Given that there is no more Sopranos Sunday night anymore, I am forced to blog this Monday on the lingering question of Tony Soprano's life or death, or more specifically that Tony died after the screen cut to black. The theory has gained quite a bit of credence over the past week, no small thanks to a blog entry by Bob Harris. In it, Mr. Harris moves through the final scene and finds in it not just the clues needed to believe Tony is the victim of an assassin's bullet but that Chase even presented Tony with a funeral mass through the symbols given in the scene. Now that's dedication.
Problem is...I think it stretches the boundaries of what has been presented to us, not just in the finale itself but also with the series as a whole. It is certainly a possibility that Tony died after the lights went out, but there is no way for us to know such a thing with any certainty. And if one takes the clues provided by David Chase throughout the run of The Sopranos, I think it is stretching belief to think that as soon as the lights went out, Tony got one in the back of the head. From my watching and analyzing the show from the third season on (and having gone back and watched the first two season several times) I see an ending far different than a simple "Tony died." I see something far more poetic and fitting as a conclusion, but many people cannot stand the idea of ambiguity and thus I feel the need to refute the "Tony died" theory as much as its possible and instead to champion what I contend is the lasting thought one should take from the series.
To begin with the Bob Harris blog entry, let us first look at two important qualifiers, one of which is his admission early in the post:
I finally got around to watching the much-debated Sopranos finale last night. I haven’t seen the show much in years; it’s brilliant and all, but I gave up around season four. Just had things to do, and the show got a little, I dunno, slow for a while. You know. But after all the hullaballoo [sic], I decided to take a look again for myself.
So already we know that the writer does not really put much credence into the slower aspects of the show and has missed much of two extremely important seasons in terms of understanding both Tony Soprano and the world David Chase built around him. Harris then goes on to write,
Keeping in mind that Sopranos creator David Chase wrote and directed this episode himself after months of planning – and that he has already told interviewers that “it’s all there,” let’s take him at his word. So, starting with the two most blatant clues and working outward until we stumble into what may be Tony’s own weirdly implied funeral rites:
The sensation of imminent death – “you probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?” – was now-famously discussed in an episode called “Soprano Home Movies.” This same episode was reportedly repeated, out of sequence, the week before the finale. And the same exact scene – this same discussion of how death would be experienced – was also apparently excerpted in flashback in the second-to-last episode.
The second is found in the first paragraph above. Harris has found two clues and then begins to look and see if anything else supports his premise. Surely this is a method to use, but in doing so can also leave out (or leave unexplained) other important messages I think were intended in the finale. And his clues? That David Chase says "it's all there" and that we hear a repetition from an earlier line presented in episode 78, Sopranos Home Movies. Now, in looking at the whole thing, I don't see how either clue directs a viewer to see Tony's death immediately. One that does is the manner in which the final scene is presented, but we'll get to that. As for Chase's words, I believe him. I certainly think he included exactly what he wanted in the finale and the message (to me at least) is pretty clear. Which ties into the second "clue" - Tony considering Bobby's words as he puts himself to bed in the safe house during the NY/NJ war.
I'll readily admit, there is surely a reason that Chase highlighted that scene. But as you will see as we go along, I think Chase included quite a lot of red herrings in this episode and this particular scene (not even in the finale itself) could be considered the same. On top of that, there is a meta quality about this particular episode such that we must also look at what Chase might be saying to us the audience as much as what he includes to inform the characters. To be sure, there is a direct link to the idea of "probably not hearing it as it happens" and the black out that ends the episode, but could not this idea also work towards the audience as much as Tony? There is a credible theory floating around that the audience was "whacked" when the screen goes black. We certainly did not hear that coming.
Further, as it relates to Tony himself, the thought is planted firmly in his mind. It is clear from the repeat that he is thinking about this very thing. Thus, I think it is entirely reasonable to consider the idea that what we are witnessing in the final scene of Made in America is not the proof that one does not hear it coming but that Tony is very aware of his risky situation and everything we watch (with the exception of Meadow parking) is built to show us how that effects Tony's life and actions. We are allowed an inside peek into Tony's mindset and emotions and most likely, given our information on Tony from the previous 85 episodes, this will not go away or cause him to alter his life in any way.
With this out of the way, let us begin to look at the clues Chase supposedly set to let us in on the Tony died meme. And to do that, we must return once more to the above statement. Harris suggests that HBO ran Soprano Home Movies out of sequence during the previous week. I'm not sure when that was supposed to have happened as the week prior to the finale we were witness to The Blue Comet, no off week having been included before the finale this time. It is entirely possible HBO played the episode, but I don't know when and certainly not in the traditional 9pm time slot. I am aware that HBO did play the previous episodes during the off week that followed Kennedy and Heidi (the Memorial Day weekend) but all seven episodes of the then already aired season 6b were part of that package. I fail to see why, however, this should provide some sense of further importance to Soprano Homes Movies. The import of the line was given to us in The Blue Comet. That's it and that is all.
Let me include some of the rest of what Mr. Harris follows the above with,
This is called hitting the audience in the face with a two-by-four, hoping they notice. We have been instructed as to what to expect from first-person death, as clearly as any self-respecting dramatist would likely allow.
(Incidentally, you probably would hear the shot from a pistol at short range, but that hardly matters; this is fiction, and the only thing that matters is its own reality.)
