Home / TV Review: The Sopranos Or The Tiger? David Chase As Frank Stockton

TV Review: The Sopranos Or The Tiger? David Chase As Frank Stockton

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Some thoughts on the remarkable ending of The Sopranos:

I’ve seen many responses to the ambiguous ending, ranging from disappointment and outrage to satisfaction and joy.

Much like the response to Frank R. Stockton’s “The Lady, or the Tiger,” when it first was published in 1882. The short story of course went on to become a classic.

A suitor for the princess of a kingdom is put on trial by the king. He is put in an arena and asked to pick one of two doors. Behind one is a lady, behind the other is a tiger. If he picks the door with the lady, he will be set free, and would live, but would be obliged to marry the lady. If he goes for the door with the tiger, he’ll be ripped to shreds. He of course does not know which is behind each of the doors. He loves the princess, so choosing the door with the lady may leave him heartbroken, but at least alive.

The princess knows what is behind each door. She loves the suitor. She gives him a signal – indicating which door the suitor should choose. If he chooses the lady, the princess will see the man she loves spend his life with another woman. If he chooses the tiger, the princess will see him die.

He opens the door, and… the story ends right there. Much like The Sopranos‘s cut to black last night.

Let us assume, for the moment, as many viewers have argued, that the blackness plus the conversation with Bobby on the lake about what happens when you get whacked (you never see it coming) mean that Tony is shot in the head by the guy who walked into the bathroom. But… did he kill just Tony, or Tony and Carmela, Tony and A.J., Tony and Meadow, maybe everyone at the table? And, if we allow that perhaps the darkness is not Tony’s, then maybe someone else at the table, or everyone else other than Tony, is killed.

Then, of course, if we allow the possibility that no one was killed, then the guy just went to the bathroom not to take care of business but to do his own business. So David Chase has given us a Sopranos, or the Tiger ending.

He’s the princess — he knows what’s behind the door of darkness. And we’re all the suitors in the arena. But unlike the princess, Chase is not clearly pointing to any door. And unlike the suitor, we have many more choices than two. But like the suitor, our choice of door depends upon what we think Chase wants us to see beyond it, and, even more importantly, what we in our hearts most want to see.

PS — One other thing, Frank R. Stockton published a sequel to “The Lady, or The Tiger”: “The Discourager of Hesitancy: A Continuation of ‘The Lady, or the Tiger?'” — three years later, in 1885.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that my own novels — such as The Silk Code and The Plot to Save Socrates — have been criticized here and there for not providing more definitive endings. So I may be naturally disposed to liking ambiguity.

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About Paul Levinson

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