[INDENT]JUNIOR: Guess who came in earlier? Tommy Formicola.
TONY: Tommy Formicola died a few years ago.
JUNIOR: Not Tommy, you cidrule.
The son Tommy!
TONY: Jesus Christ, you had me worried there for a minute.
When you came in yesterday, they said you were very confused, you flunked your Holstein or something.
Whoever Did This
Season 4, Episode 9[/INDENT]
A great many very, very smart minds have spent endless hours micro analyzing the most minute details of MADE IN AMERICA, the sixth season, and indeed the entire Sopranos corpus to support and defend various opinions about the final scene of the Sopranos. (I don’t mean to deprecate their efforts: it was important that someone parse the bells on Holsten’s door and synch them with the POV shots associated with Tony and such.) The consensus seems to be that the last scene in MADE IN AMERICA depicts the final events of the life of Tony in a fairly literal sense, sparing us only the actual image of his execution. Some have even questioned how any rational mind might come to any other conclusion. In fact, that analysis seems superficial and ignores far too many facts and circumstances to be swallowed whole. Though I can't say that I know what David Chase actually intended, I don't think that the final scene itself displays much clear intent of what usually passes as narrative storytelling. To the contrary, it seems to be an allegory, dream or vision, probably of Tony's final redemption. Look, I write what follows in real humility; it follows after some very brilliant posts that stand in complete opposition to my central thesis. The large majority of them are inclined to directly oppose what I believe – and I intend no disrespect to those writers. In fact, reading their posts closely has guided my efforts to make sense of the Sopranos world and how it ended. The initial post in this thread is particularly brilliant and has affected me deeply. But when it all shakes out, I see things differently. So this is my own speculation:
The final Holsten's scene is marked by so many signs of allegory and unreality that it really cannot be taken as narrative; rather it has much more in common with the dream or vision scenes that David Chase so frequently presented. From the titles of songs on the jukebox to the orange tinted backdrop, there are just too many circumstances highly relevant to finality and death coming together as apparent coincidences to pass as a credible fictional reality; the final scene possesses an almost Twilight Zone, fantasy sense of unreality that plays with the audience one potential threat and danger at a time, none of which are ever actually shown to have any adverse effect on Tony.
The world that David Chase created for Tony, his family and the supporting characters, is a Roman Catholic world and it would be a mistake to ignore that in understanding the final scene or any important issues depicted. Here’s how I see it:
1. The “Communion/Viaticum as onion rings” sequence, the final sequence of the scene and of the series, depicts a most improbable event in the world that David Chase created. Given the characters as depicted in 86 episodes, what are the odds that Tony, Carmella, and AJ will simulate communion with Tony at Holsten’s, (or any other diner) consuming an onion ring, placed on the tongue, like a host? It would not be in keeping with conservative Catholicism as preached by Tony and practiced by Carmella and ignored by AJ to trivialize, diminish, or mock communion by simulating it in a diner with onion rings, it’s not likely that they would create such a ritual (whose obvious religious associations would make it blasphemous). The comment that these onion rings are the best in the state (not in “Jersey” or “North Jersey”) may nod to a Godfather reference about veal in a restaurant, but nobody placed veal on anyone’s tongue in the Godfather saga. This is about communion and obviously so. The used of the word “state” - inside what looks like religious ritual - does not seem as much to throwback to a mobster movie as much as it recalls Kevin Finnerty's talks with the monks. I believe the onion ring communion event so improbable for these characters and so startlingly different from any other scene of the series, that it was not written to tell the story of an event as much as to make a point.
