There’s a lot of genuinely great TV on right now. Mad Men is in the midst of ending its final season, Game of Thrones is back, The Americans is flying under the radar, True Detective is returning this summer—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But if there were an “origin story” for this current Golden Age of Television, it would begin with The Sopranos. It’s still quite possibly the best TV show of all time, and it’s a testament to the HBO drama’s impact that folks are still discussing and debating its final scene nearly eight years after it first aired.
Though he initially said he would never comment on the final scene of The Sopranos, creator David Chase has slowly-but-surely been working his way to discussing those last few moments and, begrudgingly, whether Tony Soprano died in that diner.
In the latest issue of the DGA Quarterly (via HitFix), Chase has taken it upon himself to analyze the final scene of The Sopranos shot-by-shot, and it’s tremendously fascinating. Chase goes into vivid detail on his intention and the process of crafting the final moments of this iconic series, and towards the end of the essay, offers some wonderful insight into the final shot:
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.
In the final passage, Chase touches on the importance of using Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which he thinks audiences undervalued:
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.
I’m satisfied with my interpretation of the final scene and what it means to me in the context of the series, but it’s fantastic to get this detailed insight from the guy who created it—and stirred up so much (confounding) outrage with his choice to cut to black.
The full essay is very much worth checking out, as Chase talks about how he used Meadow in the parking lot to ratchet up the tension. A masterful end to a masterful show.