Warning: This post contains spoilers for the very ending of The Sopranos, a program you ought to watch sometime.
It’s been almost 15 years since The Sopranos dropped the mic with one of the most shocking endings in television history. If you were there, you know what happened: a cut to black so sudden that viewers across the country initially thought their cable had gone out. Some were delighted; others were annoyed. David Chase, creator of the show that changed TV, was annoyed, too, but not for the same reasons as most.
In a new career-spanning interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Chase — there partially to talk about the newish prequel The Many Saints of Newark, which even managed to blow the mind of its narrator and Sopranos alum, Michael Imperioli — inevitably wound up talking about the ending of his most famous work. He seems to dodge the question that everyone asks: Did James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano get whacked? (At one point he almost appeared to confirm that, yes, he did, but that’s not exactly what he said.) But while the lack of closure as to Tony’s fate frustrated many, Chase was vexed for another reason: that the ending was all people talked about.
“I had no idea it would cause that much— I mean, I forget what was going on in Iraq or someplace; London had been bombed! Nobody was talking about that; they were talking about The Sopranos,” Chase said. “It was kind of incredible to me.”
But there was something else that really got to him. “What was annoying was how many people wanted to see Tony killed. That bothered me,” Chase said. That people wanted confirmation did not sit well with him:
“They wanted to know that Tony was killed. They wanted to see him go face-down in linguini, you know? And I just thought, ‘God, you watched this guy for seven years and I know he’s a criminal. But don’t tell me you don’t love him in some way, don’t tell me you’re not on his side in some way. And now you want to see him killed? You want justice done? You’re a criminal after watching this s*it for seven years.’ That bothered me, yeah.”
In other words, Chase found a way to avoid the traditional ending to the gangster movie, which is that our law-breaking antihero gets killed, to appeal to censors and restore law and order. But what people wanted, in his estimation, was just that.
Then again, as Alan Sepinwall argues in The Sopranos Sessions, the book he wrote with Matt Zoller Seitz, even if Chase ever admitted, point blank, that Tony did indeed get whacked, that’s not what happens in the text of the show. What happens in the text of the show is Tony eats onion rings with his family and then it suddenly ends. And that’s that.
Although maybe the real crime is that the show ended with Journey and not Al Green.