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When he answered the "Did Tony die" question, he was laconic.
August 27, 2014 9:25 AM   Subscribe

David Chase finally answers the question he wants fans to quit asking. (Agita warning: spoilers. Whaddya, nuts? )

Martha P. Nochimson: "The cut to black brought to American television the sense of an ending that produces wonder instead of the tying-up of loose ends that characterizes the tradition of the formulaic series. Tony's decisive win over his enemy in the New York mob, Phil Leotardo, is the final user-friendly event in Chase's gangster story that gratifies the desire to be conclusive, and it would have been the finale of a less compelling gangster story. The cut to black is the moment when Castaneda and the American Romantics rise to the surface and the gangster story slips through our fingers and vanishes."
posted by scody (134 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Every television show is just inside of another television show snow-globe.
posted by Fizz at 9:32 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


What David Chase imagines happens past that moment of the show really has no more authority as an answer to the question "did Tony die" than what anyone else imagines. Until such time as a new series of The Sopranos is released, the answer to the question "did Tony die?" is "the show didn't get that far."
posted by yoink at 9:40 AM on August 27 [21 favorites]


This is a great article; thank you for posting it.

Perhaps unfortunately, reading it has lodged "Comfortably Numb" pretty securely into my mind's ear.
posted by gauche at 9:40 AM on August 27


So it's a metaphor for the unknown events that will continue to transpire long after the viewers glimpse into that world has faded?
posted by grog at 9:40 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


Everybody dies.
posted by bonehead at 9:40 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


What David Chase imagines happens past that moment of the show really has no more authority as an answer to the question "did Tony die" than what anyone else imagines. Until such time as a new series of The Sopranos is released, the answer to the question "did Tony die?" is "the show didn't get that far."

It's not really a question about what happens after the end of the series, though. The question everybody asks is whether the sudden cut to black indicates Tony being shot in the head at that moment.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:46 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Whatever. I won't stop believing.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:48 AM on August 27 [8 favorites]


I know the whole point is that we shouldn't care and it shouldn't matter, and yet I am deeply pleased that this answer matched my own hunch.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:48 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


It's not really a question about what happens after the end of the series, though. The question everybody asks is whether the sudden cut to black indicates Tony being shot in the head at that moment.

But, again, that question has literally no answer until such time another series of The Sopranos airs and it gets answered. I mean, all we can glean from what Chase says is that either at the time he wrote the episode or at the time he answered this question or both he was inclined to think that if he were to write a subsequent episode it would be one in which Tony was alive. But it's trivial to show how little weight that has.

Imagine you're a showrunner. You write a season ender in which a key character may or may not have died in the final scene. You fully intend that that character is not dead. You fully intend to open the next season with that character alive, having miraculously escaped the pack of rabid chihuahuas that seemed certain to have devoured her at the end of the last season. This is all firmly present in your mind as show creator and showrunner--o.k.?

Now, imagine that the actor quits the show in the offseason. You are forced to change your mind. Now the season opener begins with the chihuahuas ravaging a now unrecognizable dead body. That character died--and they died in the last episode of the previous season. Ergo, what the writer/creator/showrunner thinks might or should or must happen to a character is irrelevant to the question of "what happened on the show?"
posted by yoink at 9:57 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Best ending of a television show ever.
posted by sallybrown at 10:03 AM on August 27 [14 favorites]


I thought the ending was perfect.
posted by Nevin at 10:05 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Its pretty clear that Tony died. I mean it alluded to it the entire last half of season six. It makes more sense to me to believe that he did die. Plus it is supported by the text. There, obviously, is no definitive answer but that's the point and that's the fun.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:05 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


I was really disappointed by that final scene that showed Tony had moved to the Pacific Northwest and become a lumberjack.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:06 AM on August 27 [21 favorites]


He is forthcoming, but tends to maintain a reserve about his own work, insisting that if he could say what it means then he wouldn't have to write it.
posted by Nevin at 10:08 AM on August 27


Best ending of a television show ever.

One of, certainly. In general serial TV is very, very hard to end well. It's very hard to tack proper narrative closure onto a story that was never originally designed to have the completeness of a single narrative arc. Most of my favorite TV series have endings which I rather dislike. I think the black-screen was a kind of brilliant acceptance of the impossibility of "wrapping things up" in any satisfying way. The cameras go dark. We leave this world. We're free to imagine it continuing in any way we please.
posted by yoink at 10:08 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


But, again, that question has literally no answer until such time another series of The Sopranos airs and it gets answered.

And even then, it won't be answered, because the writers after that can just retcon it away, either subtly or not. You might as well say that the question of "Who won the Battle of Helm's Deep?" has no answer, because people can rewrite Tolkien to their hearts' content.

But when the guy who is the singular auteur of the series, the sole credited writer of the episode, and the director of the episode gives you an unequivocal answer as to what happened after the cut to black, then that is the answer.

Until something else happens. The fact that the answer might change doesn't mean that right now, it's the answer.
posted by Etrigan at 10:09 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


Best ending of a television show ever.

short of a few random episodes, I didn't watch the Sopranos as it was happening, and I still haven't seen it all the way through. But I did track the discussions surrounding the final season from a distance, the final episode in particular.

It was very clear to me that Tony did not die. I mean, what kind of hell was that? That a situation that he thinks is fatal for him and everyone he loves is fatal, and they are all killed together. That's not hell. Hell is life continuing and every situation carrying that heavy gravity -- that constant, unrelenting dread.

I didn't even see that final episode, but it was clear to me from my seat out here in the internet that it was a brilliant ending.
posted by philip-random at 10:10 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


But when the guy who is the singular auteur of the series, the sole credited writer of the episode, and the director of the episode gives you an unequivocal answer as to what happened after the cut to black, then that is the answer.

Nope. It's an answer to "what is going on in David Chase's mind." It is not, at all, an answer to "what happened in the TV series The Sopranos."
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Chase believes, with good reason, that the inability of the marketers to pigeonhole his first film, 2012’s Not Fade Away, is responsible for its less-than-stellar showing at the box office.

Hrmmm... I would say the films failure was because it was absolutely horrible and boring and unwatchable. What a disappointment.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:13 AM on August 27


It was very clear to me that Tony did not die. I mean, what kind of hell was that? That a situation that he thinks is fatal for him and everyone he loves is fatal, and they are all killed together. That's not hell. Hell is life continuing and every situation carrying that heavy gravity -- that constant, unrelenting dread.

What does hell have to do with it? The entire Sopranos clan has made the decision to live with and profit from the consequences of horrific crimes. The panic attacks that afflicted Tony Soprano and his son at the beginning of the show may be hereditary, but they also were a product of the psychological conflict both father and son were living through. And then, by the end of the series, they made their choice. There will be no conflict and no psychological conflict, and no living hell.
posted by Nevin at 10:14 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?

...So when he answered the "Did Tony die" question, he was laconic.

He shook his head "no." And he said simply, "No he isn't".


Did Tony does grammar an article?
posted by forgetful snow at 10:14 AM on August 27 [11 favorites]


But, again, that question has literally no answer until such time another series of The Sopranos airs and it gets answered.

It has an answer if the question is "was the fade to black meant to indicate Tony's death?", as in, "was that an artistic flourish that was meant to communicate Tony's death to the viewer" because if that's what was intended, then he did indeed die at the end of the series.

The answer of course is that there was no such intention and there is nothing to indicate whether Tony lived past that moment or not. The "Gangster Genre Trope" would sort of require him to die at the end, and the writers knew that, so they're having a little fun with it.

It was very clear to me that Tony did not die....Hell is life continuing and every situation carrying that heavy gravity -- that constant, unrelenting dread.

That's what the scene accomplishes, in my mind. The viewer gets no more closure than the characters in their fictional world. Tony doesn't know any more than us if a hit man is going to walk through that door and shoot him and his loved ones while they eat dinner and they have to live with that and so do we.
posted by Hoopo at 10:17 AM on August 27 [9 favorites]


But when the guy who is the singular auteur of the series, the sole credited writer of the episode, and the director of the episode gives you an unequivocal answer as to what happened after the cut to black, then that is the answer.

Nope. It's an answer to "what is going on in David Chase's mind." It is not, at all, an answer to "what happened in the TV series The Sopranos."


