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WHY “THE SOPRANOS RUB-OUT THEORY” IS WRONG

Having read so many comments by others in this past week as to how they are determined the Finale of THE SOPRANOS be interpreted (what it means to some) — the closing cut-to-black screen while Tony Soprano’s face is the last image we’re shown — what’s taking off as the “most insisted upon” interpretation of the ending scene/edit does not necessarily mean it’s the right interpretation.

Like some contagious virus all over the internet, many comments insist: “it means he was killed.”

Parroting this assumption, Roger Friedman in his latest column for FOX News, pronounces:

…I am surprised that so many people didn’t understand that when a TV show or movie cuts to black, and there’s silence, death is indicated. That’s it. This is one of the oldest conventions of filmed drama. The Sopranos, I must tell you, are gone. They are not coming back, except in syndication.

No, Mr. Friedman, a cut-to-black (with “silence”) in a filmed sequence does not inherently communicate that “death is indicated” nor is a cut-to-black in a filmed scene “one of the oldest conventions of filmed drama” (and if it was “one of the oldest conventions of filmed drama,” it does not inherently define a death, old, young, whatever, and this is superfluous dramatic language by Friedman used for theatrical purposes: his own).

Mr. Friedman appears to be someone who either dictates or types in automaton fashion and therein makes elaborate declarations and then assumes he’s issued forth facts but his didactic presumptions are nothing more than Friedman’s assertions of opinion, not universal fact or in archtypical enforcerment of concept. He is a wearying columnist due to his opinion-o-matic hyperbole with and about film and most — if not all — things cinematic. I get the feeling that Friedman thinks audiences are Pez and he’s the dispenser.

I agree that The Sopranos Series is over — it’s not coming back, it’s finished as a Series — but that’s the extent of my agreement with anything that Friedman has pilled out in that column of his.

And now today there’s this article from Reuters:
‘SOPRANOS’ RUB-OUT THEORY GAINS CREDENCE

The key aspects mentioned in this article as to why (it’s being assumed by some that) the character of Tony Soprano met a “rub-out” in the Finale — although it’s not IN the Finale, no death occured, no reference to any death occured by dialogue nor live action nor filmed footage of any kind — are these from the closing scenes of the Finale:

INTERIOR CAFE, NIGHT:

Tony is seated in a rear booth, his wife, Carmela, and son, AJ, join him there.

“Members Only” jacket-wearing-guy enters the cafe (“Holsten’s”), looks menancingly into the cafe booth area and sits down at the counter; he turns his head around to leer again in the same direction, which is where the Soprano family’s booth is located.

It is an assumption that jacket-wearing-guy is leering at Tony Soprano. However, it’s a realistic viewer assumption that Tony’s the target for the leering because the filmmaker implies a threatening environment in the cafe from this one jacket-wearing-guy but also from several other potentially threatening visitors to the place, as also throughout the entire Finale: Tony Soprano’s life is visibly and realistically now lived among a myriad of threats from a multitude of sources and that’s his “normal” environment and the cafe is nothing new in that regard.

And, jacket-wearing-guy is only significant within that established-story threatening environment because this is the Finale of the entire Series and many viewers were anticipating — if not demanding — a final blood-bath or otherwise to have some dramatic big-deal statement made as to Tony Soprano’s longevity. Some viewers really, really, really needed a definitive but story-boarded conclusion and resent the Series and all involved for, as it’s being written, doing something to them, as if the Series was in service to their needs, their demands and more foolishly, somehow toying maliciously with viewers, like a decided antagonist to each and every viewer suffering this sort of “outrage” as to the black-screen ending and lack of pow*boom*bang*fall-on-the-ground ending.

Which — I think — is denying the entirety of the many years of this Series when it’s been shown and said abundantly (established IN the film) that Tony Soprano is and has been immersed in immense violence and owes a huge, probable, likely debt for ongoing bad deeds (his impending doom element is deserved, realistic and, therefore, believable).

There have even been forthright statements (by Tony) saying that the inevitable end for Tony and those like him is either jail or the funeral parlor.

From Episode 78, SOPRANOS HOME MOVIES, Tony tells Bobby:

“Eighty percent of the time it ends in the can like Johnny Sack. Either that or the loading dock at Cozarelli’s.”

(Cozarelli’s is the local mortuary business.)

Yet, in the Finale (MADE IN AMERICA, Episode 86), it’s as if many viewers really need to define the final moment, drawing conclusions from blank screens and lack of dialogue and sounds in some match-up demands: Finale has to mean Tony’s going to die, did die, that (as Friedman insists) the black-screen and silence “has to mean, must mean” “a death occured.”

However, whose death? What death? Where is it written in any filmmaker’s ‘instructional manual’ that that’s the method used to define that? Friedman deigns to state such a grandiose, all-knowing, academic “factoid” but in fact, it’s not accurately academically as to cinematic arts as Friedman has declared it to be (black-screen-with-silence-means-a-death-occurs) and Friedman is just writing opinion and posing it as substantiated fact while buoying it up with the declaration that that’s some “rule” in filmmaking.

Note that Friedman has not made nor is making any work in film.