Also, Tony got shot once before – in an episode called “Members Only.” And sure enough, a guy in a Members Only jacket – an unlikely fashion choice, unless David Chase is showing us the ending in enormous letters – walks in, looks repeatedly in Tony’s direction, and moves to a spot that would give him an unimpeded line of fire.
As we have seen by now, that two-by-four is not as large as we once thought. And further, I have to disagree that any self-respecting dramatist would care to bludgeon their audience, especially not someone like David Chase who seems to love breaking the rules and defying convention. Subtly is the desired thing, but then this may just be me talking. So let us instead look at the rest of this portion - yes, Members Only was episode 66, the first in this final season. And yes, the suspicious looking man that we will be discussing quite a bit below is wearing what appears to be a Members Only jacket. But what is the connection here? Is "Members Only" Chase-speak for the mafia? Almost certainly.
In the episode titled for the jacket, the theme was the inability to escape the mafia life once you become a member. We witness Eugene Pontecorvo ask Tony if he can retire to Florida and when he receives a "no" he ends up hanging himself. By itself, this one aspect doesn't mean much. But when looked at alongside the rest of the season, it becomes clear that a theme was introduced in that first episode and every other one attempted to build on it. Vito tries to come out of the closet and move to New Hampshire but is unable to handle life outside the mafia and is subsequently killed by Phil Leotardo when he returns. Chris attempts to go straight and move on with his life after Ade's death but we witness him fall back into drug dependency and spill all of his emotions in the film Cleaver. Paulie attempts to forsake his mother once he finds out she is really his aunt but eventually is forced to return to her because he can count on no one else during his cancer scare. Sil attempts to fill the void Tony leaves when he is in the hospital and is unable to cut it as boss. Carmela goes to Paris with Rosalie Aprile and begins to feel some of the same tug on her conscience that Tony has felt but eventually returns to focus on her spec house and the gifts Tony gives her. I could go on, but the point was made with every subsequent episode. The largest, surely, is Tony's coma dream and what he eventually takes way from it - nothing. So too with his "I get it" moment in Kennedy and Heidi.
The point of Members Only is that once you are in, you cannot escape. Thus it is not an unlikely choice but rather a specific one. That the man is wearing such a jacket and repeatedly looks over at Tony is meant to suggest something bad is about to happen. Harris continues,
Members Only Guy, incidentally, is listed in the credits not as “Furtive Man Drinking Coffee” or “Guy Who Gets Up To Pee” or “Weak-Bladdered Fellow With Strange Fashion Sense.” He's "Man in Members Only Jacket." The chosen wording of the credit itself is a big freakin’ arrow.
Absolutely. It's an arrow. But not an arrow linking the man to the murder of Tony Soprano. Only an arrow linking Man in Members Only Jacket to a potential threat to Tony and one that he surely recognizes if you watch Tony's eyes both when the man enters and when he moves to go to the bathroom later. We cannot prove that the man comes back out of the bathroom and shoots Tony. Only that he looms large in the scene for some reason. The reason, in my mind, is yet another red herring and part of an attempt to build a suspenseful scene so that we might recognize what it is like to be Tony Soprano. The fear that everywhere you go, some one may be gunning for you and as Bobby suggested, "you probably don't even hear it when it happens."
To move on, Harris then suggests one of the most curious points of his blog entry,
Another strikingly obvious bit of information: shortly before his death, David Chase very briefly frames Tony in a shot that visually quotes the Last Supper (one-point perspective, special holy light from above (more obvious in the footage than the grab), a long horizontal base supporting triangular composition on both sides of the subject, etc.).
To give you an idea, here is a shot:
It's not the best screencap in the world, but you get the idea. This is the shot were are given after Tony walks in and looks around. Some thought the awkward transition was meant to signify a dream or altered state. I saw it simply as Tony sitting down and this is the view from the front of the restaurant. Nothing really spectacular. But the images behind him are (we'll return to that when Harris does.) Here is more from Harris,
Hardly surprising, then, that Tony’s last conversation with Carm mentions his own personal Judas. And we all know what happened after the Last Supper.
I get the feeling someone has been watching The DaVinci Code a bit much recently, but there might be some credence to this. The first thing we must do, however, is consider that if this really is Tony set up in A Last Supper pose, then that makes Tony Christ. I have to tell you, I find this thought horrible. Why, in a million years, would Chase present Tony as Christ? Just for the subtle wink towards The Last Supper to suggest this is the same for Tony? It's possible, but given what we know of Chase and his thoughts on these characters he has built, I find that hard to believe. There is a palpable feeling during the final nine episodes that Tony is meaner than he has ever been. We were meant to see this given how earlier, we were made to feel pity for him when he was shot. Why then would Chase present Tony one last time as savior? Could it be something else instead? I think so and we'll have to backtrack a little to get there because Harris assumes this point is made and moves on for a bit,
Remember, the show is largely (albeit not completely) told from Tony’s POV. Long stretches of Tony's dreams, fantasies, and passing perceptions have been presented as the show’s reality. Now look again at the sequence. Members Only Guy enters, holding his left arm with an odd stiffness; there’s even a small, visible bulge in the bottom of his left jacket pocket. (Out of frame in the grab below, unfortunately. On the tape, this looks more to me like a roll of quarters than the barrel of, say, a Glock 36, but hey, it’s there. Make of it what you wish.) But all this is only visible for about a second before Tony’s son A.J. emerges from behind him, and Tony’s (and our) focus shifts to Tony’s son.