2. And that point depends on the fact that practicing, believing Catholics will not sacrilege Holy Communion by taking it unless they are in a state of grace, forgiven of their mortal sins and possessing no attachment to sin. To do otherwise is sacrilege, a profound sin. The allegory of communion is meant to reflect in the final scene that Tony has now forgiven Junior, that his war with New York is over, that his criminal family has been crushed and essentially destroyed, that he has no gumar and is not looking for one, that he will shortly be in custody, that his criminal life has essentially come to an end, that he has finally found primary comfort and place in love for his family, and that, in short, against all odds, and contrary to what we may have believed through his many encounters with Dr. Melfi and the lost opportunity when he came out of a coma, that he has gone through a transformation in the prior two episodes that amounts to fundamental change - and that he stands redeemed before his maker. Many others have written that the last scene depicts a Tony Soprano who is unchanged and who will never change, but the evidence is to the contrary. I can imagine no other purpose behind the quasi-religious metaphor with the onion rings. It is a sign of unity and harmony such as we have never seen before - and while it simply could not take place as depicted among the characters as we've seen them – this fantasy is meant to convey Tony’s state of grace directly to the audience. This harmony is the best thing available to humans in this state - and final redemption to obtain it is possible to anyone, even to Tony Soprano. I think the final scene is actually preachy about this, to the extent that the soundtrack comes from a band named Journey with a song that admonishes the listener to never stop believing. Of course Meadow is no part of this sacrament: she is changing her birth control according to Carmella, a statement that passes without reaction or further comment. As the Catholic Church teaches, the use of birth control is a serious, mortal sin, and a woman who practices artificial contraception has no place at the altar rail to take communion. I can’t see any purpose in Carmella’s statement about it at that time and place except to explain to the audience why Meadow is not taking “communion”. Why would Chase include immaterial trivia in this final scene? It means something, and probably something important. (The waitress delivered three Cokes to the table, not four, and Tony had placed his leather jacket next to him. He had apparently ordered the onion rings and the beverages before Carmella and then AJ arrived. It's hard to square this if Tony had expected Meadow to be part of this gathering.)
3. There are other circumstances in the final sequence that strongly suggest allegory, a vision or direct revelation to the audience. First, it’s inconceivable that Tony’s attention was not riveted on MOJG (Members Only Jacket Guy) who came in simultaneously with AJ, and who wore a Member's Only jacket associated with (or identical to that worn by) made guys seen in the series, in prior assassinations, and in fact in a prior attempt on Tony’s life. The camera was riveted on the putative assassin - and the Tony we grew to know could never have ignored his resemblance to Tony's own father or the jacket the man wore, especially in light of all of the developments of the last two episodes of the series. It’s just so improbable as to be realistically impossible that Tony would have paid as little attention. But Tony is shown as just slightly less than oblivious to him and that makes no sense in the world that Chase created. It’s not enough to say that the war with New York was over and Tony was complacent. No, six seasons suggested that he had ever-vigilant radar against all threats to him; a person with survival skills so deeply wired into him does not and cannot turn that off like a switch. Only in a dream could the Tony we know let down his guard so profoundly. The rear backdrop orange-themed (death-themed) wall is not present in Holsten’s – a real place, not a made up name, and well-known to people in Northern Jersey; neither are the table jukeboxes; the wall decorations on the wall to Tony's left; they are substantially different from those present in this identifiable and verifiable reality. All of the images on that rear orange board are highly symbolic and relate to death and the supernatural as Tony has experienced it. What are the odds that two handgun calibers would be reflected in the numerals of sports team members in a diner? Or a building strongly resembling two locations associated with death by Tony, one of which he refused to enter? BTW, that building is NOT Bloomfield High School as it seems to be labelled. The local High School is a much smaller, more squat Romanesque building without a tower. (Tony is shown after selecting a seat with his back to those things
and they are never seen again. The backboard is a very elaborate prop for a very short use. The lines from the Old Testament come to mind, at least my mind, in which God announces that he has laid out paths of life and death, urging one to chose the path of life and therefore to prosper in the land that God has created.) Ergo, the Holsten’s of MADE IN AMERICA is not intended to depict that real place but a highly stylized image, concept or dream based upon it. There is more. When did Tony order the onion rings? Notice the pretty redhead girl sitting in the booth adjacent to Tony when he enters and disappearing without an exit mid-scene? Notice the older lady facing Tony in the adjacent booth forward? She wasn't there when he arrived. Time seems oddly compressed. One of the most remarkable surrealisms is that when Carmella enters, she walks to her right and apparently looks to her right and starts walking down the right aisle as one enters. But that's not the route to Tony. On that route, she'd have to turn around and approach the booth from Tony's rear. But she's depicted as arriving from an aisle that she never entered. He's at the end of the aisle to her left. In this Twilight Zone, time and space behave oddly. One final oddity: There is a big neon sign in Holsten's front window, visible from the street to the left of the door and it says: LUNCHEON. The rear of this sign is shown in the final scene. There is a small diagonal window connecting that picture window to the door, and it, too is seen in every shot that shows anyone entering Holsten's. As is natural at night, it carries a partial reflection of the LUNCHEON sign. But it is a false reflection. It says, "NON", and there is no way the Luncheon sign could be reflected to say that, the word "No" or "Not" in Latin. It is most definitely not an "E" but a definite "N". And the first letter is brighter and more distinct, as though specifically altered in production and emphasized. This associates "NO" with every character entering the front door. This is not the real Holsten's but one that lies in the world of imagination and fantasy with oddly twisted dimensions. I believe that the last scene which was intended to be a literal narrative was Tony's visit to Junior, a visit in which he accepted that Junior was delusional and not to be held responsible for his conduct, a visit in which Tony seems to have accepted and forgiven Junior. With that, the central issue of the series, Tony’s capability of change and reform, has been resolved and all that remains is a conclusion showing the result. It seems to be done by allegory.
