We’ve had 11 years to deal with the finale of The Sopranos, 11 years to deal with the fact the greatest bunch of bad guys will never grace our screens together again, 11 years of a void left by David Chase, James Gandolfini, Edie Falco and a whole host of others who touched our lives over the course of six seasons.
The Sopranos was, and still is, the greatest gift we’ve had to grace our television screens – and today, June 10, marks 11 years since the final episode was aired.
It wouldn’t be fair to describe it simply as a crime saga – the show gave us so much more! It gave us characters we became invested in, characters who all resembled parts of our personalities, a giant New Jersey family who we felt like were our own.
It was an inspiring, terrifying, eye-opening, beautiful piece of art, which I don’t think television has come close to replicating since!
David Chase’s creation made anything seem possible. The Sopranos explored every issue we could deal with in life and broke barriers for how much you could get away with on the small screen. We had rape, suicide, love, drug taking, mental health issues, infidelity, violence…
I heard David Chase say one time, that it’s about people who lie to themselves, as we all do. Lying to ourselves on a daily basis and the mess it creates.
A quote from the late, genius, James Gandolfini, speaking to Rolling Stone in 2001 – he hit the nail on the head. We empathised with these brutes and the characters because we were always dragged back into their human-side.
Gandolfini was magical in his role as Mob boss Tony Soprano – anyone with an appreciation for drama could tell you that.
He was the perfect American-Italian anti-hero, and his portrayal of a father, husband, lover, friend, uncle, patient, and last but not least, boss of a group of gangsters we couldn’t help but fall in love with, made him one of the greatest actors of our generation.
Without Gandolfini’s perfect blend of slow-burning intensity, it wouldn’t have been possible to bring Tony’s angst and demeanour to life.
I could spend a month talking about Tony Soprano – like any piece of great literature, discussing the complexities of the character just makes him more fascinating and you realise just how prestigious his acting was.
Of course, those around him all played their part too. Edie Falco, playing Mrs Carmella Soprano was another stand out role. As an invested viewer, we wanted to shake her, befriend her and tell her she could escape and find happiness.
However, life isn’t black and white, The Sopranos taught us that. We couldn’t help but empathise when, she forgave Tony for his infidelities – wanting to put her family first, when she became the ‘bad’ parent for her regular rows with AJ and Meadow, when she longed for happiness with Tony’s newest recruit, Furio.
The Sopranos never felt like ‘this is the movies’, and everything would work out, or we’d have a black and white conclusion. We were thrown around at every twist and turn of the plot, unravelling with emotion every time we had to deal with the unexpected.
Even when we knew what was coming – like the death of everyone’s favourite girlfriend, Adriana La Cerva – it was particularly poignant. We’d been rooting for her. She’d helped ‘Chris-to-pher’ so much.
She was a good girl, she just confided in the wrong New Jersey girl, who happened to be an FBI agent! Her death was upsetting and horrific and yet perfect. No matter how much we loved her, she was a rat, and rats got whacked.
I used to think great actors could make a poor script work, or a great script could be ruined by poor actors, and while that’s true to an extent, with The Sopranos, you could never tell whether one out performed the other.
David Chase and the rest of the writers were able to get inside our head, they created characters we felt we’d known all of our lives and characters we resonated with.
Like our friends in real life, we forgave bad behaviour at times, we made excuses, we loved hard, we laughed harder, we understood deep rooted issues and never held it against them.
Each one of the characters Chase created had a side to them we liked – even Ralph Cifaretto – I thought I hated him, and then when his child got injured in the backyard, you quickly felt his pain and realised he was capable of caring.
Any scene with Dr Melfi, (played by the amazing Lorraine Bracco) and Tony, showed us, regardless of what’s on the surface, we never really know what’s going on deep down with someone.
Tony couldn’t be truly honest with her most of the time, was that just Tony or was he so deeply troubled he couldn’t confide about anything to anyone, regardless of the fact he knew she couldn’t ‘rat him out’.
The scenes with the two of them, sat in chairs, a short distance opposite one another, were intense and frank, and yet we still had glimpses of Tony’s deceitfulness and fondness for women.
But with Gandolfini, Falcao, and the rest of the incredible cast, they brought these characters to life. If you’ve gone back and watched the series over and over, you’ll realise no one else could EVER play those characters.
