WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON THE FINAL EPISODE OF THE SOPRANOS
Last Sunday night, David Chase delivered a brilliant, knockout finale of The Sopranos that was so unexpected and sly that seemingly most of America missed a key element while they waited for Tony to be riddled with bullets by Phil Leotardo’s guys.
In the next 60 seconds of his life, Tony Soprano will almost certainly get whacked, if all goes as planned. But what many Americans, who reportedly were offended in huge numbers by the “ambiguity” of the final episode, seem to have missed, is not whether or not Tony gets whacked, but by whom.
Tony was not, or more properly, will not get whacked by Phil Leotardo’s goons. He will be murdered by a hit man hired by his own traitorous goon, “Patsy” Parisi, who masterminded the perfect murder of Tony Soprano with the help of his studly son, who, conveniently, is engaged to Tony’s daughter, Meadow.
In the scene following Bobby Bacala’s funeral, with the whole clan gorging on baked ziti, Parisi motions his other son over and whispers some instructions, wearing a very serious face. Something is being plotted. In another key scene, Little Carmine mediates the conflict between Tony and Phil’s henchman and forces Phil’s boys to agree to take the target off Tony. Tony also wants their help locating Phil, but they refuse to go that far. This is not a red herring. Phil’s guys are no longer after Tony. They are grudgingly resigned to Phil’s murder. Phil went “too far.”
Back to Meadow. The perfect way to a don’s heart is through his daughter. (Don Corleone’s story in The Godfather opens on his daughter’s wedding day, when he can refuse no request.) Handsome, successful (in fact, perfect) young Parisi sat opposite his parents in Tony and Carmela’s living room in the final episode, and cooed in solicitous tones to Miss Meadow Soprano that she must learn not to “devalue” herself. The complex drama beneath the words and glances in this scene provide clues to the culmination of this genius plot to murder Tony Soprano, which has been subtly unfolding all season.
Early in the scene, Tony asks the Parisis, “Where’s your other son?” Patsy’s drunken wife, obviously embarrassed by the question, replies that they didn’t think he was invited, since wedding planning was the purpose of the get-together. A few moments later, Carmela suggests to Tony that Parisi’s glass needs a refill. Parisi starts to get up, and is admonished by Tony to stay seated in an ugly little exchange of looks between the men, which belies their camaraderie as future in-laws. Watch the look on Parisi’s face after Tony hands him the drink and turns away. It is the look of a murderer eager for impending satisfaction. He’s the Judas.
Tony and Carmela were not happy, remember, when Meadow started dating the Parisi boy. But as the season progressed, the boy won their hearts. He stood up and protected their daughter against a thug who made an obscene remark to her when they were together in a coffee shop several episodes back. The thug was likely paid by Parisi to insult her, so his son could look good defending her. And now Meadow’s Knight in Shining Armor is making career connections for her with his law firm – with an astronomical starting salary that made Tony and Carmela burst into genuinely joyous whoops and smiles. When was the last time anything made these two that happy? Plus, the Parisi boy treats their little girl like a queen, which is certainly not something any of her other suitors on the show have done.
And what better time to whack one’s boss without getting caught than when you know a rival don has drawn a target on his back? Perfect timing, since Tony and the audience are expecting Phil’s goons to do the job.
David Chase employed this same brilliant timing a few seasons ago when Janice murdered her husband just as Tony was putting a hit on him. We were all bracing for Richie Aprile’s assassination by Tony’s guys, and in one of the most shockingly effective surprises in Sopranos history, Janice had a fit of I’m Mad as Hell and I’m
Not Gonna Take It Anymore and shot him first.
Parisi’s plan has worked like a charm. Nobody in Tony’s camp, including Tony, has had any idea that Parisi wants him dead. Nor, apparently, did the viewing audience. Tony feels relatively safe having dinner out because he knows Phil’s guys are no longer after him. And he’s correct – they aren’t. Parisi’s son knows exactly where Tony will be having dinner with the family on a few hours notice, because, as Meadow’s fiance, he has a direct line to the girl. Carmela informs Tony when she arrives for their fateful Last Supper that Meadow will be late because she is at a doctor appointment changing her method of birth control. The look on Tony’s face shows his discomfort, but also his acceptance of young Parisi as her lover.
Pundits and critics who have weighed in have primarily focused on the simplistic question of does Tony get whacked or doesn’t he? This is David Chase we’re talking about folks, remember? The creator of this amazingly original, dizzyingly complex series, who has given us one of the most exquisite viewing experiences of our lives and kept us hooked year after year. How can people possibly have underestimated him, and missed all the fun? The darned thing was a whodunit – and nobody noticed!
The rest of the fun, then (and there’s much more to come, now that we know Who Killed Tony Soprano), is in How It Happens. If all goes as plotted, Tony gets it right in the head. No question. And his wife, the supreme enabler of his violent, sociopathic life, gets to sit and watch – talk about the perfect karmic end of her story. And so do his deeply troubled son and seemingly bright, successful daughter. His son is already in the booth, and his daughter will be sitting next to her dad by the time the gunman emerges from the bathroom in a moment. She’s running, don’t forget.
So, the assassin comes out of the bathroom (just as Michael Corleone did before he murdered his father’s rival don and a police chief). He will extend his arm in classic style, plug Tony a few times in the head and the heart, drop the gun, and walk fast down the central corridor of the coffee shop. And the posse of boys loitering at the bakery case, his backups, will make sure he gets out cleanly. Simple. Classic.
But what if Meadow arrives just at the moment the gunman emerges from the bathroom (they’re both moving fast)? Now all bets are off. She could easily get shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the poor girl who got an unplanned whacking when Tony’s guys thought they were killing Phil and offed the wrong man.
Of course, they’d never purposely whack Meadow. There’s a code of honor about that. But the assassin will certainly do whatever is necessary to ensure Tony’s murder, and if Meadow is in the way, well, anything could happen. Would AJ leap up out of the booth to stop the killer’s escape? He’s seated on the outside, and could easily try to block the man’s path. Will Carmela watch the murder of her daughter, then her husband, and then her son? She and Tony are trapped in the inside seats against a low wall sporting a juke box riddled with classic American tunes.
And remember that other guy who came into the place who you thought might be the assassin at first? Redneck-looking guy in a plaid shirt, wearing a USA hat? Could he jump up and interfere with the assassin’s exit? Might he be carrying a gun? He sure looks like a member of the NRA.
If you play it out in the cinema of your mind’s eye, all the endlessly, violently balletic possibilities unfold, and it’s so much more perversely entertaining than just seeing Tony get shot. Our love of these characters has been admittedly perverse from the start. So Chase gives us the privilege of letting our imaginations take flight. But American viewers don’t like using their imaginations. Tie it up with a bow, and hand it to me.
Since the airing of the last episode, David Chase has been quoted as saying that if you watch the episode carefully, “It’s all there.” What on earth do people think he’s referring to? Some stale plot to kill Tony by Phil Leotardo that we’ve all known has been coming for weeks and weeks? Chase is a great artist. Among the very, very best this country has ever produced. He’s not an entrepreneur, like most of the hacks who create television shows and movies in this country and are eager to pander to an audience that wants an easy-to-understand story, characters who wear hats that are clearly black or white, and lots of violence. (In other words, David Chase is not to television what George W. Bush is to politics.) But it was this spoon-fed type, capital-letters resolution that most of the American public seemingly expected to see last Sunday night, regardless of what Chase has provided them thoughout the series’ run. There have always been complaints when Chase has neglected to meet viewers’ basest expectations because of our lamentable habit of watching without an ability or willingness to see. Talk about casting pearls before swine.
c. Victor D’Altorio