The Sopranos Ending Explained: Tony is not Definitively Dead, but his Future Looks Bleak

Read also: The Sopranos Revisited – 200 Memorable Moments

10 June 2007, 10 years ago today, the legendary finale of the legendary HBO-show ‘The Sopranos’ was aired. It became perhaps the most discussed moment in television-history…

I remember the day after when everybody was confused as hell about it (or just pissed off). Creator David Chase said he hadn’t intended to be coy, he just wanted to entertain his audience. That may be so, but what was the audience to make of the ambiguous ending in which protagonist Tony Soprano – after having his arch enemy Phil Leotardo killed – visits an American diner with his family to have onion rings? A suspicious looking man sits at the bar and goes to the bathroom later. And Tony tells his wife Carmella that one of his crew members, Carlo, will testify against him. That’s basically it. Then the screen suddenly goes black while on the jukebox, the song ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey is still playing. At ‘don’t stop’, it stops.

For those who need a reminder, it’s right here:

One theory that quickly appeared was that the suspicious man shot Tony when exiting the bathroom and that the moment this happened, the camera switched to Tony’s point of view, indicating his death with the black screen. Others claimed that the ‘hints’ for Tony’s suggested death didn’t mean anything, and that the show ‘just ended’.

These two opinions lead to furious debate on the International Movie Database that went on for nearly ten years, until IMDb shut down the message board early 2017.

In this article I will explain what really happened, what David Chase meant (and didn’t mean), and how we are to interpret certain clues. But in advance: both of the theories stated above are wrong. Chase has said so himself. Obviously there were clues for Tony’s death – it’s ridiculous and insulting to Chase to state the show simply ended. But he didn’t intend for the viewer to interpret these clues as Tony’s definitive death either… Here’s why…

‘There are only two endings for a high profile guy like me, dead or in the can, big percent of the time.’
– Tony Soprano in ‘For All Debts Public and Private’ (SE4, EP1)

In retrospect, this quote already told us how the show would end. Except it wasn’t one or the other. Rather, Tony Soprano got both. The New Jersey mob boss ended up like physicist Schrödinger’s cat, both dead and alive at the same time.

Why did he get both endings? Well, there are certainly clues that a hitman is after Tony in the final scene. I won’t go into great detail about this, but the most important clues are several instances of foreshadowing during the final season, most notably his brother-in-law Bobby Bacala telling Tony: ‘you probably don’t even hear it when it happens’ and New York mobster Gerry Torciano being murdered in a restaurant and Silvio not realizing it till blood splattered in his face. The way the final scene is shot – moving in and out Tony’s point of view – could mean a bullet entered his brain the moment the screen goes black.

But murder is certainly not the only option, as there is also the threat of indictment. as one of Tony’s associates, Carlo, has flipped and is about to spill his guts to the FBI. That means that besides the option of Tony getting whacked, he could be indicted. I refer once again to the quote above.

Dead or in the can… Wasn’t it Carmela who – earlier during the final season – feared these two options like a piano hanging over their heads? It was also Carmela who asked Tony in the episode ‘Sopranos Home Movies’ (during the opening scène of the final season, that should not be overlooked): ‘Is this it?’, referring to the FBI ringing the doorbell.

David Chase has said about the ending: ‘There was nothing definite about what happened, but there was a clean trend on view – a definite sense of what Tony and Carmela’s future looks like. Whether it happened that night or some other night doesn’t really matter.’

It is interesting that Chase uses the word ‘it’. This could refer to Tony’s death, but it might as well be referring to Tony’s arrest. Both options would have a significant impact on Tony and Carmela’s (lack of) future. That is the explanation for the ending right there. There is a sense of impending doom, but by the time the screen goes black, nothing has happened yet, unless a bullet has entered Tony’s brain at that point, ending his life immediately. And there are certainly reasons to think that, but it remains only one out of several bleak options for Tony’s future.

The ending is just simply showing us how Tony’s life is at this point. What has the show been about in the first place? In simple terms: a mobster in therapy. The ending shows us that Tony has made his choices. He had the opportunity to change his ways, but didn’t. So the consequences are his and are very likely going to be severe, like the monks told him in his coma dream in the episode ‘Join the Club’. A very significant scene earlier in the season was a conversation Tony had with Little Carmine Lupertazzi in which Lupertazzi (who was generally considered an idiot in mob circles) told Tony he had quit the gangster life in order to spend more time with his family in peace and happiness. If only Tony had made the same decision he could have perhaps avoided the only two endings of the mob life. Now it’s definitely too late.

