EDIT: Whoops, forgot the link. Thanks Fly!
...And no, there's no clear-cut "yes" or "no" answer to that question. Just want to get that out of the way first.
Despite anyone left who's still really sore about the lack of definitive answers to the most literal question of Tony's mortality, this is really fascinating stuff, and definitely the most he's ever said on the matter. I always wished for a director's commentary on Made in America on the DVD sets, and well - as far as the last five minutes go - here it is. As tight-lipped as Chase usually is, I almost had a hard time believing these were his own words - and would've remained very skeptical, if not for the fact that the Director's Guild is as a reputable source as any.
It's interesting here that he confirms a lot of what's included in the infamous Master of Sopranos analysis, as far as the technical steps he took throughout the scene to build tension and suggest the death of Tony. This is the most Chase has ever said about a very concerted effort to invoke the image of Tony's death as a possibility through the end of the series. Where he parts ways with Master of Sopranos, though - and plenty of other fans who just want to know whether or not Tony's brains ended up all over his bowl of onion rings - is that Chase continues to maintain that that's really not the point. And I don't think that's a cop-out. I believe he speaks with complete, genuine earnestness about the larger philosophical conversation he would rather get at.
Quoting the article here for convenience:
It was my decision to direct the episode such that whenever Tony arrives someplace, he would see himself. He would get to the place and he would look and see where he was going. He had a conversation with his sister that went like this. And then he later had a conversation with Junior that went like this. I had him walk into his own POV every time. So the order of the shots would be Tony close-up, Tony POV, hold on the POV, and then Tony walks into the POV. And I shortened the POV every time. So that by the time he got to Holsten's, he wasn't even walking toward it anymore. He came in, he saw himself sitting at the table, and the next thing you knew he was at the table.
Alik Sakharov, the DP, and I saw the location and talked about it a lot. I had a vision in my head when I wrote it, but when you move into a place you have to figure out how to shoot in that location. We wanted to be in the middle of the room obviously, so we could be on either side of the booth. We didn't want to be shooting against a blank wall on one side of the booth; we wanted it to be in the middle to give it depth all around. But there was a radiator unit in the only place where we would really have the room, so we had to build a booth over that radiator unit. It was very difficult. And we did not have much room to dolly or track around. So a lot of what we did in this scene came about after going to Holsten's. The vision has to coalesce with the real physical location.
Tony's flipping through the jukebox; it's almost like the soundtrack of his life, because he sees various songs. No matter what song we picked, I wanted it to be a song that would have been from Tony's high school years, or his youth. That's what he would have played. When I wrote it, there were three songs in contention for this last song, and 'Don't Stop Believin'' was the one that seemed to work the best. I think it's a really good rock 'n' roll song. The music is very important to me in terms of the timing of the scene, the rhythm of the scene. The song dictates part of the pace. And having certain lyrics of the song, and certain instrumental flourishes happen in certain places, dictates what the cuts will be. I directed the scene to fit the song. The singing gets more and more strident and more invested as the song goes along. Musically it starts to build and build into something as it's just about to release. And when you look at the scene, you get that feeling.
I love the timing of the lyric when Carmela enters: 'Just a small town girl livin' in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin' anywhere.' Then it talks about Tony: 'Just a city boy,' and we had to dim down the music so you didn't hear the line, 'born and raised in South Detroit.' The music cuts out a little bit there, and they're speaking over it. 'He took the midnight train goin' anywhere.' And that to me was [everything]. I felt that those two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. That is their life. It means that these people are looking for something inevitable. Something they couldn't find. I mean, they didn't become missionaries in Africa or go to college together or do anything like that. They took the midnight train going anywhere. And the midnight train, you know, is the dark train.
Tony hears the bell when the door opens and he's repeatedly looking up when he hears it throughout the scene. That rhythm is very important to the scene. The bell harkens back to the first episode [of the second part] of the final season called 'Sopranos Home Movies,' when Tony is out on a dock on this lake, and every once in a while a boat's bell dings and brings him out of himself and back to the present. So here's the bell again, and sure enough, he looks up, and then he gets distracted, and there's the bell again. In my mind, it's like a meditation bell. Not to be thinking about the past, not to be thinking about the future, only about now. It's like the song 'This Magic Moment.' I used that at the end of 'Sopranos Home Movies,' and it's one of the songs he sees on the jukebox in this episode.
My thinking about wanting to introduce A.J. and the guy together was that both the audience and Tony would not focus on the guy so much, they would focus on A.J. Tony would focus on his son, rather than the man who might be there to do him harm. A lot of the audience I gathered doesn't like A.J.; they think he's a useless, spoiled fool. But there's also something about him that is earnest. He's got his father's kind of questioning and kind of little boy innocence. When I see Tony reach across and grab his arm [when he arrives], it makes me feel really good. Not only that, I'll tell you who else is reaching across the table, that's Jim Gandolfini reaching across to Robert Iler in the last scene they're going to do together. I never talked about it with them, but I know for a fact.
Cutting to Meadow parking was my way of building up the tension and building up the suspense, but more than that I wanted to demonstrate the lyrics of the song, which is streetlights, people walking up and down the boulevard, because that's what the song is saying. 'Strangers waiting.' I wanted you to remember that is out there. That there are streetlights and people out there and strangers moving up and down. It's the stream of life, but not only that, it's the stream of life at night. There's that picture called History Is Made at Night [from 1937]. I love that title. And that kind of echoes in my head all the time.
I just wanted the guy to look over. I didn't want him to look particularly menacing. And he glances off Tony so quickly. We worked on that quite a bit so he wasn't staring at him. The guy was like looking around the place in general. Tony doesn't acknowledge that he sees him. Tony leads a very dangerous, suspicious life and he's always on guard. But he's in this old-fashioned American sweet shop with those round stools and the counter and the football hero pictures and Cub Scouts. Everything that should make him feel at ease, and yet there is a slight ill at ease feeling which we bring to it because we know who he is and what he's done. And he can never be sure that any enemy is completely gone. He always has to have eyes behind his head.