Let's stop here because it is important to clarify that yes, much of the show is told from Tony's POV, but Harris readily admits that there is plenty that is not (in this same episode we witness Agent Harris after he hangs up the phone with Tony.) The idea given above speaks more to the idea that Tony is shot and thus the last thing seen is him looking up and then no more. But that's not where Harris is going. He wants to discuss Members Only Guy (from here on out referred to as MOG.)
The restaurant, incidentally, is manifestly not filled with people gunning for Tony, despite the online rumor. There's literally nothing in the sequence that indicates such a thing. Instead, the restaurant is simply filled with a strangely color-desaturated vision (more on that shortly) of ordinary middle-class Americana: Cub Scouts, kids on dates, etc.
This is an almost precise statement. That the restaurant is filled with non-suspicious people is entirely not true during the first viewing. There is no way to know what is fact. Chase provides shots of each of them and if supposedly in Tony's POV, we would not readily see him looking at them. What is meant is to be suspicious of every one of them which is what led to the online myth that everyone had some beef against Tony. However, now that it is over, we can assume that the others mean no harm to Tony if we put them up against MOG who does remain awfully suspicious. Further, I would suggest that the make up of patrons is yet another subtle nod from Chase towards the peculiar nature of this entire series - mobsters in middle America. Hell, the title of the episode is Made in America. Chase could not be any more clear in this regard - even in a supposedly safe place surrounded by ordinary people, Tony cannot feel safe. We now know what that feels like thanks to this scene. More from Harris,
David Chase shows us Members Only Guy almost continuously from the time he enters, although this may not be immediately obvious – he’s often not in focus, but he’s in the background behind A.J., at center frame in the over-the-shoulder shot used conventionally to show Tony’s POV in a conversation.
We have this put directly in our face, front and center. But Tony's focus is on his son.
David Chase, who has complete control of the seating and camera angles, seems to be directly showing us that Tony’s not paying attention to Members Only Guy. Whether that’s wise of Tony is another issue.
We could ignore Members Only Guy ourselves, but Chase also shows him in repeated clear-focus medium shots, with his left side remaining away from the camera – which is to say, from Tony’s POV. And Chase shows us that Members Only Guy is doing nothing in the entire scene but turning and looking directly at Tony – and no one else in the restaurant – over and over in a highly suspicious way.
It’s true that there are plenty of other people in the restaurant. None of them are staring at Tony this way. And it’s true that Members Only Guy is a character no one has ever seen before. But certainly some of the show’s victims never recognized their attackers, either. Eventually, Members Only Guy, named for the episode in which Tony gets shot, gets up, sidles near, is discounted by Tony as a threat…
And the series ends within seconds, in precisely the sudden full-stop manner repeatedly (and in repeats) described in advance.
Tony's focus is on the menu, his son, Carmela and every person that enters when the bell rings. I'm not sure why Harris thinks it is ONLY on AJ. Further, as I stated above, Tony does notice him when he walks to the bathroom going so far as to look out the corner of his right eye for a moment after the man passes, all the while trying to remain nonchalant. And then nothing happens. There is still some talk, then more shots of Meadow parking and coming inside and then the black. Harris mentions the seating and I suppose this is interesting, at least enough so that we, the audience, are able to keep an eye on MOG. Beyond that, I don't know what is so important about the seating arrangement. And that Tony does not keep watch of other patrons can easily suggest that he sized them up upon their entry and no longer worries about them. But contrary to what Harris mentions and as stated before, Tony does keep watch of MOG - subtly but surely. He must do that all day long, one might suspect. And we are meant to watch Tony watch him so that we understand this point.
Here now we must mention the author's suggestion that Chase desired the blackout to last a full thirty seconds. This comes from an article released within the last few days in which an HBO executive discussed the finale. Several people have used this as yet another justification for why Tony must be dead. Could it not just as easily be utilized to suggest finality in any form? The fact that the blackout occurs just as the music stops on the words "Don't stop" could not be more of a Chase wink to the audience. That he is known for his excellent use of music over the credits and then chooses no music for these...that he builds the final scene with such excruciating tension and then declines to show us the payoff...is it not possible that he might have wanted more of an emphasis on this moment? The way the effect works now is sufficient and I am pleased they did not use the full thirty seconds.
But the proof does not come in the form of the ending but the manner in which it was accomplished. Harris and the Tony Died crowd would have you believe that the blackness is Tony's POV now cut off. I would suggest it could have that meaning among many others, none of which are capable of being backed up with any clear evidence from the episode itself and all of which are plausible given the same criteria. Tony died. We died. The series died. Or simply...that's it. There is no more.
If one is desirous of clues for this last suggestion, look no further than Kennedy and Heidi. The two names are curious examples for an episode in which Tony kills Chris and then hightails it to Vegas. Unless, you look at the Kennedy portion as a play on the many repeated references to JFK throughout the series suggesting an outcome that should have been glorious but was cut short. Johnny Boy, Tony and even Chris all fit this theme. So much promise and look what happened.
The Heidi portion of the title was less clear. It spoke of orphans and innocents. However, FlyOnMelfisWall at The Chase Lounge stood fast in her proposal that Heidi referenced the "Heidi Bowl" when a football game was cut off to show the movie Heidi. It did not make much sense at the time, but it makes perfect sense now. The same thing happened to us, but to mix in the Kennedy imagery, it matters not because what we might see will not show us the promise hinted at so many times before. It's not worth seeing. And the football angle of the Heidi reference cannot be ignored for anyone that has ever watched The Test Dream (of which there was a shout out in both The Second Coming and The Blue Comet.) Tony is unprepared as usual and this time, he brought his whole family - not unlike his actions over the past six seasons.
