Patterico's Pontifications


David Chase: Here’s What Really Happened to Tony Soprano

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 12:01 am

[Spoiler alert: if you have not watched the show, stop reading and go watch it.]

In an interview with David Chase, the Hollywood Reporter reveals the truth of what happened to Tony Soprano in that much-derided (but excellent) series finale. As you will see, the revelation smells to me like sweet, sweet vindication:

The 2018 book The Sopranos Sessions was written by guys who wrote, at the time of the show, for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the paper Tony always read, Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall. They interviewed you and asked you to talk about the June 10, 2007, series finale with of course, “Don’t Stop Believin’” and the famous cut to black. You said, “Well, I had that death scene in mind for years before.” A) Do you remember specifically when the ending first came to you? And, B) Was that a slip of the tongue?

Right. Was it?

I’m asking you.



Because the scene I had in my mind was not that scene. Nor did I think of cutting to black. I had a scene in which Tony comes back from a meeting in New York in his car. At the beginning of every show, he came from New York into New Jersey, and the last scene could be him coming from New Jersey back into New York for a meeting at which he was going to be killed.

And when did the alternative ending first occur to you? I’ve spoken with showrunners who said, “I knew at the beginning exactly how my show was going to end.” Or by season three or whatever. It sounds like when you were writing, you liked to stay six scripts ahead of where you were in the action.

Yeah. But I think I had this notion — I was driving on Ocean Park Boulevard near the airport and I saw a little restaurant. It was kind of like a shack that served breakfast. And for some reason I thought, “Tony should get it in a place like that.” Why? I don’t know. That was, like, two years before.

What did you make of the reaction to the finale? The whole episode was great, but people sort of fixated on …

Yeah, nobody said anything about the episode. No, it was all about the ending.

And was that annoying?

I had no idea it would cause that much — I mean, I forget what was going on in Iraq or someplace; London had been bombed! Nobody was talking about that; they were talking about The Sopranos. It was kind of incredible to me. But I had no idea it would be that much of an uproar. And was it annoying? What was annoying was how many people wanted to see Tony killed. That bothered me.

They wanted to see it. They wanted confirmation.

They wanted to know that Tony was killed. They wanted to see him go face-down in linguini, you know? And I just thought, “God, you watched this guy for seven years and I know he’s a criminal. But don’t tell me you don’t love him in some way, don’t tell me you’re not on his side in some way. And now you want to see him killed? You want justice done? You’re a criminal after watching this shit for seven years.” That bothered me, yeah.

In June 2007, I published a post titled The Sopranos Ending Was Good. This was not a very popular opinion on the Internet at the time. But if you know me, you know that I often reject the popular opinion in favor of things like being right, being vindicated by history . . . you know, that sort of thing. I noted at the time a character had talked about being murdered by saying: “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens.” And indeed, Tony heard nothing when he got whacked. Everything just went black.

But, as I explained at the time, this interpretation was derided as too . . . subtle for TV:

Finke’s rant has another angle, which I reject — that the interpretation can’t be right because it’s subtle, and according to Finke, TV producers are not allowed to do subtlety:

Nielsen TV-viewing data tell us that we don’t watch the tube raptly anymore, much less remember what goes on from week to week. Both are needed for such a subtle ending, if indeed subtlety was the intention, to resonate. Besides, The Sopranos was not a show that went on inside your head. It was a richly visual series whose most memorable moments were graphic and in your face and damn proud of it. Like Tony, it was defiant. This end was whimpering.

Even Ed Morrissey, whom I respect, appears to agree:

This shows clearly why the ending to the Sopranos finale was so unsatisfying. When telling a story, people expect a fairly clear conclusion. Giving them a series of teases, and very obvious teases, without supplying any kind of payoff at all not only wastes the time of the reader/viewer, it also insults them for caring about what happens.

Finke and her fellow complainers seem to have wanted to see a graphic, simple-to-understand ending — Tony’s brains splattered across the onion rings. I think that would have been a horrible, mundane ending. I think Chase should be allowed to do subtle foreshadowing on TV, and if Nikki Finke and the majority of people who watched the show don’t like it, that’s fine; some of us do.

I could be wrong about the details of the particular interpretation, but I’m more concerned with the bigger picture: is Finke right that the TV-viewing public can’t handle subtlety? It just wants simple, in-your-face storylines that everyone can understand — and if expectations are denied, we’re entitled to throw a fit?

That’s a recipe for crappy television (and movies). The best shows (and movies and books) make you think. They are subtle. If we go into a rage every time a show has an ending that isn’t immediately obvious, we’ll get easily digestible pap the next time around. And there’s already plenty of that.

When I read Chase saying of his viewers that “[t]hey wanted to see him go face-down in linguini” I could not help but think of my line: “Finke and her fellow complainers seem to have wanted to see a graphic, simple-to-understand ending — Tony’s brains splattered across the onion rings.” So you think I’m going to notice that and say nothing? Dream on.

Do I ever get tired of being right? If I do, I’ll be sure to let you know.

