Orbits, Solar Systems, & Onion Rings (or How Circular Travel

Several people commented, privately or otherwise, that they were looking for “more” from me about this episode than the few comments offered in the General Review thread. One expressed a desire for the kind of interminable posts I used to be associated with at Sopranoland.

Be careful what you wish for. This post attempts to sum up my still-evolving thoughts and emotional reactions to the finale and the unexpected way that some of the symbolism from this season played out. And, in the end, I take David Chase up on his mandate for viewer autonomy, becoming awed all over again at the kind of genius that even makes that possible, not only for me but for every single viewer that wishes to exercise it.

When I previously expressed disappointment with how the show “ended,” understand that I wasn't talking about the cut to black, the last three minutes, or even Made In America as a whole. My hopes for Made in America were particularly high only because it was obviously the last chance for what I felt were a couple of crucial, inevitable narrative points to actually come across and rescue me from the personally sacrilegious but growing feeling, particularly since Kennedy and Heidi, that this [The Sopranos] was “all a big nothing”, as Livia might say. But, since those story points didn’t happen, I can’t say that that “failure” (to use a handy word) was a failure of this specific episode but of the last half of this last half season.
Closing a Circle
David Chase said in an NPR interview near the premiere of season 5 that he knew the ending, where he was going, and that it would “close a circle”. Boy were those words descriptive, but not least in the way I expected.

In the last scene, Tony is ostensibly the same man he was in episode one, a guy who shares loving dinners with (but casually and incorrigibly cheats on) his wife; who affectionately teases his son with the nickname “gagoots”; and whose life is most completed and prideful with respect to his intelligent, spunky daughter. He also steals money for a living and uses a plethora of other felonies (bribes, assaults, and murder) to assist in that enterprise. And he has to have one eye out at all times for guys that want to trade him to the FBI or do to him that thing he’s done (or had done) to so many others over the years.

Everyone else at that table is largely the same as they were in that first episode, too. Carmela is still a virtuoso of self-deception who quells occasional flares of conscience by dropping a few grand on a new purchase. AJ is still an aimless, chronic adolescent whose infrequent, transient bouts of depression cause infrequent, transient existential crises and superficial intellectual delving. And Meadow still has problems parallel parking, still likes to climb the fence between family loyalty and idealism, but, when the chips are down, will always be daddy’s little girl.

The Soprano family have all seemed to be in motion these last years, but their paths are ultimately as circular as the onion rings they were eating.

As I pointed out in my end scenario post, orbits and concepts of gravity and space have been a recurrent theme in season 6.

Kevin Finnerty was a solar heating salesman. The Tony of the coma dream was a seller of precision optics, technology useful in building telescopes and other instruments for space investigation. The conference had something to do with space, as there was an Air Force Colonel (Collona) speaking at the convention and a sign at the event reading "Western Div. Mil Spec '06" with a space satellite icon. Coma Carm tells him on the phone that he should come home immediately and "not go on to Houston", home of the U.S. space program. The rising, flaring sun was what caused Tony to yell "I get it" at the end of K & H. The previous episode was titled "The Blue Comet", which billymac brilliantly proposed as a metaphor for a depressed Tony who is about to "change orbits" (disintegrate near the sun or attain escape velocity, leaving the solar system) as comets often do when approaching the sun or a sufficiently large cosmic mass. The poem from which the episode Second Coming was derived speaks of the orbital motion of a falcon, an orbit that eventually fails and flings the bird free when the "gravity" of its trainer is overcome by the delicate force counterbalancing that gravity. There was the espelette pepper of France (home to Carmela's brief spiritual awakening and the beacon that heavily resembled the "death beacon" of Tony's coma). The espelette pepper was "guaranteed to send any grilled steak into orbit." And Tony himself, right before his Eureka moments in the casino and in the desert, observes that a roulette table works on the same principal as the solar system, the ball orbiting the center like a planet around the sun, held in balance by cooperative centripetal and tangential forces until friction finally causes the ball to collapse towards the center.

