I wrote a few notes for tomorrow's Beacon Journal, which I am posting after the jump ...
If you have not watched yet, do not read any further.
If you have, you know that the show ended with the family gathered, food on the table and Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ on the jukebox – although the screen went stunningly, abruptly black on “Don’t stop,” without a last “believin’.”
To be sure, fans were thinking "don’t stop" in that moment -- but the show stopped nonetheless. And we did not need that last "believin’ ’’ because the show had already underscored what Tony (James Gandolfini) believed – that, at the end of the day, he had his family and that was his salvation.
It would never come from his mob buddies, and that was made all the more clear in the carnage of recent weeks, which had killed or disabled those closest to Tony. He survived, and took down his nemesis Phil Leotardo, but Phil’s fate might just as easily have been Tony’s. And Tony’s last close associate, Paulie, was someone who at the end of the day – and the series – was far more interested in watching out for himself than serving his boss.
Without the mob, then, Tony’s solace was in those who shared his home. Having family is what separated him from Uncle Junior, who at show’s end was childless, unloved and denied even the memories of his good times. For that matter, it is what separated him from The Godfather’s Michael Corleone, who at the end of the second film had destroyed his family but protected his power.
No doubt people will argue about the ending. I’ll just remember all the great last moves it made, the wonderful acting, and the music – Vanilla Fudge and Bob Dylan used with equal adeptness. Of course, I wish it did not stop. But it goes out on a string of episodes as fine as any show has ever made.
Now, some elaboration: At first I panicked when the screen went black, afraid something had gone haywire in the DVR, checking another set where I was making a backup recording, then e-mailing a friend in another state to be sure I had seen what I had seen.
After all, the finale had been playing with ominousness in that last scene, seeming to focus on some out-of-place-looking guys in the restaurant. And with the freeze on Tony's face, I was reminded of the ending of the original "Fail Safe," and thinking that I had missed a scene of people approaching the Sopranos, guns out, leaving us all with their doom.
But no. In the end, Tony's cunning and instinct for self-preservation had gotten him through; he had even managed to turn a fed, instead of the other way around. As for the indictment, that's part of the cost of doing business.
But in the end, Tony's life was not really about business. I've been a little obsessed lately with the show's "Godfather" parallels, and have written about the notion that the show would end with Tone Alone, like Michael Corleone at the end of "Godfather II." Instead, the show left that fate to Uncle Junior, who had been willing to turn against family -- including Tony -- for the sake of business. And the one thing that kept Tony from that fate was that he remained close to his family, however much his business may have twisted his relationship with them.
All this and Vanilla Fudge, too. Sure, the Journey riff was artfully used. But Fudge's thunderous "You Keep Me Hangin' On" was a terrific bookend, its plaintive "set me free" not only echoing Tony's dilemma but the show's longing to end, which it finally did by stopping even as Journey cried "don't."
And I'm still chewing on the details of the episode. And anticipating a second viewing. And wishing, hoping, thinking and praying for a reunion movie -- although it would be pretty near impossible to top this ending.