The series went dark just like the Heidi Bowl because Tony was unprepared just as old football Coach Molinaro reminds him often in his dreams. There will be no "Camelot" (which as we have seen in the episode titled In Camelot, is not near as shiny as we thought it once was.) And there is no second coming because Tony is unprepared to move away from his natural orbit thus the center will hold. He will remain much like a comet, circling around change without ever doing anything true about it and will instead lament times gone by like the days when a fast train could jet people between New York and Atlantic City. After all, Tony Soprano was made in America and the way Chase tells it, he has too many options and not enough honor or morality to try and become anything other than what he already is and what his parents made.
Enough digressions. I think that explains the black screen fairly enough and no where does it "require" Tony to die. In fact, if that is what happens, it lessons what I take from the series - that Tony must live out his days in such a state where he is always unsure of his surroundings and sure to bring himself (and family) down due to his inability to change in any meaningful way. Other fans, however, want blood. To wit,
The episode actually opens with a harbinger of Tony’s funeral, plain as day. Remember, David Chase personally directed for the first time since the series premiere. And David Chase’s very first shot in eight years is of Tony Soprano lying flat on his back, viewed from above, much as if we are looking down on him in his coffin.
Many, many episodes begin with Tony sleeping or in bed. Now I will grant that this openings appears to show Tony perhaps in a coffin with funeral music playing initially, but then quickly snaps out of that. This is one of those red herrings I was talking about. The previous episode had ended in such a way that many were wondering how Tony would get out alive. Quite humorous that Chase winks at us at the beginning of the next episode. In fact, some thought Tony might flip. Chase winks at them too by next showing Tony waiting for Agent Harris, seeing him show up and then walking silently in the snow to the car. We still don't know who's inside the car until we hear Agent Harris say "You don't want to know" at Tony's query about his work in terrorism. But Tony's not flipping. Instead, Tony's flipping agent Harris. Soon after, the FBI agent will actually be rooting for Tony's side during the NY/NJ war. Another one of those red herrings, I am afraid. There's another with Paulie and his look after Tony offers him the old Cifaretto crew. Paulie's look at first makes one consider that he's got some nefarious doings against Tony. But then we hear Paulie explain about his fears and paranoia. We know then what the look is about. More Harris,
Tony stirs, the music starts to rock, and Tony begins his day. But about five minutes in, Tony’s eating an orange. This is a specific reference both to the Godfather series and to earlier Sopranos episodes: in simplest, familiar form, Orange = Death. [If you need an explanation, see the updates at end of the post. Start by remembering that both Michael and Don Vito Corleone died with oranges; the former in his hand, the latter in his mouth.] Apparently this is news to some people, but as a reference it's so well-established and on the nose that I was surprised to see it. It’s almost cliché.
Speaking of which, there’s a lot of fuss about the big orange cat (note the color; to a writer as careful as Chase, this probably would not have been arbitrary). There’s really no need to debate its meaning. This is carefully-crafted fiction, so as a rule, things generally mean what the characters anticipate they mean; that’s how harbingers and foreboding often work. Otherwise, we'd have only our own prior cultural references to know what to fear. And Paulie could not be clearer that the creature is a Bad Omen. Of what? Through the episode, the cat is literally focused on a reminder of death – specifically, Tony’s murder of Christopher, who was almost a surrogate son.
First I must mention that when the music starts to rock, it was the song "You Keep Me Hanging On" - a perfect fit after the ruse of Tony perhaps being dead and in a coffin. But let us instead look at the oranges. This whole orange=death thing tires me so. First, I have to admit never buying the orange equals death angle about The Sopranos. Yes, it is clearly in The Godfather films. But if it has ever been used consistently on The Sopranos, I have never noticed it. However, let us consider that it does and let's see where Harris goes with it. First he points out the orange that Tony eats while at the safe house with Carm. Fair enough. But if used like The Godfather, Tony would during or die after that scene. As well, Tony often drinks orange juice throughout the run of the series and he obviously does not die. So, not sure where he can really go with this one. Then we get into the orange cat.
Yes, Paulie is spooked by the cat, and most likely for good reason. The cat (to me) represents Chris. Cats can be used to signify many things, but among them a connection between life and the after-life (where supposedly Chris would be.) That the cat looks intently on Chris' picture may be another suggestion linking the two. Third, Tony takes in the cat much as he might have with Chris earlier in life. When combined with Paulie's obvious distaste at the creature, I saw it as a way to provide Paulie with another foil, remind the audience of Chris in the final episode and show Tony's love for the innocent creatures knowing full well what he'll do if crossed. In fact, the final shot with the cat speaks to the crumbling neighborhood (see also the tour bus scene in Little Italy), the profession of mobster and the full circle nature of both Tony and the series' journey - right back where it started. So what do we make of the cat's color? Anything? Does it need more meaning? All right, it's colored orange. Can't argue with that and won't try. Let's move on to where Harris is really going with this,
Yeah, sure, but the orange cat doesn’t actually show up when Tony supposedly dies, does he? Sure he does – in an almost laughably large way. David Chase chose to shoot the final scene in a dessert shop in Bloomfield, New Jersey, where the actual mascot of the town’s real high school football team is the same as that of nearby Princeton University -- an orange tiger. In the Last Supper shot, guess what David Chase shows us, beyond Tony’s right shoulder?