Never have I seen a television show or film where so many pieces slot together perfectly, to the point where you felt you knew these people inside and out – a piece of work which shaped and changed our cultural landscape – a series which changed TV for the better, paving the way for a new generation of talented actors and writers.
Chase had a vision and an ambition not seen before across television. Many believe if it weren’t for The Sopranos, we wouldn’t have the acclaimed series’ such as Breaking Bad and The Wire, which came after. Although I don’t believe either came close!
But all the writing and acting, not to mention the directing, went to places TV had never reached before.
There were so many stand out moments and episodes throughout the six seasons of The Sopranos, I could easily compile a Top 30 – Paulie and Christopher getting lost in the freezing cold woods, Adriana’s confession to Chris about the FBI, her subsequent death, Pussy getting ‘whacked’ in season two.
It all played a part though in proving that sense of danger, fear and unpredictability was a constant throughout the show. You were always on edge watching – loyalties flip like a light switch, beloved characters get ‘whacked’ before you can say the word cannoli!
Even when you relaxed, and tried to switch off, something would ‘pull me back in’ (Silvio’s impression). This was Chase’s creative peak and being able to do that to the viewer throughout every episode, is an incredible feat – one I don’t think we’ll see again.
The broken and much-loved characters have stayed with us. I know fans will resonate with me when I say I’ve been lost in thought about them all since the show has ended.
What did Meadow do with her life? Did she become a female mob boss (like we saw in Italy), or did she pursue her academics and become a doctor?
What about Carmella, did she ever run away to Italy (which she’d longed to do) and eventually cross paths with Furio?
Is the Russian still in the woods, did he find his way out safely and was he plotting revenge?
And yet, here we are, 11 years on from when it all faded to black in a Jersey diner, the jukebox playing Don’t Stop Believin’ – a song which will always haut me in rememberance of Tony’s death.
I don’t believe there’s been such a controversial ending to a show – one even I admit took me a while to get to grips with.
Before I get into it though, I must say one thing, if you feel the ending didn’t do it justice, then you didn’t understand The Sopranos.
Would it have been better to see Tony lying on the floor with an array of bullet holes causing him to bleed to death?
Would it have been worth it, after six, heart-enduring series’ to have the happily ever after ending, with Tony sat in his house in his dressing gown, eating ice cream with AJ while a movie played in the background?
No, of course it wouldn’t! The ending was perfect! For everything we loved about The Sopranos, the ending showed us the in some pain-stakingly tough minutes of television.
Even when I rewatch it, the minute I see the diner, my palpitations start.
No, you don’t get to find out if Tony is dead, or merely living on in a state of paranoia, or even whether someone else ended up in the firing line?
As stated earlier, The Sopranos taught us there is no black and white in life, it has its grey parts too.
The ending had no conclusive answer, no lessons learned, it was blunt, unexpected, bizarre – much like the series from start to finish!
Upon first viewing, I genuinely thought my dvd player had broke, I tried again. This time, I got the same – I went to google in a desperate search for someone to tell me what exactly the ending was all about!
I spent weeks reading about The Sopranos – the actors, the writers, David Chase himself, and I remember an interview with James Gandolfini which seemed to resonate with me and come to appreciate the cryptic piece of work. Maybe it was because of the love I had for both James and his character Tony?
Speaking to Vanity Fair he said:
When I first saw the ending, I said, ‘What the f*ck?’ I mean, after all I went through, all this death, and then it’s over like that?
After I had a day to sleep, I just sat there and said, ‘That’s perfect.’
11 years on, people are still talking about this ending. 11 years on, people are STILL talking about the show, and they’re rewatching it. If that’s not a testament to how great it was, I don’t know what is?
Following the death of James Gandolfini on June 19, 2013, at the age of 51, it was hard to handle the news.
I never proclaimed to be the biggest fan of his work, nor did I know him personally, but following what I’d been through with The Sopranos, he’d made me feel like I knew him, and I was upset and angry that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate him in anything else again.
Similarly to when we lose music legends – like Bowie and Prince – we hurt because we believe they’ve had such an impact on our lives.
I felt like I’d spent a considerable amount of my time with Tony Soprano, I’d invested so much time and emotion into him – Gandolfini couldn’t just die.
But then I smile and remember, like all the greats, they leave their work behind.
Fading to black isn’t the true ending for The Sopranos and it’s definitely not the ending for James Gandolfini.
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