The same applies to many other viewers like Friedman who have been both angry at the ending and equally angry (read the hbo.com/sopranos forums) at any suggestion that they’re elaborating on the Finale beyond what is actually in the film: the Finale did not pictorially define things with exact measure, we never actually SEE Tony Soprano meet his death, we don’t HEAR it occur, we never hear anyone else exclaim that it has or anyone respond to any death occurences, so, in fact, it’s not in the film and it has irked a lot of viewers to a point of destructive criticism of the Series as also about anyone who rocks the boat with a difference of opinion.

But, back to the Finale, Episode 86, MADE IN AMERICA and the closing scene:

…A few more camera takes on a few more characters entering Holsten’s, the cafe: more takes on Tony — insert shots of his hands selecting music on the booth’s minijukebox selector, Carmela joining Tony, followed by AJ with dialogue throughout, intercut with exterior scenes of daugher Meadow continuing to try to parallel park her car outside inorder to join the family for dinner and failing badly at managing the simple parking effort…

Continuing, then…:

EXTERIOR STREET, NIGHT

Meadow, now parked, has exited her car and is seen walking toward the front door of the cafe.

INTERIOR CAFE, NIGHT

Door bell rings. Close-up of Tony Soprano’s face, looking up, no noteworthy expression.

CUT TO BLACK SCREEN

THE END

IF jacket-wearing-leering-guy was setting upon Tony at that moment for purposes of killing him — the theory that many are attempting to run with (the Reuters’ article lays this out) — then Tony would not be looking up nearly casually as he was filmed, nor would he not be aware of jacket-wearing-leering-guy’s presence as he returned from the restroom (Tony wouldn’t be ignoring the guy if the guy was a threat, and, to assume that Tony Soprano would be impervious to the guy’s leering of him and his family is not realistic to the character nor the Series, thus, it is not realistic to then conclude that Tony was set upon by jacket-wearing-guy when he would have sprung from the restroom without Tony being aware of that, if, in fact, that jacket-wearing-guy was the assasin [could have been someone else, however, in the realm of possibilities]).

But some viewers — certainly, Friedman among them — are determined that the cut-to-slient-black-screen ending has to mean that Tony was killed, that “he never saw it coming” and thus, made no visible or audible indications prior to and things just went black, he died.

The basis for this assumption relies on a scene from a previous Episode (SOPRANO HOME MOVIES, Episode 78) in which Bobby Bacala says to Tony, while the two of them float in a boat on a lake at Bobby’s vacation house in the woods:

“At the end, you probably don’t hear anything, everything just goes black…”

Dot-Red.gif That, in combination with a few open-ended general statements made after the Finale broadcast by Series Creator, David Chase (who wrote and directed the Finale, Episode 86, also), that could mean nearly anything:

Chase is quoted in the Reuters article (as also other similar articles, same quotes) as saying:

…One clue in particular, a flashback in the penultimate episode to a conversation between Tony and his brother-in-law about death, gained credence as an HBO spokesman called it a “legitimate” hint and confirmed that series creator David Chase had a definite ending in mind.

“While he won’t say to me 100 percent what it all means, he says some people who’ve guessed have come closer than others,” HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer told Reuters after speaking to Chase.

“There are definitely things there that he intended for people to pick up on,” Schaffer said.

Chase himself suggested as much in an interview on Tuesday with The Star-Ledger newspaper of New Jersey when he said of his end to the HBO series, “Anyone who wants to watch it, it’s all there.”

But OF COURSE the scene on the boat with Tony and “brother-on-law” Bobby Bacala is significant. ALL the scenes in this Series are and were. Especially every scene in the Last Season Six-Point-Five.

All the Episodes were and are rife with clues, clues and more clues and one of the defining characteristics of the work of David Chase throughout this wonderful and intruging Series has been both clues and how those clues are often used to sync other clues or are as often as not clues cast aside never to be referred to again (note here, the Russian from PINE BARRENS for key example of that, but there are so many more similar clues cast forward and then abandoned in this Series, all leading some viewers to conjecture possible conclusions that are never actually depicted in the Series but exist only in the minds of various viewers, story-lines and possible conclusions that are as numerous as the stars in the sky).

The Series works so wonderfully because ALL clues in the entire Series leave us wondering when it’ll come full-circle (often as not, they didn’t/don’t), or when they’ll lead us to a fully revealed and concluded story-line (very often never happened) and so on and so on.

AND David Chase saying that “it’s all in there” for anyone who watches the Finale is of course a closed and complete statement because it is what it is: the Finale film footage is what it is, it’s all in there, there’s nothing more.

Which is, again, why I conclude that the screen cut-to-silent-black was what it was: the lights went out, the film ended. Whether or not that “means” that Tony Soprano lost his life at that moment, is speculation, is hyperbole, is not what it is but what is possible for some viewers to imagine — and while I can also imagine that occurs, it’s not in the film, so again, it’s viewer speculation if he lives or dies.

It goes on and on and on and onnnn…

The use of the song by Journey, DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’, in the final scene in this final Episode 86, suggests “an infinite journey,” (infinity, kevin finity from Tony’s earlier coma alternate personality visions), Tony Soprano’s fate is entirely left to viewer imagination: Chase provides ample suggestion from whence to imagine a myriad of possibilities (death, life, drudgery, fearful environment all that remains, arrest and trial and inevitable prison time, dementia, or even redemption — given Tony Soprano’s plodding and purposeful intentions throughout the Finale of looking out for the weaker and especially the welfare of others in need including the country’s anti-terrorism efforts, it’s possible that he’s salvageable), what we “see” in this Finale is entirely up to individual views.

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