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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

Don't Stop Believin' Your "Sopranos" Theory

Keri O'Mara
Keri O'Mara

Ever since HBO’s game-changing drama, “The Sopranos,” ended with a famous cut to black in 2007, the Internet has debated ceaselessly the fate of Tony and the rest of the Soprano family. Many believe that, on a show so riddled with death imagery and foreshadowing, it was fairly obvious that the Italian gangster antihero was shot in the final scene at Holsten’s diner. Others are on the “Tony lives” team, asserting creator David Chase never wanted to provide a decisive conclusion to Tony’s story; his life simply “goes on and on and on,” just like Journey sings in the diner jukebox playing “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Fast-forward seven years to last Wednesday, when Vox published a new interview with Chase in which he laconically states Tony Soprano is, in fact, not dead at the end of that controversial scene. In the interview, Chase sounds frustrated with the endless questioning and gives a simple response in order to move on to his other creative pursuits. As typical of pop culture media, headlines blew this out of proportion, stating that this was the definitive reveal fans had anticipated for years.

However, Chase’s publicist since has cleared up what now appears to be an inaccurate misinterpretation: “David has said numerous times on the record, ‘Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point. ... The final scene raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.’ ”

All of this news coincidentally came just a few weeks after I decided to finally cross “The Sopranos” off my own television bucket list. I was very aware of the finale debate before I began, but I had to see for myself and form my own thoughts (and in turn entertain myself on my train commutes to work). There were highs (“College”, “Pine Barrens”, “Long Term Parking”) and lows (“Christopher”, the first half of Season 6) over the course of this 86-episode saga, but what I found in the finale was easily the greatest ending to a television drama I’ve ever watched. Despite my desire for closure, it’s clear Chase executed exactly the abstruse ending he wanted.

Thanks to commercial television, our brains have become wired to play detective and crack the case that’s presented to us on screen. There always has to be a tidy answer – one absolute ending to Tony’s journey as a mob boss. But that’s not what great art is about; the answer is whatever you want it to be. Chase himself recently told the Associated Press he created the finale “not to make you think, but to make you feel.”

Sure, there are many ways to interpret the events at Holsten’s Diner; some theories have more supporting evidence than others. But those who have spent the past seven years obsessing over unraveling such a purposefully ambiguous show like “The Sopranos” are watching it wrong. They’re trying to solve the mystery of a show that embraced the mysteries of life all along. Believe whatever you want, as long as you admit your interpretation isn’t the only true and correct one.

Don’t watch The Sopranos to solve the puzzle. Watch it because it’s one of the most influential achievements in television. Watch it because James Gandolfini was one of the greatest actors of our lifetime. And like Chase said, watch it to feel.

So, ignore the Internet headlines you saw this week and dive in to see for yourself. If you start now and watch an episode a day, you’ll have your own finale theory to discuss by Thanksgiving dinner.