Okay, it has been over a week since The Sopranos finale aired, and I still can’t get that song (“Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey) out of my head. What is worse is that I’ve been hearing it on commercial radio when I’m surfing stations, and even Hillary Clinton has jumped on the bandwagon, using the song as part of a slick advertisement featuring her husband Bill. Ironically, Hillary is in the Tony Soprano role and Bill is playing Carmela’s part. Strange but effective little commercial that it is, it reinforces the power of The Sopranos finale and its hold on our collective imagination.
I still find myself evaluating the ending, debating as it were the “fade to black” as a metaphor for death. I know that Bobby and Tony were talking about death as they sat in the boat on the lake (a couple of episodes before the finale), a surreal moment of peace between the brothers-in-law that was a calm before a big storm (later that day when Tony and Bobby duke it out over a tempestuous game of Monopoly). During the boat scene Bobby thinks about what death might be like and wonders if everything goes silent and fades to black. Tony says nothing but we know that he has been doing everything but facing the inevitable: people in his line of work tend to die violently or in jail.
If we look at the clip again there are obvious manipulations at work. Since the title of the episode is “Made in America,” Mr. Chase employs all sorts of connections to Americana for the viewer: a guy in a USA cap, boy scouts, a happy young couple laughing about something, and two black men checking out the food behind the counter. He even throws in a guy getting up and going to the bathroom, reminiscent of The Godfather scene when Michael went to get a gun in the bathroom of the Italian restaurant.
All of this seems to work on a visceral level, and the key to all these elements coming together is the people at the center of it all — the Sopranos themselves. Tony is descended from immigrants, the backbone of America to be sure in its last century, yet he (just as his father and uncle before him) has not chosen to be a part of the legitimate rise of Italian Americans to all levels of society; no, Tony is a gangster and has blood on his hands. No matter how much we either accept or reject this fact, invariably Tony and people like him are part of the fabric of the country. “Made” in America indeed!
Of course, there is still that troublesome fade to black. Many people have come forward stating that it means one thing — it is obvious Tony has been whacked. The guy came out of the bathroom, pointed a gun, and shot, turning out Tony’s lights for good. There is only one problem with this scenario — it is not consistent with point of view. If one studies the clip again, there are times when we get Tony’s point of view: he looks up when he hears the bells and sees various people come in, then Carmela, and finally AJ. All of this is consistent in the framework of the screen shifting to get Tony’s point of view.
I would argue that in those last seconds of the scene we get a different point of view. We see Meadow rushing across the street and then heading toward the door. We cut back to inside the diner and see Tony as the bell rings. Clearly, we are in Meadow’s point of view here. She is seeing her father as she enters the diner. Tony looks up at her and the screen fades to black. I would argue that since we are in Meadow’s point of view that the lights have gone out for her. It could be someone was right behind her and put a bullet in her head. The last thing she sees is what we see — Tony.
I didn’t initially believe this fade to black meant anything, yet so many theories have been offered, but none that make sense. Just think of the implications of Meadow's murder: Carmela and AJ will never forgive Tony and, more importantly, Tony will be destroyed. I think that is why such a big deal was made over one of Phil’s men talking dirty to Meadow. She is his little girl and he loves her so and will defend her. They knew this was Tony's weakness and wanted to get back at him, so Meadow would be the ideal target.
Actually, I still believe the fade to black was not ominous but a way to say it is over. The music goes on, the characters will live their lives, and we will not know what happens to them. Mr. Chase is not giving us a Six Feet Under kind of ending that even extends to the future for characters. No, Mr. Chase is comfortable with Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, which is based on the text (in this case the scenes) giving just a small part of the bigger story that can only be found by delving into our own thoughts about what the text means. Just as we can only see a very small portion of the iceberg above water, this means that everything that can or will happen in a fiction is open to our own interpretation.
I, for one, like Mr. Chase’s choice of ambiguity; I appreciate that he respected the audience enough not to ram an ending down its throat that would either be unpalatable or just tasteless. In this way, we can all make up our own endings after the fade to black. Mine is that Tony joins witness protection, moves to Arizona, and opens a small business in sales. He becomes Kevin Finnerty for real and lives happily with the kids forever. Justice? Catharsis? Payback? Fuhgetaboutit.