A bigass orange cat three feet high, that’s what. The framing is actually pushed slightly to that side, favoring the cat.
David Chase could have shot that scene in any restaurant in Jersey. He chose that one. And he didn’t have to frame the giant orange cat over Tony’s shoulder. He chose to. Does it work as art? Eh. He’s a genius, but it’s not the most brilliant bit of symbolism I’ve ever seen. But it’s there on the tape, coincidence or whatever it is. See for yourself.
So let's see that again:
Yes, the mascot is over Tony's shoulder. But Harris leaves out everything else in the background. It is clear that football must be front and center when looking at that shot and as explained, this is a biggie for Tony. So should we be focusing on one portion that shows an orange cat or the entire thing which shows a football mural? Feel free to look at the cat to get your deathly orange, but what I see is one huge reminder of Tony's unprepared dream writ large and hanging over his shoulder. Even the look on his face shows resignation (though difficult to make out.)
In both cases where Harris wishes to look at the orange to signify death, I see more of a signal that Tony is unable to change and will remain exactly as we see him right here for the rest of his days (this thanks to viewing all 86 episodes many times over.) As he himself said, there are only two ends for a guy like him - death or jail. Both are hinted at during the finale but neither occurs on screen. What does show up on screen are several harbingers of Tony's inability to alter his life and by doing so dooms his family until he is gone (and by that time, it may be too late for them.) This notion is actually at the heart of Harris' next point,
Not that it matters. Death is already palpable everywhere anyway. By this point, almost everyone in Tony’s world outside his immediate family is either emotionally dead to him (Dr. Melfi, Carlo), physically dead (Christopher, Bobby, etc.), or incapacitated (Junior, Silvio, etc.). Even Paulie speaks fearfully of the afterlife and the Virgin Mary… before agreeing to a job he believes will lead to a premature death. Hardly surprising that the entire family is wearing black at the end.
Indeed. The series is ending and everyone in it is surely going to some dark grave (other than those that were never corrupted - Charmaine (and perhaps now Artie after his seeming reawakening in Luxury Lounge.) But given that all the others wearing black don't die, it is a stretch to assume Tony will. In fact, if Tony dies why not the whole family (save Meadow so busily parking the car)? Once more, I think we are missing the forest for the trees just in front of us. More Harris and orange,
What else stands out about the restaurant? Not tons – but it’s orange as hell, right down to the orange neon and the orange vinyl and the orange trim on the jukebox cards. Plus, looking in from the doorway, it sure sets up a subtle Last Supper, and it’s got a nice geography for a Godfather-inspired post-piss-break cap job. (Remember, Chase could have stuck Tony in a corner booth with his back to the wall, something we’ve all seen before. He chose not to.)
Also worth noting: the restaurant’s servers and customers and even the Members Only Guy are in muted tones and lots and lots of gray. The USA hat on the coffee-drinking trucker doesn’t have the bright red-white-&-blue you’d expect. Even the Cub Scouts’ kerchiefs are quite notably gray, not bright golden yellow.
You don't get lighting and costuming this uniform in color scheme by random accident; the colors could also have been manipulated in the editing room. In any case, the only obvious colors in the entire sequence are various shades of orange and black. Death, death, death.
OK, here I have to hand it to Harris. He is looking at every different angle which is why many have taken his suggestions as a great guide. And I'll not deny that the hues and feel of the scene were dark. But then, much of this past season has been shown with dark colors and as I've been reminded, Carm wears orange in almost every episode yet remains alive if perhaps not quite well. I cannot argue his points here because they could mean any number of things other than sure death for one person in the room.
And look again at that whole restaurant, closely, either on tape or even just glancing at the Last Supper image and thinking back: any bright blue hats, purple sweatshirts, or pink hair ribbons? Nope. A large part of the basic color wheel -- the whole bright-blue section directly opposite to orange -- has been whacked. Just pale gray waitresses. Scouts with gray kerchiefs, led by a man with gray hair in a gray sweater. A woman with gray hair and a colorless shirt on the far side of the jukebox. A gray Members Only jacket. A girl drinking brown chocolate milk in next to a kid in a brown-trimmed T-shirt and a khaki jacket with a red-orange splotch on the arm. Whatever else is going on, almost the entire sequence (save stuff like tiny glimpses of the real-world neon at the far left of shots of the front door) is tightly limited in color and saturation: grays. Neutrals. Oranges, reddish-oranges, orange-browns. And blacks. The blackest clothes in the room? The Sopranos' own table.
Now in that context, as to why Chase chose that restaurant and that color scheme for Tony's last moments before the sudden silence, I speculated that it fit with the orange-death connection precedent of the Godfather series, especially since the Sollozzo shooting is referenced both physically and verbally in the very same scene. That's what I meant about the "orange" in the scene. That may or may not be correct. But certainly the color scheme is plain enough, unless I missed a flying purple elephant during the onion rings and brown cola. I'll further suggest that since saturated, bright colors near orange usually bring warmth and cheer to a place, avoiding any truly bright colors might have helped Chase make the room a little colder and more menacing, too.
Frankly, I find the cub scouts have a blue kerchief but maybe that's grey. The young man with a woman has a green jacket on. There's red with the old man in the USA hat. Plenty of white too with his coffee and creamers we focus on. But that's not really the entire picture. Not only are we meant to get a feel for the scene but also the purpose. The entire last scene is literally a tiny movie. It stands somewhat alone, outside of the rest of the episode and when watching the original broadcast, one look at the clock suggested that the end was coming very soon.