And by the way? In case being right about that wasn’t good enough? My conviction that viewers were able to handle nuance and subtlety and sophistication in their television shows? Well, guess what show premiered the very next year?

Breaking Bad.

OK then.

19 Responses to “David Chase: Here’s What Really Happened to Tony Soprano”

  1. I’m not going to read this piece until I finish watching The Sopranos the second time through. I want to make an well-informed guess as to the ending, and then compare it to this latest revelation.

    norcal (b9a35f)

  2. I had long since abandoned tv viewing when Sopranos was airing. Shown on HBO and being talked about by so many made no difference to me; I was inured to the medium. Breaking Bad was likewise past over.

    I have a loved one for whom I provide a subscription to Netflix as a gift that keeps on giving. So when I found myself in the lockdown, I decided to see what might help divert my attention from the pandemic. remembering the many people who urged me to view the various shows I ignored, I recalled the title “Breaking bad.” So I watched it and found the premise, acting, and writing to of such excellent quality that took in the entire series. This was not remotely what drove me away from TV.

    I then decided to take a chance on “Sopranos.” I must confess that I am a big “Godfather” fan, so the premise was intriguing – at first, but there was, at the core of the writing, a worldview that made no sense. I’ll explain:

    In Breaking Bad, we see Walt in a state with which, if unfamiliar to us, we can sympathize. Every scene contributes to the audiences understanding of Walt’s decision process, what motivates him, what tasks him; his deleterious decisions make sense, as we can see ourselves doing the same.

    In Sopranos, Tony is already messed up, so to speak, and appropriately, we come to know the depths of his being by his therapy sessions. His deep-seated conditions are not going to undergo a conversion. Every opportunity for change is teased and taken away in a way that seems to be for the convenience of the story. I sensed that changes happened, not because of human will or understandable circumstances, but because the writers needed it to happen in order to get to the next chapter; the writing, in a word was, “lazy.”

    This contrivance nearly caused me to give up on the series several times, but I had heard something about “the ending” so I persevered.

    Given that I was to be faced with, what I view as, lazy writing, I braced myself and found it not too annoying, so when I came to the finale, it had no effect on me because I had not come to love or hate Tony.

    There are those who say that without Buxtehude we never could have had a Bach. So, in retrospect, I can accept the argument that without the Sopranos, we could not get Breaking bad. Something was definitely learned, and we all benefited.

    This rant is just off my head, so there it is. I’ll have my first cup o’ Joe, now.

    felipe (484255)

  3. In Breaking Bad, we see Walt in a state with which, if unfamiliar to us, we can sympathize. Every scene contributes to the audiences understanding of Walt’s decision process, what motivates him, what tasks him; his deleterious decisions make sense, as we can see ourselves doing the same.

    OK, maybe I can see myself doing the same. I should have written “even if we cannot see ourselves doing the same.”

    felipe (484255)

  4. [Spoiler alert: if you have not watched the show, stop reading and go watch it.]

    Thanks, anyway, Patterico, but I’m still recovering from the realization, which took me more than fifty years to come to, that The Maltese Falcon, book and Bogart movie, was really a love story.

    nk (1d9030)

  5. was really a love story.

    The greats are.

    Hoi Polloi (ade50d)

  6. I always enjoyed the ending of the Sopranos. There is something fulfilling about not having the whole story, not knowing exactly why something did or did not happen. It allows our imaginations to run wild in a way that makes sense to us. It allows us, in this case, to write the final chapter of Tony the way we think is best.

    Hoi Polloi (ade50d)

  7. I would have preferred a much different ending, such as Tony taken for a ride to the same spot where Adriana got whacked and struggling as they walked him into the brush. THEN fade to black. The ending they used didn’t connect to his crimes. I think it should have.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  8. The Maltese Falcon

    So, Spade really did wait for her?

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  9. The real message I got from the ending was that (nuttier than a stack of fruitcakes) Paulie was the heir apparent. You might have sympathized with Tony, but Paulie was cut from a different cloth.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  10. Chase did what he needed to do, have an ending so sudden, unfulfilling and ambiguous that the entire country was talking about it the next day.

    I guess he felt it had to be done to correct the disinterest from the overall series decline once Tony started having fevered dreams and Vito had his Johnny Cakes.

    Obudman (d2f86d)

  11. Deus ex machina without the production values. It’s the rare book or play that does not engage in some sleight of hand on the audience. Some a lot. Which is okay if there is good writing, an engaging narrative, well-fleshed out and sympathetic characters, and entertaining dialogue. Which makes me wonder how The Sopranos succeeded. (Ducks.)

    nk (1d9030)

  12. [Spoiler alert: if you have not watched the show, stop reading and go watch it.]

    OK, I’ll see you again on Tuesday.

    (Just kidding, I’ve seen the series. Heard the new prequel movie kind of sucks though.)

    JVW (ee64e4)

  13. “Which makes me wonder how The Sopranos succeeded.”

    Ask Armond White.

    “In political terms, Many Saints is a continuation of the noxious culture of the Clinton administration and the Democratic National Committee, which found their likeness in the fabled New Jersey Italian Mafia — and celebrated it.

