86. Focus on the Good Times

“It’s probably good for my career.” “You don’t have a career!”

Does Tony Soprano die at the end of The Sopranos? Does it matter? The fundamental, driving question of the series wasn’t will this man survive; it’s will this man be redeemed. “Made in America” finishes the job “Blue Comet” started, sealing off any escape hatch through which he could find redemption. If he lives, it’s just going to be more of this. More trying and failing to outrun death, incarceration, and his own demons; more hating the way that those efforts and failures shape his family. He’s been kicked out of therapy. His marriage has reached an openly loveless detente. He’s haunted by a cat. His kids are exactly what he never wanted them to become — I mean, the best he can do for AJ is turn him into Little Little Carmine. Yikes. 

But also — as relatively insignificant as it is within the stakes of the narrative of this point — obviously he dies. Admittedly, it’s hard not to project James Gandolfini’s own death onto the ending in retrospect. It’s the celebrity death that hit me hardest, followed closely by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s; after the second, I decided to no longer declare a favorite actor since it didn’t seem to be going great for them, so you’re welcome, chubby gruff character actors everywhere. But even if that extratextual piece weren’t there — or even if you’re the kind of viewer who could shake it — all the clues point to Tony dying. The final silence gives it away; you probably don’t even hear it coming, and the sound dropping out in that final moment stands in stark contrast to all the dialogue and classic rock and eerie, howling wind that leads up to it in the preceding sixty minutes. 

And what’s the alternative, mortality-wise, if he doesn’t die here? He’s not exactly right when he says this all ends with him “dead or in the can,” but the situation isn’t much sunnier than that. If he doesn’t get clipped in Holsten’s, he gets clipped by someone else, somewhere else, later. If not, he wastes away in some kind of institution: a prison, like Johnny Sack; a long-term care facility, like Junior; a hospital, like Sil presumably will. Those are the only options I can see. The possibility of taking the Little Carmine path has long been closed to him — there’s a chance it might be too late for AJ, even — and there’s no way he can downshift to a position of comfortable unimportance like the one Paulie has seized for himself. He’d blame the material pressures of having a family and/or the psychological pressures of his father’s legacy, but really it’s that he could never relinquish control like that. You can argue that the finale might not be his exact end, but you can’t deny that, in essence, it’s all over for him. 

It’s probably all over for everyone who survives him, too, but I still always wonder, if he does die, where does everyone else — especially his family — go from here? Do they change, if only because they’re forced to? Do they leave this community, now that so many of their ties to it are severed or worn thin? I know the odds of them not continuing down the paths they’ve committed to for all these are slim, but I still like to imagine that it might be different for them, somehow — that AJ could produce meaningful documentaries about war and the environment, that Meadow could defend those whose civil rights are actually being unjustly trampled by the state, that Carm could clean out all the secret stores of cash and travel the world with Rosalie. They’re close enough to those possibilities that it’s a line of thought I don’t feel totally delusional for indulging — but so far that the thrill of indulging it comes from its unlikeliness. 

On a housekeeping note, I’ll be keeping all these posts unlocked and available, but I’ll be turning off paid subscriptions since I won’t be sending out content regularly for the indefinite future. I may pop in with a random installment here and there, if something compelling and related arises, or if I just feel the need to write something that won’t find a home anywhere else. And I might be back later at this same URL with a deep dive into another show. (Feel free to submit requests, so long as they’ll inspire something deranged; so far the pool of suggestion runs the gamut from Mad Men to Real Housewives of New Jersey.) In the meantime, I’m putting weekly, reader-facing pieces on hold to work on a different long project, and you can find my intrusive thoughts and other work via Twitter at @kellieherson

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