'Sopranos' Finale Leaves Viewers Hanging Guests and callers discuss the reaction to the much-anticipated Sopranos series finale that aired Sunday evening on HBO. Tim Goodman, television critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, discusses his op-ed on the fill-in-the-blank ending that left many plotlines unresolved.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Last night, it was the big finale for "The Sopranos" on HBO. And before I give anything away, if you DVR'd the final episode and haven't seen it yet, you might want to cover your ears. For the rest of us who, after the hype and the bets on whether Tony would get whacked or not, caught the ending, the question I'm left with is, was that all there is? Based on the reaction from fans today, David Chase who created "The Sopranos" might need witness protection program. The fill-in-the-blank ending left plenty hanging and maybe that's the point.

What did you think of the finale and its not-quite ending? Was it what you expected? As always, the number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Let us know what you think at our blog, that's npr.org/blogofthenation.

Tim Goodman is a television critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, his take on the big finish ran in today's paper. It's titled "An Ending that Befits Genius of Sopranos." And he calls us today from a studio at the Chronicle. Nice to have you in the program.

Mr. TIM GOODMAN (Television Critic, San Francisco Chronicle): Thanks, Neal. Nice to be there.

CONAN: The genius of "The Sopranos." So you liked it.

Mr. GOODMAN: I loved it. I thought it was a perfect ending.

CONAN: For those of us who missed it, would you describe - I guess, we should set up the ending, Tony and his entire family, his immediate family, his family-family, if you will, they're gathering for dinner at a diner in North Jersey, of course, the setting for almost all of the show. And first, we see the three of them gathering there. Meadow was parking her Lexus outside -remind me not to have Meadow park my car. And she - just as she's coming in, we cut to an interior shot, we see Tony, and then what happens?

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, it's interesting because there were so much build up, there were so much anxiety and, you know, there was just this imminent sense of doom that he was going to die. Every time the door opened and the family came in one by one, every time the door opened, you thought someone is going to walk in the door and whack him. I think that was David Chase, sort of, ratcheting up the tension.

By the time Meadow frustratingly parallel parked that car and got in there, there was, you know, there's a lot of people in there, you thought who might shoot Tony. But Mofia(ph), a guy who was at the counter in the diner, and he walked by and you thought, okay, this is it, and Tony looks up and looks down, the guy passes him by and goes into the bathroom.

CONAN: But we think "Godfather II," this is 5 o'clock foreshadowing.

Mr. GOODMAN: Right. Exactly. And then, you know, the Journey song "Don't Stop Believing" is playing, and when Meadow finally opens the door and Tony looks up, he reaches over towards the tabletop jukebox. And just as Neil Perry(ph) sings don't stop, it goes black. And it wasn't a fate of luck, it was one of the oddly, the most oddly edited cuts you're going to ever see, but it just shut down.

It went black. A lot of people - I wrote today that a lot of people across the country probably thought their cable or their satellite went out.

CONAN: Uh-mm. And, of course, the most terrible moment it could possibly go out.

Mr. GOODMAN: Right.

CONAN: And we're left then to do what television so rarely ask us to do, which is to think.

Mr. GOODMAN: Exactly. And I think that a lot of people are - Neal, they're having a hard time getting their heads around that because, you know, broadcast television doesn't really want you to do that. Everything gets tied up in a bow. Every ending is perfectly explained, sometimes, two or three times, in case you didn't get it the first time. But "The Sopranos" have never been about - like that. David Chase has never wanted this show to be something - he's called one - like little movies in these hours.

And he's never delivered anything to us that's really pat. And I never expected him to go out that way. That's why, I thought that this finale was perfect because, you know, I kind of had always hoped that we would have this glimpse of "The Sopranos" and then the camera would just go off. Like we just, you know, life goes on for Tony and we'll just never know. Now, there's an interpretation out there, that when it went to black, the guy came back out of the bathroom and killed him from behind.

