Sopranos – End of the line

The Sopranos is over. And the net is abuzz, because the ending did not offer closure – but the show has never offered closure, and that is what made it great.

Tony does not die, go into witness protection, or jail; he sits in a restaurant and eats onion rings like they were communion wafers with his family in probably the tensest scene on television I’ve ever watched. In fact, the entire episode was straight from Hitchcock with some postmodern symbolism thrown in.

It is little wonder David Chase decided to cut to black. The show was never about endings. It wasn’t even about whackings. It was about morality, how one should live life, family, if redemption for evil is possible. The first half of the sixth season ended with an episode called “Keisha” that showed the family hosting guests in their McMansion and taking compliments on how nice it was. The blood-soaked hypocrisy was stifling and wonderful.

Dr. Melfi, Tony’s longtime shrink, was the only character on the show that had anything resembling conventional morality, and I’m glad she managed to cut her ties to Tony before the end.

Fittingly, “Employee of the Month” is my favorite Sopranos episode. In it, Dr. Melfi is raped in her office’s parking garage. The rapist is caught immediately but released on a technicality. She accepts this, but before she returns to work, she sees her rapist’s picture on the wall of a restaurant – employee of the month. Before she sees Tony again, she is torn between telling him everything, including where the rapist is, knowing that he will doubtlessly have the rapist brutally murdered, and hiding her rape entirely. She choses the latter, claiming she was in a car accident, figuring that knowing that she could have had the rapist killed is enough. But she breaks down crying in session from the strain of keeping quiet. When he asks her if she wants to tell him anything, she pauses… and says no. Cut to black.

The show’s episodes have always ended on a relatively clear point – in that particular episode, in Melfi’s case, it ended when it showed that she could make an ethical decision under pressure that none of the other characters would have made. In its very last episode, the series’ point has also been made – that Tony and his family are going to continue to be amoral and hypocritical, that no real change or growth will ever occur in Tony, Carmela, or their kids, and that the law and the mob will always be inches away from bringing down their house of cards. They have fully made their beds and tucked in the corners – what happens next is more or less unimportant.

Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” will be stuck in my head for at least a week.

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