Was the cut to black part of "the TV series The Sopranos."? If so, then asking whether that cut to black represented -- not "symbolized," not "can be interpreted to mean," but was intended to represent -- the death of Tony Soprano (as has been argued for seven years and will probably continue to be even after Chase's declaration) is absolutely within the realm of "what happened in the TV series The Sopranos.", and Chase is the one person who can give us that answer. The fact that some misguided HBO executive might commission The Sopranos II: Meadow's War some day doesn't mean that today, we know that the intent of the author was that Tony lived through that cut to black.
posted by Etrigan at 10:18 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


(or what Hoopo said)
posted by Etrigan at 10:18 AM on August 27


I am not sure why I shouldn't just take him at his word. TS did not die in the series.
posted by 724A at 10:21 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Actually, the thing that threw me most about the article was "wait, the guy who wrote The Sopranos also created Northern Exposure???"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


I approve of the idea that David Chase is not especially privileged when it comes to saying what events on the show mean -- once you release a work of art into the world, people will bring their own interpretations into play. That's what makes something art.

But this insistence that the only things that happened on the Sopranos are the things that happened onscreen is bizarre. I mean, guys, none of it was real, none of it actually happened, it was a bunch of camera people recording actors reciting pre-written lines. So yeah, it's OK to read into things that aren't shown on the screen, because the whole damned exercise is fiction.

I like this interpretation of the screen going black, and it's the one I've held since I saw the finale. What a great ending.
posted by leopard at 10:29 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Chase has said repeatedly that it's important he should not explicitly answer the question, and even that there are multiple ways of interpreting the ending. Maybe he was just annoyed at being asked the question again, and decided to blurt out an arbitrary answer. I wouldn't take it seriously unless he gives more detail about his intent.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:30 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


I'm with Yoink. The question of what Chase intended is fine, but the question "Did Tony die?"—which is what this author purports to answer—doesn't have an answer because Chase chose not to put it into the series. (Yes, I'm one of those people who thinks most of the field of lit crit is bunk.) You can write anything you like into your work. You can redraft and revise until you're satisfied something is clear, or you can leave deliberate ambiguities. But once you publish, the work is now in the audience's hands. It goes for David Chase, it goes for JK Rowling, it goes for any author who says afterward, "Here's what I meant..."

...which incidentally is what Chase did say somewhere immediately following the episode, that he didn't think he had created ambiguity. I love the series, but I always think it's bizarre more people don't talk about that stumble in the context of what an awesome, amazing writer he was. Okay, yeah. He is. And I personally think the ending works great. But if he didn't intend ambiguity, and pretty much everybody alive read ambiguity...well, that's a communication failure.
posted by cribcage at 10:31 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


I do not understand the obsession over that last scene, at least from those agonizing over whether he died at the end of it. I thought it was pretty obvious that we were being shown how Tony has to live his life. Every person that walked through that door could be an assassin or it could be a member of his family. It was presented perfectly, who cares if he dies or not at the end, that isn't the point.
posted by zzazazz at 10:36 AM on August 27 [9 favorites]


Was the cut to black part of "the TV series The Sopranos."? If so, then asking whether that cut to black represented -- not "symbolized," not "can be interpreted to mean," but was intended to represent -- the death of Tony Soprano (as has been argued for seven years and will probably continue to be even after Chase's declaration) is absolutely within the realm of "what happened in the TV series The Sopranos."

No, this is simply and demonstrably wrong. If the show had ended with Tony being shot in the face and his head exploding all over the table and then we'd cut to a mortician working on Tony's corpse and then to a funeral scene and then the credits had rolled and David Chase had walked out and said "oh, by the way, in my mind Tony Soprano continues to live on" that would not change the answer to "what happened at the end of The Sopranos"--which would be "Tony died."

What the author intends is A) unrecoverable and unprovable (David Chase has said multiple things about that ending--the fact that he said this one thing once, long after the program aired--is NOT proof of any kind as to what was in his mind or what he "intended" at the time that he wrote the episode). B) not a controlling factor in our understanding of the text. Authors often have odd takes on their own material. We frequently come to a wide agreement as readers that a text means something quite different from what the author seems to think it means.
posted by yoink at 10:36 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Hands up if you skimmed the article until an unambiguous yes/no answer was printed.
posted by Mr. Six at 10:37 AM on August 27 [14 favorites]


Best ending of a television show ever.

I don't know. I thought it would have been pretty great if he had woken up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette.
posted by spacely_sprocket at 10:44 AM on August 27 [9 favorites]


I didn't really follow the series, so maybe I know nothing, but... that scene is so obviously a David-Lynchian-fucking-with-the-audience moment, it's so clearly a kind of meta-joke.

The cutaways to Members-Only-jacket guy (which serve no other purpose but to make you think something's going to happen), the Journey song joke (which the article doesn't even reference? WTF), the exact moment of the cut to black. It's meant to deny you closure, it's meant to say "Who cares who killed Laura Palmer, that's not the point." It's like how Funny Games used the tropes of POV and reaction shots to set up an expectation in your head and then deny it to you.
posted by fungible at 10:44 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I do not understand the obsession over that last scene, at least from those agonizing over whether he died at the end of it

People like and expect closure on TV, this ending didn't give a lot of them enough of it. Pretty simple, really.
posted by Hoopo at 10:48 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I always looked at that ending and thought, "No, tonight it's just Meadow walking through the door. The point is that some day, it is certain not to be."
posted by tyllwin at 10:48 AM on August 27 [11 favorites]


fungible: there are also those scenes at the end with Meadow Soprano parallel parking! So thrilling!
posted by leopard at 10:49 AM on August 27


But this insistence that the only things that happened on the Sopranos are the things that happened onscreen is bizarre. I mean, guys, none of it was real, none of it actually happened, it was a bunch of camera people recording actors reciting pre-written lines. So yeah, it's OK to read into things that aren't shown on the screen, because the whole damned exercise is fiction.

You're misreading my point if you think I'm saying that the scene cannot be interpreted. I'm simply saying that Chase's opinion voiced years after the fact is not a useful guide to that interpretation. It's not meaningless to argue about whether or not some sequence of symbolism in the scene tends to point towards "yes he died" or "no he lived." It's not meaningless to talk about the audience's expectations from the genre tropes of mob dramas and how they influence our understanding of the events in that scene etc. etc. What is meaningless is to say "I will pick one of the various things David Chase has said about this scene and insist that that is the last possible word on how we understand it."
posted by yoink at 10:52 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


If the show had ended with Tony being shot in the face and his head exploding all over the table and then we'd cut to a mortician working on Tony's corpse and then to a funeral scene and then the credits had rolled and David Chase had walked out and said "oh, by the way, in my mind Tony Soprano continues to live on" that would not change the answer to "what happened at the end of The Sopranos"--which would be "Tony died."

The question wasn't "What happened at the end of The Sopranos?" As the author of the linked article puts it, "I finally asked him whether Tony was dead." Chase's reply was "No, he isn't." That's what people have been arguing for the last seven years -- whether the cut to black represents Tony's death. Interpretation or "our understanding of the text" is one thing. I totally agree that those things can go in ways that authors don't expect, or even want. But the question has always been "Was that supposed to mean that Tony died?" And Chase has answered that.

What the author intends is A) unrecoverable and unprovable (David Chase has said multiple things about that ending--the fact that he said this one thing once, long after the program aired--is NOT proof of any kind as to what was in his mind or what he "intended" at the time that he wrote the episode).

Just because Chase has said multiple things (all of which that I've personally read being variations on "I don't want to give a final answer" -- I welcome any contrary quotes) doesn't mean that when he finally gives an answer, it's invalid.
posted by Etrigan at 10:53 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


yoink, here is your first comment in this thread:
What David Chase imagines happens past that moment of the show really has no more authority as an answer to the question "did Tony die" than what anyone else imagines. Until such time as a new series of The Sopranos is released, the answer to the question "did Tony die?" is "the show didn't get that far."
First sentence: totally agree, but what Chase has to say is still noteworthy and part of the discussion.

