The Final Nine
Every season seemed to have a theme to it and the last is no exception. Throughout, there are signs of finality from the death of major characters to signals such as songs used ("When the Music's Over" playing at the Bing in The Blue Comet) and references towards circles and orbits (a fantastic theory on this can be found in this thread by Fly.) I won't belabor the point other than to point out such things as the many times we see a roulette wheel, the circular onion rings fed upon at Holsteins (best in the state, they say), the article torn from Melfi's Departures magazine at their last visit (and see too the very name of the magazine), the spinning toy helicopter seen as Bobby lay dead and the many references to the beacon seen during Tony's coma dream (as well as by Carm in Paris and Tony both during the "I get it" moment and in the very last episode as he looks up at the sun.) One might even consider the repeated moments of the wind reminders of what Schwinn tells Tony in the hospital about the two boxers - they are like tornadoes, just wind moving in opposite directions.
While previous seasons always had a foil for Tony, this last had only himself. Beginning with the shooting, he worked his way back forgetting anything the coma experience might have taught him and instead found himself fighting a losing battle against what he had been offered time and time again - a way out of the morass of his life. As discussed in another thread Tony might never have had this chance given his raising and the peculiar nature of his parents, but man does have free will and Tony time and again refused to exercise it. In The Test Dream, he seems to have been considering a way out, perhaps via the witness protection route witnessed by the Valachi Papers reference, Artie's major role and his old coach Molinaro dream - he wanted out somewhere deep in his subconscious, or at least to be a normal guy. But how to get there? In his coma dream (or whatever one might like to call it) there are further moments where his deeper mind is looking at his life and what it meant - his soul would be charged with a lawsuit for his crimes and once he awoke, he seemed as if he might move towards a better direction. But he never did.
One might look at his behavior in the final nine as abnormally rough and mean, a thought I had as I watched it - he seemed to be burning his bridges with all those that meant something to him...certainly Junior, though he did offer him one final moment near the end; definitely with Hesh; he considered whacking Paulie on the boat during Remember When and went as far as to kill Christopher for very much the same reason - fear they would snitch him out to the feds. I wonder if he wasn't a little angry at himself for not changing or finding a way out. But either way, he wasn't going to change. After all those years of therapy with Melfi, he never really "got it" even if he said he did. Witness the discussion with Melfi of this very moment in The Second Coming - sometimes you have these thoughts and then they are gone (I paraphrase.) The thought, to Tony, is fleeting. There and then gone. Tony walks around awake but asleep, never able to grab hold of anything meaningful that would cause him to alter his life (and by doing so, draws all those around him into the same hell.)
Consider that of the nine episodes of season 6b, Tony is first seen asleep in exactly every other episode:
Sopranos Home Movies: It starts with the scene from the end of season 5, then we see the kid find the gun and then we see both Tony and Carm asleep. They wake up to the pounding at the door and Carm says "Is this it?"
Stage 5: Starts with the scene from Cleaver (a nasty portrayal of Tony, to be sure), then we see the boys in the editing room and then Tony in the basement (interestingly enough asking Chris if he's talked to the guy with the air mattresses.)
Remember When: Starts with Tony asleep. He then wakes up, washes his face and looks in the mirror. Then he moves to the window to see Paulie come up the driveway with the news about Willie Overall, his first hit.
Chasing It: Begins on a shot of a roulette wheel as the boys are gambling then moves to Little Vito in a graveyard.
Walk Like A Man: Begins with Tony asleep and then cuts to a scene of him walking downstairs singing "Comfortably Numb."
Kennedy and Heidi: Starts with a shot of asbestos being dumped, then the meeting between Tony and Phil, and then the car crash leading to Christopher's death, to the tune of "Comfortably Numb", I might add. I could also mention, this episode hearkens back to the episode in the previous portion of season 6, The Ride. Tony and Chris don't have quite the same fun time this time around.
The Second Coming: Begins with another shot of asbestos being dumped in Jersey as it pans up to show the NY skyline and then cuts to...yep, Tony asleep. To further the point, the next thing we see is A.J. asleep. Curious as this is the episode in which AJ attempts suicide.
The Blue Comet: Starts with Burt Gervasi getting his paper, Sil then kills him, jump to Phil deciding to take out Tony, then to AJ in the hospital and finally to Carm and Tony talking to a hospital admin who suggests that "Kids in crises mostly need an environment of calm."