4. David Chase told us that anyone who understands what Tony saw during his coma to be merely a dream is mistaken. Similarly, I think that the final scene of Sopranos was intended to be the direct telling of a profound truth resolving the most fundamental issue presented in six seasons.
5. Whatever David Chase may personally believe about what, if anything, follows this mortal life, in the Sopranos world that he created, the afterlife and the supernatural are real things. Pauly’s encounter with real deceased spirits at the medium are the strongest example, followed by Christopher’s trip to hell - and this world view is supported by Tony’s speculations of how God will treat fallen mafioso as honorable soldiers - and the mystic cat associated with Christopher's photograph and Adriana. It is supported in "Test Dream" when Tony wakes up with the deceased Carmine Lupertazi The Elder in bed with him, lamenting about being alone "on the other side" without his wife or anyone else, pleading with Tony to tell God, if asked, that Tony has not seen Carmine; this Carmine is depicted as if in an interstitial state, in Purgatory at best, possibly a lost soul ghost existing in fear of God's just judgment, but maybe in Hell without realizing it; he has not ceased to exist. It is not clear whether the missing gold hat of St. Elezear caused a ride to malfunction, but in the world presented by David Chase, it is certainly possible. Pauly believes that the Blessed Virgin has spoken to him. In the Sopranos saga, each of these spiritual things is presented as real, more or less on a literal level. (Yes, I know that Tony speculates that Christopher was just dreaming and that he discounts the vision to Pauly. But it is just as clear that he was whistling in the wind at inconvenient realities when he said those things.) Would Chase support the reality of an afterlife for six seasons suddenly to inject his personal disbelief in the final ten seconds? In an episode in which a clearly sincere Pauly seems to remember a vision of the "Holy Virgin" onstage when he was alone at the Bing and then quietly tells the story for the first time in his life - to Tony? Finally, notwithstanding statements in earlier episodes and in Goodfellas about an instantaneous blackout from a head shot, it’s not likely to be quite exactly true. Bright gunflash would be very briefly seen by a victim and an immense thud would be perceived in an instant before the curtains closed for good. And in the Catholic world through which David Chase took us, there would be something to follow, even were it a Hell. I find it improbable that the writers intended a long blackout to mean human death at that time or place because that is never how death was explained in the context of the Sopranos world. Death comes to all men, but it was David Chase who said that it "did not matter" if death came to Tony at that time and place from which it must necessarily inferred that he admits of the possibility that ten seconds of black reflect something other than Tony’s death at that place and time; I do not think he was being coy. It is possible that Tony was killed by the MOJG, perhaps he died later, and perhaps the ten seconds of black were meant to convey that Tony, as we knew him, no longer existed. The actually important fact is that he died as a man fundamentally changed from the character depicted in six seasons, whether he died then or later. The strong hints that it may have come at the hands of MOJG were calculated to provide a simple and sufficiently entertaining superficial answer for those who demanded nothing beyond connecting a few dots to reach an explained, simple narrative, but David Chase also inserted sufficient ambiguity about the particular death of Tony and several hints that there was more to be understood here than storytelling. Those hints make it uncomfortable and insufficient to drop the issue with the conclusion that Tony was simply shot and had no other experiences. The unrealities mentioned above, the disconnects from the prior behavior of the characters, the abruptly terminated song that shouts for one to never give up, and the dreamlike cinematography of the last scene suggest that a different level of comprehension is necessary - and that's what's led to the many, many posts by very smart people who seem still to be unsatisfied with the simple story that Tony was mysteriously killed. There is more: David Chase told all of us "Don't Stop!" He worked very hard to secure the rights to use that song and obtained them only three days before the show initially aired. Journey was concerned that the song would be stigmatized by association with Tony’s death, but David Chase personally assured Journey that it would not be used as a backdrop to Tony’s death. I don’t believe that Chase was disingenuous with Journey. The song has a different meaning, directing the audience not to stop thinking this scene through to understand what it means – and never to give up believing in the potential for change of every human being, even a Tony Soprano. (While Mario Puzo was fairly neutral about the spirituality of the Italian mobsters, holding up to some derision the deathbed plea of a dying mafioso a request that the Godfather fix things up for him in the afterlife, Chase treated all of the spiritual aspects as realities.)