Second sentence: this is where you seem to be saying that the cut to black is outside the realm of interpretation.
posted by leopard at 10:56 AM on August 27


Just because Chase has said multiple things (all of which that I've personally read being variations on "I don't want to give a final answer" -- I welcome any contrary quotes) doesn't mean that when he finally gives an answer, it's invalid.

It's "valid" as evidence of "what David Chase thinks at this particular moment." It is not valid as evidence of "what David Chase was thinking at the time he wrote the episode"; or of what he was thinking at the time the episode was being kicked around the writer's room; or of what he was thinking as he did whatever rewrites he did to the piece before and during shooting; or of what he was thinking as the show aired--any one of which could be held up as his "real" intention.

And regardless of what he intended the scene to mean (at any of those times) the scene means what it means. If I say "please buy me six potatoes" I might intend you to understand "seven lemons" but what I said meant "six potatoes" regardless.
posted by yoink at 10:58 AM on August 27


Before that episode of Game of Thrones with Oberyn fighting the Mountain, I would probably given more weight to the fade to black being intended as Tony's death, because surely no one would end a show with a main character's brains spilled out all over onion rings at the table with his horrified family watching, would they?
posted by Hoopo at 10:59 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


David Chase died at the moment each episode was aired, leaving what is on the screen to the interpretation of the audience.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:00 AM on August 27


Second sentence: this is where you seem to be saying that the cut to black is outside the realm of interpretation.

No interpretive argument could ever get further than "and so we see that we are being strongly encouraged to believe that Tony dies/lives in this moment." Clearly no possible future is explicitly cut off in that moment. That is, HBO could have come out the next day with a surprise announcement that they'd all reconsidered and that there would, in fact, be one more season of The Sopranos and nobody would have said "but they can't possibly stay within the broadly realist frame of the narrative and keep Tony alive!"

So "interpretation" remains possible (e.g. "the scene draws on a series of standard mob-drama tropes to subtly cue the reader into the fact that a hit is about to take place and the screen going black strongly suggests that our primary window into this fictional world--Tony's consciousness--has been shut down"). But it remains beyond the scope of interpretation to say "Tony died--for sure and certain." Just as it remains beyond the scope of interpretation to say "Hamlet collected coins as a child." You can't conjure up narrative facts that the text does not give you.
posted by yoink at 11:04 AM on August 27


But the question has always been "Was that supposed to mean that Tony died?"

That's a good phrasing of the heart of the disagreement, because that question is different from, "Did Tony die?" A lot of this comes down to how we take in art. I've always been astounded by people who create entire worlds, in their heads, of offscreen activities and backgrounds and motives for characters. It's kinda neat, but it's miles away from how I personally take in art. For me, it's either onscreen or it isn't. There's fun in interpreting whether Tony dies, but that's a fundamentally different conversation from analyzing what the scene was supposed to mean. The latter is a writers' room conversation—also fun to chat about, but different.
posted by cribcage at 11:08 AM on August 27


No interpretive argument could ever get further than "and so we see that we are being strongly encouraged to believe that Tony dies/lives in this moment."

So what? You know that Tony Soprano wasn't a real person, right? He wasn't really in your TV box killing people and complaining to his psychiatrist? How are there really deep epistemological questions here?
posted by leopard at 11:12 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


It's not really a question about what happens after the end of the series, though. The question everybody asks is whether the sudden cut to black indicates Tony being shot in the head at that moment.

But, again, that question has literally no answer until such time another series of The Sopranos airs and it gets answered.


No, Chase gave us the answer. Your free to ignore it if you don't like it, but it's an answered question for the series than what filmed. "Authorial intent doesn't matter at all" is not actually a fact woven into the structure of story telling. It's the currently accepted post-modern viewpoint, but there's nothing inherently correct about. I don't really care what happens in my "Sopranos", at least not until I hear the creator's take, becuase I'm not interested in talking to myself. Chase's take on what happened is the authority on what's going on in Chase's "Sopranos". Somebody else's take on what happened or what it means is their version of the show, which is not the version I paid a cable subscription for.
posted by spaltavian at 11:13 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


it's "valid" as evidence of "what David Chase thinks at this particular moment." It is not valid as evidence of "what David Chase was thinking at the time he wrote the episode

You don't think he'd remember what he intended to do with the main character of one of his most high-profile creations in the last ever episode? I think you can take him at his word on this. He knows what he wanted to get across with that scene when he wrote and directed it.
posted by Hoopo at 11:13 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Oh, and one last point. You should note that there is a vast, yawning and logically unbridgeable gap between "Tony didn't die" and "I intended people to understand that Tony didn't die." Everything Chase has said about his intention in constructing the scene--everything he has said about what he hoped his audience would take from the scene--remains unchanged.

"Tony didn't die" is a statement about Chase's personal take on the scene. It is not a statement about what he hoped his audience would or should take the scene to imply. So it is incorrect to say that he has given us evidence about his intentions (even leaving aside the issue of whether those intentions might have changed over the years). He has given us evidence of his personal interpretation of the scene he created.
posted by yoink at 11:20 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


This is like the "Is Dumbledore gay?" conversation all over again. Except with less homophobia.
posted by NoahTheDuke at 11:20 AM on August 27


So what? You know that Tony Soprano wasn't a real person, right? He wasn't really in your TV box killing people and complaining to his psychiatrist? How are there really deep epistemological questions here?

Um, what? I'm the one insisting on his fictionality here. I'm saying that all we have to work with is the work of fiction itself. You're very, very badly misunderstanding my point. There is clearly no Tony who lived or died. There is simply the fictional work, The Sopranos. David Chases personal opinions about the possible future lives of his characters are not part of that work.
posted by yoink at 11:22 AM on August 27


"This is authorial trespassing and we don't have to pay attention to it."
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:24 AM on August 27


"Tony didn't die" is a statement about Chase's personal take on the scene. It is not a statement about what he hoped his audience would or should take the scene to imply

Or alternatively, it is a statement about what he hoped his audience would or should take the scene to imply
posted by Hoopo at 11:25 AM on August 27


He knows what he wanted to get across with that scene when he wrote and directed it.

You mean this? "There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clean trend on view—a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela's future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn't matter."

Or was he lying when he said that? Please tell me what lie detector you use to determine that this statement was false and the "Tony didn't die" statement was true. I'd love to know.

And note, again, that the statement "Tony didn't die" is NOT a statement about what he intended the scene to convey.
posted by yoink at 11:25 AM on August 27


Or alternatively, it is a statement about what he hoped his audience would or should take the scene to imply

You are inventing that out of whole cloth. Nowhere does he or has he said that.
posted by yoink at 11:26 AM on August 27


I don't think they are in conflict, at all. Tony dying is "definite". He didn't die, in that scene.
posted by Hoopo at 11:28 AM on August 27


I do think there are texts that admit of fairly strong interpretations even where the reader/listener/viewer is not directly told what happens. Kinbote's presumptive suicide in Pale Fire or Homer Barron's homosexuality in "A Rose for Emily" can perhaps be consigned to the realm of interpretation…but there are plenty of solid reasons that these are the dominant interpretations of both texts.

How independent of its interpretations is "the text" or "the work" anyway? The text alone is a dead letter in the literal sense. Interpretation is what really make a text do work, where its contents become things like "evidence" and "ideas." I think the bright line yoink is trying to draw is not very useful where it is brightest, and not very bright where it is useful.
posted by kewb at 11:28 AM on August 27


Tony may not be dead, but is he a replicant?
posted by Crane Shot at 11:31 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


You're very, very badly misunderstanding my point.

Or, maybe, just maybe, you're very badly misunderstanding my point. I mean, just listen to yourself. "I'm the one insisting on his fictionality here." Bully for you!

This is getting tedious. It's just a work of fiction created by some people. It's simply not the case that "all we have to work with is the work of fiction itself." This is the very definition of circular reasoning.

In short: some guy created a work of art, the work of art is interpreted by other people, and while the author's statement of intended meaning is not definitive there's also no law anywhere saying it is inadmissible to the general discussion.
posted by leopard at 11:34 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Note: Tony died on the way back to his home planet
posted by delfin at 11:41 AM on August 27 [10 favorites]


Tony will live the rest of his life under permanent threat. Even an innocent family dinner out is suffused with danger over his shoulder. Whether that threat becomes manifest in this moment is not really material, and so the show -- as written and filmed -- does not weigh in on that.

