In defense of The Sopranos Finale

For anyone who needs a refresher: 

What? It’s over? Is my cable out? That can’t be the end.

These are just a few of the thoughts that went through millions of fans’ minds as they watched the series finale of The Sopranos on HBO on June 10th, 2007. I was one of them. I had not seen all of The Sopranos at the time (my parents understandably would not let me) but it was too big of an event to miss. My family and I sat down together to watch it, and even though I did not fully understand the events leading up to the ending, I will never forget the first time I watched the final scene.

Tony’s worries are over. The war between the families has ceased and his biggest enemy, Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) will be having his closed casket funeral in the coming days. He has nothing to worry about right? Then why is he so uneasy? The door rings as customers enter, and the ring catches Tony’s attention and eyesight every time. The tension of the scene is incredible. It does not matter who enters everyone is a threat. Who knew that Don’t Stop Believing could feel so menacing? As Tony, Carmella and AJ sit and talk Tony’s attention is continuously elsewhere. Why does that guy keep looking over? Why is that couple talking so loud? Who are the thug looking guys coming into a family restaurant? The brilliance of this last scene cannot be understated. It even includes two separate references to the two different times that Tony has been shot during the series; the two times he was closest to death. These references are subtle without throwing it right into the viewer’s face. The man who keeps looking over is wearing a Member’s Only jacket, which would be fashionable if it were 1987. However, some Soprano’s fans will remember “Member’s Only” is also the name of the episode in which Tony’s Uncle Junior shoots him, leading to Tony’s coma. Also, the two thug looking African Americans who walk into the restaurant could be in reference to when Tony is nearly killed by two similarly dressed African Americans in the episode “Isabella.” While there are plenty of other shots of people in the restaurant, these are the two that Tony seems to be focused on the most. Meadow finally gets to the restaurant and cannot seem to parallel park her car, which is by far the most intense parallel parking scene of all time (clearly something to be proud of). The Member’s Only guy trudges past the table and goes to the bathroom. Oh no, she’s going to walk in just as the guy comes out of the bathroom and shoots Tony. That’s what I was thinking, as I realized I cared about these characters despite seeing very few episodes. One last ring of the door, one last look up from Tony, and one last Don’t Stop from Journey and…its over. No gunshot, no arrest, it was simply over.

What would you have preferred? Would you have wanted Tony to be shot in the back of the head with his family sitting there followed with a fade to black? Would you have wanted Tony on trial or in an orange jumpsuit behind bars? The ambiguous ending is not a “cop out” as many would argue. Instead it reinforces exactly what the entire series is all about. The mob has its advantages, and has been glorified for years by film, however it is not as glamorous as The Godfather might have you believe. Tony Soprano always gets what he wants; however he is never happy, in fact he is continually depressed. Maybe this business is not what its all hyped up to be. Tony has won; his “associates” have finally disposed of Phil Leotardo, however he cannot sit still. Tony knows for the rest of his life, he will be constantly looking over his shoulder; there is nowhere he can hide. Does it really matter if he died right then and there in the diner as the screen abruptly went black? No, it’s the tension of the scene and his uncomfortable demeanor that are important, Tony will not feel completely safe ever again, even at dinner with his family.

The ending is still debated on to this day, which in my opinion is exactly what David Chase wanted. Whether good or bad reviews people are still talking about it, over five years later, what more could you ask for from a finale of a landmark show? The finale may have left a lot of viewers feeling underwhelmed, however, would those same viewers still think and ask question about the show had it ended in a clearer fashion? No, they probably would have just panned it and been done with it.

The defense rests.

The Current Golden Age of Television

Television is currently in a new golden age. Few other times in the entire history of television has there been this many quality shows on this many different networks been on during the same time period. A big part of this has been a trend of film actors and writers/directors/producers deciding to do television instead of film, as there is more creative freedom and more consistency in working with one group of characters for an extended story arc. For example, filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) Frank Darabout (Shawshank Redemption) and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) have all worked in television recently on Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, and Boss respectively. Meanwhile, many strong supporting cast film actors such as Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), William H. Macy (Shameless), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) and Don Cheadle (House of Lies) have flourished in leading television roles. Also, more networks have become real contributors to the overall quality of original television as AMC and FX have joined the ranks (if not surpassed) the likes of HBO and Showtime as far as original content. This is not simply an opinion either; the ratings prove that viewers currently love this trend of continuingly quality television. While there may have been other eras where the very best shows on television were arguably better than they are now (think early 2000s The Sopranos, The Wire) the depth across genres and networks is what makes this current era special.

To convey this idea, here is a list of all the quality television shows broken down by network with the season that each is currently in or soon to be listed in parenthesis.

Qualifications for quality television show:
1) The show must be scripted and at least in the process of a 3rd season, a show becomes quality when it has continued success (unless viewership or critical reception is too much to ignore)
2) The show must be generally acclaimed by critics and have high viewership. If either is overwhelmingly high it can cancel out the other. (When Arrested Development was on: unanimous critical acclaim + low ratings = still quality)
3) Programs with higher quality earlier seasons that have declined since still make the list, depending on how steep the decline is.

Breaking Bad (Season 5)
Mad Men (Season 6)
The Walking Dead (Season 3)

American Horror Story (Season 2)*
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Season 8)
The League (Season 4)
Louie (Season 3)
Sons Of Anarchy (Season 5)

Boardwalk Empire (Season 3)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 9)
Eastbound & Down (Season 4)
Game of Thrones (Season 3)

I do not consider True Blood to be quality television. (You read that correctly)

Californication (Season 6)**
Dexter (Season 7)**
Homeland (Season 2)*
Nurse Jackie (Season 5)
Shameless (Season 3)

30 Rock (Season 7)**
Community (Season 4)
The Office (Season 9)**
Parks and Recreation (Season 5)

The Big Bang Theory (Season 6)
How I Met Your Mother (Season 8)**
Two and a Half Men (Season 10)**

Comedy Central:
Futurama (Season 7)
South Park (Season 16)

Modern Family (Season 4)

Family Guy (Season 11)

Downton Abbey (Season 3)

*Good enough to make list despite rule 1
**Not as good as it was at one point

There you have it, there are at least twenty-nine “good” television programs that are on the air currently. The varying programs mean more opinions for viewers and as long as quality programming is being watched, it will continue.