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'The Sopranos': All Good Things End, but This Way?

The Sopranos' final episode aired last night on HBO. Spoiler alert: Critic David Bianculli's review tells us how the episode, and the series, concludes.

07:09

Other segments from the episode on June 11, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 11, 2007: Interview with Eddie Angel, Danny Amis, and Big Sandy; Review of the television show "The Sopranos."

Transcript

DATE June 11, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: David Bianculli on the final episode of "The Sopranos"
TERRY GROSS, host:

After eight years and six seasons, the HBO series "The Sopranos" ended its run
last night with a finale that is certain to be remembered, but not necessarily
fondly. TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

Literally for years now, one of the biggest questions regarding "The Sopranos"
has been: How would it end? Well, after literally years of anticipation and
speculation, viewers of the HBO crime drama finally got their answer from
series creator David Chase. Tony didn't get whacked. Instead, viewers got
punked. "The Sopranos" didn't end; it just stopped. And stopped in midscene
with the tension ratcheted up to almost palpable levels.

Previously in the final episode, Tony had brokered peace with other members of
a New York family and had his own guys track down and kill Phil Leotardo, who
had killed Bobby, put Silvio in a coma and been gunning for Tony. So by
episode's end, Tony felt comfortable enough to meet the wife and kids and
enjoy some comfort food at a local New Jersey diner. Tony arrived first, then
Carmela, then AJ, but by the time Meadow drove up front, Chase had started to
focus his cameras on other customers at the diner. Some are friendly, happy
parents and children, but others are menacing characters, hovering nearby and
potentially ready to pull out guns and mow down the Sopranos in one final
Bonnie-and-Clyde-like hail of bullets.

When Meadow has problems parallel parking out front, that's the way it looked
like it was going to go. Her inability to park would make her the sole
survivor of the show's last mob hit. But no. For a few brief moments Tony,
played by James Gandolfini, got to enjoy the very thing he'd been desperate to
experience for years: a warm, normal dinner conversation with the family.
Was this the last note sung by "The Sopranos," a happy ending? Or were they
all about to pay, with their lives, for Tony's many crimes?

We'll never know. Because as the family talked and the Journey song "Don't
Stop Believin'" played on the tabletop jukebox, David Chase decided to ignore
the message in the song's lyrics. Just as the tension built to where you
hoped--or feared--something would happen, "The Sopranos" cut to black--for
good. During the silence that followed, you could hear millions of HBO
subscribers screaming in anger and disbelief.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

(Soundbite of "Don't Stop Believin'")

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI: (as Tony Soprano) I went ahead and ordered stuff for
the table.

Mr. STEVE PERRY: (Singing) Don't stop believing!
Hold on to that feeling!
Streetlight people

(Soundbite of car engine)

Mr. PERRY: (Singing) Ohhhh

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

Mr. PERRY: (Singing) Don't stop...

(Soundbite of abrupt silence)

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: I know some people are absolutely outraged about this, and I
understand why. But after I groaned when the screen went black, I chuckled,
then groaned again. There were plenty of good ways "The Sopranos" could have
ended. I wanted Tony to take his family and enter witness protection, which
would have been really ironic given that he murdered another mobster in the
show's first season for doing just that. Another TV critic I know expected
Paulie to be Brutus to Tony's Caesar, and that made a lot of sense, too. But
one thing you have to say about the way David Chase didn't end "The Sopranos,"
it's not inconsistent. Here's a guy who left that Russian running around in
the Pine Barrens, never to be heard from again, and let the rapist of Dr.
Melfi just fade away.

Chase's argument is that life doesn't always provide consistency or closure,
and apparently the more people asked him to tie up loose plot threats, the
more he resented it. So last night's nonending was a giant message to the
audience--what kind of message, I'm not allowed to say on radio, but clearly
this was a joke he was having at our expense.

Whether or not you're able to laugh at it, I guess, says something about how
you watch television and how seriously you take it. Some fans already are
saying that for the money they provide each month to HBO as part of their
subscription, they don't expect to have to supply their own endings. And what
I wonder is this: back when David Chase surprised HBO by agreeing to one,
then to two lengthy and very-long-awaited extensions to "The Sopranos" series,
it was because he wanted to do justice to his characters and finish the story
the way he wanted, without rushing things. Is this really what he had in
mind?

If you listen to the music he selected for the last few episodes, the answer
appears to be yes. Not only did he end the series with Steve Perry from
Journey singing "Don't Stop," but earlier in the hour, he had AJ and his
girlfriend listening intently to an old Bob Dylan song, "It's All Right, Ma,
I'm Only Bleeding." One of the key lyrics there may have reflected Chase's
entire philosophy about "The Sopranos" and its finale: "I got nothing, Ma, to
live up to." What's more, the final episode began with another defiant song
choice by Chase, the old Vanilla Fudge cover of "You Keep Me Hanging On."
There's no way that was accidental, so he was laughing at us from the start.
And even last week, the Bada Bing girls danced to a very odd music selection,
"When the Music's Over," by The Doors. "When the music's over," Jim Morrison
sang, "turn out the lights." One week later, that's exactly how David Chase
ended "The Sopranos."

Do I feel cheated? A little. But I can imagine both the endings Chase hinted
at, and I might have felt cheated by either of them, too. Besides, despite
HBO's slogan that it's not TV, it's HBO--it's just TV.

So where does "The Sopranos"' ending rank in terms of TV's all time best
finales? It's up there in terms of audaciousness, perhaps the biggest mind
game since "The Prisoner" almost 40 years ago when Patrick McGoohan's Number
Six and his village enemy Number One turned out to be literally one and the
same. But it doesn't provide the outrageous sense of closure that "St.
Elsewhere" did when the whole series turned out to be the daydreams of an
autistic kid, or the ambitious sense of closure of "Six Feet Under," which
went decades into the future to dramatize the deaths of all its major
characters. And it certainly doesn't leave you smiling and satisfied like the
brilliant finale of "Newhart," which put Bob Newhart back in bed with Suzanne
Pleshette from "The Bob Newhart Show" and dismissed all of Newhart's later
series as a bad dream. That was brilliant.

All of those endings redefined everything that had come before them. "The
Sopranos" didn't do that. It just pulled up short, and did so with an episode
that wasn't even that strong. David Chase, after so much brilliant work and
creating so many characters we cared about, seemed to be saying he could take
it or leave it. So he left it--and left us staring at the screen into
darkness. It's not the way any of us wanted Tony to go out.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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