This last point seems especially important in light of the following excerpt from the David Chase interview dad1153 linked in the countdown thread:
Chase, who growls to himself when he feels the audience missed the point of an episode or a particular story line, cleared up a few minor points from this season.

In an unforgettable episode that began with Tony "assisting the death" of his own nephew, Christopher (the great Michael Imperioli), Tony later went to Las Vegas and did peyote with a young woman who'd known Christopher intimately (virtually all the married male characters had mistresses and got sex from additional women).

The episode ended with Tony in the desert, still high, beholding the morning sunrise and leaping to his feet to shout: "I get it!" Some viewers, including bloggers, insisted that Tony said, "I did it." Chase says they are wrong.

"It was very upsetting when I realized people thought it was 'I did it,' " he said. "To me it was so clear, you know; he had a transcendent moment. Early on, when he was at the roulette table and saw the ball going around, he said, 'Oh, it's the same principle as the solar system.' "
And now we know what Tony “got”, or at least the most obvious version of what Chase wanted us to get about Tony: that he would “go on and on and on and on” in his orbit, in his “Journey,” just as the earth goes round and round the sun; that he will fool you into thinking he’s actually going somewhere but will always end up right back where he started; that his “character arc,” as Christopher would observe, is a multiple of 360 degrees; that when he collapsed in laughter at “he’s dead”, he was referring to the football coach of his Test Dream, the voice that plagued him with questions of his own identity, the one whose mixed message he always wanted to silence, in one direction or the other; that the opposing forces which shape his character would always pull in opposite directions but without inertial impact, ala the inclinations of the girls Kennedy and Heidi; that Tony would always be the kind of man who could dispassionately smother one son while compassionately rescuing another; that when the ER doctor of his coma told him he had “Alzheimer’s”, he confirmed for us that Tony had an incurable identity crisis; that Tony, or at least Chase, will never resolve the dual forces of (little) good and (mostly) evil that hold his character in the delicate balance that has made him so dramatically fascinating to us. Tony will remain on a moral merry go round and only the individual viewer, if he or she so chooses, can get him off.
"Chase-ing" It

At least a few of us have already come to an agreement that Made in America seems as much about David Chase as it is about Tony Soprano. As I pointed out in the review thread, it was by far the most “meta” episode of the series, an episode that really requires no DVD commentary because it is already a commentary on itself.

The scene which best epitomizes this is the scene in the car between AJ and Rhiannon where they listen to a Bob Dylan song, one that seems unlikely to have real musical or even lyrical resonance with them:
Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.
Because I’m so keenly aware of public opinion about the show, in all its embattled and opposing factions, not to mention keenly aware of my own obsession, I honestly think I can vicariously appreciate the feeling of aloneness, the feeling of being constantly watched and judged, the pressure that must have plagued Chase all these years as both praise and scorn for his creation mounted in exponential fashion. And I certainly understand and applaud the need he would feel to say "Screw all that. I will not be ruled by a world-wide focus group. I'll do it my way and who doesn't like it can lump it."

My immediate problem with this ending – and, again, I’m not talking 30 seconds of black or whether Tony lived or died at the end but the last few episodes of 6B – is that it calls to my mind a great basketball game that’s tied on the last possession with the superstar getting the ball and being asked to make the last play or take the last shot, win, lose, or tie. You give it your best and you live with the result, whether it comes off as a sweet swish, a missed shot, a pass to an open teammate for their shot, a missed foul call by an official, or even a turnover leading to an opposing basket. But you don't just stand there and hold the ball or dribble without doing something, content to end right back where you started at the start of your circular orbit. And you don’t pull an NBC and preempt the last few seconds of a tied game of epic proportions, ala the Heidi game. (And yes, this conclusively proves, in my mind, that the Heidi game was what was in fact intended by the name “Heidi” in Kennedy and Heidi, albeit meaning perhaps less what I thought than what KrakowerThing came to believe.)

For those inclined to look at my words only superficially, by "doing something" I mean having the courage to end somewhere different from where we began, to portray a personal vision for a character arc that doesn’t involve a multiple of 360 degrees. And it also means rewarding, or at least not making fools of, audience members who took your characters and your work seriously enough to seek out the meaning behind every symbol, real or imagined, or delve for the motivation of every character action, the subtlety of every complexly quiet scene.