What makes the ending brilliant is that its execution (so to speak) also works on a meta level. In real life -- and in the lives of these characters -- the story doesn't wrap up -- it just ends. In an instant. It is a chilling truth of mortality, and by ending the show this way, the show essentially spins around on the audience. It's all over - right here, right now, in this instant - for us. Just like that. Like it will in our real lives. And in Tony's life -- whenever.
posted by thebordella at 11:42 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Kind of like the end of Boyhood, actually.
posted by Nevin at 11:44 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


...I'm not interested in talking to myself. Chase's take on what happened is the authority on what's going on in Chase's "Sopranos".

There are all kinds of different perspectives that can be valid here, but validity aside, I don't think framing dramatic television as a dialogue between writer and audience is a common perspective.
posted by cribcage at 11:45 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


In other words, everything he has had to say about that scene is pretty clear that his intention with the fade to black was not to portray Tony's death. "No he isn't" [dead] seems clear to me on that. The scene is meant to be ambiguous and foreboding. He might die the moment after the last moment we see. He might die next week, or next month. He might live to a ripe old age and die of natural causes in his sleep. Chase did not have any intention of telling us how or whether Tony Soprano or the Soprano family gets hit. The last we see of Tony he is alive. We are left with no answers and the sense that a violent death could be around the corner for any of those characters at any time. This is consistent with what Chase has said about his intentions with that scene.
posted by Hoopo at 11:52 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]



I am not sure why I shouldn't just take him at his word. TS did not die in the series.


Because the internet might die.
posted by philip-random at 12:02 PM on August 27


I am not sure why I shouldn't just take him at his word. TS did not die in the series.

I can easily see David Chase, who is tired of saying "Well, you have to figure that out yourself" and really tired of people constantly asking a question that he has repeatedly refuse to answer, saying either Yes or No just to get everyone to shut the hell up. I think Chase wants the press to STFU and GTFH about this.

I can also easily see this absolutely not working, since we're at how many comments?

I can also see him deliberately giving the wrong answer* because, well, I'd do that if I was annoyed at you asking this goddamn question again.

So, yeah. I'll stick with my interpretation, which is "He didn't actually answer the question because he didn't want to." TS was deliberately left in an eigenstate. And, you know, this new answer doesn't conflict with that -- in the eigenstate, saying TS is alive is just as correct as saying he is dead.


*Where "wrong" is defined as "Different than the intended answer when he shot the final episode."
posted by eriko at 12:19 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


while we have no data about what happened after the cut to black, there are many elements in the scene that suggest an interpretation. (do people remember the dissertation-length web article about the last scene from shortly after the episode aired? i'm not in a position to find it now, but it was a very thorough analysis of the cinematography and symbolism of that last scene. it wasn't shot tha way by accident - the songs "All That You Dream" and "Don't Stop Believin'", the washed out colors, the structure of the POV shots - this was all deliberate film-making, and to suggest that it doesn't indicate an editorial perspective is nigh on impossible for me to swallow.

I'm more inclined towards the intentional ambiguity anti-hero interpretation. We're left asking the same question after the Sopranos as after the Bible - did he die? Is he still alive? What do you believe? Don't stop believing! It's the ultimate manifestation of the anti-hero concept.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 12:28 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


Chase can't answer the question any better than you or I can, now after the fact. The ending was deliberately ambiguous. Can you live with that ambiguity? Can you enjoy that ambiguity?
posted by Brian Lux at 12:30 PM on August 27


Quasimodo predicted all this.
posted by Nevin at 12:33 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I was really disappointed by that final scene that showed Tony had moved to the Pacific Northwest and become a lumberjack.

A chilling lesson that no matter how disappointed you might be in your favorite show, it could always be worse.

Unless Dexter was your favorite show, in which case I can only assume you were comatose from 2010 until sometime in 2013.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:39 PM on August 27


Ehhhhhh... if it wasn't Tony dying, it was the laziest ending of all time. I mean, the options seem to be basically:

(1) Everything stops because he's dead

(2) Everything stops because the writer wants people to wonder if he's dead or not

(3) Everything stops for no particular reason

OK, so he says (1) is not true. And if (2) was true, maybe he shouldn't react to people who wonder about it with "sudden, explosive anger". Leaving (3).

Anyway,
For him, that kind of obsession is as misguided as asking, "What happened to the Russian in 'Pine Barrens'?"
What happened to the Russian was that a few years later he whacked Tony in that diner.
posted by Flunkie at 12:52 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I watched the whole series over the last couple of years and just finished up about a month ago. To me it seems obvious that he *did* die ... I guess we all bring our worldviews to the table. I'm pretty flabbergasted that people think he didn't. It was clearly the Members Only guy.

David Chase must've fallen and hit his head and forgot ...
posted by freecellwizard at 12:59 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


I agree. It's pretty clear Tony died in the world that David Chase created, whether he believes it now or not. Fiction is just another kind of phenomena, upon which we use our senses to form hypotheses. In that sense, Tony is a lot more dead than he is alive.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:11 PM on August 27


I think it all depends on how you perceive the role of the audience in the Sopranos. Was the Sopranos simply a long-running family drama with liberal doses of sex, violence and greed? And so we as audience deserve some sort of closure? It's kind of like the end of Magnum PI, where, at the end of the 7th season Magnum was killed off and was seen wandering around limbo. Fans complained, and they brought Magnum back to life.

Or is the audience itself part of the Sopranos narrative; the Sopranos was, in my opinion, a wicked satire of American middle class aspirations? The show simultaneously invited us to root for Tony Soprano while being (hopefully) revolted by everything that he does (much like the FBI agent who cheers at the news that Tony S has prevailed over Phil Leotardo).

I opt for the second scenario. The Sopranos wasn't a regular show, and therefore giving it a conventional ending ("Tony dies") or setting up things for the potential series revival or movie would miss the entire point of everything David Chase was trying to do.

Which is why I love that show. It was an anti-tv show.
posted by Nevin at 1:15 PM on August 27


I do not understand the obsession over that last scene, at least from those agonizing over whether he died at the end of it. I thought it was pretty obvious that we were being shown how Tony has to live his life. Every person that walked through that door could be an assassin or it could be a member of his family. It was presented perfectly, who cares if he dies or not at the end, that isn't the point.

The point is, it seemed clear to me that we were shown his death - his world went black. It ended. He died. Rest In Peace and Siste Viator, that was the end of that.

I'm not sure I really understand the point of the black screen is if it isn't meant to be his death. Just that we're cut off from his world now? How is that really any different from the camera drawing away?
posted by mdn at 1:41 PM on August 27


So if we're not sure if a Sopranos character is alive or dead, is he Schroedinger's Big Pussy?
posted by delfin at 1:50 PM on August 27 [4 favorites]


I've only seen the final scene once, when it aired. At the time I had the strong impression that Chase was teasing the audience...saying "I know you know this is the final episode, and I know you know it's getting close to the end of the hour, and you're getting pretty keyed up at this point wondering how it's all going to end -- to the point where I can make anyone in this room look suspicious to you just by letting the camera linger on them for a second -- but what if there's actually no
posted by uosuaq at 1:50 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


I'm on the "indefinite" side of the fence, with 2014 Chase. Members Only guy is too on-the-nose to be the killer, but just on-the-nose enough to convey that Tony's life will always be looking over his shoulder.
posted by condour75 at 1:50 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


(and that Chase was fucking with the audience by making THEM look over their shoulder)
posted by condour75 at 1:51 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I'm fine with this ending. Really. Ambiguity is fine. There are so many shows that fail to stick the landing. Did you see the True Blood finale? It made Dexter the Lumberjack look The Wire.
posted by Ber at 1:51 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


The only thing I don't like about the ending is how many people hate the ending and can't deal with it. It was a brilliant way to end a brilliant show.
posted by agregoli at 1:56 PM on August 27 [4 favorites]


I'm on the "indefinite" side of the fence, with 2014 Chase. Members Only guy is too on-the-nose to be the killer, but just on-the-nose enough to convey that Tony's life will always be looking over his shoulder.

