Sat, 06/10/2017

Tony Soprano: Dead or Alive?

Tony Soprano is dead. To paraphrase Monty Python, Tony’s passed on, he’s no more. He’s bereft of life, he rests in peace. He is an ex-person! I’ve come to understand this, but it was not the conclusion I reached on the evening of June 10, 2007, when the final episode of The Sopranos first aired. That night, I had no idea what to think. I’d been building up this finale in my head for months, years even. A couple of friends I watched it with were disgusted, and seemed to feel almost betrayed by David Chase. I wondered if maybe they were right. Something nagged at me, though, that the final scene might benefit from a second viewing.

About 300 viewings of that scene later, my feelings have changed. For the unaware, The Sopranos came to an end in a restaurant called Holston’s in Bloomfield, New Jersey. It seemed to be somewhat of an innocuous scene, but there was a sense of rising tension as Meadow Soprano attempted to parallel park, and a man who appeared to be sizing up Tony went into the restroom. Just as Meadow was about to enter the restaurant, there was one final shot of Tony, and the screen went blank, and thousands of people reached for the phones to give their cable company hell for this inopportune “outage.”

In my panic that evening, I texted a friend who was best friends with one of the principal writers. His comment? “Perfect. Nothing more to say.” I later came to find out that his friend had been in the editing room with David Chase, helping him to convey what Chase wanted to convey, and had actually told my friend exactly what that was. I later pleaded with him to tell me. He finally looked me in the eye and said, “Omerta.” 

I began to realize that there was more to that scene than my little viewing party and I thought the next day when I checked the late, lamented Television Without Pity message boards. An astute poster noticed a very distinct pattern in the editing. After Tony settles in, there’s a shot of Tony’s face, a bell rings, Tony looks up, and we see his point of view. At the first bell, a woman who resembles Tony’s sister comes in. Second bell is a guy in a baseball cap who I always thought looked like Robert Patrick. Third bell is Carmela Soprano. Fourth bell is a man who strongly resembles the actor who played Tony’s father in flashbacks, wearing a Members Only jacket, and Tony’s son, AJ. Each time: Tony’s face, we hear a bell, Tony looks up, we see a person coming in the door through Tony’s POV. 

As Meadow attempts to park, and the Soprano family makes small talk, we see the man in the Members Only jacket (the same brand of jacket worn by Eugene Pontecorvo in the season six premiere) looking over at Tony. Tony appears not to notice him. After a small discussion of AJ’s new career, and more shots of Meadow parking, Member’s Only guy enters the men’s room. As Meadow rushes toward the door, we get a shot of Tony, a bell rings, Tony looks up and once again we see Tony’s POV… which is nothing (represented by the blank screen) because Members Only guy has shot Tony in the back of the head. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls - in this case, it tolls for Tony.

I can’t imagine why Chase would edit the scene that way if Tony’s death wasn’t meant to have been implied. There are many events leading up to the finale that inform the final scene, and Tony’s fate, but let’s just focus on the strongest two. Take a look at this scene with Tony and Bobby Bacala. Bobby discusses how precarious the life of a mobster is, and he comments, “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, you know?” Tony never hears it, and neither do we. As if that weren’t enough, this point is further driven home in this scene where Gerry Torciano is whacked. The scene is shot in a very specific way. It switches to slow motion, and we see Silvio Dante get splattered with blood while he’s still talking. We hear the gunshot on the soundtrack AFTER the bullet hits Gerry and Silvio gets spattered. David Chase himself has said that the murder of Gerry Torciano is key to understanding the final scene of the series. Again, the bullet kills Tony before he hears it, and we don’t hear it because we’re placed in his POV as we had been 4 other times previously in the scene. 

There are dozens of clues in the final season, and in the whole series that led me to me to my conclusion. There are several references to John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln in the course of the show, and they are ramped up in the final season. Kennedy, Lincoln, and Tony share a similar fate. In fact, there is a scene late in season five where Fran Felstein (Polly Bergen) sings Happy Birthday to Tony a la Marilyn Monroe to JFK, and she places a cap once owned by John F. Kennedy directly on Tony’s head.

On November 17, 1968 there was an infamous incident on NBC. A tense, important Oakland Raiders/New York Jets game was broken away from by the network in order to start the premiere of the made-for-television movie Heidi. Two touchdowns happened in the final minute of the game, and sports fans everywhere were angry.

There are several references to the New York Jets in the final season of The Sopranos. Including this seemingly inexplicable cameo by Jets manager Eric Mangini in the second to last episode of the series. Was this David Chase’s way of cluing us in that another Heidi Game was afoot? The moment the television goes blank in the last moment of The Sopranos would be like NBC cutting off that crucial Jets/Raiders game in 1968. Not buying it? The third to last episode of The Sopranos is titled, “Kennedy and Heidi.”

Again, there are literally hundreds of pieces of evidence to consider. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the part where Adriana La Cerva was reincarnated as a cat! Series finales are hard. Ask Larry David. And the day after The Sopranos finale aired many thought that David Chase had turned in one of the worst series finales ever. But since that day, upon analysis and reflection, its reputation has grown. The more time goes on, the more layers reveal themselves to us. Someone will point something out in a YouTube video comments section, and it will lead you to discover yet another piece of the puzzle on your own. The Sopranos finale is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

- John Dalton