I'm a little miffled.
EDIT - And after a second viewing, I am still a little miffled. It's a perfect word, actually. Some hybrid of miffed and baffled, though I would add to those sentiments, impressed as well. The series finale David Chase provided for the world on Sunday was an impressive display of an artistic talent - to drive a suspenseful narrative, to play within the confines of television and make it something more than that, and finally to deal with the immense expectations for what note to end on for this ground-breaking television series.
To be sure, I understand what it is Chase decided to do. And it truly is breath taking, actually. First the episode goes through some precise steps to provide some sense of closure for many of the main characters of the series - Paulie, Janice, Sil, June, NY and Tony's immediate family - in that their direction will remain what it always has been. Then, Chase speaks to the audience and does one of many things - flips us off, winks at us, joins in the laugh or walks away with a smug look on his face. For near five minutes, Chase causes the viewer to suspect every single person in that restaurant assuming that something bad is about to happen. The last thing we hear before it goes dark is "Don't stop..." and then it does that very thing. I've heard sentiments expressed that the end is left open to interpretation which is believable. Tony either dies from an assassins bullet while the family watches on or gets killed themselves, or the family finishes their dinner in peace and they all walk away and go on as before. Both are certainly believable under the narrative Chase has set up. I've also read where the ending is in effect we the audience being "whacked" and thus we can no longer play voyeur to this life of crime and difficulty Chase introduced us to in 1999. And for those cynics out there, the ending even leaves open the chance that Chase eventually takes the money and makes The Sopranos movie (or more.)
Yes, the what I get, but not exactly the why. I am reminded of a line from Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm suggests that the scientists at the island were so wrapped up in whether or not they could they did not think about if they should. Here too, I wonder if David Chase was more concerned with what he could do and not if perhaps he should have ended things this way. The effect works cinematically and artistically, but not perhaps narratively. The ending can be appreciated but ultimately it does not satisfy.
There have been many discussing Chase's outright disdain for the rules of television and perhaps even the audience for this television series. I think that Chase has toyed with his fans over the years, no doubt. And I am sure he desired to finish this project in the best way he could to satisfy himself. But he has stated many times that he really only wanted to create a pleasurable television series and over the years has built up a certain narrative arc for this character of Tony Soprano. The rules of storytelling, not television, dictate that a story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning for Tony was obviously his entry into psychotherapy with Dr. Melfi. The middle is surely all the years in between in which Chase repeatedly hinted at directions for Tony to go different from the life he has previously lead (and this entails many directions, even becoming a harsher version of himself.) But where now is the end? We have none and are left with the notion that their is no end in sight for this Tony Soprano.
I can live with the idea. It won't disrupt further viewings of the series either. One of my favorite television series was SOAP. Its finale was also one in which we were left hanging on a cliff. But then, its premise was a soap opera gone crazy where The Sopranos was never supposed to be a soap opera, at least not from Chase's desire. But the episode title gives it away. It itself is made in America and the theme of the episode is entirely these other individuals who were made in America and will stay in America, living in their own cocoon until made, somehow, to leave it. Think Uncle Junior. Even AJ gave up on his depression when given a comfy position, a BMW and some room to not be disturbed.
It's a rather cynical world David Chase lives in and he has gone to great pains to remind us of that often throughout the series. There appears to be no attempt at a morality play either, which many of the fans were looking for. In the end, it is the "life goes on" denouement which we receive and while it remains an artistic achievement, it does not satisfy the fulfilling nature of many of his previous efforts to make a "great show." The absence of music is most telling. No more will we get such and in fact, not even tonight. Sorry. This is the end. The music is over. Turn out the light. And so, I will. I'll not be haunted by this monster of Tony Soprano any longer. But thanks for all the fish, Mr. Chase. That is all.