I don't actually buy into that. I think it's a credible theory. I don't think it's an off-the-wall theory. There's a lot of off-the-wall theories, Neal. But I don't think that one is too wild, but I just don't believe it. I think what happened was, I think, in the episode, Chase clearly sets up that a member of Tony's crew has flipped, that the feds are going to press - are ready, some of the subpoenas are going to out. They're going to press for indictments.

CONAN: It's looking more likely for an indictment even that, it usually looks.

Mr. GOODMAN: Exactly. Right. And you know, and throughout the series, Chase has basically had let Tony say, there's two ways you end up. Eighty percent of the time, you end up in jail and then you end up on a slab. But I think what he's hinting at in this, is that Tony's probably going to end up, somehow, facing a court battle. Whether he wins or loses, we don't know. But I don't think he envisioned him dying. I think he said look, this is a slice of life, and to Tony, life goes on. End of series.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some listeners involved in this conversation. Again, 800-989-8255, email - talk@npr.org. Our guest, Tim Goodman, the TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. And let's start with Tim(ph). And Tim's calling us from Georgia.

TIM (Caller): Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: All right.

TIM: I thought the series was - the series now is - was a great way to end the series. Now I think it was interesting what Mr. Goodman said about Tony's life going on because something we haven't seen discussed in a lot of the blogs is how the characters persists even after they're dead.

Like Chris' character threw the cat, you know. Uncle Junior, even though he's in a mental institution, he still has his way in the series. His influence is still felt even though he is not a part of the plot anymore. And I thought that was a really interesting way to end in the real - subtle way to go out, a very subtle (unintelligible) play at the end.

CONAN: I wanted to ask Tim Goodman about that. Also, there is the cat. And again, for those who haven't seen it, the cat keeps looking at Christopher's picture no matter where they move the picture. I thought the cat had the bug in it for a while.

But anyway, that was just another red herring for me. But there's that very moving scene with Uncle Junior, the man who was, of course, with Tony's father…

TIM: (Unintelligible)

CONAN: …ran North Jersey and then eventually in a fit of - in a mental fit, ended up last year shooting Tony Soprano.

Mr. GOODMAN: Yeah. I think that there was a lot of herrings and also a lot of great moments like that. And what people forget is that in an hour and five minutes, David Chase was sort of charged with wrapping up seven years of very difficult storylines, but he was never going to wrap all of them up.

I think he wanted to give some closure to some storylines to give you the sense that life is going to go on. But he was never going, you know, the Russian was never going to come back out of the woods.

But yeah, it was great. I thought there was a lot of moments in the series where your Adrenalin was coming up, but it was just another herring. It was just - that's part of the given take, the cat and mouse that Chase plays in this series. And, you know, part of me, I think, this was kind of harsh to say to people who are fans of this series they might be upset. But I think a lot of people have watched "The Sopranos" over the years and have perceived it to be something that David Chase didn't want it to be.

I don't think he ever envisioned it as a, you know, a whack-a-week kind of mobster drama, it was much deeper than that. And it was never something that -it was going to be a really pat-safe(ph) ending that made you feel good. And when they didn't get it, I think that is his way of saying, you know, maybe you just didn't get it from the start.

CONAN: But there was also that part where he's talking to Uncle Junior, who's got Alzheimer's disease…

Mr. GOODMAN: Right.

CONAN: …and can't remember, and the tragedy that, you know, Tony seems to be coming up on is he - his father will not be remembered, Uncle Junior will not be remembered, he will not be remembered.

Mr. GOODMAN: Exactly. There was a lot of that about - a lot of stuff about the past and how things go forward and how messed up they are in comparison to the older ways.

CONAN: Anyway, Tim, thanks for the call.

TIM: Thank you very much. Have a good day.

CONAN: You too. Let's see if we can get Lisa(ph) on the line. Lisa's with us from Boulder, Colorado.

LISA (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi there.

