Friday, June 15, 2007

Workin' Hard to Get My Phil

So I've been deconstructing the last episode of The Sopranos this whole week. Some people at work got all worked up over it. I didn't have a problem with it at all... I liked loved it! And I've been listening to Don't Stop Believin' every morning this week on the way to work. Was Tony killed? Did things just go on? Did Paulie rat him out? Is life fascinating? Boring? Terrifying? Looks like The Sopranos and Philosophy was written too early. (Note -- I also liked the last Seinfeld quite a bit, despite derision from others.) (Note - Various updates below over the course of Saturday morning.)

Lots of unfulfilled spoilers at Planck's Constant. Here's their recap of what actually happened.

Here's Amba on Blogcritics: That's David Chase's idea of what happens when you get your brains blown out: Nothing. (So much for Tony's "There's something beyond all this.") Tony has earlier looked into Uncle Junior's empty eyes and seen that our one shot at quasi-immortality — memory — ain't shit either. Paulie was the double-dealer. Working with Little Carmine, probably.

What if Sopranos had been on one of the broadcast networks?

The guys at Slate have been watching it all season: I thought the last episode was perfect. I'm not disappointed at all. We were privileged, over the past eight years, to receive an all-access pass to David Chase's brain. The pass has been revoked, but I think we were lucky to have been let inside in the first place. Sure, he played a trick on us, and it was even a pitiless trick (the final sound we heard after 86 hours of modern-day Shakespeare, after all, was Steve Perry's voice), but so what? When the screen went black, I laughed. Note - I neither agree nor disagree with whomever it was in the Slate exchange who said that Chase should have stuck with the courage of his convictions and kept Phil Leotardo in one piece, but think about this -- Had Phil survived the hit but been toppled from his position as head of the NY mob by his own lieutenants, it would have added yet another layer of ambiguity and real-life lack of resolution. Would Phil (in an al-Qaedaesque manner) have bided his time and waited another 20 years to get revenge on Tony? Or would he have sucked up his own big talk ("You never talk about This Thing of Ours. Never.") and cut a deal with the Feds, thus getting revenge on both Tony and his own guys, who (in his mind) betrayed him. (Mind you, I don't at all fault the New York middle management for firing their out-of-control boss.)

Occam's Razor and The Sopranos Finale: Since screen's across America went black on Sunday night there has been nonstop conjecture on what really happened in the Sopranos final episode. While there have been countless takes on what the events of the evening really added up to, there have been two consistent overall themes. Depending on which camp you are in, you either think David Chase (the creator of The Sopranos and writer of the final episode) was absolutely genius for leaving the ending open to the viewer's interpretation or you think he was lazy, shortchanged you and really left the ending open for a possible future movie. Interestingly, most of those in the first camp believe they are the 'true' Sopranos fans and are also way smarter than everyone else who just don't get it.

Tim Goodman from SFGate (with audio!): Now, quickly to the idea that Chase may be telling you it's all there. If you watch again, and put all Big Ideas and Murky Mythology aside, you'll see an episode that has Carlo flip to the Feds, Tony's lawyer concede that the process is in motion and Tony, at the end in the diner, tell Carmela that Carlo is going to testify. If you believe Tony is alive and life goes on for the Sopranos - the window shuts on their world - then the biggest of the myriad unanswered questions is, "Does Tony get indicted and found guilty and go to jail?" We'll never know. And we don't need to know. Closure is for broadcast television and tiny minds.

Emily Nussbaum, New York Magazine: But the moment that really wrenched the show off its axis was a brief, almost throwaway scene in the third season, in an episode titled “Second Opinion.” I remember the first time I watched it, the way it seemed to invert everything that came before. Carmela goes to a psychiatrist we’ve never met before, a Dr. Krakower. She is eager to make the session a referendum on personal growth: She wants to “define my boundaries more clearly”—from her perspective, the issue is that she’s unhappily married. She’s toying with divorce. But Krakower cuts her off. With riveting bluntness, he addresses Carmela not as a seeker but as a sinner. She is not Tony’s wife, he informs her; she’s his accomplice. She needs to leave now, reject Tony’s “blood money,” and save her children (“or what’s left of them”). And he adds a remark that might serve as a punch line for the series: “One thing you can never say, that you haven’t been told.” Of course, it doesn’t work. How could it? Carmela does leave Tony, but she goes back, and when she does, she has become something far worse than she was before, a woman who has consciously decided to become unconscious. To me, Krakower is Chase, and we are Carmela. He told us who Tony is, and each episode, he became crueler in delivering that message.

William F. Buckley: The sophistication of the Mephistophelian creator of The Sopranos was never underrated. The language is purely instrumental, even when the dialogue is between Tony and his resourceful shrink. What the language itself doesn’t communicate, facial muscles eloquently tell us. There is no face in Madame Tussaud’s that combines better than Tony Soprano’s the acceptance of irony, the grit of resolution, the trivialization of theft and murder. There is true underworld humor, and you are free to liberate yourself from the drag of orthodoxy as one more pistol shot explodes into the face of a character whose time is up, and who falls under the wheels of a car on the move. If one of the burly men had opened up in the restaurant with an Uzi, ending the lives of all four of the Sopranos, you’d have felt a quiver of moral relief. Instead, you were reminded by that blank screen that that kind of thing goes on and on, and reminded, also, of its bewitching power to entertain a spellbound, onanistic audience.

Update, Sunday night 6-17-07: Of course! Why didn't I think of this before?

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