‘Is Tony Soprano Dead?’ David Chase Gives a Simple Answer and Opens Up a Lot of Complicated Questions

'Is Tony Soprano Dead?' David Chase Gives a Simple Answer and Opens Up a Lot of Complicated Questions

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.

Update:

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?

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Comments

bill

Martha P. Nochimson is a hack. She has one quote she took out of context and used it to sensationalize her droning article. By doing this she hijacked this piece for her own selfish gain instead of conveying what Mr. Chase intended with his past work or what he is working on in the future. What is most sad about this is that all the sound bite journalists jump on such stupidity and build a "truth" that isn't even necessarily true. And so a fake history becomes fact. After such a gift of series, what a shame to let it's final chapter be this crap.

I don't think so

The fundamental purpose of any televised narrative fiction is ENTERTAINMENT. The ending of The Sopranos did not entertain, in fact, it left us all with question marks. That makes the finale a monumental, fundamental failure.

Seriously, why are you still talking about this?

Lance_Steel

Apparently the author didn't consider that Chase might have just said "No" in frustration to shut her up, like answering someone who attends a weekend retreat on Buddhism and demands the answer to a Zen kōan.

In science it is common to say that if something isn’t published it doesn’t exist, meaning that until it has gone through the process of peer review and printed one cannot assume the data to be valid.

I hope that everyone realizes if Chase were to decide tomorrow to make a final episode of the Sopranos where it was revealed that Tony was actually killed, that would invalidate this entire article.

The reveal never occurred and until it does, it will necessarily be ambiguous, which is the whole point of the ending.

This does illustrate the difference between “concrete” and “abstract” thinkers; the former will be unlikely to appreciate an abstract piece of art because it doesn’t give clear externally validated answers, whereas the latter likely appreciates it for the meaning they create internally.

Hakuin Ekaku: “Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?”
Martha P. Nochimson: “I give up, tell me.”
Martha P. Nochimson: “Come on tell me.”
Martha P. Nochimson: “Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me! [ad nauseam]”

Michael M. Hughes

Edgar ALLAN Poe, FFS. Takes all of ten seconds to google it to make sure you're spelling it correctly.

Dooey

Hey Sam,
Maybe you should point out that Chase exploded in anger over just being asked the question and clearly was just trying to get Nochimson off of his back. I noticed you didn't mention that in discussing the article.

Or perhaps you should mention that Nochimson wrote an essay years ago in the Sopranos Essential Reader where she stated her opinion that Tony was alive. She clearly may have a bias.

Nick Moushey

The direction of that final scene built so wonderfully and then ended. At first, I laughed. Then I pictured Tony chuckling to himself. I figured that last scene was meant simply to give the audience one last glimpse at what life has and always will be like for a guy like Tony. Always surveying a room. Always aware of your surroundings. There is always the potential for something to wrong. It may have been tense for the audience and Tony up to the moment the screen went black, but maybe after it went black for the audience, everything continues as normal for Tony and nothing really happened. We, as the audience, were just privvy to an entirely mundane part of Tony's average day. Making sure you and your loved ones are not about to be killed while you are sitting down to dinner.

Robert Lloyd

I interviewed Chase in 2001, and we were talking about his youth:

Did you subscribe to the hippie ideal of a possible world of peace and harmony?

I don’t think I subscribed to that. But I thought there was room for improvement, and that there would be some improvement. I can remember lecturing my parents and a bunch of my aunts and uncles that drugs were going to change the world — and I was right [laughs] — that drugs were going to change American society. They just looked at me like, “What is he talking about?” But I thought that LSD was fundamentally going to change consciousness.

Did it change yours?

I think it did. I think I saw that this is maybe just one plane we’re living on, that maybe there’s something else out there. And I must stress maybe. I’m not sure and I don’t know, but it had some pretty profound effects.

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