6. Why did Carmella tell Tony that the "consensus is Holsten's" when, in fact, it was what she alone apparently wanted? She has never been portrayed as careless, dishonest, or particularly inaccurate and her actual motivation for Holsten’s goes unexplained. The line, standing by itself, makes little sense. I believe that the final episode contains some very direct communication aimed at the viewer in a manner unusual for narrative. In MADE IN AMERICA, the writers sometimes directly speak to the viewer through characters and I believe that they did so here. The consensus of the writers and creator
was to end the series with the final redemption of Tony in an allegorical scene shot in an unworldly version of a local diner and that line was meant as point-to-point communication.
7. I believe that Tony did not flunk his Holstein, I believe that he passed it. And I suspect that David Chase intended to tell us so. Much has been written by others about the cinema technique used in MADE IN AMERICA that was employed in Kubrick’s final sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. (See http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/page-4/)
, one that compresses time by using subsequent POV jump shots that reflect an unseen spacial jump by the character. According to David Chase in his interview in the DVD boxed set, he consciously used this 2001 technique in MADE IN AMERICA. DP Alik Sakharov, in an interview cited by the linked writer, states that the technique was used three times in the final episode. What no one has articulated in the Soprano connection is that Kubrick used the technique to illustrate transformation, as when the young astronaut Bowman looks at himself as an old man. Similarly, Chase appears to use the same technique to suggest or establish transformation in Tony just as Kubrick did. Just what transformation did Chase intend to conjure up? A mere death scene would not need to evoke any of this, I do not think a creator as restrained as Chase would do so gratuitously or self-consciously, and that suggests to me that he intended to illustrate a profound internal transformation of Tony through cinematography. Was the hotel room in 2001 a real place or an illusion? It doesn’t matter. Did astronaut Bowman literally die? Was the depicted hotel room a real place that vanished after the birth of the star child or an allegory? Was his physical body vaporized? No one cares. One should care just as little about whether the depicted Holsten's was the place of an actual family dinner or the setting for allegory and, from Chase's perspective, no one should really get hung up on whether Tony got whacked. That's just not what the scene is most importantly about. But ask the same question of "why?" here and the answer clicks into place. The final scene is truly about transformation and gives us a TV conclusion in the spirit of film masterpiece 2001. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Chase was emulating the highest cinema he knew and worked very hard to use its techniques because he was telling a story of final conversion. That, I think, is where his frustration with the audience is coming from. (Remember when a character tried to get quick cash by pawning an Emmy and what the pawnbroker said about its value in relation to an Oscar? He said, "It's just television." By applying the technique of 2001, I think Chase was trying to demonstrate that television could be as good as cinema masterpieces.)
8. I think that my understanding of the point and purpose of the final scene is harmonious with the hints of David Chase about it. The “trend” that he alluded to was the destruction of the viability of the Demeo criminal family to function and of Tony to lead it. What was “ripped away” in two final episodes was the entire practical and functional underpinning of Tony’s criminal life. What he said (humbly) about Planet of the Apes is that he, himself, fundamentally didn’t get the most important scene of that movie, and that’s what Chase is telling his audience: It’s not about Holsten’s and it’s not about being whacked. It’s about Tony's redemption; and that's why he picked an anthem to accompany it that he described as "upbeat". By his allusion to a deep misunderstanding about Planet of the Apes, he was trying to express in some humility his frustration with a serious misunderstanding of his work by its mass audience - and openly questioned whether his own execution was faulty
. It is hard to understand that level of frustration if he meant only to address those who did not understand that Tony died. I believe that his frustration emerged from far broader things, from the fact that the debate centered only on whether Tony lived or died when Chase actually intended to close the series with a dramatically different question answered. In all fairness, Chase is probably contractually constrained from stating that Journey's song accompanies Tony's death, but I really don't think that he ever intended it to do so. That's why, at the beginning, he said that it did not matter if Tony died that night or later. How does one square his statement to that effect with the idea that he intended the cut to black to represent a point of view of a dead man? It doesn't work. And he's right about the execution. He hit people over the head with Livia saying "it's all a big nothing" and the Soprano's Home Movies line, revisited in Blue Comet, about death hitting so quickly. But he meant it as misdirection to get people salivating for such a conclusion - just as Members Only Jacket Guy was probably only taking a piss - and while we all expected Meadow to get whacked while parking, nothing ever happens. He hit his audience a bit overmuch with the 2x4 that Tony was getting killed, and Chase's misdirection was taken for his message.