We are also directly told that both Tony and his milieu are at an end. As a tour bus passes, we hear a disembodied guide explaining – in an announcement unrelated in any way to the plot – that Little Italy is rapidly vanishing. And Tony himself actually tells Meadow that “my chances are flying by me,” a phrase close enough to “my life is flashing before my eyes” to be virtually the same thing.
That Harris would assume the tour bus was unrelated also suggests he misses the point of the final scene. Indeed, the world Tony was raised in is crumbling around him. From the very first episode, we knew how Tony felt about that. He felt he came in too late and has lamented it ever since. Yet throughout the series, when given a thought or opportunity to alter his course, he refuses. So here we are, all these years later, once again about to watch a family dinner scene end the series. Meadow is arriving and the other three are there. Once she arrives, the will have completed the milieu of the very first season ender, I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano, in which the family is forced to Vesuvios during a rain storm and eats pasta by candle light. The scene is even referred to by AJ when he reminds his father of what he said during that meal. Chase has returned us full circle to the start and showed the various ways Tony has been given the chance to change and how he shuns it. When he says "my chances are flying by me" to Meadow, that's not just a throw away line. It is exactly what is happening to Tony as Chase has showed us since 1999.
This entire last scene is to show us the family as they are now compared to where they were then. But there is no reason to show the rest of the dinner. We know how it plays out. We've seen it from Chase far too many times to question.
So, finally, Tony enters the restaurant. There is a bell on the door, and the rest of the scene involves Tony (and us) taking note of the occasions that the bell rings. The ringing of bells is not essential to the story in any way, and these characters have met in public places hundreds of times with no bell present, but Chase makes a meal of it here. This might veer into The Walrus Was Paul territory, but the repeated ringing of a bell, in a different context, is called a knell; it’s a well-known sign of mourning.
I cannot deny this, but I wonder if Harris' "looking for clues" doesn't buy him this. As well, the bells certainly do mean something. To be honest, I have not fully pinned that down but there is a missing "Three Bells" verse that we have not heard during the show and that verse is about Jimmy Brown's death. So, to give him some ammunition he can have this one for free. But at the same time, and once again, the "funeral" feel may very well be more in reference to the series than about Tony himself. Harris has more,
Weirdly, the door is also glimpsed opening and closing silently; still, the bell rings only and exactly six times. It sure seems like a conscious part of the sound design. “Six bells” is also a traditional call to Mass, and in the Catholic church, a Mass is said at a funeral.
[UPDATE: I should be clearer here that I'm skeptical of this idea about the bells myself, but just sharing what I do see in the episode and what it might mean.]
Before you discard this as seeing ten guys on the Grassy Knoll -- and I'm sure as hell tempted myself -- we’ve already been shown a coffin shot, an orange, an orange restaurant, two orange cats, and a three-second Last Supper shot, referencing the very center of the rite of the Eucharist. So it's at least reasonable to ask: besides the Last Supper and a half-assed bell thingy, are there other unusual things going on here indicating that Chase may have been trying (successfully or not) to subtly invoke a Catholic Mass?
Yes. A bunch.
[UPDATE: This Washington Post TV editor finds all sorts of Biblical symbols I would never have noticed, including events throughout the episode. Interesting. Guy knows way more about the Bible than I do, I can see that. Judge for yourself.]
This isn’t a particularly Catholic idea, but one big point of Mass in many churches is communion with the Holy Ghost. And after Carmela sits down, Tony says something truly odd, using a nickname for A.J. which makes little obvious sense: “Where’s the ghost?” [UPDATED -- this entire paragraph is just incorrect; see the end of the post. I've left it here because people should be happy to admit when they're wrong.]
Here Harris admits his mistake thinking that Tony asked about a ghost when instead he asked "Where's googootz?" This is a phrase Tony has repeatedly called his son from the very beginning of the show and I think shows yet another moment where the author's lack of attention to the series as a whole harms his analysis. As for the bells and the number of times they ring, I cannot say. I heard more than three but less than seven so he might be right that it is six. They are all of varying levels of sound, some more audible than others, and of course, the final three do reference the family as they enter one by one (the last sounding as we presume Meadow enters Holstens.) What to make of this? Could it be yet another signal that the series is over? Could it suggest that all of these people will eventually perish without the hoped for promise but at least in line for God's love as the song suggests? Maybe.
[UPDATED -- when A.J. first sits down, Tony's description of the onion rings ("the best in the state") also pretty directly references the Godfather scene in which Sollozzo is shot by a man coming out of a bathroom. See the end of the post.]
A.J. arrives, and Tony awkwardly takes A.J.’s hand with the same sort of overhand non-shake grip you see in church when people join hands in the Sign of Peace. [UPDATE: Eh... on second thought, this, too, is a serious reach. I got carried away with the Mass thing and started seeing it everywhere. Withdrawn. I've seen people in church try to join hands a lot of ways, often awkward, but often not -- and there's enough other stuff going on that after a second look, I don't see this as more than an awkward attempt at bonding between the characters. My bad.]
Soon, onion rings appear. (Yes, still more orange food. And I feel like I’m being hit by a hammer at this point.) And then something else truly odd happens – all three consume the onion rings not the way that ordinary human beings eat onion rings – bite off a chunk, chew, swallow, etc. – but by sliding the whole rings onto their tongues. Like communion wafers.