Made in America: I think we all know it begins with Tony asleep. We first hear what sounds like funeral music that is really the beginning of a version of "You Keep Me Hanging On." The song choice cannot be coincidence, not in Chase's vision. It could possibly be a shout out to those that think Tony might still have a shot for change. And it is used more than once, brought back again as he and Bissel park their van at the safe house where Carm is staying with the kids.
Why show us Tony sleeping so much? Perhaps to suggest that he will never wake from this "depression." Pills didn't work. Melfi could not help him (or he would not let her.) Being shot at in Isabella didn't seem to do it. Nor did actually being shot in Member's Only. The risk of being thrown in jail did not seem to stop him. In the end, he ends up right where he started and in the process took nearly every one else down with him.
Sleeping as a metaphor
Tony is not the only one that sleeps on the show, to be sure. Recall after Christopher is made in Fortunate Son that he finds the position more than he bargained for. After several setbacks his only solace is his bed. When Tony calls, he rolls over and throws the cover over his head. Consider too another of my favorite episodes, Second Opinion. Carmela spends much of the episode coming to a realization, first with Melfi and then her far more confrontational mentor, Dr. Krakower. He pointedly tells her what it is she is doing and what she must do if she truly wishes to save not just her own soul, but those of her children. What does Carmela end up doing? Sleeping on the couch. Recall she mentioned that every one else does it, so why not her? It is only when Tony finally gives in and offers to donate the money to Columbia that she gets up. Meadow and AJ are often seen in their beds sleeping, though these could easily be simply an honest portrayal of youth. However, I find Meadow's example interesting and I'll return to that below. I could also mention, it is rather interesting to me that Agent Harris is in bed when he gives Tony the information on where Phil might be. The beginnings of his "turn?"
One might also consider these words by Chase himself just after the series finale:
Now granted, I am likely one of those so deeply involved with looking at the inner workings of not just the show, but so too the players involved from the director all the way to his characters, but the phrase is telling. Here Chase suggests that there is a larger world out there. Is it looking too far to suggest the title of the final episode, Made in America, might mean more than just the characters in the show but so too perhaps the American public that took to it so much over the years? Could he be suggesting that Americans walk around asleep, not seeing things in front of them as perhaps they should and more focused on television shows than real world events? It's certainly possible. He was not shy about including his own personal beliefs in the show. I was always curious about the Arabs from the first part of season 6. Could they have meant more than just a way to bring Tony closer to Agent Harris? Could they have also been a way to show real world events happening right there next to Tony while he went about his merry way, avoiding the piano hanging over his head and in so doing, show us too?Did you expect people to be so pissed off?
We didn't expect them to be that pissed for that long. It's one thing to be deeply involved with a television show. It's another to be so involved that all you do is sit on a couch and watch it. It seemed that those people were just looking for an excuse to be pissed off. There was a war going on that week and attempted terror attacks in London. But these people were talking about onion rings.
Then, of course, there is the very simple "death = the long sleep" to consider. Those that could not or would not alter their ways found that very thing. Pussy, Ade, Jimmy Altieri, Vin Mackasian, Johnny Sac, Phil Leotardo, Ray Curto, Tony B. and Ralphie, etc. - they all were part of the life and all seemed to ignore that same piano over their heads. Of all of them, Ade was perhaps the saddest. While she enjoyed the fruits of the life, she continually attempted to get Chris away from it. She seemed to just want to be with him. But like Carmela, would she have found happiness as a poor woman? It is an interesting question.
"To sleep, perchance to dream"
This, to me, seems the most interesting part of the theory. Some might call it a flaw. However, I consider it a supreme irony. It is ironic to consider sleep equaling blinders while we see so many of Tony's wish fulfillment, chances of awakening and/or insight to occur while he is actually sleeping. Yet as he walks through life, sleepwalking one might say (and does he not discuss this type of thing with Melfi in the very first season?) he finds those items that offer him a chance out of that hell when he is in bed, either in the coma or during natural sleep. He went to therapy in the first place to stop passing out, for crying out loud. Yet he never fully committed enough to make anything of it. He never did like dream interpretation.
Carmela too if you consider her dreams about Ade much the same - a wake up call that she pushed the snoozer button on when offered some other material item (and I am reminded of the very loud horn in Join the Club that blows just after Roe gives Carm some straight talk about AJ as Tony lies unconscious in bed.)