I've mostly been on the "dead" side since it aired, but I've never thought it was Members Only guy -- in fact, I've never thought it was anyone we actually see in the diner. So even as it's unambiguous in terms of his death (to me), it's irrevocably unambiguous in terms of the agent of his death.

Though, yeah, it's probably the Russian.
posted by scody at 2:04 PM on August 27


I wish Tony was dead but James Gandolfini was still alive.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:05 PM on August 27 [16 favorites]


if (2) was true, maybe he shouldn't react to people who wonder about it with "sudden, explosive anger"

I think you're closest on (2), though. It's a question I'd be pissed to get asked all the time, too, in his shoes, if he didn't mean for Tony's death (or lack thereof) to be the point.

By having Tony look up all the time, all these random guys walking into the diner were presented as potentially threatening. Tony has to watch and wonder constantly about anyone and everyone. Every time a door opens. Members Only Guy--he wasn't the only guy they focused on. There was also the guy that came in before him sitting in another booth. And couldn't Members Only Guy have just been going to the bathroom, like, to pee or something like everyone else? Unlike the scene in the Godfather, there's no reason for Members Only Guy to have to go to the bathroom to get a secret hidden gun. It's not like he got frisked on the way in by Tony's goons. But yet it's supposed to make you think "oh no, it's just like the Godfather scene!"

I think the ambiguity is fantastic, and ultimately people are misguided to ask Chase whether Tony is alive AFTER we last see him. We didn't see him die and the show's over now, folks. I thought it was very effective and far from lazy.

I'm not sure I really understand the point of the black screen is if it isn't meant to be his death. Just that we're cut off from his world now? How is that really any different from the camera drawing away?


Drawing the camera away wouldn't be as good a way of leaving an unsettling feeling about the characters' future. It would feel kinda "...and they all lived happily ever after", to me anyway. The black screen left more ambiguity, because maybe they don't live happily ever after.

it's irrevocably unambiguous in terms of the agent of his death.

Alternate ending
posted by Hoopo at 2:13 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I find the question of what 'really' happened basically unparseable, other than to answer: "what happened was that the scene cut to black and the series ended".

What does 'really' mean in this case? What happened in God's mind? In the platonic abstract and unknowable universe of tv-shows of which the actual, visible television show is a pale reflection? In the parallel universe where the Sopranos are a real family and which the producers somehow manage to tap into via some hitherto undiscovered electromagnetic synchronicity?
It's like the people who speculate about the final whisper in Lost in Translation.

I can sort of accept this audiovisual platonism, but I find it super weird and alien, nonetheless.
posted by signal at 2:17 PM on August 27


Truly a mystery that only fanfic can solve!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:19 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


For me, the point of the smash-cut to black (it did not fade to black, which would have evoked a whole other panoply of reactions) is that it doesn't matter what happens next. In that final run of episodes, we are given examples of all of the different possible/plausible "endings" for Tony (and the show), whether it's Tony being murdered (eitiher in the diner or at some later date) like Phil, Tony getting arrested, or Tony growing old, feeble, and powerless like Uncle June. All of these could be true in the fictional world of The Sopranos -- and it doesn't matter which one "comes true." The black screen is the end of our window into the story; that's all.
posted by tzikeh at 2:25 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


I haven't watched the Sopranos, so I didn't care much when I saw this pop up on Twitter. I did, however, get a ton of entertainment out of this guy who works at a Vox-affiliated company whining about how the Saved You a Click guy on Twitter spoiled the article (er, sorry, "stole your experience").
posted by Copronymus at 2:28 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


"The experience" being, I assume, that obnoxious giant black screen that pops up when you scroll down in the article. "The experience" can go stuff a live flounder up its nose.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:50 PM on August 27


For me, the point of the smash-cut to black (it did not fade to black, which would have evoked a whole other panoply of reactions) is that it doesn't matter what happens next. In that final run of episodes, we are given examples of all of the different possible/plausible "endings" for Tony (and the show), whether it's Tony being murdered (eitiher in the diner or at some later date) like Phil, Tony getting arrested, or Tony growing old, feeble, and powerless like Uncle June. All of these could be true in the fictional world of The Sopranos -- and it doesn't matter which one "comes true." The black screen is the end of our window into the story; that's all.

I think this is a good point, and I think it's partially why the black screen works for me -- the narrative ambiguity of "what might happen next" feels of a piece with the ambiguity of The Sopranos' moral universe, in which sometimes bad things happen to bad people, while sometimes bad people get away with it. Contrast this with [Breaking Bad semi-spoiler alert] the unambiguous ending of Breaking Bad, which is totally of a piece with its moral universe, in that it requires a kind of clear rebalancing of the scales in the end.
posted by scody at 2:51 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I personally despise stories that end after neatly tying up all the threads, and even more so ones that try to leave everyone happy and secure. I love the ambiguity and uncertainty of how The Sopranos ends. It's delicious and I don't accept Chase's assertion at face value because I believe he also thinks it's delicious.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:52 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I guess we'll never know.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:02 PM on August 27


It's delicious and I don't accept Chase's assertion at face value because I believe he also thinks it's delicious.

I was thinking the same thing. If Chase really wanted to stop all conjecture forever, he'd just say "YES, Tony is dead," thus removing all ambiguity concerning the smash-cut to black. But by saying "NO, Tony is not dead," then as a viewer you still have to explain what the smash-cut "really" means in order to accommodate the idea that it does not signify the bullet going into his brain. So basically, of the two definitive answers to give, he actually picks the one that can't really be definitive.
posted by scody at 3:02 PM on August 27


merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream?
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:17 PM on August 27


I was really disappointed by that final scene that showed Tony had moved to the Pacific Northwest and become a lumberjack.

And we have a spinoff: Tony, Hoyt and Dexter all get together to make up for their indiscretions but perpetrating random acts of kindness.

Oh... perhaps Tony could be played by Wallace Shawn?
posted by sammyo at 3:39 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Tony's dead.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:15 PM on August 27


I think sometime around 2020, HBO should bring back The Sopranos -- with Meadow as the head of the Soprano clan.
posted by fings at 4:37 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


HBO should bring back The Sopranos -- with Meadow as the head

totally onboard with this if the first season kicks off with her assassination
posted by MoonOrb at 4:43 PM on August 27


"Best ending of a television show ever."

The Anti-Chuck
posted by fullerine at 5:22 PM on August 27


What if instead of the screen going black, it went white. Or yellow. Or plaid. How would that change the ending?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:07 PM on August 27


Maybe he was just annoyed at being asked the question again, and decided to blurt out an arbitrary answer.

I would respect Chase even more than I already so if next month he answers the question, "Yes, he's dead," and it turns out he's giving carefully crafted arbitrary answers in a (probably vain) attempt to get his public to understand the unanswerability of the question, like a modern-day Joshu.
posted by No-sword at 6:12 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Unrelatedly, remember when vox.com was a short-lived blogging site? I might've been box on there too--do you think the login still works?
posted by box at 6:23 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


So I see this thread hasn't caught up with the fact that Chase has come out to say that he was quoted out of context and that he continues to insist on the rigorous openendedness of the moment.

I will use this thread, I think, in future when I'm talking to students about the problem of leaning too heavily on authorial opinion as a crutch for textual interpretation. Everyone insisting that "hey, the author says it's so, it's so" now has the problem that the author now says something else (they already, of course, had the problem that the author had already said other things).

So...what happened, then, to the question of "what happened at the end of The Sopranos"? Let's say Chase wasn't misquoted. Would that mean that the answer to that question was one thing prior to the moment when that Vox interview was conducted, then switched to something else when the interview happened? Or when it was published? Or at the moment we read it? And now that he's repudiated that interview, does the answer to the question suddenly change again?

The takeaway here isn't "when was David Chase telling the truth?" The takeaway is that it doesn't matter a damn. The author produces the work and the work then stands on its own two feet. It means what it means, and can't be made to mean something else because the author makes claims about it after publication. Maybe Chase is lying his ass off. Maybe he's told the truth all down the line and his mind has simply changed at various times. Maybe the interviewer did, in fact, take his comment badly out of context. How could we possibly know? Even if we knew him personally and knew him to be an honest man, those statements would be strictly irrelevant to any useful answer we could make to the question "did Tony Soprano die at the end of The Sopranos." That question is answered--to the extent that it is--SOLELY by watching that episode.