If it’s foolish to take a work of art that seriously, or if it’s foolish to consider a TV show a work of art to begin with, then I readily admit my folly. But if the Sopranos is “just a TV show”, then Handel’s Messiah is just a collection of baroque songs and Cologne Cathedral is just an old building with a lot of windows.
A Viewer Skeptical of Free Will Exercises Free Will
I recently pointed out an interesting and paradoxical dichotomy between myself and David Chase. He is an outspoken proponent of the existence of free will yet has consistently portrayed characters that seem to lack it. His characters can't change, can't seem to do or be anything other than what their genes and environment have programmed them to be.

I've been a firm believer that all behavioral choice is essentially illusory, that people are like celestial bodies whose behavioral paths are determined by dynamic, external forces and a certain amount of randomness. Yet I have consistently hoped for a portrayal of Tony in this series that would contradict that belief.

With that hope, you can see why I have joined those posters that reported going through the 5 stages of grief after MIA aired. (See, even "5 stages" is connected!) And (adding this line in hindsight) I can now say that by the time I finished writing this, I was ready not only for acceptance but for a complete embrace of the ending. I am embracing the notion that, as Chase has demanded, I must write my own ending, even though I will never be more than a fraction of the imaginative dramatist that he is and would much have preferred his determinism to my autonomy. Chase is God, afterall, right CIG?:icon_biggrin: I’m but a mere child seeking my master’s will, and I have no choice but to accept his will that I be free.:icon_wink:

So, per Chase's viewer empowerment, I reject that Tony did a mere 360. I reject that Tony Soprano is an irredeemable sociopath. I reject that the man we saw in therapy all these years, well after his panic attacks subsided, was there only to manipulate and cry “poor me” to a gullible, attractive woman. I reject that his tears and increasingly deep shows of emotion there were ever contrived or false. I reject that he was never genuinely interested in changing or that he was never seeking one, true identity or some kind of personal responsibility and moral accountability in his life. I reject that he could have a near death experience and impulsively murder his surrogate son without those events helping to transform him. And I firmly reject that 2 seasons’ worth of foreshadowing that Carmela would suffer death (or a comparably horrible fate) were just cruel jokes or teases.

Consequently I write an ending where, at the instant of black, a gunman stepped forward (whether the Michael Corleone-dude coming from the toilet or the unidentified black males at the counter) and somehow fumbled a hit attempt on Tony, who stood to greet Meadow at the very instant the gunman started firing. In my ending, a bullet winds up ricocheting and hitting Carmela in the head before Tony reaches his own weapon and kills the gunman. In my ending, Carmela does not die but suffers a catastrophic brain injury that leaves her comatose with little hope for regaining consciousness (a fairly common scenario in season 6, it seems). Her fate, an example of the all-important collateral damage we saw so much of lately, provides at last the celestial body of sufficient gravity to alter permanently the course of our “blue comet,” Tony, and to cause a true “second coming” where the center does not hold and the delicate balance of his orbit is colossally, permanently altered, giving birth to some new, "rough beast".

In my ending, Melfi contacts Tony after hearing news of the shooting, feeling residual guilt over the harsh, unethical way she dismissed him. In time, he returns to therapy, confiding that he felt he was never good enough for Carmela, that he was like a mangy goat that lucked up and snagged a beautiful thoroughbred horse. This provides Melfi with an instant glimpse into the symbolism of Tony’s grief over Pie-O-My and shows that his feelings for Carmela – not a child and not an “animal” – are profound and intense.

In my ending, Tony is not indicted but simply leaves mob life, abdicates his throne, resisting suicidal urges out of a feeling of duty to his grief-stricken, traumatized children and brain-dead wife. While he debates what “life” really is and whether Carmela has one, he recalls that there was a time when his own coma meant he was similarly “dead” and gains insight, through dreams or spiritual sublimation, into how Carmela was his lifeline during that time. Knowing that she is in that same frightening, limbo state, he is moved to a reciprocal show of love and duty, one that sees him care for her in a way that she thought him incapable of in her confession to Father Phil in Sentimental Education. In my ending, the foreshadowing of Tony and Carmela as Abelard and Heloise is fulfilled when Tony, by putting down his gun, is “castrated” and becomes increasingly haunted by dreams where he and Carmela live an idealized love life, dreams that always end with the nightmare of their unreality.

