It’s been seven years since The Sopranos concluded its six-season run on HBO. However, people still can’t come to terms with its lack of finality, this despite creator David Chase’s attempts at explaining otherwise.
At a panel at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City on Wednesday night, Chase once again found himself in the unenviable position of having to explain why he ended the show the way he did, with the now infamous cut-to-black sequence.
“Well, the idea was you get killed in the diner or not killed,” Chase responded, somewhat incredulously, to a fan who was “disappointed” by the ending. “And what’s the idea? You know I am not trying to be coy about this. It’s not trying to guess if he’s alive or dead. That’s not the point for me. I don’t know how to explain this. Actually, here’s what Paulie Walnuts says. In the beginning of that episode he says, ‘In the midst of life, we are in death, or is it, In the midst of death we are in life? Either way we’re up the ass.’ That’s what’s going on there.”
Unfortunately, like any answer Chase gives about Tony’s outcome, it only leads to more questions.
“In your mind, was Tony dead inside?” asked another audience member several minutes after the first finale-related query. “Was the point that it could come at any minute, so whether it happened that day or another day, it doesn’t matter in a sense?”
Another individual was interested in giving his theory about the way Tony, Carmela, and A.J. ate onion rings, and how it was akin to giving their last rights.
Chase: “I don’t know, maybe [Tony] choked on an onion ring.”
Chase has been through this circus before. During the press tour for his 2012 film Not Fade Away, he found himself repeatedly explaining the Sopranos finale to journalists. As he told the AP at the time “There was something else I was saying that was more important than whether Tony Soprano lived or died. About the fragility of all of it. The whole show had been about time in a way, and the time allotted on this Earth.”
Before last night’s event, the museum screened the first and last episodes of the show. Perhaps seeing it again after all these years triggered a Pavlovian response for audience members, particularly those disappointed in what they saw the first time. As the evening wore on, it was hard to tell whether Chase was having fun or ready to punch the next person who asked him another “What happened?” question. Perhaps both? To borrow a line from Tony Soprano, Chase was once again playing the sad clown: happy about the reaction the program had received, sad about people’s insistence on being forced to walk them through the ending over and over again.
“I wanted to create a suspenseful sequence,” he explained to the crowd. “I didn’t want people to be reading into it like The Da Vinci Code or something. I was amazed when it happened. It wasn’t meant to be like ‘Wow, the Walrus was Paul.’ It wasn’t meant to confound anybody. It was meant to make you feel.”
“Feel what?” screamed one fan.
“I don’t know, what did you feel?” Chase replied.
“Well, I am sorry. It’s a pretty potent sequence to me,” he said.
“Don’t be sorry,” another audience member chimed in, a comment that was followed by rapturous applause.
Thankfully, Chase did find time to discuss a few other things besides the ending, like the show’s performances and its overall legacy.
On the late James Gandolfini: “I was floored tonight to see how good he was. I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, look, he was great, I always knew he was great. But tonight it just really hit me how genius that was.”
On being approached for a Sopranos movie: “A lot of people have talked to me about it, and frankly I still flirt with the idea sometimes. But if I had a really great way to do it, I would do maybe a prequel. Somebody gave me a book about Newark in the 1920s about gangsters in Newark. That kind of interests me but not enough that I would have done it.”
On Mad Men: “My personal opinion of Mad Men is I think [Matthew Weiner] has done an amazing thing——without killing people every five minutes. He doesn’t do that. I mean a guy got his foot cut off with a lawnmower.”
On people’s insistence on recapping television shows: “I don’t get it. I don’t know why you would read that stuff. You would just read what you just saw? That’s one thing. And then the picking apart, like, ‘I really love the way Sally Draper walked from the car to the house.’ All right, she walked from the car to the house…I guarantee you they just tried to get her from the fucking car to the house.”
That last quote is somewhat ironic considering The Sopranos was the one that helped usher in an era of ultra analytical TV watching. After the show’s finale, fans began dissecting all of their favorite programs, piece-by-piece, like Zapruder outtakes. As last night proved, no matter how many questions people ask Chase, no matter how many thoughtful responses he comes up with, people seem content on the mystery rather than the answer.
“You know, I thought I might be asked about this,” Chase said, about the finale. “I will read you Carlos Castaneda. Now I had not read this before I did the finale, but I came across this the other day and this is what I kind of think is going on. It says here, ‘Warriors venture into the unknown out of greed. Greed works only in the world of ordinary affairs. To venture into terrifying loneliness of the unknown, one must have something greater than greed. Love. One needs love for life, for intrigue, for mystery. One needs unquenchable curiosity and guts galore.’ That’s what I was feeling when I wrote the ending.”
OK, but is the warrior Tony Soprano? Is it David Chase? Is it the missing Russian Christopher failed to kill in the woods? Like anything Sopranos-related, the quote means whatever you want it to mean.