It’s been nearly eight years since The Sopranos went off the air, and we’re still talking about its maddeningly ambiguous final scene. In its closing moments, one of TV’s greatest shows wound viewers up with a combination of onion rings, poor parallel parking, a guy in a Members Only jacket and, of course, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” but instead of building to some kind of definitive crescendo, series creator David Chase just let all that tension go with a sharp cut to black. Some called it brilliant, others called it garbage, and I’d imagine there’s still someone somewhere trying to figure out if their cable box just malfunctioned.
Chase, for his part, has rarely discussed the final scene, and when he has his remarks have proved to be almost as impenetrable as the scene itself. In a new issue of Director’s Guild of America Quarterly, though, he finally loosened up a bit and gave us the most detailed breakdown yet of what he was really after with the scene. Chase goes through it moment-by-moment, from Tony entering Holsten’s restaurant to Meadow struggling to park her car to the infamous final shot. It’s all worth reading, but here’s what every fan of the series really wants to hear about:
“I said to Gandolfini, the bell rings and you look up. That last shot of Tony ends on ‘don’t stop,’ it’s mid-song. I’m not going to go into [if that’s Tony’s POV]. I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed. He might have gotten shot three years ago in that situation. But he didn’t. Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.
“I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.”
Sadly, Chase doesn’t answer the big question so many viewers have wondered about for nearly a decade – whether the cut to black symbolizes Tony’s sudden death or not – but he does offer a rather optimistic philosophical take on the moment. For Chase, Tony Soprano is forever in a kind of quantum state. Maybe he’s dead, maybe he’s not, but in some way his life mattered, and whether you’re happy with that explanation or not, the landscape of TV even now makes it clear that The Sopranos mattered, too.