Monday Jun 11, 2007

Sopranos Finale: All The Ducks In A Row

Plot spoilers follow, in case you're one of the 0.0005% of HBO viewers who didn't see the last episode of The Sopranos.

If you don't follow the show, only half of this may converge to make sense. Even if you are a Sopranos fan, prepare to wade through a morass of heavy symbolism and interpretation.

Am I the only person who thought the Sopranos finale was a great piece of work? Everyone, it seems, or at least the agitated mob at the Newark Star-Ledger's Sopranos' central felt cheated, whacked, insulted and let down by the criminal non-ending of the long-running serial criminal elements. But there is a reason the show is called The Sopranos and not Tony Soprano.

I don't buy Mike Greenberg's comments this morning on ESPN Radio about the ending being a NJ-infused version of The Lady and the Tiger, with the ending left as an exercise for the viewer. Our nearly decade-long love affair with Tony's family doesn't end in speculation on what single event transpired next; the point is that something happens, and in that something there is continuity to the Soprano family. That's what a family drama brings us, each and every week. It's a set of line segments clipped from family trees, turned into storylines and then mentally set back onto the wall to connect the pictures. Maybe that's what the cat was looking for.

The ending, if you were looking for one, happened when Phil Leotardo got what he prescribed for Tony: a blunt decapitation. Tony is, was, and will be the boss. The path to Philly took a turn through the private life of Agent Harris, who showed himself not too much different from Tony, stripped of their badges of courage.

The rest of the episode - before and after Phil's whacking - tied together themes and threads the way the epilogue of a spy thriller would, piecing together the small insights that led the characters to the logical conclusions, one chapter earlier. Start with Tony quoting Dr. Melfi to AJ's shrink, providing an unprompted summary of the analysis started in the first episode: his mother poisoned their relationship. Tony paints Janice as Livia incarnate, clipping that branch from the family tree. Balance against Livia's indirect presence in the finale the re-appearance of Hunter, referred to by Carmela (in the first season), with as much derision as possible, as "Cacciatore." But the six-year older Hunter has found direction, a law degree, and perspective. She can probably even parallel park in fewer than four passes. Hunter leached the toxicity out of Meadow and Carmela's relationship without a single dollar in therapy.

Then there's AJ - ready to join the army as a soldier - the same vernacular used for first-level Family recruits as well. Tony blocks his entry to both worlds, giving AJ what he gave to Christopher, a contorted patron of the arts to his own son and not just the nephew he had previously wished into (and out of) his immediate family. Tony's attempts to make Christopher into his own likeness failed miserably for all involved but his efforts to turn AJ away from his predisposition - depression, crime, bad maternal relationships - succeeds, marked by Tony's ordering what AJ is going to want - onion rings - before his namesake arrives for the last supper.

I've read every possible explanation for the onion rings in the final scene, from an incomplete eucharist to the circle of life. They are onion rings. They're bad for you. They're food, the comfort for so many of Tony's moods. Tony orders them "for the table" -- for his family, who arrive at that table by separate paths, in their own sequence, much the way the Simpsons find the couch in every opening of America's other favorite family whack job serial.

Everyone who wanted to see Tony meet his demise, whether from the FBI, the New York crew, Artie Bucco, the missing Russians, or anyone up to but probably not including Elliot (Dr. Melfi's shrink), sees Tony as a bad guy. He is a bad guy: murderer, thief, gambler, liar, adulterer, drug user and less than ideal brother. But The Sopranos is a family drama, interpreted through a non-Cosby definition of family. The "made" in Made in America reflects on the "made men" who didn't survive Tony's family dynamics as much as Tony and Carmela making their children into something that their made-in-Italy family history might otherwise proscribe. Isn't it acceptable for them to eat onion rings?

They're finally the ducks in the pool that Tony didn't see earlier in the episode.


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