Craig and I saw the last episode of The Sopranos tonight. If you haven’t seen it, Wikipedia has a pretty decent synopsis to help you catch up. I was pretty disappointed. I’ve been trying to sort out why. I can hear the whiny bitches now. “It’s true to life. Real life doesn’t resolve itself neatly. Real life is ambiguous.” My instinctive response is, “Fuck real life. This is art. An ending is not running out of film in the middle of the scene and does not leave you wondering of the damned DVD player has just hit a smudge on the disk again.” The ending is sensationalist shit and the writer should be shot.
I’m bothered by my response. I’m the first to demand realism from art. On the surface, I ought not to be bothered by this ending. Where I am disturbed is that this argument has no emotional impact on me other than to cause this confusion. I feel strongly that art should emulate reality convincingly and I still feel contempt for this ending. When I was younger, I would take that emotional contradiction and explain it away. I’m older now, and I want to do something different. I want to understand what has made me feel this way and figure out if it tells me something that I feel about the art of storytelling that I don’t consciously know. I’m afraid I don’t know where, if anywhere this is going.
It’s strange, but I guess I feel that there is a bond that exists between read, writer and character, and I feel that the writer betrayed the bond. Odd that I should feel that, especially as one of these three persons does not actually exist, at least not as a person. I don’t know what the rules of that relationship are, but I feel in my gut that they’ve been violated.
An Associated Press article about the last episode (yes, I followed the link from Wikipedia—I didn’t work for it) quotes an interview with the show’s creator, David Chase and his response to his viewers’ response. This is a passage from the article:
The interview, included in “‘The Sopranos’: The Complete Book,” published this week, finds Chase exasperated by viewers who were upset that Tony didn’t meet explicit doom.
Chase says the
mob boss “had been people’s alter ego. They had gleefully watched him rob, kill, pillage, lie and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted ’justice’... New Jersey
“The pathetic thing—to me—was how much they wanted HIS blood, after cheering him on for eight years.”
Tony’s death or lack thereof isn’t even interesting to me. The writer owed the character something, but I don’t think it was life or death. Moreover, the show didn’t seem to promise anything remotely like justice. If Tony had been killed, it would have been realistic. For the last nine episodes he had been getting sloppy. If he hadn’t been killed, it would also be realistic. Life has random elements in it. Sometimes we’re sloppy and get away with it and, sometimes we’re careful and are still fucked. None of that really mattered to me. I didn’t watch Tony kill as a way to work out my dark side and I didn’t need him to be killed in order to see validation of my choices not to act on my dark side.
What I resented was the denial of the moment. It was a hopeful and, for this series, weird moment. This money obsessed family had chosen to do something simple: meet for a meal. Tony doesn’t work in a gilded world (think about the Bada Bing—it’s not even upscale for a strip club), but his family lives in a gilded world pretty exclusively. They meet in a diner—a plain old diner. Nowhere fancy. Tony plays a song on the jukebox, talks to his wife, has a moment with his son. For this family, that’s huge. His daughter is outside trying to parallel park her ridiculously nice car. You feel the suspense. But here’s the thing. I needed to see one of two things. I needed to see Tony get shot just as she finally walked in, or I needed to see her walk in and sit down. If that moment, perhaps this family’s only moment with a soul, their fleeting moment needed to be sacrificed, it should have been sacrificed to some sort of message.
Clearly Chase doesn’t have a message of that sort, and I don’t ask him to. I would have been great with Meadow walking in, sitting down, and them talking and end it there. Their future was far from certain. Tony might be killed or thrown in the clink. There were plenty of opportunities for him to die right in the restaurant. AJ is a wussy, spineless spoiled brat who ultimately can be bought off by his parents. Carmella sold her soul for the upscale real estate and a snazzy wardrobe and she’s learned to accept it. Meadow, at least, treats people more kindly than she did in college. They’re not much of a family. But they would have had their one moment. It wasn’t much of one, but it was all they had. They deserved that much. We shared so much with them.
To care for a character isn’t the same thing as loving a character. You care for the ones you hate, too. The more you care for a character, the more you will for them to have a full story. None of the Sopranos are favorite characters of mine. But I cared for them enough as engrossing characters that I felt that they deserved an ending. I was disappointed that Chase apparently did not care enough for them that he would simply sell them out to sensationalism. I also felt he sold me out.
But he’s rich. What the fuck does he give a shit?
I care too much about stories. That’s the only reason that I do.