1) The ending of The Sopranos was ambiguous on purpose. David Chase and company did this kind of thing a lot throughout the series, leaving things open and taking hard lefts when the audience expected the show to continue barreling forward. Matthew Zoller Seitz laid out a few examples over at Vulture in his excellent take on yesterday’s events:
We spent much of season two expecting Tony to kill Richie Aprile, but his death came out of nowhere, at the hands of his abused girlfriend, Janice, and Tony discovered the identity of the rat in their crew not through careful accumulation of evidence but via a Twin Peaks–like nightmare brought on by food poisoning. The giant Russian of “Pine Barrens” would’ve gotten killed onscreen in a more conventional crime drama as the opening salvo in a mob war, but on The Sopranos he vanished and was never heard from again. Ralphie Cifaretto wasn’t punished for murdering his stripper girlfriend, Tracee. Tony killed him one season later in a fit of rage as punishment for Ralphie burning down the stable and killing Tony’s beloved horse Pie-O-My; a subsequent image of Tony sitting at a makeup table backstage at the Bada-Bing suggested a subconscious connection between his fury at the horse’s death and his despair at Tracee’s unavenged murder (that’s what the photos of other strippers on the mirror were about, perhaps), but that was as far as Chase and his writers were willing to go — and bless them for erring on the side of too little instead of too much.
The point was to make the viewer think, or at least to allow the viewer to interpret. And that’s okay. Humans have brains that are capable of rational thought, so not everything has to be a binary 1 or 0. If a creator chooses to leave something unexplained, that’s his or her choice. You are free to like it or dislike it , but you are not owed an explanation. David Chase is a smart and thoughtful dude, if not a cuddly one, so he did not come to this decision lightly, in all likelihood. He did it for a reason.
2) What you think about Tony’s fate is both the only thing that matters and something that doesn’t matter at all. By leaving things open-ended, the ball was placed very thoughtfully and carefully into the viewer’s court. If you saw all those things happen in the last few minutes and came to the conclusion that Tony got whacked and ended up face down in his onion rings, congratulations, you are right! And if you saw them all and thought maybe they implied that Tony would spend the rest of his life paying for his sins by constantly looking over his shoulder, even during a nice dinner with his family, then congratulations, you’re right, too! Both are defensible positions, and they can both be correct, because the only conclusion that matters is the one that you came to after looking at all the evidence.
There’s a flipside to that coin, though. Because the ending was ambiguous and open to interpretation, be very wary of anyone who marches into the conversation shouting a bunch of absolutes. You know these people. They’re typically very loud and very eager to tell you that it is a FACT that Tony is dead because of THE FOLLOWING REASONS and that anyone who disagrees OBVIOUSLY WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION. Generally speaking, these are people who are incapable of living with the word maybe, so they attempt to force a square peg of meaning into a round hole of reality. The worst of them are two or three steps below the type of people who read Illuminati propaganda into episodes of Boy Meets World. And here’s the craziest thing: that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just doesn’t mean they’re right, either. But calls to reason do very little good when dealing with the type of person who gets red-faced, all-caps-y angry over a work of fiction that ended over seven years ago, so it’s generally best to let them tucker themselves out then slip away while they’re catching their breath.
3) What David Chase thinks about Tony’s fate kind of doesn’t matter, either. This is basically an extension of the last point. If David Chase wanted us to know for certain if Tony lived or died, he could have put it on the screen. Because he didn’t, he opened this box, and I don’t think it would be fair to double back almost a decade later and try to shut it while telling us there was nothing to see. To his credit, he really hasn’t done this, and has taken great pains to avoid having his statements be interpreted in a way that would make people think he has. Until yesterday, that is. I don’t know exactly what happened in that coffee shop, but it appears either (a) Chase and the writer had a fundamental misunderstanding about the meaning of the words that came out of his mouth, or (b) Chase finally snapped and revealed his beliefs about the scene, only to hurriedly backtrack once the cat was out of the bag and tearing ass all over the furniture.
But even if it was that second thing (and I mean this with all due respect to David Chase and all the people at The Sopranos, who created a product I enjoyed — and continue to enjoy — greatly), who gives a sh*t? At this point what David Chase thinks about the ending is at best another figure for you to plug into your own calculations about what happened. I hope we never “find out.” It’s kind of nice having one thing that’s just floating around in the air without someone rushing to knock it out of the sky, stuff it, and hang it our walls, you know?
4) Making the finale of a beloved, overly-thinkpieced television drama does not seem very fun. I’ve made this point before, but hoo boy, do I ever not envy Matthew Weiner. The Sopranos gets killed by people who wanted closure, True Detective gets killed for tying things up too neatly. There’s no winning with some people. Hell, even Breaking Bad — which gave viewers a satisfying, mostly logical finale that was generally well-received — got ripped to pieces by some people because things wrapped up too smoothly, or because spring-loaded trunk guns don’t work that way, or because I AM SAD IT ENDED AND I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PROCESS THAT SO I AM JUST LASHING OUT WILDLY. It’s madness out here on the web. No one’s safe.
Which brings us back to Matthew Weiner and Mad Men, possibly the most thinkpieced television show of them all. (My working theory is that 80% of Mad Men‘s viewers have a WordPress account.) It’s going to be chaos when that show ends in 2015. There will be reactions across the board, then backlashes to all of those reactions, then backlashes to the backlashes of the reactions, and that will all be by Wednesday morning, just over 48 hours after the final period-appropriate song kisses us goodbye. It’s going to be awful. I vote we all go on vacation beginning at 11:04 p.m. that Sunday night. Hawaii is very pretty and many of the bars serve strong rum-based drinks with umbrellas in them. Let’s go there.
5) That said, I hope Game of Thrones ends with all the surviving characters hopping on a spaceship and returning to their home planet, Blurpeeblop 11. Be honest, that would be a little hilarious, right?