CamMan wrote:I think all of the above comments, although articulate as they are, assume way too much about David Chase's personal beliefs. You can't just assume Chase doesn't believe in spiritual awakening or moral transformation.
I am often guilty of speculation. It was my past time, afterall, between seasons.
But especially when I venture speculation about real people, I try to make reasonable inferences from actual evidence and fact, which doesn't mean the inferences are necessarily correct but does hopefully grant them a likelihood greater than mere assumption.
If you've read/heard all his interviews, and if you factor that in to what we learn about Tony's beliefs on the show (and the two are undoubtedly very related), the picture that emerges is that, while he apparently yearns to or would like to believe, he doesn't, in the end, believe in God, certainly not in the sense of an omnipotent force for love or good. I'm too lazy to annotate everything of weight here, but let me throw out a couple of quotes, first from bada's transcription of his interview from the revised edition of the Sopranos book:
Note: Bada and others engaged in a spirited discussion about the Myth of Sisyphus in the above thread and elsewhere, as I recall, but here is a Wiki distillation in case you (like yours truly) had no idea before Chase's quote what the Myth of Sisyphus was actually about):Do you believe life has an arc? Or is it just a bunch of stuff that happens?
Is there a purpose you mean? Everything I have to say about this is in the show. Go look at Albert Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus. It’s all there: Life seems to have no purpose but we have to go on behaving as though it does. We have to go on behaving toward each other like people who would love.
And from a 2004 interview in the New York Times:
He's conflicted but not convicted, as I see it.HEFFERNAN: Tony Soprano seems like he needs confession and absolution as much as therapy. Does Tony believe in God?
CHASE: That's complicated. A person could only answer that by asking whether they themselves believe in God. Do I want to get into all that?
HEFFERNAN: Are questions about Tony questions about you, then?
CHASE: No. No, they're not. But for some reason when you said that I found that hard to separate from myself. I guess he was indoctrinated with it as a young boy, and some of it's still there. But his rational self, his 21st-century self, has to ask himself, "Do I believe in miracles and God?" It's hard to say yes.
That pastor was precisely the kind of advocate/authority for Christian faith that turns off so many, and I think that was the entire reason he was put in that show. He was presented as a superficially earnest and well-meaning person but utterly devoid of intellectual credibility of the kind needed to sway guys like Tony -- and especially cerebral guys like Chase.Just look at the respectful way he presented the Pastor Bob character in 6b, at least until he started with the dinosaur stuff.
I agree with that reasoning, although I still think Chase doesn't believe in change via a divine/religious intervention or experience for reasons already articulated. In other words, it's important to distinquish here between the kind of change experienced by Saul on the road to Damascus and the kind that Hunter Scangerelo apparently experienced after accumulating some DUIs and flunking out of school initially. To me, it's no coincidence that Chase brought his daughter back for that one scene in the last episode. He seemed to want to make the point that people like Tony and Carmela (and Chris and Vito and Tony B and Janice and Artie and everbody else in the Sopranos world who ever yearned to break out of their well-worn rut of "comfortable" misery) weren't candidates for change because they were never really willing to suffer and sacrifice for it. He seemed to be saying, in his own flesh, no less, that he had to work his ass off to overcome his psychic handicaps in some measure, and that kind of progress is not accessible to a guy who still won't give up his life of power and money even after that lifestyle cost him numerous arrests, numerous dead colleagues, two assassination attempts, and one near-death coma.The actual text of the story tells us that Tony Soprano himself was not capable of that type of change. He always reverted to his sociopathic murderous and destructive tendencies. That doesn't mean that Chase doesn't believe in those concepts himself, just that they couldn't or woudn't work for Tony. Chase was just staying true to his characters.
The difference is that I'm not talking about change that emanates entirely from internal drive or that relies upon self for invention and actuation. I'm talking about a transformational experience of a miraculous or divine nature from a force external to the individual that, as a matter of grace, accomplishes the heavy lifting for the person. And as antecedent in this process, the individual admits his own fundamental imperfection, impotence, and need for intervention. It's really just the AA protocol or the notion of Christian salvation all over again. But it's the kind of "miracle" that Chase seems unable to believe in.
For me the problem was that the Tony of the first 3 seasons was not portrayed as a sociopath. He possessed the very things -- conscience (though selective, muted, and often evidencing in odd ways), a capacity for remorse, and a capacity for loving attachments -- that excluded him from the set of people called "sociopaths" as the term is defined in psychiatric circles. He was antisocial, i.e., criminal and content to operate by a set of laws not embraced by mainstream society, but not devoid of conscience and the capacity to love and empathize with others. See the Glen Gabbard book for more details.The problem may be the audiences "projections" of what Tony should be or how he should end up by the end of the story. If you were watching this 86 hour epic in hopes of finally seeing Tony's moral or spiritual redemption then you were in for a devastating and frusturating end to the saga.
Then there was what I still believe to be exquisitely crafted symbolism and subtext in seasons 5 and 6a suggesting a deep, genuine, but repressed yearning on Tony's part to reform his life and be something other than a gangster, a yearning that could be forged into reality under the right stress. I'm not the one who wrote Calling All Cars and Two Tonys and Test Dream and Join the Club and Mayham. Chase did, and so he surely bears some responsibility for fostering the audience hopes and expectations of which you speak.
After numerous fits and starts and insights followed by slipbacks, after his own failures in therapy and the failures of others in sobriety and straight life and anger management, why shouldn't we have expected that, at some point, just to reward us for sitting through all the repetition, Tony would finally experience real personal growth and character shift? I suppose until Chase made the Sisyphus comment, I couldn't understand any argument that meaningful character growth HADN'T been signaled for quite some time before the series end.
I can't speak for others, but, in my case, one has nothing to do with the other. In fact, the question of his survival was never something I really cared about, before or after the last episode. You won't find me in any of the impassioned threads arguing one way or the other on his death.Interestingly enough, this may explain why many viewers just cant see the blackout as suggesting Tony's literal death despite the logic of it because if you accept it, then it truly is the end for Tony Soprano. If you don't accept it, then the story of Tony Soprano, and by extension, his chance for moral or spiritual redemption or change lives on.
I happen to think Chase meant to suggest his death but to leave its precise parameters of time, manner, and place vague and unresolved, and I think the black was only to convey that -- when he did die, whenever and however -- his experience would stand in stark contrast to the "fade to white" death in the presence of deceased family that he experienced when he flatlined in the hospital. In other words, having once eschewed the chance at a white death with "family", a death of something, he would reap a black death, a death of nothing, and would thus realize his worst nightmare, the one he narrated to Melfi in the first episode: he would, for all eternity, "lose his family." It was even suggested in the last episode as he raked leaves, looked up yearningly, and heard the distant cry of ducks in flight.
Again, though, whether he died in the diner or not was largely irrelevant to me since Chase finally made clear by Kennedy and Heidi that the only character change Tony would experience was the total obliteration of his once-evident seeds of conscience. His survival beyond the diner would only be important if Chase ever decided to do a movie or some extension of the series. And even then, I won't go into it expecting Tony to change.