    Remember how Hillary Clinton and former president Bill Clinton attached themselves to the crime family in Hillary’s 2008 campaign ad that riffed on The Sopranos’ final episode? It made the outrageous assumption that Americans identified and approved the mob family’s treacherous behavior. We’ve suffered much still-unaccounted-for treachery in the aftermath of Hillary’s failed presidential campaigns. In 2016, she urged followers to “fight” as if giving orders to thug underlings. By treating American politics just like a Mafia vendetta, the Clintons shrewdly domesticated The Sopranos.

    The Many Saints of Newark justifies this warped culture as well as its mercenary politics, starting with a title that explicitly relates it to warped Catholicism. (The film’s ad features a Virgin Mary statue whose halo is the back of a bullet casing — not clever, just ugly.) This prequel perpetuates the non-religious cynicism of the TV series — an apostasy as offensive as HBO’s use of the letterbox format, faking cinema.

    The fake morality and fake cinema of Many Saints are part of the same Sopranos moral decline that established James Gandolfini’s bullying mob boss Tony Soprano as a PC-era Archie Bunker, allowing some viewers to indulge their sociopathic instincts — projecting their DNC-style hatred — and feel good about it afterward. Tony’s crimes were ameliorated by psychotherapy, the cure-all dramatic gimmick replacing religion for New York-L.A-D.C. media folk.

    But if Many Saints can’t quite be accused of destroying film culture, it’s only because The Sopranos already created the trash heap by either influencing or attracting the shameless braggadocio of that infamous Clinton campaign ad. The limp origin story of Many Saints insidiously endorses impolitic behavior.

    Conservatives should know: The Sopranos and Many Saints don’t just offer overboiled American entertainment; they also romanticize DNC tenets. Many Saints is a movie for RINOs.

    Paulie Deeznutz (ec3648)

  14. There were tons (in weight primarily) of sympathetic characters, Bobby Baccala most prominent. They did get semi woke with Vito turning and AJ dating the single mom PR. In fact there is a theory on some blogs that the blond teen model that AJ starting talking to at rehab was the one who got the drop on Tony’s location (diner) for his killer.

    Like a good Stan who restreamed the original series in it’s entirety this past March, I watched Many Saints of Newark on it’s first night.
    Chronology dissonance bothered me more than the forced American Gangster merger. Young Carmella, in all the 30 seconds she is in MSON, is a dime though.

    urbanleftbehind (c073c9)

  15. Uh, Paulie, I think the opposite…the Sopranos, much more so than Roseanne, paved the way for your hero.

    urbanleftbehind (c073c9)

  16. This is an apology. A sincere apology to all those long time commenters and newbies, as well as Dana, JVW and Patterico posting topics on this venue. Some weeks ago, in a truly old fart fit-of-pique, I went over the top and used the term ‘darkie’ in angered reference to the race baiting ploys of Maxine Water and Al Sharpton.  It’s a term lifted from Thomas Mitchell’s dialogue in the 1939 film,  ‘Gone With The Wind.’ Totally my bad– and I plead guilty to too much time spent watching TCM. I realized it was too harsh after I’d posted it– but in the heat of the moment, I was just super pissed at Waters and Sharpton for attacking those Texas border officers for doing their job, using their long reins properly and hearing them immediately wrapping it in some sort of throw back to slavery on national television.  It infuriated me. And our current VP wasn’t a help, either. 

    I’m sure you all know those Texas border officers were doing the next to impossible thing on rough terrain and anybody could see they were just managing the movement of their mounts, fielding folks breaking into the U.S. illegally– and surely Waters and Sharpton saw and knew that, too– they just played the usual race card again and for me it was just the final straw in their needless race baiting. We’d all likely agree that if the migrants would go to legal entry points, they’d be properly processed and welcomed. 

    But I’m at an age now where I just won’t suffer efforts to elicit ‘white guilt’ or see it used as an attempt to claim reparations for the sins of generations long, long dead, by people in positions of power and influence. It should be smacked down immediately. I’m tired of it– and I’m sure you all are, too– and apparently Virginians felt the same way on Tuesday.  I would encourage all of you to source and listen to Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears’  victory speech from that night. It truly is “glorious.”

    But with respect to my own commentary, I’ll lift and paraphrase [not plagiarize] another piece of dialogue most of you may be familiar with from another old film: ‘I can assure you I had no intention of being harsh or cruel in my post to my fellow…  commenters and posters who’ve questioned. My sole purpose was to voice outrage at blatant race baiting, white guilting, and smack it down immediately. This was on my mind. Now, I freely admit that my method was wrong, but I hope you can understand my motive.  And that you will accept this explanation… and this… apology.’

    Best to all- DCSCA

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  17. I take it Maguire’s place isn’t as much fun, DCSCA?

    BuDuh (4a7846)

  18. Accepted. Didn’t Reagan say much the same thing about Iran-Contra?

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  19. @17. 15 years commenting on this blog, BuDuh.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

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