Well after close to two months i've had a lot of time to reflect on the ending, and i've watched nearly the whole series again since the screen went black (just finished long term parking - oh shit!) and once again it's been very fulfilling. The ending isn't immediately satisfying, it leaves too many questions and doesn't deliver enough on plot. Yet now I think Chase has not copped out but has rather left us with the best and most satisfying conclusion.
Firstly, perhaps i never saw the series the same way as others. I never had a real emotional investment in the characters on this show the way i have with other shows. When i watch 6 feet under, or even shows with much more 2 dimensional characters like 'entourage' or the 'west wing', i get excited and i care for the characters. On the sopranos, i always felt that while they were the most 3 dimensional and interesting characters ever put on screen, it felt like i was watching from a distance, enough to feel emotionally detached. I was fascinated by them, but couldn't truly care for them. Tony was truly a character to study, not to care for. And i was prepared to follow him on that journey with that mentality wherever chase and co wanted to take me.The only major exception was the death of Adrianna, where I was truly shaken. Also, Whitecaps, watching Tony lose the one good thing in his life. There were a few other times as well. But overall i had intellectual investment in seeing Tony change, and the prospect excited me, but in the end his inability to change despite so many triggers is equally appealing. That may be one reason why i am more satisfied with the ending than those who went along the rollercoaster genuinely caring for Tony and believing he could change.
Despite this, the ending for me isn't about the hopelessness of the characters. It isn't Chase being a pessimist, simply saying that either these people, or perhaps all of us, are incapable of great change. In the last ep, he gave us Hunter, the former 'freakshow' who was (apparantly) able to turn her life around. This change didn't just come about by tinkering at the edges, as Tony and other's do from time to time. She had to change her whole lifestyle if she deeply wanted to change who she was. Despite his NDE, Tony was unwilling to change who he was. Sure he can try being conciliatory to Phil, telling him (sincerely, I believe) to enjoy the grandkids, and that there's enough garbage for everyone, but in his business, that mentality cannot hold. He's still trapped in the same orbit as before. If Tony wants to be a good person he needs to renounce everything else that goes with his lifestyle. Same as everyone else in the show, Carm, Vito, the list goes on.
So change for tony, given the life he has built for himself, given the inherent selfishness we have seen in him since the start of the show, was never likely to be complete. It has always been a battle for him and the opposing elements of his character. It could seem like Tony got worse as the show went on, or was it just that we finally got to see more of the ugly side that was always there? Or was it a devolution that went along with the power of being at the top, just circumstance bringing out the worst of him? Yes, he was at his most despicable during 'the final nine', but we also saw him holding AJ by the pool in 'the second coming', we saw him genuinely happy for his daughter and her success, and we saw him holding Sil's hand while his friend lay in a coma. I believe Chase came to trust the audience enough not to hold back on how despicable Tony et al could be, hoping that he had banked enough of our goodwill through showing us Tony's potential for decency in the past.
So as for the ending, whether T lives or dies, he is neither good nor evil. Circumstaces can and will bring both out of him. Necessity motivated him to forget everything else except wanting to take his son's pain away after the suicide attempt, just as he believed it motivated him to kill Adrianna back in LTP. Tony will likely go the rest of his life swaying between the yin and the yang, never permanently becoming either. He has, throughout the series, refused to go deep enough to change. And in watching the series again, yes, it is full of hints that tony could change, but there are far, far more clues that he will always stay the same, and that has been my perverse joy in re-watching the series since the finale. But anyway, my point is that rather than looking at the negative, that Chase is saying these characters are too shallow to change, let's look at the positive of the series. Change takes real commitment. If a superficial prick like Tony had changed for the good (and for real) it would be tantamount to a slap in the face for every person who has struggled hard their whole lives to undergo profound change. Getting out of a bad orbit is possible, but if you just try and change your orbit a little, gravity will pull you back, so you therefore need to undergo a more profound shift in what it is you are orbiting. Change is real, it takes a long time, and it's something to truly be proud of if you can pull it off. And if you stuggle and fail, don't be down on yourself, just trying to change is more than tony ever did.