'The Sopranos': Do Not Attempt to Adjust Your Set

Did anyone in the entire country win their "Sopranos" betting pool? We all had our theories about how it would all end. Tony goes into the witness protection program. Tony dies in a huge mob shoot-out. Melfi can't stand the guilt after all these years and pulls the trigger. My own brilliant scheme had Carmela discovering that he'd murdered Christopher (and maybe Adriana, too), so she wraps her manicured fingers around a pistol and takes him out herself.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. And yet—how deliciously, mischievously right. One of the things that's made "The Sopranos" the greatest TV drama in history is how it consistently found ways to surprise us, to subvert television convention, to go where no show had ever gone before. So what better way to end the whole series than to come up with a scene that no one saw coming—in fact, one where nothing happens at all. Nothing except a scene that, by carefully piling layer upon layer of expectation and tension as carefully as Carmela might construct a lasagna, "The Sopranos" came up with perhaps the most original final scenes ever.

That said, the un-finale was a quintessential "Sopranos" touch. David Chase, the show's creator (and the writer and director of the finale), never liked neat endings. He'd happily let the fate of a character—say, a Russian thug lost in the snowy Jersey Pine Barrens—go unresolved, just to keep things interesting. It must have irked him that, after eight years of
teaching viewers that great TV doesn't have to be neat, we've all spent weeks hypothesizing about the perfect ending. So instead, Chase leaves everything hanging. How is Silvio? Where is Melfi? What does Uncle Junior really know? Frankly, why does anyone have to live or die? As much as "The Sopranos" devised brilliant, shocking, bloody plot twists over the years, the show was always as much as about existential angst as body counts. The very first episode began when Tony, the tough crime boss, couldn't deal with being abandoned by a flock of ducks who'd lived in his backyard pool.

The finale put us in a similar place of suspended animation. Tony, Carmela and AJ sitting in a diner. Customers coming in and out, all of whom seem, for a moment, like a potential hit man. Meadow botching her parallel parking outside, and finally walking through the door. The family's all eating a meal together, just as they did in the last scene of each season. But then—black. Wait: did my cable just go out? What the #@*&? And then, after a few seconds, the credits roll, and we realize we've all been had. Or have we? Rather than give viewers an ending that was bound to disappoint fans who didn't want it all to end that way, we get to create the ending ourselves, in our own imaginations, in whatever way we want.

And then there's the show's final trick, the one where Chase lovingly thumbs his nose at all us "Sopranos" fanatics. Will there be a sequel? A movie? How do you top the greatest TV drama of all time? As he often did, Chase gave us the answer in the form of a song: "Don't Stop Believing," which was playing as the show faded to black. The band that performed it, by the way, was Journey. And what a wonderful journey it's been.

'The Sopranos': Do Not Attempt to Adjust Your Set | Culture