Two nights before I completed my somewhat accidental binge watch of The Sopranos, I overheard a stranger at a party bitching about how overrated the show was – he seemed to think that the dream sequences were “unrealistic” and he also seemed unable to identify with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in even the slightest of ways (the great trick of The Sopranos is, of course, that it gets us to relate to a violent, mentally ill criminal). His favorite part of the entire show? One that never actually happened – he seemed to think that Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) was the one who told Carmela (Edie Falco) she had to leave Tony immediately during one of their short-lived therapy sessions. He seemed to take great interest in that moment, and even a bit of pride – that’s what I’ve been saying! Yeah! You gotta leave him, Carm! – which is why it’s sort of sad that he remembered it all wrong, and that it was another therapist (Dr. Krakower, as recommended by Dr. Melfi, a psychologist Carm saw just once) that gave Carmela the advice. Sure, he got the basics down – he knew it was a shrink that told Carm the news, but thinking that Dr. Melfi would say such a thing to Carmela was a big misunderstanding of both their characters.
He didn’t get it. After eighty-six episodes of The Sopranos, watched over approximately six weeks, I think I get it, at least as someone who wasn’t “there” can get it.
I’ve binge watched plenty before, but The Sopranos was the first television bender I set out upon without a clear endgame (when I watched Breaking Bad and Peep Show, it was to catch up with rapidly-approaching new seasons, and I burned through the latest season of Arrested Development in order to “feel relevant” or something). The Sopranos watch was done for pleasure, to fill a gap. Instead, there’s nothing but a razor-mouthed hole where The Sopranos used to be – like vile young A.J. Soprano (Robert Iler), I loved and I lost and I am sort of pissed about it. I miss the show already, even though I was over a decade late to it.
So much Sopranos means that, yes, occasionally, we watched about six episodes of the mob drama in one day. That’s probably unhealthy for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which being that maybe you should get off your couch, but also because a show like The Sopranos is already so adept at informing your emotions that spending that much time in such drama, such upheaval, can only mess with you in tangible ways. A week into the watch, I was already prone to looking over my shoulder and craving chicken parm. These things didn’t change over the coming weeks – they only got more intense.
I didn’t come into The Sopranos exactly fresh, especially as it applied to that spectacular finale – six years on from David Chase’s masterful conclusion, and it’s impossible to have avoided any knowledge of it. Of course I knew about the finale, about the cut to black, the Journey song, the outcry, but without having seen the show (and especially its final season), knowing about (and even watching it once) the finale is a surprisingly un-spoilery spoiler. Without proper context, it’s nearly impossible to engage with on a real level. After watching eighty-five hours of The Sopranos in the weeks before, it’s perhaps the most effective, emotional, and tense final hour of television I’ve ever watched.
But the finale wasn’t the only thing “spoiled” for me – thanks to occasional channel-surfing and the odd episode watched entirely out of sequence, I already knew that something terrible was going to happen to Adriana (Drea de Matteo), or that Christopher’s (Michael Imperioli) development meeting with Jon Favreau and Alicia Witt wasn’t going to go exactly how he wanted (although he would get something he wanted from Witt, if you catch my drift). I even knew that Christopher would (for some reason) eventually punch Lauren Bacall in the face in order to steal an award show swag basket from her stunned arms. (Admittedly, that episode was one I greatly anticipated, because why would anyone punch Lauren Bacall for a swag bag? I had to know.) I knew that Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) and Carlo Gervasi (Arthur Nascarella) were going to stab a big man a lot in what looked like a kitchen. I knew that Dr. Melfi was going to be brutally raped. I knew that Tony was going to end up in a coma – but I didn’t know how or why, and my shock at Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) shooting him will stand as one of my favorite memories of the show.
There was plenty more I didn’t know – Vito’s (Joseph R. Gannascoli) secret and Christopher’s demise top the list – but singular events don’t really do much when compared to some of the longer arcs that unexpectedly unfurled over six seasons. I didn’t know I’d grow to loathe A.J. with the fire of a thousand suns, or that Christopher and Paulie’s (Tony Sirico) crumbling relationship would become a touchstone, or that Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) would grow into a wonderful young woman, or that Artie Bucco (John Ventimiglia) would become a beloved character, or even that I’d feel something like love and pity for such complicated characters as Bobby Baccalieri (Steven R. Schirripia), Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola), and Rosalie Aprile (Sharon Angela).
What I did always know was that Tony was going to get it. I didn’t know how devastated that would make me feel, though.
If you’re looking for the most thorough dissection of the show’s finale (especially its final sequence), check out Master of Sopranos. That analysis does a far better job of breaking down all of the hints (and, really, all of the clear signals) that Tony gets it in the end, and I am pleased that all of my “Tony gets it” hot points are included there, albeit much more clearly and irrefutably stated than anything I could put together.
How Do We Know Tony Gets It?
1. The entire final season is about people in the family who have been somehow granted something that should allow them to “get out” – Eugene (Robert Funaro) got that massive inheritance, Vito ran away and started a new life, Christopher saw the fruits of his film production labors, Johnny Sack went to jail and never got out (thanks, cancer!), and so on and so forth – but they never get out. Not one of them. In some ways, this actually started back in the fifth season with Adriana’s death. Despite feeling as if all of her wrenching work informing the FBI of various machinations of the Tony, Christopher, and the family would finally result in some essential Witness Protection Programming, she still gets it. What can save you from the Mob? Not the FBI, not money, not changing your life, nothing. Tony can’t be saved. Tony gets it.
2. The repeated discussions about the quickness of death – including that horrible dinner where Silvio was still gleefully telling a story before realizing that one of his dining companions had been shot and Sil actually had blood on his own face and Bobby’s sage point that “you probably don’t even hear it when it happens.” No, you don’t hear it! You know who didn’t hear it? Tony. Tony gets it.
3. While the show itself doesn’t always take place from Tony’s point of view, he is absolutely our entry point and main character. After all the POV shots in the final sequence of the series finale, that cut to black is obvious – it’s from Tony’s POV. What the hell could a POV cut to black mean? Death. He’s dead before the show even ends. Tony gets it.
4. Even on the most basic of levels – who really thought the show could end any other way? Tony gets it.
Tony got it. The Sopranos got it. And I get it, too. Finally.