Friday, June 08, 2007

The End of the End of The Sopranos

So, in full disclosure mode, I'm not much of a Sopranos fan in that I've only seen season 1 and parts of season 2, thanks to the spottiness of "free HBO weekends" on my satellite provider and a general ennui with television phenomena. While I can't say as I was a bowled over as most TV critics apparently are/were by the saga, I have enjoyed the show when I've seen it largely for its tongue-in-cheek qualities.

However, with the Grand Finale coming up this Sunday -- I would've missed that, too, had it not been for articles in every paper in the country the last few weeks, although of course I'll miss the actual finale, too, since this most assuredly is not a Free HBO weekend -- I will speak from the gentle ignorance of not having seen seasons 3-7 (and half of season 2, as long as I'm doing something else on Bravo repeat nights, you freakin' mother-crunchin' bowdlerizers). Somehow I don't think this will be much of a handicap.

As I understand it, Tony Soprano is supposed to be our modern Shakespearean anti-hero King, a bit of Lear and Macbeth and an inside joke nod to Michael Corleone. Be that as it may, it has always seemed to me like the fact that the dude is in therapy is the simultaneous linchpin and MacGuffin of the series. The basic premise of modern psychiatry is: people do have the ability to change their behavior, if not their internal workings. For the latter, with chemistry all things may yet be possible, but psychiatry will inevitably bow to neuroscience in the end, and chemistry isn't quite as sexy as psychiatry (see also Ingrid Bergmann and Gregory Peck, et alia). I don't for the life of me know how they managed to extend the schtick over eight years -- one thinks either the patient or the therapist would've seen the pointlessness of it all at some point. But I still take the basic dilemma as the heart of the show: is Tony a good guy, and if so, can he make himself become a good guy in behavior? Is it a good and evil thing, or love versus fear in the Lynchian reductio?

So, again without the benefit/curse of having seen more than a few dozen episodes, if that, I present my own proposed ending to The Sopranos:

Tony just disappears.

If you really want to provide the twists and thrills and speculation for the audience, you can enhance this disappearance with various possibilities designed to prolong the debate and leave open the possibility for a sequel (or a reunion movie a la Rescue from Gilligan's Isle). The reason for Tony's disappearance? My advice is not to suggest any of these, but all of these.

  • he gets whacked. You can leave open a whole list of who-shot-JR possibilities, ranging from Carmela to Dr. Melfi and every hood in between. (Substitute AJ or Meadow if you want to get all Greek about it.)
  • he gets killed as the random victim of a crime (not shown on screen, merely suggested by circumstance, say, an abandoned SUV). The point, however, might be lost on many.
  • Tony becomes gradually schizophrenic during the last episode, suggesting he might have wandered off to become a crazy person and/or a philosopher-king of the hobos.
  • Tony develops an interest in eastern mysticism and jokes off-handedly about giving it all up to go become a zen monk. Abandoning desire might allow Tony to walk away from having to deal with his own legacy, and it would certainly set up a cool cross-over sequel to Kung Fu.
  • Tony becomes mentally well but is overwhelmed with guilt brought on by a sudden embrace of the catholicism he's claimed to follow. He commits suicide (or becomes suicidal) knowing that by taking his own life he assures his own damnation.
  • Or, he just mismedicates himself now that Dr. Melfi is off the scene and possibly might commit suicide.
  • Space alien abduction. Listen, if half of what I've been reading about the creative team's unconventional approach to Tony is true, alien abduction is not at all out of the question.
  • He just up and leaves to go start over as a citizen someplace, sans Buddhist overtones.
  • Tony just continues on forever.
The perfect way to set this up: you could show Tony in his final scene, say, at the edge of a cliff, with a masked gunman sneaking up behind him, an airline ticket to Tibet in Tony's left hand and a rosary in his left, a spilled bottle of pills at his feet, while a terrorist-hijacked plane plummets from 30,000 feet directly towards Tony and a mysterious glowing light in the sky swells.

I don't mean to be glib. I do think just having the character disappear, without explanation but with many possibilities, is the appropriate way of resolving by not resolving this issue of whether somebody can truly change or not by force of will.

Further, it will put a delicious ambiguity on the end that comes to all. The void left by Tony's disappearance -- one without closure -- will be filled with chaos and will only underscore the decline and fall of the mafia, Tony himself, and the American century. Not even to mention the Paramus Mall.

In any event, simply disappearing at the end of an artfully-planned-to-end saga is the ultimate post-post-modern post-irony ironic touch. After all, in the days when series were simply cancelled, and didn't write themselves out of existence like so many Escher self-portraits, that's what happened to heroes and audiences alike. They were left hanging in limbo, forever, and had to move on to something else with the wonder about what it all meant left deliberately unaddressed. Which, again, would seem to me to be more than a mere metaphor for life on earth.

At least, that's what some poor Media Studies PhD candidate is going to write in a decade or so.

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