In my ending, NY is intent on annexing Jersey for financial reasons and for retaliating against Tony for the particularly ugly way the Phil hit went down. It’s revealed that Pat Parisi, still ambitious and holding a grudge over his twin’s murder, helped NY set up the perfect location for the Holsten's hit, one designed to replicate Phil’s hit in front of his wife and grandchildren. He does this by using Patrick to find out Meadow’s (and Tony’s) dinner plans that evening, giving NY enough time to set up a hit there (ala Louis’ restaurant in Godfather), a hit to be carried out in front of his whole family.

In my version, Meadow learns, courtesy of Tony, what Patrick’s father’s role was in Carmela's shooting and immediately terminates all involvement with him. She stays in law school but decides to get her feet wet in criminal law by becoming a federal prosecutor. Just as Tony’s life motivated her identification with defendants, her mother’s shooting motivates her identification with victims and with the understanding that organized crime is a blight on humanity. AJ is . . . well . . . not even my wild imagination is enough to deal with him.:icon_biggrin: Suffice to say Carm’s shooting causes Tony to significantly alter the kind of vocational and life assistance he gives his son.

My version ends at some point years from now, after Meadow and AJ have firmly established new orbits of their own. Released by the sense that he can now "stop the bus" and let his children out to “continue on their journey” without him, resigned to the fact that Carmela will never come out of her coma, and enveloped in a never-ending sadness, he chooses his and Carmela’s anniversary for a very special event. He buys two new wedding rings, recalls the anniversaries they spent at the Plaza Hotel, pledges that, from this day forward, he will grant her the fidelity that he denied her throughout their marriage, and replaces the old rings on both their fingers with the new ones. Then he gently puts an end to their mutual suffering, tearfully smothering her with a pillow while images of him attempting to do the same to his mother dance in his head. Along with this he sees flashes of Livia and Junior's failed hit in season 1, Junior shooting him in Members Only, and his "mercy killing" of Chris by suffocation. He then puts a pistol in his mouth, and pulls the trigger.

My last scene of this series shows him approaching the Inn at the Oaks, where he must go through a long, LONG receiving line that includes all the dead victims of his crimes. As he passes each one, he feels the terror and pain he inflicted on them and on their families, one by one. When he finally reaches the porch, he is greeted warmly by Coach Molinaro, whom he knows and who knows him by name.

Tony has no briefcase this time, and when he nears the brightly lit doorway he catches a glimpse not of Livia but of Carmela. He happily goes inside.

That's my ending. But yours is there, too.
"It's all there. If you want to watch it, it's all there."

The "Tony dies and never saw it coming" ending is there. The "life goes on and no one ever changes" ending is certainly there. The "it's all a big nothing" ending is there. The "Chase was just screwing us with all the faux anxiousness" ending is there. The "viewers got whacked" ending is there. The "we are leaving it open for a movie" ending is there. The "third bell tolling when Meadow opened the door" ending is there. The "Test Dream as prophecy" ending is there (right down to Artie pointing to the bathroom, indicating "something bad is gonna happen".) The "Tony is indicted, convicted, and goes to prison" ending is there. The "Tony flips" ending is there, thanks to the groundwork in his relationship with Agent Harris. The "Heidi Game" ending is there.

As the rapper of Fleshy Part of the Thigh said in his redux of quantum physics, "Everything is everything." Or, in the Chase quote released from Alan Sepinwall just this evening, "It's all there. If you want to watch it, it's all there."