What I find completely telling is that another we see dreaming is Melfi. And her dreams take her in the opposite direction. They call her back to Tony in Big Girls Don't Cry and then later after her rape in Employee of the Month. Ironically it is in bed, while she is awake when she finally reads the Yochelson study suggesting that sociopaths take advantage of talk therapy and decides to end her treatment of Tony once and for all.
Our other dreamers are Chris (the 3:00 dream we never see), Sil and Paulie. One ends up dead, the other in a coma he is not supposed to wake from and the third likely to die if you consider his fear of the Aprile/Cifaretto crew appropriate. They are in the life and in the same boat as Tony.
The Family at the End
The theme of part one of season 6 seems to me quite simple - once you are in this life, you cannot leave it. I believe this to be the reasoning behind the first episode's title Member's Only. And we then see that play out - with Eugene as he tries to move to Florida but cannot and eventually commits suicide; with Vito as he tries to escape to New Hampshire once his homosexual lifestyle is found out and yet, he must return and try to get back into the action; with Paulie as he attempts to forsake his mother but realizes he really has no one else given his own demeanor and "image" and eventually returns to her; with Chris as he attempts to go straight with the drugs and alcohol only to return to it time and again (to deathly results we find out later) and finally with Carmela as she once more goes through a period of searching while on her trip to Paris only to return to focus on her spec house forsaking thoughts of Ade.
This last is what I really find fascinating. While the Family will surely continue on in the same vein, there may still be some hope with the family - Carm and the kids. Carmela even sees that the longer the children stick around, they remain complicit. She tells Melfi that "there are far worse crooks than my husband" and finally even gets behind the idea of a club for AJ after he works for Little Carmine. She truly is complicit along with Tony at keeping the children close. While it may be out of desire to keep the boy safe, it will likely do no good for AJ in the long run. In the end, the three of them, Tony, Carm and AJ sit at Holsteins eating (circular) onion rings and waiting on Meadow...to me, the only one with a shot at getting out.
While it may seem that Meadow too is taken in with the family at the end - living at home and dating a mobster's son, there are signs that she has a shot to get above that and truly wake up. Her moments of innocence lost occur in bed obviously with Noah in University, but this episode also shows another young woman completely taken in the life. The comparison could not be stronger. Meadow then takes up with Jackie Aprile, Jr. and seems completely at a loss when he dies such that she ends up in bed again and Carmela is forced to "wake her up." She struggles with his death, spending a lot of time away from school and worrying her parents but in the end, she finds some solace in working in law, donating her free time. It might seem that she gravitates towards it due to seeing her father's "persecution" but she is also the one that we see trying very hard to park her car correctly in the end. She's not with her family at that table. She seems to be separated from them. Is it possible she might truly "wake up?"
* * *
There is so much to take from the show at its end that it is hard to wrap my mind around all of it. Even watching it from beginning to end causes the brain to go into overload. "Tony is unprepared" is a huge thought that constantly rolls around in my head and if one wishes to see why he doesn't wake up, that is the case. Yet he only recognizes that while he is asleep. There is also the curious title of Kennedy and Heidi that I think plays deeply into this series and many others have more than scratched the surface on that. If one wanted to look closely, I think we can at least see that there is a connection between the blackout of the "Heidi game" and the blackout that occurs at the end of the most Kennedy centric episode of the series - In Camelot. Of course, the "Heidi game" also brings back football symbolism that speaks to Tony "never having the makings of a varsity athlete" that bugs him so much - and yet again causes one to consider his unpreparedness dream. Witness too the huge football centric mural hanging over Tony's head as we see him framed in Holsteins before the family shows up. I'm still puzzling over the lack of the third verse of "Three Bells" - we hear bells in Holsteins but we don't hear the last verse of the song. Could it be that the bells represent an alarm and it never rings for Tony?
I can get behind the thought of Tony dying at the end as it seems a natural end for a guy like him. He said it himself. There are plenty of clues. But there seems more there than just death, though as we all know, it is the "big sleep." There just seemed more offered to us in the show than just that. And when asleep it is likely that "you probably don't even hear it when it happens." To me, a deeper meaning of "it" is truly waking up. How can he hear it? Tony's sleeping.