So, the Sopranos has finished. That last scene? I’ve changed my mind from what I originally thought – which was that Tony Soprano gets knocked off. (Cut to black before the titles? Surely that’s the “You don’t even know it” of getting whacked, right?)
Except that after reading an interview with the series’ creator David Chase, who resolutely refuses to discuss that ending, I realise that he’s doing something different. Chase admits that in the last scene, he’s trying to take you inside Tony Soprano’s head: always having to look around, evaluate threats, see whether someone who’s in or just come in is someone looking to shoot you or your family or whatever.
And to those who think that the people in the last scene have all appeared before in much earlier episodes, Chase says no – none of them has. The two black guys walking in? They’re not the people who tried to kill Soprano way back in series, um, 1 – no, because one of them got killed (by the other). They’re just two black guys walking into a bar, in New Jersey. The guy at the bar who keeps looking over and then goes mysteriously to the toilet? Just someone at the bar who goes to the toilet. Nothing special. And he’s not Phil Leotardo’s cousin.
So I now think that the ending is just that – an ending, a cutting short, but not of Tony Soprano’s existence, simply of the telling of the story to us. This is what it’s like for him, inside his world, his head; and now goodbye to you. Some people call this “the audience getting whacked”, but I don’t think that’s quite right either; it’s putting the cap back on the lens and moving away.
(Update: TVblogger says there was an alternative ending – more of a shuffling of the scenes – which creates a credible story too.)
So I’m watching the entire six series from the start again (I’ve already got to series 3, almost to the fantastic Pine Barrens episode). And I’ve been struck by something: though everyone tends to think of the Sopranos and all the made guys as strutting across the stage, bigger than everyone else, what Chase and the scriptwriters keep reminding you is that they’re not big players at all. Big in New Jersey, maybe.
Example: in series 3, episode 9 (“The Telltale Moozadell“), Chris Moltisanti, the new part-owner of the revived Lollipop club, turns down an offer of a cut on Ecstasy sales in the club: “that’s federal, they’ve got task forces and all that on it,” he says, dismissing the potential deal.
And in an earlier (much earlier) episode, when Moltisanti has stolen a boxload of expensive watches from a UPS truck, he’s admonished by Tony Soprano: “that’s a federal crime, that”. (Or something. Can’t find the exact episode just now.) Don’t mess with that stuff, Soprano is saying. Stay away from federal. Keep it small.
The point being that the Sopranos are big fish, but only in their small pool. New Jersey’s border are the limit of their ambition. They’re not smart – “shut that thing off,” Tony Soprano says to one of them who’s at a computer – “those cookie things make me nervous” – and they’re racist (Soprano warns off a black or half-caste guy who is interested in his daughter). (Wikipedia has “ineptitude of the [Sopranos] mobsters“, which is quite amusing.) They’re small people with really quite small ambitions. Sure, you’d not want to come across them on the streets of New Jersey, or anywhere for that matter. But they can’t spread any further than building contracts, or other things. They’re small-time.
Which of course leads to my favourite scene of all from the whole lot, from Johnny Cakes (episode 8 in series 6), when two of the goons attempt to shake down the newly-opened Starcostachef coffee franchise, explaining that “a donation” to the “neighbourhood security fund” will stop painful things like bricks through windows or, God forbid, injuries to the manager they’re talking to.
“Guys,” the manager replies, “you can threaten me all you want, but every last bean is in the computer, and they can see everything in head office. If I take anything out for you, I’m gone and another guy comes in and it’s the same story.” Damage to the store? Head office won’t care.
The goons go outside and the smaller, talky one spits: “It’s over for the little guy.”
In a sense perhaps they are the perfect metaphor for all of our lives. Which, I guess, is what makes the series so compelling.