We can put it to the test. If there's enough interest, I will open a new forum, a fan fiction or "write your own ending" forum, and we'll see if there's ever an incompatibility between what you imagine and what's been portrayed these 86 episodes.
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

Re: Orbits, Solar Systems, & Onion Rings (or How Circular Tr

That was beautiful. After the gift of life Chase gave to his world, after the gift of the 86 hours we were able to enjoy endlessly with all of his characters, Chase gives us all the opportunity to understand the nature of his gifts however we please. The Sopranos is a gift that keeps on giving not only in its death, but after it as well. All I can say is thank you Fly for your wonderful and insightful post and thank you David Chase for everything.

Re: Orbits, Solar Systems, & Onion Rings (or How Circular Tr

Great post FOMW. I'm still a bit dazed from the finale and all the alcohol it forced me to consume afterwards. I think you really nailed what Chase intended by that ending.

I forget, did meadow have trouble parallel parking in the first episode, too?

This full circle stuff is interesting. It all reminds me of the infamous Seinfeld finale in which we saw the 4 of them sitting in jail at the end with Jerry and George having the exact same conversation they did in the pilot episode about the placement of the buttons on George's shirt. They had come full circle and were right back where they started. Well, except for now being in jail.

I wish Chase had given me his ending, but it didn't happen and I'm not creative enough to assign it my own. I think I'll take the "It's all a big nothing" ending because that seems to best suit my depressed outlook on life. All day I've been walking around thinking to myself "what a disappointment", but everything in life is disappointing so why should this be any different?

Re: Orbits, Solar Systems, & Onion Rings (or How Circular Tr

A fine overview, Fly. I don't know that I enjoy your personal ending, but there is no doubt that one can find numerous versions of endings in there if they want to find it. I do agree with you in that I would have rather seen Chase's view of where things were left than try to come up with it on my own. After all - if I wanted to supply the ending to the story, I would have written the beginning and middle as well.

But I was struck to post more to suggest your summing up of past mentions of orbits, solar systems, etc. was deftly done and I would add that we even see one last glimpse of the beacon that has haunted Tony (and Carmela) - when Tony looks up while racking the yard, we see the view of the sun and sky above him as the camera slowly pans over, creating a beacon-like effect between the sun and the camera lens. We cut back to Tony as he mulls over his life or some part of it while Carmela comes outside to tell him they are eating at the restaurant. I immediately thought after noticing it - Tony has finally found the beacon...he made it home. Of course, what he finds there, we will never truly know. Only assume.
"Leave the gun...take the cannoli." - Clemenza

Think Tony Died? Consider this...

Visit my Blog at Hear the Hurd

Re: Orbits, Solar Systems, & Onion Rings (or How Circular Tr

Great post Fly. I was waiting on pins and needles for something from you that would help rationalize this ending for me. I admit I'm still dissappointed in Chase: fan fiction is nice but in the end I want to know what the person who created "this thing of ours" believes happens. I would just assume forget Made in America even aired and take Blue Comet as the finally...loose ends and all. At least with BC there is a sense of closure.

With any ending to any show, you are forced to imagine the rest of the lives of the characters (even if Tony was killed, the effect on the family etc.) but to build such a tense scene and bring it to no conclusion whatsoever...I see that as nothing more than Chase trying to be cute. A fade out of the family eating onion rings...a diffusion of the tension (i.e. PHEW nobody was there to kill Tony, but man it must suck to have to watch your back like that 24/7) and then the realization he'll probably be indicted soon anyway would have worked just fine. Life goes on, at least a little longer.

I guess that would have been my ending.
A little powdered sugar and he woulda been done!

Re: Orbits, Solar Systems, & Onion Rings (or How Circular Tr

Rike wrote:I forget, did meadow have trouble parallel parking in the first episode, too?
Not in the pilot, no. In the montage to start season 2, she was hitting some orange cones while trying to parallel park, I think. It could have been something else, of course (including nothing), but I took it as an indication that she's not that different from the struggling teen she was when the show opened, trying to "park" in a very tight spot, the spot between idealism and loyalty to her family.
Detective Hunt wrote:But I was struck to post more to suggest your summing up of past mentions of orbits, solar systems, etc. was deftly done and I would add that we even see one last glimpse of the beacon that has haunted Tony (and Carmela) - when Tony looks up while racking the yard, we see the view of the sun and sky above him as the camera slowly pans over, creating a beacon-like effect between the sun and the camera lens.
To expand on this, the faint sound of ducks are heard right before or as he looks up at the sun. There's a palpable feeling of attraction on Tony's face, not of peace but of something alluring to him, something he wishes for. Kind of like the wind in his post coma days.