LISA: Hi. I thought that the ending was just great and I also think - I'm one of the people to think that what happened was that Tony got whacked because if you think of the foreshadowing that happened earlier, like, last week, I believe that there was a - right before Bobby got shot, there was him remembering that he and Tony had sat in the boat. And he said, well, and then you never, I bet you don't even hear anything is what Bobby said. And he kind of laughed. And then if you noticed, the soundtrack went dead quiet not just was the blackening of the screen, but continued through the entire credits that it was quiet, there was no noise.

And so to me, I believe there was even a flashback, I'm not sure if it was in this episode, but to Bobby getting shot and that idea of the silence. So, you know, my take on is that Tony is dead.

CONAN: Tony's dead to her. Tim Goodman.

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, it's - I think the beauty of it is that somewhere, David Chase is probably - he may be in Italy at this point. You know, he's got what he wanted. This is a - definitely a talker; it's a pop cultural phenomenon. And he's left it in a way that I think satisfies the diehards and it keeps people to - will be talking about whether he's alive or dead or did the series go on.

For a long time, there's a lot of possible endings. I think part of it was you can make - I think he's got his own ending I really believed that. But I think he left it so that you can infer on your own what happened.

LISA: It's so funny, because I sat there and at the end of it, you know, I was thinking, oh my God that was great. I mean it didn't end. We don't know what. I was thinking - it was just funny, though, I woke up in the middle of the night, that's how much I'm a fan of the show, and I'm laying there my eyes popped open I'm thinking, no, Tony's dead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LISA: (Unintelligible). Anyway, it was a great show.

CONAN: Yeah. But a cynic, Tim Goodman, might suggests that while he's left us all on a cliffhanger, much as a regular season finale might be, is this the perfect set-up for, in two years time, "Sopranos" the movie.

Mr. GOODMAN: Well, that's definitely cynical. And I share a sense of jadedness about that. But, the key - and I would not rule out that in, you know, in some amount of years if they backed up a truck, he might get it done. But I really believe, honestly believe, that David Chase is done with "The Sopranos" and he's always wanted to make movies.

I think - and he's actually writing a movie now that has nothing to do with "The Sopranos" or is engaged in a script that's nothing to "The Sopranos." And I think he wants to move on and left this sit on the shelves of these DVD box sets on its own. But that said, if a movie or two of his does fail in the end, you're right. And Tony could still be alive and it can be brought back.

CONAN: Prequels, maybe. Anyway, thanks very much for the call, Lisa.

LISA: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Anna(ph) in Kansas City. People did not invest this many years into this series to come to our own conclusion and reality. We have no idea what happens to the characters we've gone to love over the years. I don't think that this was a good way to end the show for loyal fans - and the loyal fans many of them wanted resolution of one form or another, Tim.

Mr. GOODMAN: Right. And again, it's kind of harsh to say it, but I don't think that's the series that David Chase made. I mean, honestly, I think that that kind of stuff happens on broadcast television even on a really good broadcast television drama.

But I think what - that's just not how Chase operates. And I know that people - I know that there are some people like her who are upset at the ending because it didn't give them closure. But for me, I think this series has never been about that and that's not the kind of storyteller he is.

CONAN: Tim Goodman, a TV critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email us - talk@npr.org. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Here's another email. This one from Justin(ph). As I watched the final episode of "The Sopranos" last night, I thought about how much this show had made an impact on me. My heart was racing for the final half hour of the program and not just because of the bet I'd made with my girlfriend over whether Tony was going to survive or not. I was pulling for you, Tony, only to be giving an ending fit for one of those choose-your-own-adventure novels I would read as a prepubescent boy. I guess good or bad, I just wanted some resolution. It is as if a good friend that disappeared from the face of the earth, no explanation, just a realization of their absence.

And, well, getting back to the show, this show has broken barriers from the very start in how it was structured, in how it was presented, and the effect that it's had on television. Tim Goodman, it's hard to argue that any show in the past 10 years has had more influence.

Mr. GOODMAN: I think that's true. I mean, I think that certainly from the - if you go back, "The Sopranos" completely made HBO. There's no question about that. It legitimized all of cable as a place where you can go and even pay money to see television, which was kind of unheard of for some people. But it's also raised the bar, you know, that's kind of a cliche that I hate, but it has raise the bar throughout television.

