Fade to black
David Chase just couldn't help, one last time, having some fun at the expense of his audience.
"The Sopranos" ended, abruptly, with the Soprano family once again sitting down to dinner in a local restaurant. As Tony, Carmela and A.J. sat waiting for Meadow, Tony kept one eye on the menu, and one eye on the door. Every person who walked in had the look of a killer, and each time a diner brushed by Tony's booth the knot in my stomach grew tighter. When Meadow finally approached the door after several aborted attempts at parallel parking, the scene flipped to the restaurant, with Tony looking up at the door one last time. Then, nothing. No music. Roll credits.
So it is for Tony Soprano. He once again has triumphed over his enemies, lived to fight another day and all that. But he's doomed to live the rest of his life having to face the door, always looking over his shoulder. He'll never be sure which of his trusted associates is a rat, the prospect that loomed over him with the unexplained disappearance of Carlo. Tony practically ran from Junior in the mental hospital where the old man is destined to spend the rest of his days, but in reality Tony would be lucky to end up like Junior: too addled even to remember his own sins.
"The Sopranos" gave us the best finale we could have reasonably expected. It certainly won't rank as one of the series' most memorable episodes, but it remained true to the show's spirit to the very end. It had some great moments, like when Agent Harris forgot himself and cheered Phil Leotardo's murder. I've always felt sorry for Agent Harris and his fellow FBI agents, always short on luck in their pursuit of Tony. In retrospect, it almost seems inevitable that he would fall prey to Tony's crude charms, and I guess there's just enough rogue in me to have been grateful to see him give Tony the information he needed to track Phil down.
No doubt anticipating this reaction on the part of his audience, Chase wasn't content merely to have Phil shot nice and clean, but to have the deed occur within full view of his wife, who in her panic leaves her SUV in gear when she gets out to help Phil. The vehicle coasts toward traffic with her grandchildren strapped into car seats in the back, and in true "Sopranos" fashion, we never see whether it is stopped in time. The final indignity for Phil was to have his face run over by the vehicle, while a bystander vomits. This was the second episode in a row in which bystanders are witness to a shooting and its aftermath; I know I'm not the first person to wonder what "The Sopranos" is trying to tell its viewers about the vicarous thrills they have sought from the show.
Yes, Tony is alive, and his family, such as it is, escaped the series unharmed as well--at least physically. Meadow wants to become a defense attorney because of the way that she has seen Italian-Americans mistreated by law enforcement, most especially her father. If she'd grown up in any other home, she tells Tony, she'd become a "boring suburban doctor." Tony lowers his head, a rueful grin on his face.
A.J. had one chance to escape--I really, really wanted him to join the Army, but he let his parents talk him out of it, and now he, like his mother, will end up a prisoner of his father's money. A.J. could have interpreted the explosion of his SUV--a gift from Tony--as a sign to flee his family's orbit. Instead, he saw it as a sign that he should start taking the bus.
As insights go, it's probably the best we can expect from a Soprano.