That is the point the final scene makes. Death could come knocking at any time and for any reason. An indictment could come at any time as well. With Carlo in the hands of the feds, it is only a matter of time before they come for Tony….

We have witnessed the life of Tony for eight years. We have seen him steal, scheme, cheat and murder. He also reaped the benefits of his criminal life: woman, luxury, respect, money. But off course a price has to be paid. The mobster’s life is destructive, as we have seen many times during the series…

Most of Tony’s mob friends, who lived the same type of life, are now dead or in the can (but mostly dead) or in a coma. For Tony, who was always a little luckier and smarter, the consequences come a little later. David Chase didn’t want to show that crime doesn’t pay, but he also didn’t want to show that crime does pay. The ending gives us exactly that; a mosaic of possibilities, limited down to the overall negative. Logical consequences of a life in crime, but nowhere moralistic. The ending in that sense is crystal clear, but to explain it would be to diminish it. And that’s what Chase meant with: ‘there is no mystery’ and ‘I’m not trying to be coy’.

The major point is to not look at the ending as storytelling, but more in terms of the overall themes that the show was covering. David Chase has said he was inspired by ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in creating the final scene. What did Kubrick say about that ending? “They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded.”

This 2001-influence was very palpable. For example when Tony enters the restaurant, he looks at a seat and then suddenly… he is sitting there without having crossed the space in between! That is quantum-weirdness going on… Chase is telling us: this is an experience, not straightforward storytelling. Chase has also said many times that he was inspired by David Lynch in making ‘The Sopranos’. Nobody ever claimed to fully understand a David Lynch film. They are moving paintings. There are always possible interpretations, but never convey one definite meaning or truth.

Chase is making a philosophical statement about the nature of life and death rather than showing death itself. It often arrives suddenly and you’re not necessarily ready or prepared. In the case of a Mafia member it is even worse. Murders usually happen from behind, so that makes for a shitty death experience. Ironically, sudden death came for James Gandolfini, one of the greatest actors ever who made Tony Soprano such an unforgettable character.

But it doesn’t have to be a murder that ends the mobster, there is prison too. What is the point of mentioning Carlo if the scene is only about the supposed hit on Tony? Another consequence of the life of the mobster is that you can get busted at any moment, and since a made member has certainly committed crimes that can get him into prison for life (like Johnny Sack who died in prison earlier this season), he is constantly facing the end. Tony and Carmella both knew this. What a way to live…

And since death comes suddenly, it is important to enjoy the good times with your family, exactly like A.J. reminds his father to do. David Chase has confirmed the above open interpretation in an interview with The Directors Guild of America. He states:

“I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed … Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.”

He continues: “The biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.”

This is the end. It might not be the epic conclusion some were hoping for, but it’s a unique scene nevertheless. Chase makes an almost cosmic experience out of something ordinary like eating onion rings in an American diner. Like he said, there is nothing definite about what happened, but we do get a clean trend on view on what Tony and Carmela’s future looks like. ‘The Sopranos’ was never the show to tie up everything neatly anyway. In that sense, there is quite a lot of closure in the final season. Therefore, the ending is as fitting an ending as it can be with loads of stuff to analyze for the fans even 10 years later. Salute.

The Night Of… (HBO mini-serie)

Miniserie van HBO over een Pakistaanse jongen die na een wilde avond met een borderline-meisje wakker wordt in haar huis en haar doodgestoken aantreft. Niet veel later wordt hij opgepakt met het moordwapen op zak. Dit is het begin van zijn helse tocht door het Amerikaanse rechtssysteem. Via een New Yorks politiebureau naar de gevangenis op Riker’s Island naar uiteindelijk de rechtbank waar een jury moet besluiten of hij het meisje wel of niet vermoord heeft. Advocaat John Turturro – in een rol die oorspronkelijk geschreven was voor de in 2013 overleden James Gandolfini – staat hem bij. De werking van het Amerikaanse rechtssysteem, dat voor een veel te groot deel berust op toeval, economische principes en raciale vooroordelen, wordt zeer helder getoond in ‘The Night Of’. Echte gerechtigheid is er slechts voor de rijken en zeer gelukkigen. De serie heeft voorbij de helft wat zwakkere wendingen, maar begint en eindigt subliem. Met memorabele rollen voor Riz Ahmed, John Turturro en seriefavoriet Michael Kenneth Williams (o.a. Omar Little in ‘The Wire’).

5 Must See TV-shows Before You Die

By Jeppe Kleyngeld

In this age of distraction a.k.a. entertainment, a lack of time is always a factor. There are way too many great TV-shows out there to see them all, so which ones should you pick? Many are great to watch, but which ones are truly essential and epic? I assassinated my darlings and wrote down the absolute best. Before you die, you should definitely see these shows in their entirety. I calculated this will take you about 13.263 minutes of your life (or 221 hours). Trust me, it is worth every second.

