In an interview with the Directors Guild of America’s DGA Quarterly, David Chase goes granular on “The Sopranos'” famous final sequence, laying out in great detail why he made the choices he did. It’s a fascinating read, revealing how Chase deliberately packed the simple act of a family meal with a sense of almost mythic significance, using the songs in Tony’s jukebox as a way to evoke the span of his life, and how the scene’s rhythms and even its visuals were directly inspired by Chase’s choice of song.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of the attention has fallen on the article’s final paragraphs, where Chase once again lays out his reasons for the series-ending cut to black:
I said to Gandolfini, the bell rings and you look up. That last shot of Tony ends on “Don’t stop,” it’s mid-song. I’m not going to go into [if that’s Tony’s POV]. I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed. He might have gotten shot three years ago in that situation. But he didn’t. Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.
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.
This isn’t so different from what Chase told an audience at the Museum of the Moving Image last May, or his out-of-context comments to a reporter he mistook for a friend — or, really, anything else Chase has said all along. Every time a new interview comes along purporting to be Chase’s explanation of what “The Sopranos'” ending means, he says the same thing he’s always said: Tony’s not dead, and he’s not alive, and neither of those things is the point. Some people will still be drawn to the endless explanations of how this and that detail “proves” Tony’s fate one way or the other (although it’s only ever one way), but Occam’s Razor suggests we accept Chase’s brief if not simple explanation and call it a day.
What’s interesting about the DGA interview, conducted by James Greenberg, is Chase’s discussion of the moments before the final shot (although Chase says he “never considered the black a shot”). The allusions to “The Godfather’s” Sollozzo hit, the looming presence of the man Chase refers to as “the guy,” the mock suspense built by Meadow’s agonizing attempts at parallel parking — all are, Chase says, quite intentional, as is the episode-long strategy of having Tony consistently walk into what appear to be his own point-of-view shots, although Chase doesn’t explain what he intends the latter strategy to mean. Is it a comment on the viewer’s confusion between watching Tony Soprano and identifying with him, or on Tony seeing himself from both within and without? That’s something worth starting a new arguments about. In the end, it all comes down to Journey. Steve Perry sings about streetlights and people; we see streetlights and people. (Sometimes a streetlight is just a streetlight.) The message of a sequence scored to “Don’t Stop Believing” is just that.
As beguiling as Chase’s comments are, they also tend to support the idea that the clearest explanation of “The Sopranos'” ending is… the ending of “The Sopranos.” Chase can help us see it the way he does, but he can’t, and won’t, remove the ambiguity from a sequence that’s built around it. That’s bound to leave some “Sopranos” fans dissatisfied, and that’s fine; it’s their God-given right to be mad at a TV show for not ending the way they wanted it to. (It’s also an enormous waste of time, but it’s their time.) Elvis Costello once rebuffed a journalist who tried to pin down the meaning of some particularly elliptical lyrics with the timeless retort, “If I could have said it another way, I’d have written another song.” The same goes for David Chase and “The Sopranos.” At this point, the persistent demand that Chase reveal what the ending Really Means is just an elaborate form of denial. (Coming soon: “The Sopranos: The Final Cut,” in which we learn that Tony Soprano is definitely a replicant.) If people are dissatisfied with the ending, that’s because it’s unsatisfying, not because it’s unclear. As Chase initially said, before years of asking wore down his resolve, “It’s all there.”