And the proof of that is the absurdity of the events we witness in this thread--where people are insisting that the question has been "answered" by virtue of an interview which is disavowed almost immediately. Does Dumbledore "switch back" to straight if J.K. Rowling comes out and says "I was kidding--Dumbledore being gay never occurred to me until after I finished the books"?
posted by yoink at 6:29 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Achievement Unlocked: Correctly interpreted mysterious statement by David Chase
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:37 PM on August 27


I will use this thread, I think, in future when I'm talking to students about the problem of leaning too heavily on authorial opinion as a crutch for textual interpretation.

This is a terrible thread for that purpose -- most of the commenters embrace the ambiguity of the ending and are not particularly interested in the metaphysical question of "what really happened offscreen on a cable TV show." There are very few comments in the thread (if any) that say, "Chase said this, end of discussion." There are even comments that say, "Chase said this but I still think Tony died."

I might use this thread in the future when talking to people about the problems of leaning too heavily on preconceptions as a crutch for reading what other people are actually saying.

The author produces the work and the work then stands on its own two feet.

This is simple-minded. Once again, most people interested in the ending are interested in what it means. Why does the show end the way it does? Why does the camera cut away at this moment and at that moment? Why is this song playing on the jukebox? Nobody is interested in the sheer fact that Meadow is having a hard time parallel parking outside, but they want to know why the show is showing that seemingly trivial detail to us. The statements of the show's creators are certainly relevant to understanding these why questions, even if their statements are contradictory or nonsensical. They are part of the conversation.

The ending seems to allude to a scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone goes to a bathroom to retrieve a hidden gun. If it turned out that no one on the Sopranos had ever heard of the Godfather, or if through some fluke of time travel the scenes in the Sopranos were created prior to the creation of the Godfather, then as a matter of fact this seeming "allusion" would be nothing more than a coincidence. But those facts are actually outside the fictional universe of the show, and depend on facts about the creators in our universe. What exactly is the foundation for the rule that no one analyzing the ending is allowed to consider whether David Chase is familiar with the Godfather movie?
posted by leopard at 7:14 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


You know what, I'm just going to leave this plate of beans here and beat a hasty retreat.
posted by uosuaq at 7:25 PM on August 27


The people in The Sopranos are well aware of The Godfather. Hey, Sil, do that line again!
posted by box at 7:28 PM on August 27


There are also really explicit references to Goodfellas, like when Christopher gets made and is worried he'll get shot instead of made at the ceremony (poor Tommy, poor Spider, poor ChristoPHA).

This article is really good and has a lot more to it besides the so called Tony "reveal," so it's worth a read.
posted by sweetkid at 8:49 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I wasn't actually wondering if David Chase was familiar with the Godfather, my point about the Godfather reference in the ending was that understanding it is something that actually depends on thinking about the intentions of the show's creators.
posted by leopard at 9:23 PM on August 27


Let's say Chase wasn't misquoted. Would that mean that the answer to that question was one thing prior to the moment when that Vox interview was conducted, then switched to something else when the interview happened? Or when it was published? Or at the moment we read it? And now that he's repudiated that interview, does the answer to the question suddenly change again?

I'm getting the impression you think the only takeaway from the "he didn't die" comment is that they finish their dinner and go have family movie night or something. chase says it's inaccurate and out if context, not that it's not true that he "didn't die". It never changed. Tony does not die in the episode. We do not see him die, we see him look and then it goes black and ends. in the entirety of the episode we only see that Tony is alive. The authorial intent was to create ambiguity regarding what happened when the screen went black and we don't see the Sopranos universe anymore. Whether he dies or not the moment after what we get to see does not matter.
posted by Hoopo at 11:21 PM on August 27


Keep livin' the dream diner-users. (Looks like a quintessential American scene to me, kinda Rockwell-ish) Amidst the anxiety and the nameless dread of universal and inextricable first-world complicity in the abominations literally everything is built on and continually replenished by. We're all Tony now. Well, YMMV I suppose.
posted by aesop at 2:14 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


The author produces the work and the work then stands on its own two feet. It means what it means, and can't be made to mean something else because the author makes claims about it after publication.

As some others have said above, notably leopard, this seems just as wrong in its absolutism as the insistence that the author's statements completely determine the work's meaning. We look at authorial statements quite a lot while discussing the meaning of a work, not as final statements, but as valuable context and as key parts of the interpretative conversation surrounding the work.

In cases where the author makes conflicting statements, we don't bar those from discussion or declare them meaningless and move on; we discuss why the author's take has changed or how the author might be trying to shape that interpretative conversation.

Contra Barthes, most contemporary literary criticism and academic work hardly strips away *all* authorial privilege. If nothing else, the circumstances of the text's creation, including the author's particular situation, matter a great deal for interpretation. To use a stock example, few would discuss a Virginia Woolf work without considering anything about Woolf herself, about Bloomsbury, or about the stage of Woolf's career in which the work was composed. Authorial statements of intent and biographical criticism no longer hold absolute sway -- and a good thing, too! -- but the author's statements and life are nonetheless extremely useful in interpretation.

But then, most critical conversations are also not simple attempts at puzzle-solving (Nabokovians aside). The question is not "did Tony Soprano die?", it's "what cultural work does The Sopranos do, and what work does the interpretation that says "he dies with the cut to black" do? Or, if we really are treating the plot like a puzzle-box, then dragging Barthes to the water-cooler is missing the point of that exercise, which is not to discern deep truths but rater to socialize.
posted by kewb at 3:15 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Discussions of Tony's death always makes me question my understanding of the word 'ambiguous'. Do we mean "unknowable from the information we have" or "I am undecided" or "not specified in the text but can be determined by context and/or subtext" or... what exactly?

I have an opinion about what happened, and I believe Chase wants us all to form an opinion without reference to what he thinks. A cut to 30 seconds of black followed by 7 years of avoiding the question do not seem like the actions of a man who wants you to take his word for it. This, to me, isn't ambiguity so much as it is a reluctance to interfere with his audience's experience.
posted by harriet vane at 6:19 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


But when the guy who is the singular auteur of the series, the sole credited writer of the episode, and the director of the episode gives you an unequivocal answer as to what happened after the cut to black, then that is the answer.

Bzzt, wrong.

If you're a "singular auteur" and want a definitive answer, then put a definitive answer in the work, or add a title card that says, "To be continued in seven years on vox.com."
posted by Legomancer at 6:22 AM on August 28


Chase has issued a statement through his publicist to clarify what he said in the Vox interview, at least so far as restoring the ambiguity of the final scene:
A journalist for Vox misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview. To simply quote David as saying, 'Tony Soprano is not dead,' is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true. As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, 'Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.' To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.
While it's a testament to the compelling audacity of his show, Chase seems to be getting a bit tired of repeating himself:
Did Tony die or didn't he die? Well, first of all, it really comes down to this: There was, what, six seasons of that show? Seven? Am I supposed to do a scene and ending where it shows that crime doesn't pay? Well, we saw that crime pays. We've been seeing that for how many years? Now, in another sense, we saw that crime didn't pay because it wasn't making him happy. He was an extremely isolated, unhappy man. And then finally, once in a while he would make a connection with his family and be happy there. But in this case, whatever happened, we never got to see the result of that. It was torn away from him and from us. I forget what my point was.
And indeed, he has been pretty consistent in this line, telling an early audience at Museum of the Moving Image:
I’m not trying to be coy about this. I really am not. It’s not like we’re trying to guess, 'Ooh, is he alive or dead?' It’s really not the point—it’s not the point for me. How do I explain this? Actually, here’s what Paulie Walnuts says in the beginning of that episode. He says, 'In the midst of life, we are in death. Or is it: in the midst of death, we are in life? Either way, you’re up the ass.' That’s what’s going on.
As he said the day after the finale aired, "Anybody who wants to watch it, it's all there."
posted by Doktor Zed at 6:59 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Discussions of Tony's death always makes me question my understanding of the word 'ambiguous'.