1. The Sopranos
5 TV Shows - The Sopranos
The greatest drama series of all time about a small Mafia family in modern New Jersey. While ‘The Godfather’ shows the highest level of the mob hierarchy, and ‘GoodFellas’ shows us the everyday life of street level wiseguys, ‘The Sopranos’ has the psyche of the mobster as a central theme. Brilliantly complex, layered and beyond entertaining, ‘The Sopranos’ is the best thing to ever hit the small screen. With writing and a cast you can only dream off, led by the now legendary James Gandolfini, may he rest in peace.

2. Breaking Bad
5 TV Shows - Breaking Bad
A chemistry teacher with lung cancer steadily transforms into a crystal meth kingpin… and ruthless murderer. This philosophically charged odyssey through the dark corners of the human mind is an unforgettably tense and emotional rollercoaster ride. One of the rare series that is consistently brilliant throughout its running time. Absolutely unmissable.

3. I, Claudius
5 TV Shows - I, Claudius Snake
BBC-adaptation of Robert Graves novels’ about the reign of four Roman emperors: the mighty Augustus, the bloodthirsty Tiberius, the insane Caligula, and finally the wise Claudius who lived through all periods and serves as the navigator/protagonist of the mini-series. ‘I, Claudius’ is dialogue heavy and is almost completely filmed in the studio, but… the dialogues and acting are to kill for. Watching ‘I, Claudius’ is like having front row tickets for the greatest theatre in the world. Every minute you are longing for more and can’t wait to find out what will happen next. An immortal classic.

4. The Wire
5 TV Shows - The Wire
The major problems of an American city (Baltimore) experienced through all corners of society: drug dealers, police, politicians, school staff, high school kids, junkies, dock workers and media men. David Simon’s reinvention of the cop genre is a prime example of superior storytelling that – despite of all the street legends – always feel authentic and above all… human. It’s all in the game, yo.

5. Twin Peaks
5 TV Shows - Twin Peaks
David Lynch, in collaboration with writer/producer Mark Frost, captured the imagination of audiences worldwide with one of the most legendary television series to emerge in the nineties: ‘Twin Peaks’. What starts as a slightly offbeat whodunit, evolves into a complex and superbly intriguing mystery thriller. ‘Who murdered the high school beauty queen Laura Palmer?’, is the original premise. But with all sorts of supernatural stuff going on, new and bigger questions arise, such as: ‘what is the Black Lodge?’. The plot in ‘Twin Peaks’ often takes a backseat to just let the many bizarre characters interact with each other. The show often feels like a platform for all the crazy ideas that Lynch, Frost and other collaborators could come up with.

What makes the final result so great is the seamless integration of genres. With delicious black humour and countless fantasy elements such as dwarves, giants, aliens and demons, the viewer will get hooked in no time. It is constantly absorbing, even during long stretches in which basically nothing significant happens. ‘Twin Peaks’ is an endlessly fascinating show that took dramatic television into an entirely new realm.

And good news for the fans. In 1991 when the show aired, Laura Palmer made a creepy prediction:

5 TV Shows - Twin Peaks 2

So that means that in 2016? Yes, it does. ‘Twin Peaks’ will return.

De markante televisie carrière van Steven Van Zandt

Door Jeppe Kleyngeld

Hij viel me direct op in ‘The Sopranos’: Steven Van Zandt, die de memorabele rol vertolkte van Silvio Dante, Tony’s consiglieri en eigenaar van de Bada Bing stripclub. Hij had geen enkele acteerervaring toen hij werd gecast. Van Zandt was decennialang de vaste gitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band en droeg bij aan vele andere muzikale projecten voordat zijn carrière als acteur begon. Ook had hij een tijdje zijn eigen band: ‘Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul’.

Van Zandt groeide op in New Jersey, waar hij al op jonge leeftijd in bandjes ging spelen. Van 1969 tot 1971 maakte hij als gitarist deel uit van Steel Mill, een vroege band van Bruce Springsteen. In 1972 was hij betrokken bij de oprichting van de E Street Band, Springsteen’s vaste achtergrondband die gedurende het al 40 jaar durende bestaan ook voor vele andere befaamde artiesten optrad waaronder; Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Sting, The Grateful Dead, Santana, Tracy Chapman, Lady Gaga, and Aretha Franklin.

