The smash cut to black, that black hole of an ending, is one of the best things about “The Sopranos,” the series that spawned the Golden Age of television almost two decades ago and yet still rivals the cultural reach and meme-worthiness of “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “True Detective” and “Breaking Bad.”
David Chase, who has yet to achieve something so towering since the show ended in 2007, finally owned up critically to the last scene in DGA Quarterly with a cleverly wending shot-by-shot analysis that of course circumvents the central question gnawing at us all: does Tony Soprano die?
It is unproductive to keep begging David Chase for an answer to this question. It’s a mystery that Chase will never publicly dissolve, and one even the most ardent of close readers will never satisfyingly put to rest, so let’s let it linger. Meadow arrives late, flustered, to family dinner at Holsten’s, Tony looks up and, poof, we’re done. It’s a gorgeous, ruminative instant in a crime anthology filled with gorgeous, ruminative instants. For six seasons David Chase opened a window onto a world and then he shut it.
What he says here about the inclusion of Journey’s cheesy, fist-pumping anthem “Don’t Stop Believin'” — which thanks to Chase now puts a sick lump in my throat every time I hear it — is absolutely beautiful:
I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.
READ MORE: David Chase Open to “Sopranos” Spinoff
When he’s not fielding busybody questions about the final seconds of his show, David Chase has taken to filmmaking. His 2012 “Not Fade Away” poignantly captured the freewheeling salad days of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll when the British Invasion was coming. That film failed to connect, but last fall Chase announced that he was once again chiseling away at his HBO miniseries about the birth of cinema “A Ribbon of Dreams.” That’s been in the trunk since 2009, but HBO’s success with miniseries including “True Detective” and “Olive Kitteridge” seems to have brought this one out of hiding.
“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, a writer on the later seasons of “The Sopranos” including some of its very best episodes, will face a similar existential dilemma when “Mad Men” exits this spring. Unlike Chase’s, Weiner’s own film debut “Are You Here” (2014) was a disaster creatively.
Here’s that ending, by the way.
Ryan Lattanzio is the staff writer for TOH at Indiewire. Follow him on Twitter here.