I can understand why he was frustrated by that. Over time, he's regretted this, and his later comments hint more strongly at death. I think that's because, if he talked about moral redemption, he thinks he would not be taken seriously. It just went over everyone's head so much, that to admit such would show his artistic effort really did fail. I think that's his point when he says that it did not matter whether Tony died that night or another time - and anyone who does think MOJG whacked him in Holsten's has to find a way to square that up. Personally, I think there are just too many hills and mountains to get through to find that Tony never left Holsten's alive - and the dreamy nature of the scene, and the improbable actions of the characters, the high symbolism, all get in the way of that. Please don't forget that Tony put his back to 38 caliber (and 22 caliber) and the mansion and the tiger when he chose to sit down, turning his back on all of the things associated with death.
9. Much has been made about the sequence of Tony's alleged "POV" views of the door, associated with a bell on the door chiming each time someone entered (except for the entrance of two African Americans, when it really wasn't heard at all!), but, and this may be significant, none of those shots were truly POV unless Tony had acquired eyeballs with 1.5 or 2.0 magnification. His seat in the back of the long, narrow Holsteins would have afforded him an actual view that included all of the booths between him and that door, the booths and walls on both sides, and the long display cases on his left and the counter on his right, with a small view of the door, perhaps 10% or 15% of his field of view. Each of the shots that show someone entering show precisely two counter stools closest to the door, no more and no less. Those shots are not really what Tony would have actually seen; they are not the product of a normal 50mm lens for 35mm film that gives approximately a normal perspective and field of view from where Tony was sitting, but, I'd guess a 100 to 200mm lens was used from a location between the door and where the booths start. To demonstrate this, look at the view Tony had when he entered at the door, and then the long shot showing Tony in the booth. Compare them with the depictions showing people, close-up, entering Holsten's afterwards, and particularly compare the sizes of faces. If these shots were not literally what Tony would have seen, the final cut to black cannot be demonstrated to be what he saw, either, and that really challenges the POV theory, if not entirely disposing of it.
10. I believe that the final scene was never meant to literally depict the events surrounding the literal death of character Tony Soprano, but that it was engineered consciously to allow for it to be taken as such for those who wanted a neat ending with the knots tied neatly into simple bows. Many hints and suggestions of impending death were written into the symbolism of the final sequence, and no one is clearly wrong who follows them to conclude that Tony died. But I think that all of them are signposts on a false trail and that a conclusion that Tony died ignores too many important circumstances to be true. Chase tells us, in the final words of the series, “Don’t Stop” and this would be an incongruity were it to accompany Tony’s death. Tony’s literal death was not nearly so important to the writers as was providing us with an ultimate resolution to the central issue of the series, the potential for change, transformation and redemption of a man capable of performing the worst kind of evil. David Chase has written that he considered how the epic was to end from the time of the first season, and I take that issue to be the most fundamental issue he presented. It is unimaginable that he would terminate the series without attempting to resolve the most important issue: I believe that ultimately David Chase was an optimist who so ardently believed that humans can ultimately change that he intended, from early on, a final scene that shows enlightenment and a fundamental transformation against all odds. MADE IN AMERICA begins with Tony portrayed in bed as though laid out in a coffin and what follows is his rebirth. (The theme of symbolic death and rebirth are ubiquitous in Western culture, from baptism by immersion to the initiation rights of the Masons.) Its most important scenes end
dispute with New York, end
animosity and grudges with Junior, and firmly cement him
with his family. He had survived the worse crisis in his life, the experience had changed him, he emerged with his criminal life at a practical end, and like an endless number of men who could not reform until they had roughly hit the bottom of the staircase, Tony changed into a communicant. Whether his character was shot in pseudo-Holsten's or not is not nearly so important as to what the final scene said about the reformability of human character.