In 2007, Wiis innovated Nintendo consoles, Apple announced their latest cellular device (the iPhone?), and hit HBO series, The Sopranos, split a fan base in three. On one side, fans enjoyed an ambiguous ending in which they could create their own narratives and theories and keep the series alive well after it concluded. The second side thought it was a cheap cop-out, a lazy trend of cliched ‘Let the viewer decide’ that took responsibility out of the writers’ hands. And the final group of fans is still staring slack-jawed at their screens wondering what just happened.
As The Ringer describes it: “More specifically, 10 seconds of pitch-black silence that blindsided us to the point of wondering if our TVs were malfunctioning.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, over 11.9 million viewers tuned in for The Sopranos series finale. It’s difficult to say how many viewers were initially disappointed, but it’s certainly clear just how controversial this episode became. This TV series is known for its disappointing finale.
So what about it? A TV series finale like Dave (2020) is said to be what it needed to be in a Nerd Stash article. So what about The Sopranos finale? Does it have the makings of a varsity athlete? Or did it drown in three inches of water?
Let’s get into it!
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The Sopranos Finale
A little recap for anyone unfamiliar with the final episode, ‘Made In America’: after a brutal war with Phil Leotardo sends Tony Soprano’s crew and his family into hiding, the momentum shifts in Tony’s favor. Now Phil is on the run, desperate for Butchie to put a bullet in Tony. Butchie makes a deal with Tony, giving him Phil’s location and placing a hit on Phil’s head. Phil is shot dead in a gas station and run over by his own car, finally ending the bloody conflict.
At this point, The Sopranos wraps itself up neatly, as any TV series finale does. We see Bobby’s funeral; Janice decides to raise Bobby’s children; Tony visits Junior one last time and sees just how far gone his uncle is; Sil is alive, but in a coma; and Paulie suntans in front of the delicatessen while an ominous cat lingers near the gutter. It’s all standard fare for a final episode. It pays homage to its most lovable characters and leaves things where they stand. No loose ends.
Now the diner…
Tony arrives first and gets a booth. Then Carmella comes and Tony puts on Don’t Stop Believing on the mini-jukebox on the table. AJ arrives third and we hear about his new job in the film industry. While he moans and groans about being entry-level, making coffee, and running errands, he says to Tony, “Focus on the good times.” Meanwhile, Meadow struggles to parallel park. The camera cuts, paranoid, to other diner customers as the family orders onion rings for the table. Meadow finally parks it and rushes across the street to get to her family dinner.
Cut to Tony. The bell above the door rings. Tony looks up. Journey belts out their famous chorus line, “Don’t stop–” and The Sopranos, a six-season, 86 episode series, one that redefined TV and left an imprint on American culture for 8 years, ended with a cut to black.
It’s easy to see why some fans wanted blood. Eight years is a long commitment to end like that. People wanted answers, and rightfully so. Arguments can be made about creative liberties on both sides. Some argue it’s an artistic and stylistic choice to put the conclusion in the viewers’ hands. Others called it cheap, a product of poor writing.
The Sopranos Finale Theories
While both sides pose good arguments, it’s hard to ignore the impact the conclusion has had on the series as a whole. Fourteen years later and people are still talking about it. There are murmurs about Seinfeld‘s series finale, even more for Lost‘s ending, but The Sopranos is on an entirely different level. Whereas Seinfeld and Lost gave their viewers answers, David Chase left it wide open for fans and theorists alike to implant their own narratives. And the best part: it may never conclude. David Chase can be pressed for answers and reveal his original intentions, stating in an interview with Vanity Fair, “People still ask me what happened [in the final scene]. They don’t ask me if Tony is alive or dead. But I know that’s where it’s going. My answer is if I was going to tell you that I would have told you.”
But it won’t change a thing. The Sopranos series has taken on a life of its own and surmounted its writers. The door can’t be closed.
So what do people think happened to the Sopranos in the season finale?
Tony is Whacked
This one might be the easiest to believe. While Phil is dead and the war is over, Tony still had many enemies. It’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility that Phil’s men were still after him. And if it wasn’t them, then maybe the entire Lupertazzi family. There are strange extras in this scene, some walking around the diner and inching closer to Tony. A hitman could’ve already been in the diner and Meadow’s entrance might’ve been perfectly timed to witness her father get blown away in a hail of gunfire.
It also wasn’t uncommon for the show to surprise us. Would-be assassins Matthew Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte shot Christopher in one of the dumbest decisions ever made in the show. That came out of the left field. Junior Soprano, in a demented state, shot Tony in the gut and nearly killed him. Anyone who says they saw that coming is a liar. And Janice, the Seattle progressive, shoots her then-boyfriend Richie Aprile in the chest.
There’s no shortage of surprises in this show. It might be disappointing to think an unknown assailant took down the New Jersey kingpin, Tony Soprano, but it wouldn’t be out of the question.
