The Sopranos, one of the flagship programs of not only HBO but the entire contemporary “Golden Age of Television,” has been off the air for nine years now, but still remains a powerful catalyst and force in influencing the historic jagged shift the medium has taken on in the last 15 years or so. The mob drama, which ended its run in 2007 with a finale that is still read, dissected, and poured over for much heated debate and discussion a la the Torah, has influenced programs as rich as itself such as Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men and the latest, greatest show currently running on television, Better Call Saul.
Now, David Chase, the program’s creator, writer, and overall presence and lord of the trials and tribulations of the fictitious families in New Jersey, some of whose fates were left unknown when the final episode aired, has broken down that finale (a series finale that sent people in either exultation, uproar, or both).
Much of the brouhaha was especially due to the fact of a cut-to-the-quick blackout that was pretty much a smash cut, in which the viewer was left hanging in the balance of the fate of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), and for about a minute what most believed to be their cable hookups, because the smash cut went to a black screen and abrupt cut of music, creating a visual and aural silence that cut like a machete and must have had viewers in the millions banging the sides of their cable boxes and television sets in frustrated synchronicity wondering as to what the hell just happened. And then when it was over, the ripple effects of the endless verbal dissertations about it transcended just water cooler talk, and spread everywhere, especially in a world that was just starting to really feel the incendiary flames of social media, which at that point, eight years ago, was just still coming of a sort of age with flip-top cell phones that took four minutes to type and text a sentence and Netflix still in the mailing-out discs business and not in the years to come streaming business.
Chase broke down the entire scenic oeuvre with full verisimilitude in an article he wrote for the Directors Guild of America Quarterly, but of course, makes sure to keep the precious stone of it still fully sealed as he doesn’t discuss the fate of Tony Soprano, whose theories have been led to believe that he was assassinated by a man who was wearing a “Members Only” jacket coming out of a bathroom, who he had glanced at as he entered into it prior. But like The JFK Assassination, of the existence of U.F.O’s, or the Paul is Dead Rumors, the final scene of The Sopranos (the episode is entitled “Made in America” and won Chase an Emmy award for writing it) stretches the lengths of crazy truths and probability as to just what exactly happened.
Regarding the smash cut to black, Chase stresses that he “never considered [it] a shot” but “just thought of what we see is black.” He said, “The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, was don’t stop believing.” He then went on to add about how important believing in life is, that in essence it’s “much more on the nose” than people think.
And keeping in tune in more ways than one with that statement, the final scene is orchestrated to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” a song from 1981 which appeared on their album entitled Escape and was a top ten hit during its original release in America and has become a karaoke standard in the current age. A lot of people are not familiar with the song which opens the scene, when Tony walks into the diner, 1975’s “All that You Dream,” which is by the band Little Feat and sung by the late Lowell George, which kind of sets the scene in a casual, everything is good and pretty pat right now vein, which is essentially where Tony and his family are at during that point in the story, and the song tapers to its end while he is looking on the jukebox for something to play and finds “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Chase explains in his article that the song was absolutely crucial in many respects to the timing and rhythm of the scene and that the song itself dictates the pace. It dictates and choreographs the characters’ actions even, as Chase went on to note as each family member came into the diner to greet Tony one by one save for his daughter who was having parallel parking problems outside as the song still bristled on. That scene also added to the “tension” as Chase puts it, building up a suspense and a demonstration of the lyrics of the song as a temporal sidebar, in which people were walking and life was naturally flowing, because to Chase, it is ultimately and genuinely “what the song is saying.”
A fascinating read by a fascinating man who made what is still one of the most fascinating and greatest television programs of all time and one which presents storytelling and rich characterizations as good as any country in any genre has ever produced, including this one. It is one of the main reasons why the final scene of “Made in America” and the popularity of The Sopranos continues to flourish and beam on high to this very day.