To me it's just that Chase wrote the ending without making a choice. He writes "Tony looks up, screen goes black, the end." That was intentional, and showing a violent death or a happily ever after would have been pretty easy to do if that's what he wanted to show.
posted by Hoopo at 7:02 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


My instant reaction to the vox article was "It sure sounds like David Chase is yanking that woman's chain." Whether she knew she was being messed with or not, an editor should have pulled back the reins before rushing to post such a sensational headline.
posted by soonertbone at 8:54 AM on August 28


Quoting myself here:

It was very clear to me that Tony did not die. [...] That's not hell. Hell is life continuing and every situation carrying that heavy gravity -- that constant, unrelenting dread.

Reading this thread has clarified my thinking a bit. More accurately (and somebody said it already), the "truth" of the end of the Sopranos is a Shrodinger truth, and all the more powerful for it. That cut to black is emphatic and relevant to our understanding of of culture-life-the-universe-everything as Shrodinger's cat unseen in a sealed box. Is it dead or is it alive? Fact is, that's uncertain until we open the box. Except in the Soprano's case, it's more the flip side of Shrodinger's "proof". That cut to black at the end of the final episode isn't the opening of the box, it's the sealing of it. Tony was clearly alive the last we saw of him, but what is now? We can't know.

So, in the reality of the TV drama, Tony is forever in that moment of horrified consciousness of the imminence of his (and everyone he loves) murder. Whether he is or isn't killed is not the point. What matters is that hes trapped on the abyss of knowing it's coming. And if anyone deserves it, he does.

Best ending of a television show ever.

I give it second best. The Prisoner is still number one. *

* That's not actually the very ending, just part of the final episode which is fifty odd minutes of pure, unadulterated .... [words fail] ...
posted by philip-random at 9:14 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


As some others have said above, notably leopard, this seems just as wrong in its absolutism as the insistence that the author's statements completely determine the work's meaning. We look at authorial statements quite a lot while discussing the meaning of a work, not as final statements, but as valuable context and as key parts of the interpretative conversation surrounding the work.

Of course. Because some authors are good readers of their own works. Many are, in fact. I'm not saying that author's comments about their works are irrelevant and must, rigorously, be ignored. Author's statements often alert us to themes, connections, intertexts etc. that we might otherwise have failed to discern in the work. I'm saying that an author's comment about a work cannot change what that work means or contains retroactively. The work is the work. The author can give us statements about the work which--like the statements of any other excellent critic--illuminate the way the work functions. What the author cannot do, however, is make the work into a different one from the one they wrote by telling us "hey, you know what, I forgot to mention this in the work itself but..."

If we discovered a letter in Shakespeare's hand tomorrow in which he wrote "you know what? In my mind, Fortinbras got stabbed in the back by Horatio two minutes after the end of Hamlet." (but, you know, in Elizabethan English) that would not make Hamlet a play in which Fortinbras was the "doomed Fortinbras" and Horatio was "the evil schemer." It would be an interesting, odd statement about how an author sometimes writes the equivalent of fan-fiction around the work's they've written. Hamlet would remain the same play it always was.

Even the people who claim that they grant the author this magical capacity to rewrite their works retrospectively don't, in fact, do so (as this thread amply demonstrates). Rather, when the author says something that fits their own preferences they exalt it as "proof" that their personal preferences are "right" and when the author says something that conflicts with their preferences they discount it. The people who ardently insist that the Dumbledore of the books is gay (he is neither gay nor straight--it's simply something that Rowling didn't bother to address in the books) would not accept it if Rowling said that Dumbledore was an hysterically anti-gay bigot. That would simply become evidence that Rowling had lost her mind or otherwise "gone off the rails."

Similarly, this Vox interview will be held up for decades to come as "proof" by those who want to claim that the ending of The Sopranos unambiguously left Tony alive--Chase's disclaimers will be waved aside as him merely "sticking to the party line" after he's let the cat out of the bag. We all know what he "really" meant, though. But that comes from our understanding (or misunderstanding) of the work, not from whatever magical access we think the author's later statements give us to what "really" happened in the work.
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on August 28


Discussions about the ending of The Sopranos are maddening, because they really say more about how you, personally, view art, than they do about anything that happened on the show.

Here's the problem: The two camps are not "Tony dies!" vs. "Tony lives!" While I suppose there are some people who absolutely believe that the Tony does not die in the final cut-to-black (and this article will surely make them happy), the real debate is between "Tony dies!" and "It's ambiguous, and that's the point!" These two groups of people are not debating each other so much as talking past each other. The Tony dies! folks have amassed a series of clues based on symbolism, narrative structure, and a lot of other rather logical things that tend to be assigned importance by people who see art, fundamentally, as a puzzle to be solved.

I'm one of the "it's ambiguous!" people. I found the lack of closure in the ending immensely satisfying. I've always kind of hated endings wrapped in a neat little bow, because life is seldom like that and they nearly always feel contrived. I love that the end of The Sopranos - like the end of everything in real life - is ultimately unknowable. To me, it's about how life just moves forward into an abyss, and you don't really know what's going to happen. The story is over - but it doesn't stop. And although I don't buy that Chase had no idea that he was going to plant the question of Tony's death in viewers' heads, I do think the ending amounts to more than a puzzle to be solved, or an elaborate evasion of the obvious corniness of ending the show with Tony's head in a pool of blood. The Sopranos ends with a question - possibly multiple questions - like so many other things. That's the point.

There's nothing wrong with with either view, really. But one side hinges more on your reactions to something, and possibly themes you discern, while the other hinges on clues - sometimes concrete and sometimes ephemeral - in the work itself. A debate about the end of The Sopranos is more like a debate about God between a strict Catholic and a mystic than it is like a liberal and a conservative at loggerheads over health-care reform. The two sides are almost talking about different things.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:14 AM on August 28


The authorial intent was to create ambiguity regarding what happened when the screen went black and we don't see the Sopranos universe anymore. Whether he dies or not the moment after what we get to see does not matter.

I agree that "whether he dies or not the moment after what we get to see what we get to see does not matter." That, in fact, has been the essence of what I've been maintaining throughout the thread. I think the question of "authorial intent" is fuzzier and ultimately unhelpful. There seems to be some evidence that Chase did, in fact, "intend" for the ending to be ambiguous, but the ending is, in fact, ambiguous whether he intended it to be or not. And it will remain ambiguous even if evidence ultimately emerges that at the time of writing it he intended for it not to be.

The thing is we know from many, many examples down through the history of all artistic media that creators have the capacity to be surprised by their own creations. We know that authors often report the experience of "intending" to create a story with one set of meanings and discovering, to their surprise, that they have created a story with another set of meanings. We even have many, many accounts of writers saying "I never really figured out what I was saying there until..." In other words, it is not uncommon, at all, for a writer to announce that they only figured out what something they wrote "really meant" years, even decades after they wrote it.

So the whole notion of "authorial intent" as some perfect, Platonic ideal that the work more or less imperfectly instantiates is demonstrably nonsense. Chase may very well have sat down to write that scene thinking "and then the screen will go black, and everyone will know that Tony is dead--and the world has gone dark because the consciousness through which we entered that world has gone dark." He might then have written the scene out and read it over and thought. "Hey, you know what, the scene actually plays out ambiguously in fact. And you know what? That's EVEN BETTER!" Where is "intent" located there? What would constitute evidence of such "intent"? The concept just doesn't work without utterly unrealistic idealization that ignores what we know full well about the reality of real authorial experience.
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on August 28


The authorial intent was to create ambiguity...

Chase's immediate answer when asked about the ending following its original broadcast was, "Anybody who wants to watch it, it's all there." Now of course we could begin debating what that sentence really means, but I think it at least casts a reasonable doubt on whether he intended the ending to be ambiguous. He indicated being surprised by viewers' reactions. I've always found that interesting. I'm personally very skeptical of anybody who believes Chase masterminded the ending for precisely the effect he wanted. I don't think the evidence bears that out.

On an unrelated note, I've always been curious whether the members of Journey were fans of the show, whether they were watching the finale, and what they thought upon discovering how their song had been used. There was this article claiming that Perry knew in advance, but that's Perry claiming that Perry knew. Credible sources, etc.
posted by cribcage at 10:35 AM on August 28


I thought the question everyone was asking is "When will we ever get the entire series in Blu Ray?" Which now that I google it again, looks like Nov. 4. Finally.
posted by exogenous at 12:53 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Even the people who claim that they grant the author this magical capacity to rewrite their works retrospectively don't, in fact, do so (as this thread amply demonstrates).

