Did Tony Soprano Arc?
I don’t follow the Lakers. Paris Hilton is a hotel as far as I’m concerned. And politics: When they win, what exactly do I win?
I have only one rooting interest: The Sopranos.
Tony and Meadow and AJ and Paulie?
So like many of you I watched the final episode last night. And I gotta say: brilliant!
Why? Because Tony does what we want all heroes of stories to do: He â€œarcs.â€ And though we don’t get the certain “payoff” of his death, the ending creator David Chase picks instead is far more satisfying.
When we first meet Tony Soprano, he is having panic attacks. He’s a mob boss in Jersey, his family is a mess, and so is his other family, and finding just the right therapist is tough. In the course of eight years worth of shows, Tony finds a shrink – and Prozac – puts up with his dysfunctional tribe (he being the most dysfunctional), and gets, well… better.
And unlike many who feel the last episode, in particular the last five minutes, is unresolved, I disagree. As one critic this morning said: “Tony’s life will go on, we just won’t get to see it.” And despite the need to see him gunned down picking up the paper in his driveway by the goth son of Vito Spatafore who escapes from Outward Bound and comes back to kill the guy what sent him there (that was my bet for the ending), this finale is much more tense for having none of that.
That diner. That corny Journey song. The tension of Meadow parking her car. The series of scary hit men types coming in and out of the unfamiliar cafe where the family has gathered for onion rings, come on! Perfect! It put us in Tony’s chair for one last time, weighing family ties against real life or death judgments.
What I love about The Sopranos, and particularly last night’s episode, are the references to other movies, particularly The Godfather. The light snow flurries that sprinkle Tony and the New York crew’s scenes match the chill weather when Al Pacino and Diane Keaton first see the news about Don Corleone’s assassination. And last night’s final scene is a reflection of Al’s big moment when he takes out the police captain and the mob boss. By showing the hit men types in Tony’s cafe heading to the bathroom, getting the distraction of Meadow’s parallel parking problem – that parallels the roar of the El going overhead in the moments leading up to Al becoming a “made man” â€“ it all leads to a superb tension based on the cliches we’ve come to expect in mob fare. It is so much smarter to veer near the clichÃ© â€“ and then step back. It shows that one of Chaseâ€™s key insights is our cultural awareness of movie and TV moments, and how we expect â€œreal lifeâ€ to match. It is a technique he uses throughout the series, and is in evidence last night too as other tv and movie references are used for tone; I saw clips from Little Miss Sunshine and The Twilight Zone that seem to comment on the situations they are part of; the ever-present tv is always on in The Sopranos – and is always used as a brilliant counterpoint to the scene going on in the foreground.
So, what better way to say goodbye than not getting what we expected!
The fire that destroys AJâ€™s car â€“ how non-mafia can we get? And I have to say â€“ That Cat! It looks like poor Paulie may never completely get rid of Christopher, as the cat implies, he may be Chrisâ€™s reincarnated, and vexing, spirit. Fabulous!
And the overall story is just right. The best ending isâ€¦ no ending. Tony changed, survived, and still has his bad eating habits (how this guy didn’t get a warning from his doctor on his cholesterol level is the biggest unresolved “hit” of the series).
Bravo, David Chase. Thanks for the memories, and jeesh, don’t stop believing,
- Blake Snyder
P.S. Here’s my other theory about last night’s ending.
I think it was a dream.
The opening scene has Tony in the safe house, clutching a machine gun, looking at the door of his room as the clock radio goes on. There was an abrupt cut and the events began to unfold of Tony’s return to power that was almost TOO perfect.
The CUT TO BLACK ending with Tony looking up at the door of the cafe, would match perfectly if one were to cut back to that safe house bedroom, when someone else walked in the door and blew Tony away.
I betcha, part of the reason for the ending is they left themselves open to cut back to that first scene — and any number of assassins walking in the door.
- Scott Pinzon
I am shocked, Blake, to see you endorse this ending. You are my ABSOLUTE favorite writing mentor (I’m looking forward to meeting you in Seattle this Friday!) yet I can’t see how anything that happened in that final episode matches what you preach. In my view, Chase made a ton of half-hearted vague suggestions and lazily leaves it to us to write the rest of his episode for him. Case in point: look online at all the different interpretations of that cat. (All I know is, we should save it.;-)) Look at all the interpretations of the ending. The tension and build-up lead to…nothing. And for those of us who never liked Mob dramas until the Sopranos, visual hints of movies we didn’t see mean nothing. Tony killed Christopher; how can you say he “arced” and is well when they’ve strongly implied his “talk therapy” has made him worse?
If you ask me, Chase felt too rich and tired to finish the job, so he didn’t.
I could be persuaded otherwise. But that means I’m an idiot, so it’ll take a LOT more persuading.
Just so I know I haven’t strayed from you too far… you’re not gonna say Pirates 3 is brilliant, too, are you?
- Blake Snyder
As this last episode settles in to my brain, Scott, I love it even more. If this were a saga of the Roman Empire (in fact, it bears quite a resemblence to another of my favorite series I, Claudius) how would you show the emperor won? Surviving with his family intact is a great end point. Tony killed his one last enemy “our white haired friend in New York” – and even mastererd therapy. My favorite part of the last show was Tony with his new therapist, rattling off his psychlogical rap sheet, complete with thumbnail sketch of his mother while Carmella looks on slightly bored. Tony is the last man standing in a confusing, “end of the empire” world. I can’t think of anything that would be more satisfying.
- Scott Pinzon
Blake, I agree that there are many masterful writing moments in the last episode and the last season. What’s driving me nuts is that if “Save the Cat” writing requires a “theme stated,” Chase didn’t select a theme. The ending is so ambiguous that you are able to interpret it (judging from your comments in this thread) both as Tony triumphant, and Tony murdered. Those two different endings support very different themes.
I am enjoying this dialog, though! Just for fun, I’ll suggest the “Theme stated” in this episode was Bobby B telling Tony “You probably don’t hear it when it happens.” Then the abrupt ending indicates it happened — and all of us, in Tony’s viewpoint, didn’t hear it.
But who the heck can say for sure, except Chase?
- Blake Snyder
Scott, a brilliant insight on your part! It speaks to the possibility that Tony indeed dies at the end. See, this episode is rich with possibility. Another plus! Thanks for the great posts!
- Olaf de Fleur
I do love the Sopranos. Best writing, so very very brave and fresh. Perhaps only the Wire is matching the quality of the Sopranos.
On the last episode. Well, I’m head over heels in love with these series, and the ending. I neither liked it nor disliked it. I just ended, I was satisfied with that.
My only question is. The last three cuts of the episode were a tad too french perhaps. I hate to say it, “arty” in a non-helpful way. The quick, tad clumsy editing of the last shots took away the “speculation” David Chase was fishing us into. Could have been smoother.
Either way, it’s one of the biggest series in US history. And after having watched the episodes, I was fortunate to cast Michael Imperioli to play a crime-boss in a film I just finished shooting. It was surreal to see his face in my viewfinder …
And Blake, you are still my number one toolbox EVER. You’ve helped my last two films extremely much. I read your “cat” almost everyday, again and again, and again …
- Blake Snyder
Wow, thanks Olaf! And congrats on all your success!!
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Well, if you AND Tony like Journey, it MUST be cool, Jim!