Update: See the end of this essay for a statement from David Chase.
"No. No he isn’t."
That’s the answer David Chase gave Vox’s Martha P. Nochimson when she asked whether Tony Soprano is dead.
So we can all stop asking, right?
Well, not exactly. To my way of thinking, Chase has answered the question about "The Sopranos’" ending many times, if not in the way people have wanted him to. He’s done everything but come right out and say it was meant to be ambiguous, that he wanted viewers to make up their own minds, giving elaborate thematic explanations rather than a simple yes or no. With Nochimson, he does the reverse: He says "Tony’s not dead" and leaves it at that, which as it turns out is no more satisfying than the philosophical approach.
Of course that’s not quite the whole story. As Nochimson explains, "The Sopranos" was tacitly informed by Chase’s fascination with Carlos Castaneda’s alternate realities and Edgar Allan Poe’s "Dream Within a Dream."
Chase’s story of a gangster in therapy is built on the tensions and contrasts between Tony’s concrete to do-list as a mob boss — the illegal version of Benjamin Franklin’s self-help style chronicle of his rise from obscurity — and the momentary glimpses in Dr. Melfi’s office and in his dreams of something like the ungraspable sands in Poe’s "Dream Within a Dream." Toward the end of the series, in "The Blue Comet," Tony verbalizes a kind of hunger caused by the way momentary enlightenment slips through his fingers, "You know you have these thoughts and you almost grab it and then, pfft."
The show’s gangsters’ lives are filled not only with savage murder but also farcical struggles for garbage routes; funny, obsessive material concerns — like the way Tony’s consigliore Silvio Dante walks around reading "How to Clean Practically Anything" — and also with dreams, visions, glimpses. "I’m not a religious person at all," Chase says, "but I’m very convinced that this is not it. That there’s something else. What it is, I don’t know. Other universes. Other alternate realities."
"The Sopranos" is not a fantastical work, but it’s threaded through with an awareness of how its characters’ lives could have been different, culminating with Tony’s hospital-bed hallucination of an entirely different existence. So what Chase is doing in giving Nochimson a straight-ahead answers seems less akin to an attempt to end the debate than to shut down the cottage industry devoting to furnishing "proof" that Tony Soprano got whacked. (For some reason, no one seems quite as enthusiastic about building a circumstantial case that Tony definitely lived.) He’s still not telling us what happened, only what didn’t, forcing us back to the ending he gave us rather than the one some people wish he had.
Through his representative, Leslee Dart, David Chase issued this statement on Wednesday evening:
A journalist for Vox misconstrued what David
Chase said in their interview. To simply quote David as saying,“ Tony
Soprano is not dead,” is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for
that statement and as such, it is not true.
As David Chase has said numerous times on the
record, “Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.” To
continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of THE
SOPRANOS raises a spiritual question that has
no right or wrong answer.
Here’s Vox Culture Editor Todd VanDerWerff on the ending. Note the reference to Meadow’s final struggle: More like parallel *universe* parking, amirite?