And then there's George Lucas...
posted by kewb at 4:04 PM on August 28


Why Vox Media Took on @SavedYouaClick Over Tony Soprano Spoiler
@SavedYouAClick
No. RT @voxdotcom: Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos? David Chase finally reveals the answer
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:31 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Here's the problem: The two camps are not "Tony dies!" vs. "Tony lives!" ... the real debate is between "Tony dies!" and "It's ambiguous, and that's the point!"

Exactly.

I agree that "whether he dies or not the moment after what we get to see what we get to see does not matter." That, in fact, has been the essence of what I've been maintaining throughout the thread.

No one is claiming he dies the moment after what we see. The "Tony dies" camp understands the cut to black as the moment of his death.
posted by mdn at 10:35 PM on August 28


The Tony dies! folks have amassed a series of clues based on symbolism, narrative structure, and a lot of other rather logical things that tend to be assigned importance by people who see art, fundamentally, as a puzzle to be solved.

I think you're right that groups of fans are talking past each other. But I'll out myself as a Tony Dies interpreter, because I think you're wrong that we treat art as a puzzle to be solved. Art is non-verbal communication (well when it's on-screen, etc), so I feel entitled to look at narrative structure and editing and composition as part of the communication. Why go to the effort of making something in a visual medium if you're not going to use the visual features available? To me, that ending isn't ambiguous at all and I love ambiguity in stories (when it's not crappily done, looking at you, Lost!).

I think some of the puzzle-solving vibe comes from people who don't have the language to discuss art, so when something isn't explicitly stated they have to turn to another interactive medium like games to find words to communicate their interpretation. The Masters of Sopranos article takes a gazillion words to belabour the same point a lot of viewers took for granted when they first saw the ending and I cringe when I see it described as 'well-written'. I feel like it's started a trend of verbose and pedestrian blogging 'essays' about any TV show which has the slightest bit of uncertainty bout it.

The It's Ambiguous interpretation can be supported in the same 'puzzle' style though: no threat made known to the audience the way that previous attempts on Tony's life were depicted, sound design, we know it's Meadow coming through the door, etc. As can the Viewer Got Whacked and probably a bunch of other theories. It's just a way of communicating, not a difference in art appreciation.

The question I have for the It's Ambiguous team is 'what meaning do you take from the ambiguity?'. And that's not a snarky attempt at a gotcha, just an invitation to discuss the benefits or meaning of ambiguity for this particular instance.
posted by harriet vane at 2:46 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


No one is claiming he dies the moment after what we see. The "Tony dies" camp understands the cut to black as the moment of his death.

Yes, this is why there's an abrupt cut to 30 seconds of silent black before the credits roll. In my opinion/interpretation, of course :) Where there would have been 30 seconds of Tony's POV, we get nothing, because he's not sensing anything anymore.
posted by harriet vane at 2:50 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


It would be hilarious if the cut to black was just a serendipitous broadcast glitch, and they kept it that way because it worked better than the real ending.

(I noticed during the last season of Mad Men, on a couple of occasions my screen went black for a couple seconds, which I guess was some iffy feed thing.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:11 AM on August 29


The question I have for the It's Ambiguous team is 'what meaning do you take from the ambiguity?'.

As I already pointed out (though edited slightly for improved coherence):

So, in the reality of the TV drama, Tony is forever in that moment of horrified consciousness of the imminent murder of himself (and everyone he loves). Whether he is or isn't killed is not the point. What matters is that he's trapped at the abyss of knowing it's coming. And if anyone deserves it, he does.
posted by philip-random at 8:38 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]


Why Vox Media Took on @SavedYouaClick Over Tony Soprano Spoiler

I'll save you the click: "Our clickbaity headline is a good clickbaity headline, and it's not our fault that everyone else uses clickbaity headlines wrong!"
posted by Etrigan at 8:42 AM on August 29


The question I have for the It's Ambiguous team is 'what meaning do you take from the ambiguity?'.

Chase is firmly on Team Ambiguity: "Ambiguity was very important to me. The Sopranos was ambiguous to the point where, to this day, I'm not really sure whether it was a drama or a comedy. It can be both, but people like to reduce it to one or the other. I know there are the two masks, Comedy and Drama, hanging together, but that's not the way American audiences seem to break things down."

Where there would have been 30 seconds of Tony's POV, we get nothing, because he's not sensing anything anymore.

Or we get nothing because Chase is telling us, the viewers, "Turn off the TV, the show's over." Even the end credits roll in silence - all but unprecedented in the Sopranos' run - as though there's no longer any point to the series' hallmark coda. (While this is a meta interpretation, it's well within Chase's M.O., his previous show, Norther Exposure, outright breaking the fourth wall on occasion.) Or, as another argument has it, the camera POV, the edits, and the cut to black are all a portrayal of the paranoia in Tony's life from this point forward, even as the show ends in intentional uncertainty. Although Chase is obviously quite aware of the ways in which the audience could reasonably expect the show to end - crime pays/does not pay, the Soprano family stays together/falls apart, the content/unhappy Tony lives/dies, etc. - he deliberately chose to close on the note "whatever happened, we never got to see the result of that." If we're giving Chase the benefit of the doubt when he says that answering these questions is "really not the point", then we ought to ask ourselves why it is to so many of the fans.

Chase always had in mind his audience's anticipation of the ending for the Sopranos, specifically Tony, but he openly resisted summing up the show in the final scene:
There was so much more to say than could have been conveyed by an image of Tony facedown in a bowl of onion rings with a bullet in his head. Or, on the other side, taking over the New York mob. The way I see it is that Tony Soprano had been people's alter ego. They had gleefully watched him rob, kill, pillage, lie, and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted ''justice.'' They wanted to see his brains splattered on the wall. I thought that was disgusting, frankly. But these people have always wanted blood. {...} But I must say that even people who liked {the ending} misinterpreted it, to a certain extent. This wasn't really about ''leaving the door open.'' There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clean trend on view — a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela's future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn't really matter.
After decades of gangster movies, the viewing audience has been conditioned to expect a film's final moment to be its definitive statement, e.g. Michael Corleone closing himself off in his father's office in The Godfather, Henry Hill in his suburbanite shnook's bathrobe in witness protection, bullet-ridden Tom Powers dumped at his home's doorway by the mob after he'd promised to go straight (followed by a moralizing epilogue), etc., etc. Chase, for all the allusions to these films in the series, chose a song for the diagetic jukebox soundtrack that has the lyrics "Oh, the movie never ends/It goes on and on and on and on". That describes the typical successful TV show, running for season after season, in which characters do not change or learn, their situation and circumstances stay fixed, and cancellation is just the next stage to syndication.

Had The Sopranos been a novel, Chase could have closed it with "And Tony looked up" then perhaps a period or an ellipse or or an em dash or no punctuation at all, and readers would have been satisfied. Since there's no dramatic equivalent of a last line, though, the show's superb, infuriating ending is still being discussed and debated on and on and on and on.
posted by Doktor Zed at 4:56 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]


It seems clear that, over the course of the show, Chase grew to hate his protagonist. I can relate.
posted by box at 5:05 PM on August 29


Thanks philip-random and Doktor Zed. What I love about the ending is the way it can generate an interesting discussion of meaning, once we get past the puzzle-solving level. I can see how people experience the ending as ambiguous, even if I don't. I can't quite get behind the paranoia interpretation though (I think Sepinwall is the lead proponent of that take?), just because the scene looks different to me than previous paranoia scenes in the show.

Personally I think Tony became a kind of morally-dead shell of his former self over the course of the last season, so regardless of whether I'm right or not about the last scene, the real story of his struggle for meaning in his life is over. He's the walking dead already so if he is shot in that moment, it's more about the horror he's put on his family. I can definitely see the point of Chase's resistance to a final summary. I never wanted a happy ending or punishment - I wanted a *satisfying* ending in whatever way Chase chose to serve it up. I think most people got that, and it's a shame Chase is still getting hassled about it even now.
posted by harriet vane at 11:17 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


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