Honest, it’s right there on the film. It's really odd. Look at it again. And just so we don’t miss it, David Chase even highlights this strange series of actions with three separate close-ups.
It’s so blunt and unwieldy a symbol that I’d be tempted to dismiss it. I mean, come on -- onion rings? But it's either intentional, or three different actors all made the same bizarre choice, framed by individual shots that took time to set up and light, without it all somehow being the director’s intent.
And now we are to the onion rings. It is true that they are eaten as if communion wafers and each one is highlighted. But rather than communion at a funeral mass I'd suggest the onion rings (which I have heard this restaurant does not even have in reality, but cannot say with certainty) have a dual purpose. One, they are circular and thus present yet another clue towards a full circle for these characters, and in this taking of communion they are not in a church. Fitting for a family that calls themselves Catholic yet acts without regard to the morality of that church, most especially Carmela who has given up her spiritual search in favor of watches and coats, and more spec houses to be sure. This is really more a rejection of religion in that this is their church now. Carmela even admitted to Melfi that her visits to her priest were bullshit because "there are far worse crooks than my husband." (And by the way, personally with an onion ring that size, I'd probably eat it that way too, but that's neither here nor there.)
[UPDATE: Many readers insist that the onion rings aren't exactly orange. They're a pale orange on my screen, but whatever, OK, whatever color you've got on your screen, then. But I'm still waiting for a better explanation of what's up with three separate Catholic characters using their own mouths like giant CD insertion trays, all three highlighted in separate close-ups, in the weighted final moments before the long-planned climax of an eight-year show. Sure, maybe onion rings are just onion rings. In which case, well, pretty strange onion rings.]
What else happens at a funeral? You eulogize the dead – “eulogy” from “good words” in Greek – remembering them in the best light possible. The last thing Tony's son ever gets to tell his father? “Focus on the good times,” A.J. says.
He’s quoting Tony, back to him. Tony responds by speaking of himself in past tense, suddenly showing little more self-awareness than Junior has just shown in the previous scene. “I said that?” Tony asks, genuinely and pleasantly surprised. The last moments show a developing bond between Tony and A.J. Which is interesting. Given the death of Christopher, A.J. is the only potential male heir left in Tony’s life.
Hmm. Right about here I paused the DVR and thought for a minute. David Chase chose a literal reference to A.J. himself to invoke the Ghost image. [UPDATED -- not so much; see the end of the post.] I wonder about another possibility in addition to Tony’s death: A.J.’s.
Farfetched? Maybe. But this episode has also contained repeated suggestions of A.J.’s mortality. The giant fireball at the SUV might have been the first clue. His reaction in therapy. His desire to run off to a war zone. And, um, the urgent attention his parents have been giving to the issue of keeping him not very dead of late.
And, say, from Tony's POV, Members Only Guy physically blots out A.J. while entering (much more notably in the footage than in the grab, below) – something which was probably intentional, since you don’t send actors willy-nilly into frame during even a minor scene.
I think I've covered most of this already but I'll add that I don't consider onion rings orange but rather brown. And we've certainly mentioned the reminder from AJ to his father. Again - full circle. The rest of the thoughts on AJ can't even be really debunked they are so far off. Since there was no mention of "ghost" I don't see the rest of it. And AJ's reaction to the fireball of his car spoke more to me about his ultimate irresponsibility than anything, reinforced by his quick cave once he got a new car. Notice he now laughs at Bush rather than complains.
Still, I’m less than 50-50 on this idea. But if Members Only Guy shot when he emerged from the bathroom, the only person in position to react – as Chase himself has designed it, remember – would have been A.J. Alternate endings, anyone?
If we have been set up for both Tony and A.J. to die [a big if, just supposing] this would end the Soprano male bloodline. The finale would be absolute. Carm would be destroyed (whether physically wounded or not) and Meadow, the only one with a real chance to go straight, would be literally on the outside, watching from afar.
In any case, Tony’s swallowing of his greasy orange wafer ring is his last act on this earth (or at least on our TV screens). But do we have any more evidence that this is, indeed, Dead Man Communing? Yup. In the soundtrack.
Harris assumes much here and I'd be best to leave it alone since it really has nothing behind it. If anything, it gives me the opportunity to suggest why it is we see Meadow parking her car while the rest are inside "communing" with onion rings. Is it possible that Chase has suggested that Meadow still has a chance? She certainly takes her time getting her parking correct. Not an irresponsible move. And that we do not see her enter Holstens where the rest have come full circle with no outlook for change...could it be that Chase left us some hope for Meadow?
Anyway, let's see what Harris has to say about the music,
In Catholicism, administration of the Eucharist in the moments before death is known as Viaticum, derived in part from the Latin for… “Journey.”
*Loud throat clearing noise.*
[The link leads to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for a full explanation of the derivation.]
Which brings us to the final songs:
One thing seemingly missing from the Catholic Mass references described above is the lack of a visual shout-out to holy water at the outset, the ritual reminder of damp divine purification. However, when Tony enters the restaurant, the background music is 1975’s “All That You Dream” by Little Feat. And David Chase has it cued up to this specific lyric:All, all that you dream... it comes through shining, silver lining and
Clouds, clouds change the scene... rain starts washing all love’s caution...
“Rain starts washing” – an explicit description of water providing cleansing from the heavens – plays during the Last Supper shot. Those three words, only those three words, and only that one time.