I read this as alluding to the "there's something after" comment in Melfi's office. His elusive desert revelation came from the sun and from observing a roulette ball that orbits until it collapses toward the center (sun) of the table. He wants and yearns for a life of infinite gravity, to be pulled towards an eternity with his ducks in the warmth and love and light of one mammoth sun. He doesn't want Livia's nihilistic "it's all a big nothing", "everything is black" ending. Which is another reason that I choose to believe that he didn't die when the screen went to black. When Tony dies, he will become part of an infinite, warm light, not an infinite, cold nothing.

Of course you could just as easily say that he did die and he simply got not what he wanted but what he deserved, which was that very black, infinite nothing we glimpsed.

At considerable risk of appearing more insane than I may already appear to many:icon_biggrin:, I must say that I have intuited and known for years that God was speaking directly through this series in some very profound ways, ways that I'm not even sure David Chase knows or appreciates. I think his talent and creativity have been utilized in aid of something that God wants us, the audience and/or Chase himself, to understand about ourselves and our universe and about "good" and "evil".

For those that scoff at the notion of divine inspiration or agency (conscious or otherwise), consider the very mystical, ineffable, indefinable nature of inspiration itself. Speaking from my own experience as a person who's undertaken a number of creative projects in life (I was a musical composition/arranging major in college and am now a video producer), inspiration just comes or doesn't come. There's no way to wish it, to quantify it, to imitate it, or capture it. It just comes and goes in its own time. The best you can be is always open to it and allow it to enter when it visits.

When it does come, it's exhilaration like no other, a fleeting feeling of insight and truth that I've never known from anything else in life. I have on a few occasions been essentially a person taking dictation when I've written certain things, including several posts over the years concerning the Sopranos. In those rare moments, the insights came not from my intellect or reasoning but from a spiritually-imparted truth that my consciousness seized.

Multiple times in writing the thread starter, I experienced that same tingling exhilaration, and I'm recognizing that, for me, the ending Chase gave us is to help me with my personal struggle in understanding the nature of God and free will and the co-existence of good and evil. And the personal truth that's emerging for me is that we all write our own endings. We determine whether we stay in a circular orbit of perfectly counterbalanced forces or break free, aided by external forces but not bound to them. We decide whether we will be sucked into the infinite light or cast into the infinite dark. God is neither good nor evil but is simply everything, of which I am a part. And so it is not the will of some individual force that determines "the end times" or "rapture" (as Detective Harris mentioned) but it is the collective will of "us", who comprise God, as to when we turn the Big Bang around into the "Big Suck" (pardon the expression:icon_wink:). He's not some independent entity who can write our ending for us. "Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

I THINK Chase may be conscious of most of this, as the scripts, particularly from 6A suggest it. But it doesn't really matter whether he is or isn't from my perspective. It doesn't alter the personal truth I derive from the show or from the ending in particular.

It's as if Chase constructed a matrix of pixels or tiny colored dots using millions of different colors. He had to fill in every single row and column intersection with a color. Many of them he filled in with conscious intent and design while he filled others with what, to him, seemed random color choices.

Then we, the audience, each lay our own color filter over the result and see a slightly (or perhaps hugely) different image. The dots that make our final picture are all there and certainly do not seem random to us even though another person with a different color filter might see an entirely different picture.

Applying this analogy at the cosmic level, when the dots of our universe (including us) align such that every filter yields the same image, we will be ready for the Big Suck. The "everything" of the universe will collapse into what is described as the "final singularity" in quantum physics.

And, now, we leave the snake pit and return you to regularly scheduled posting.:icon_biggrin:
Tony, his spirits crushed after b-lining to the fridge first thing in the morning: "Who ate the last piece of cake?"

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