Van Zandt is van Italiaanse afkomst. Hij werd geboren als Steven Lento, maar zijn moeder hertrouwde toen hij jong was, en hij nam de achternaam van zijn stiefvader aan die een Nederlandse achtergrond heeft. Als lid van de E Street Band was de zeer muzikaal begaafde Van Zandt niet zomaar een achtergrondgitarist en zanger, maar een artiest die daadwerkelijk bij het creatieve werk betrokken was. Springsteen heeft hem zelfs credit gegeven als medebedenker van de beroemde gitaarlijn in ‘Born to Run’.

In 1997 zou de carrière van Steven een flinke wending krijgen. Sopranos-bedenker David Chase (ook een Italiaan, zijn oorspronkelijke achternaam is DeCesare) zag Van Zandt op televisie toen hij The Rascals in de Rock and Roll Hall of Fame mocht inlijven. Chase vond Van Zandt erg grappig en charismatisch. Toen zei hij tegen zijn vrouw: hem moeten we hebben voor onze show!

Steven Van Zandt 1

De twee gezichten van Stevie Van Zandt

Chase was destijds bezig ‘The Sopranos’ van de grond te krijgen en hij nodigde Van Zandt uit voor een gesprek. Deze had toevallig zelf een script geschreven waarin hij de rol zou vertolken van een nachtclubeigenaar in Atlantic City genaamd Silvio Dante. In het script was het de rol van deze Dante om bandjes te boeken voor de club. ‘Zoiets hebben we niet in onze show’, antwoorde Chase toen. ‘Maar er moet toch een manier zijn dit in de show te verwerken.’ Zo gezegd, zo gedaan en de ongewone casting van de acteur zonder acteerervaring was een feit.

Het karakter Silvio Dante is wat mij betreft de beste toevoeging aan ‘The Sopranos’ op de hoofdpersoon Tony Soprano na. En in het geval van ‘The Sopranos’ zegt dat wel wat. Van Zandt is zeker niet de beste acteur uit de show, en wat dat betreft is het goed dat de rol van Tony Soprano – waarvoor Van Zandt ook auditie deed – niet naar hem is gegaan, maar naar de briljante acteur James Gandolfini. Net zoals Silvio de tweede man is voor Tony werd Stevie dat voor James. Silvio’s uitspraak ‘Some people are better at being number two’s’ klopt dan ook als een bus.

Wat maakt Van Zandt nou zo’n goede toevoeging aan de serie? Hij heeft gewoon wat, noem het de X-factor. Zijn manier van praten, zijn ingetrokken nek, zijn humor, zijn toupet dat elk seizoen hoger lijkt te worden…. Hij is op internet wel eens omschreven als maffia karakter dat zo uit Mad Magazine is weggelopen, en dat is zeker een terechte observatie. Maar hoewel hij in de eerste seizoenen vooral als komisch bijfiguur dient, wordt zijn rol in latere seizoenen wat zwaarder en serieuzer. Vooral wanneer hij zich als brute, misogyne moordenaar ontpopt in de voorlaatste aflevering van het vijfde seizoen. Sopranos liefhebbers weten direct over welke scene ik het hier heb…

Zijn acteer carrière had gemakkelijk kunnen eindigen met het einde van ‘The Sopranos’ in 2007, maar in 2012 was daar ineens de Noorse (!) serie Lilyhammer met in de hoofdrol … jawel Good Old Stevie Van Zandt. De serie gaat over maffiabaas Frank ‘The Fixer’ Tagliano die in het getuigenbeschermingsprogramma gaat na een aanslag op zijn leven, en wordt geheralloceerd in het Noorse Lillehammer, een plaatsje dat hij kent van de Olympische Winterspelen van 1994. ‘Lilyhammer’ is de eerste exclusieve content aangeboden door Netflix.

Steven Van Zandt 2

Het is natuurlijk geen Sopranos, maar dat is geen enkele serie. Maar het is wel een komische en zeer vermakelijke show met een fantastische hoofdrol voor Van Zandt! Feitelijk speelt hij gewoon opnieuw Silvio, en daar is absoluut niks verkeerds aan. De humor zit vooral in de pogingen van de Noorse maatschappij om Tagliano te integreren in de samenleving, maar als maffiosi schrijft hij zijn eigen regels, dus verloopt het integratieproces vaker andersom. Hij opent een populaire nachtclub en weet de zaakjes prima naar zijn hand te zetten. En hij boekt ook nog de bandjes en artiesten voor de club. Dit keer wel.

Het eerste en tweede seizoen van de serie was een groot succes en onlangs werd ‘Lilyhammer’ al weer vernieuwd voor een derde ronde. Een mooie kans om nog wat langer te genieten van het komische talent van Van Zandt.