motivated her identification with defendants, her mother’s shooting motivates her identification with victims and with the understanding that organized crime is a blight on humanity. AJ is . . . well . . . not even my wild imagination is enough to deal with him. Suffice to say Carm’s shooting causes Tony to significantly alter the kind of vocational and life assistance he gives his son.
My version ends at some point years from now, after Meadow and AJ have firmly established new orbits of their own. Released by the sense that he can now "stop the bus" and let his children out to “continue on their journey” without him, resigned to the fact that Carmela will never come out of her coma, and enveloped in a never-ending sadness, he chooses his and Carmela’s anniversary for a very special event. He buys two new wedding rings, recalls the anniversaries they spent at the Plaza Hotel, pledges that, from this day forward, he will grant her the fidelity that he denied her throughout their marriage, and replaces the old rings on both their fingers with the new ones. Then he gently puts an end to their mutual suffering, tearfully smothering her with a pillow while images of him attempting to do the same to his mother dance in his head. Along with this he sees flashes of Livia and Junior's failed hit in season 1, Junior shooting him in Members Only, and his "mercy killing" of Chris by suffocation. He then puts a pistol in his mouth, and pulls the trigger.
My last scene of this series shows him approaching the Inn at the Oaks, where he must go through a long, LONG receiving line that includes all the dead victims of his crimes. As he passes each one, he feels the terror and pain he inflicted on them and on their families, one by one. When he finally reaches the porch, he is greeted warmly by Coach Molinaro, whom he knows and who knows him by name.
Tony has no briefcase this time, and when he nears the brightly lit doorway he catches a glimpse not of Livia but of Carmela. He happily goes inside.
That's my ending. But yours is there, too.
"It's all there. If you want to watch it, it's all there."
The "Tony dies and never saw it coming" ending is there. The "life goes on and no one ever changes" ending is certainly there. The "it's all a big nothing" ending is there. The "Chase was just screwing us with all the faux anxiousness" ending is there. The "viewers got whacked" ending is there. The "we are leaving it open for a movie" ending is there. The "third bell tolling when Meadow opened the door" ending is there. The "Test Dream as prophecy" ending is there (right down to Artie pointing to the bathroom, indicating "something bad is gonna happen".) The "Tony is indicted, convicted, and goes to prison" ending is there. The "Tony flips" ending is there, thanks to the groundwork in his relationship with Agent Harris. The "Heidi Game" ending is there.
As the rapper of Fleshy Part of the Thigh said in his redux of quantum physics, "Everything is everything." Or, in the Chase quote released from Alan Sepinwall just this evening, "It's all there. If you want to watch it, it's all there."
We can put it to the test. If there's enough interest, I will open a new forum, a fan fiction or "write your own ending" forum, and we'll see if there's ever an incompatibility between what you imagine and what's been portrayed these 86 episodes.