Bada Bing! ‘The Sopranos’ Finale

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - June 20, 2007

The Sopranos now sleeps with the fishes, and television is the biggest loser. There has not been a more compelling series on the idiot box in quite some time.

I know there are fans of Six Feet Under, Grey’s Anatomy and Lost who may disagree. But let’s be real. Those other shows were mere distractions when compared to the crew from North Jersey.

Tony Soprano, the center of The Sopranos universe, is a man you love when, in fact, he’s a man you should loathe. We witnessed some of the most wanton violence, cold-hearted vengeance and disgraceful personal conduct following Tony’s wide swath of swagger. What kind of man would kill his daughter’s boyfriend? What kind of man would order the death of his nephew’s fiancée? What kind of man would heartily cheat on his wife, yet profess undying love?

Tony Soprano, of course.

So why the great affection? Well, for some of the reasons why we fear him. When there was a difficult situation or challenge, Tony took care of it. The buck truly stopped with him. In his position as boss, he was responsible for the lives of so many. Yes, his measures were extreme, but we all could relate to the travails he experienced. When his daughter, Meadow, was disrespected by a member of a rival family, Tony chose a course of retribution and justice from which many may recoil, but just as many wish they could do. Tony tracked the offender to a restaurant, cornered him and proceeded to rearrange his face, literally. There were no words, no shouting and no brag-gadocio. It was all about defending the reputation of his daughter and ensuring it would never happen again. The poor schmuck who was pummeled won’t do it again, and anybody else who may have even thought about it definitively won’t. When it comes to your family, how many times have you said, “I’ll do such and such if anybody does anything to my family.” Well, Tony does what many only dream about.

Season after season, The Sopranos thrilled, titillated, terrified and moved audiences every week. There were the requisite gangland killings, maimings and disappearances. Yes, there was nudity and strong sexual content. I remember one controversial scene that depicted the brutal beating of a pregnant stripper. This episode generated debate about the violent nature of television. Some decried such a scene, while others acknowledged a fairly accurate portrayal of the real violence found in real life. I do not revel in such disturbing dramatizations, but I am an adult, and I can discern violence as an integral part of a story and the gratuitous portrayal of violence that can be as senseless as what you see on the screen.

I think The Sopranos gave us a glimpse of a life we may not appreciate, yet was wildly entertaining.

There has been a great deal of hand-wringing about the recent season finale. We all knew the end had to come and when it finally arrived, there were fans who were clamoring for a bloody, “tie up loose ends” resolution to all questions surrounding all characters. The actual final episode was anything but. As a fan of the show, I thought it was a brilliant ending and if it had ended differently, I would have been saddened.

I don’t want to get into the details of the whole final episode, but suffice it to say it was consistent with the rest of the season. The shows leading up to the end served to reinforce that Tony Soprano is not the knuckle-dragging cretin he is assumed to be. He is, in fact, a conflicted man who is losing his grip on control, and a man who is looking for a modicum of peace. This is not what the future holds for Tony Soprano. Since the beginning, we have been invited to watch the lives of those in the Soprano family. In the final episode, that is exactly what we are allowed to do. We see Tony, Carmela and AJ sitting in a greasy spoon restaurant while Meadow has been parallel parking. There are nefarious looking characters lurking in the restaurant. The tension and anxiety we feel in the last five minutes is the key to the production.

In all the years of The Sopranos, we have been observers. With the Feds closing in, the threat of being killed by the New York crew a possibility and the turmoil with his children, the producers allowed us to feel the life of Tony. The borderline paranoia Tony is feeling is exactly the feeling we get. It is for this fleeting moment that we are exposed to his life. When the diner door opens and Tony looks up with an interesting expression on his face, the screen goes black and the show is done. Just like that. Fantastic.

Perhaps, the producers were doing a public service. If you were ever contemplating a life of criminal activity, deceit or infidelity, the last five minutes revealed the fear and unease of such an existence. Bravo to the entire production team and cast for taking us on such a wonderful ride. I am just glad it wasn’t a one-way ride.

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