I understand Chase really wanted "Don't Stop Believin'." First, I'd assume the band's name was a wink in that we'd watched six seasons worth of a journey and the title of the song we end up hearing is "Don't Stop Believin'." But let us focus on the first song first. True, we hear "All That You Dream." A reference to Chase's love of dream sequences? Or better, let's look at all the lyrics of the song (a little trick Chase likes to play, just like the films he has Tony and others watching):
I've been down, but not like this before
Can't be 'round this kind of show no more
All, all that you dream
Comes through shinin silver lining
Clouds, clouds change the scene
Rain starts washing all these cautions
Right into your life, makes you realize
Just what is true, what else can you do
You just follow the rule
Keep your eyes on the road that's ahead of you
I've been down, but not like this before
Can't be 'round this kind of show no more
All of the good, good times were ours
In the land of milk and honey
And time, time adds its scars
Rainy days they turn to sunny ones
Livin' the life, livin' the life lovin' everyone
I've been down, but not like this before
Can't be 'round this kind of show no more
I've been down, but not like this before
Can't be 'round this kind of show no more
I've been down, but not like this before
Hmmm. Which might be important here - the rain washing down or the meaning in the song? Could it be another subtle wink? It's certainly plausible. And the point is, that's not the song we are meant to truly focus on.
As to the final song, the Viaticum -- sorry, Journey -- power ballad so widely debated: it begins at the precise instant that Carmela is shown entering the restaurant. Not a frame before, not a frame later. Literally on the cut. This, again, is not the sort of thing that happens by accident. It's a choice you make in the editing room.
So the music seems symbolically intended for Carmela, the most likely survivor of any post-onion-ring gunplay at the table. (This notion is reinforced by the way the lyrics "just a small-town girl" and "livin' in a lonely world" are both matched to insert close-ups of Carmela's face, interrupted by a shot of Tony.)
Why would Carmela need her own song when at least one person she loves is apparently about to practically die in her lap?
The purpose of most Christian funeral music is to reassure the mourners of the presence of God, express the hope that Christ will take the deceased to Himself, and provide comfort in the faith that the loved ones will all one day be reunited in the afterlife.
Indeed, the music begins when Carmela walks in. Fitting in order to bring us back full circle. First Tony, then his wife and then his kids. As it has been pointed out elsewhere, the first few lines of the song provide a lovely little mini-love story for Tony and Carmela (a couple that had much hope, but we all know how it turned out.) And the remainder of the lyrics highlight quite a few other things to say about the series and Tony.
Just a small town girl, livin in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin anywhere
Just a city boy, born and raised in south detroit
He took the midnight train goin anywhere
A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on
Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people, living just to find emotion
Hiding, somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on
The last four lines alone sum up the entire series in a very simple way. The particular line "Some were born to sing the blues" - anybody heard about a Soprano with depression problems? But it will never end. It will go on and on and on and on. More than anything else, the music tells you what is occurring. And that the B-side to this single was listed in the episode as "Anyway You Want It" could not be more of a wink by Chase to his audience, especially considering that "Anyway You Want It" was released on a different album. In fact, Harris even mentions the other song titles,
Notably, "This Magic Moment" appears near the center of the frame when Tony first flips the titles; "This Magic Moment" also appears again, moments later, as the card directly behind Tony's final selection, "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey.
According to the HBO website, "This Magic Moment" is is the song playing as Bobby returns to the lake house in "Soprano Home Movies."
As far as I can determine, none of the other songs briefly shown on the jukebox have previously appeared on the show. So while you can take some face value meaning in some of the other titles, and perhaps they reference other things in other ways, the mysterious jukebox titles seem at minimum to be another in-your-grill pointer to Bobby's description of death in that episode.
Indeed, "This Magic Moment" played during the final moments of Soprano Home Movies as Bobby comes home to his family after being tainted by the murder Tony had him commit as a tax. The other songs were instructive too - the live version of "Magic Man" and Tony Bennett's "I Gotta Be Me." Any one of them might have been suitable for the song Tony wishes to play that one moment but he picks Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" at a moment when the rest of us have done that very thing. Why believe in Tony any more? We know he won't change. And thus, the last thing we hear is "stop" and then the lights go out. As I hinted at in afterthoughts post, it reminds of a song in the previous episode - The Doors "When The Music's Over."
So, in the end, we have several points made that might suggest Tony dies after the lights go out. Hopefully, I have also suggested at another meaning of the ending and how it fits in perfectly with the series as a whole. There were far too many references during the final episodes of circular and orbital items all paving the way for a full circle ending in which life goes on and nothing has changed. There was an entire season's worth of episodes with the same theme - people can't change. So why, in the very last moments Chase had with his audience, build up a hit that we are never allowed to see? If Tony dies after the black screen, then yes, all the signs pointing towards a hit are true. But that is one scene among so very many from the series. When an entire six season's worth of material is saying one thing and the final scene is saying something else, what to make of it? Unless that final scene was there to put a caper on all else - that now that you know Tony won't change, allow us to provide you with a sense of his life going forward and then spare you the ugly details. Ambiguous? Yes. Fitting for Chase and the series? Yes again. Ultimately satisfying...I'm still out on that, but my appreciation has risen so take of that what you will. But from someone who has watched every episode of The Sopranos many times over, this ending is the one that speaks the most to me and fits in with all the other clues the series has provided. If Tony was meant to die, Chase could have done that years ago. But then, he wouldn't have been able to take as much money from HBO. So what do I know? If you reached this far, congrats and thanks. That is all.