People have to - if you're in the business of making dramas even it's for NBC or ABC, they have to be better because if people watch "The Sopranos" or "The Wire," a lot of things that were on television, the expectations are so much greater as to the quality.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Lance(ph). Lance with us from Detroit in Michigan.

LANCE (Caller): Yes. Hi. I was really happy that they kind of left it wide open because throughout this whole season, I was really on edge like I was seriously going to sleep having dreams about "Sopranos," like, (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

LANCE: But I was just really happy, kind of holding on to my feet that nothing did happen to him and his family and that it did stay open like that because it wasn't just like a two-hour movie, you know. It was a full going through their life. So for it to just keep going, wow. I don't have the option of watching anymore, kind of left me at ease, you know. And I agree, like I'm glad about the wide-open, and I even caught the West Coast showing of it on HBO just to make sure that it wasn't my cable that got cut off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LANCE: You know, so I think Tim, kind of, have the right idea with it being wide open like that and that is what David chase seemed to do with the show. He didn't - every episode he didn't close every episode. He left them open.

CONAN: And Tim, it's important to point out. He didn't not write and direct every episode. In fact, very few - the first one and the last one.

Mr. GOODMAN: Right. Yeah, and he wrote and directed this finale. He definitely had his stamp on it and I think he got what he wanted out of it. He's always had a strong hand over a very, very small group of writers for the series. And I think that's what kept the quality up on this series throughout its run is that it was a tight little group and everybody was sort of on the same page.

But you know, that said, Neal, I will say that when people are frustrated, if they are frustrated at this ending, a lot of people were frustrated about dream sequences throughout the season's end…

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. GOODMAN: …and those were some of David Chase's favorite episodes and those were people who call themselves diehards really annoyed them because there was no concrete explanation as to the dreams.

CONAN: Well, it was also - and thanks very much for the call, Lance. And he was also in a way caught in a TV world of - well, what kind of, you know, how can he get out of this? I mean, the other classic, you know, endings for television programs some good, some bad - dream sequences, we've used them up.

Mr. GOODMAN: Right. Dream sequences are not good. And I think he, again, he wouldn't be back into a pat ending. I figured the only way - if Tony was going to die it would probably in the first minute so that the rest of the episode would have dealt with the fallout. And once that didn't happened, I kind of got an inkling that it was not going to go that way.

But, you know, I really think that he got the best possible ending to it. There's no way he was going to ever avoid controversy - people calling HBO, wanting to cancel their subscription, all that kind of stuff. That was bound to happen, kind of any way he did it.

CONAN: Let's get one last caller in. Shelly(ph), Shelly with us from Pleasanton, California.

SHELLY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Shelly.

SHELLY: I thought it was brilliant. For all the reasons you guys were just talking about, it left everybody's, you know - to interpret it in their own way. No matter what he did, people are going to complain like you were just saying.

But I really loved the last scene because I just felt like it really portrayed Tony's tension that he must go through everyday of his life. Wondering if the guy at the counter is going to whack him or is - and it just - it really gave me a sense of what his life must be like. And I thought that was just brilliant. I loved it.

CONAN: Giving, I think, what in the old days we used to call the hairy eyeball to everybody coming through the front door, yes.

SHELLY: Exactly. And I just - it really made you understand how alone he was and how, you know, his whole life is just this sad, kind of, tense existence.

CONAN: You know…

SHELLY: I loved it.

CONAN: I'm left with one unanswerable question, though, at the end of all of this. Does Satriale's deliver?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOODMAN: I hope so.

SHELLY: No. That's up to your interpretation.

CONAN: Shelly, thanks very much for the call.

SHELLY: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Tim Goodman, thank you for your time today.

Mr. GOODMAN: You bet, Neal.

CONAN: Tim Goodman is television critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. There's a link to his review of the finale and to his blog at npr.org/talk. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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