Personally, I think this ending is just as easy as not ending it at all. If a surprise attack killed Tony Soprano, it would’ve worked best in the middle of the series when nobody expected it. If not, Tony should’ve died in the coma. Arguably some of the best episodes in the series are when Tony is in a coma and nearly slips free into the void where his ancestors reside. We see the slow-burn turmoil his imminent death poses on the family and the business. We also get a glimpse into a world where Tony might’ve been better off going. To bring Tony back from the brink only to finish him off in the series finale is a weak attempt to put a period on the boss’ story.
Tony Behind Bars
Also a believable theory: Tony may have garnered a new lease on life after coming out of his coma, but it didn’t take long for him to return to form. He beats the tar out of a henchman, dictates peace terms with rival families, and continues to operate his syndicate with the same success he had before. Even if Tony ‘retired’ from his life of crime, it wouldn’t erase his past. He was a main priority for the FBI and getting off that list is no easy feat. It’s possible the boys in blue beat Meadow to the door and haul her father away for numerous counts of racketeering, murder, extortion, prostitution, illegal gambling, and a plethora of other crimes that’d put Tony behind bars for a long time.
This one isn’t talked about as much as Tony’s death. It’s not a shocking TV series finale and it doesn’t work for a headline. It wouldn’t be the most dramatic conclusion, but it’d be a fitting one. Similar to Johnny Sack getting carted away from his daughter’s wedding in handcuffs, Tony going down for his crimes in front of his family would cement his legacy in their minds at a critical point when AJ and Meadow begin to accept their father for who he was.
It’d be a crushing final blow and would warrant a sequel for us fans to see how AJ and Meadow deal with their father’s fall: acceptance or rejection.
One Final Blackout
Tony’s last session with Dr. Melfi ends bitterly. Ties cut and she tells Tony she won’t treat him anymore. In her final frustrations, she calls Tony out for his selfish behavior and literally closes the door on him. Tony was no stranger to stress. This stress leads to blackouts. Tony’s fainting spells are partly why he began seeing Dr. Melfi in the first place before he became enamored with her and couldn’t live without her.
It’s possible to think Dr. Melfi is the one who opened the diner door. This isn’t the only surprise guest fans believe came into the diner that night. Screen Rant mentions a fan theory suggesting the Russian who escaped the Pine Barrens is the one who opens the door in the series finale. Fans might be having fun with that one. However, Dr. Melfi returning and Tony having another fainting spell at the sight of the therapist he thought could cure them makes a roundabout conclusion to their relationship. This one works for a TV series finale. Much like the previous theories, the series wraps up in a bow, but not a nice one. This bow is dirty and concludes our fill of Tony Soprano in much the same way life continues each day for the man: a repeat cycle of stress, failures, and regrets.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who came through the door. Tony will continue to look over his shoulder. As CBR writes, “This theory suggests that Tony and his family would have continued living life like they were used to, but he would have forever been cursed with the paranoia of looking over his shoulder.” His life will have its fair share of problems, be it stress, failures, regrets, or all of the above. The finale garnered attention from The New York Post, who wrote of the final season, “The entire sixth season revolves around Tony’s failures, even leading into the last scene.”
Despite this, we’re encouraged to “focus on the good times.”
Throughout the show, sharing family meals is a big deal. Not just in the series finale.
If a family member can’t make it, a call is expected. Even during late nights when Tony comes home to cold leftovers, he asks Carmella to sit with him. Tony takes Ralph and Brian to get breakfast after a night of debauchery.
A Sopranos family dinner is the perfect high note to end on for the finale. Speculation about Tony’s life ending with that bell chime and cut to black isn’t what’s an important part if you focus on the good times. Fans and I alike put too much emphasis on what happens to Tony when the shot cuts to black when really we should be focusing on the good times: the happy moment Tony has sharing onion rings with his wife and son, with his daughter on the way, and a Journey song filling the diner.
An assassin? FBI? Meadow? Melfi? Doesn’t matter. The Sopranos series gives us a glimpse into the life of a mob boss. Our mistake is believing Tony’s life ends when our glimpse does. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. We’ll never know. And not knowing is what keeps talks alive. As stated in the Ringer: “Sure, the episode ends with an anticlimax — but that anticlimax manages to land with heart-stopping force.”
David Chase didn’t cop out with this TV series finale. And while he may claim there are no clues as to what happens, AJ’s premonition is enough of a hint to tell us what we’ve been missing the past 14 years. Life goes on until it doesn’t, so focus on the good times.
How did other TV show finales like Westworld and 12 Monkeys hold up? Check out these articles on The Nerd Stash. Also keep up to date on hit shows like The Walking Dead, Better Caul Saul, Preacher, and Game of Thrones with these Nerdstash reviews.