Complex TV

p. 333-334: THE SOPRANOS

Much of the motivation to understand the finale was driven by the episode’s status as a highly hyped finale, with viewers knowing full well that the series was ending and thus expecting a conclusive sense of finality or at least some closure, rather than the ambiguous and open-ended cut to black that “Made in America” delivered. It was not surprising that the final scene took place over a family meal, as the first three season of The Sopranos similarly concluded with somewhat anticlimactic moments of familial dining; what was surprising was that rather than fading to black or offering a memorable final image, the only violence portrayed was to the typical formal devices of television editing, as the midmoment cut to silent blackness felt like a violation of the medium’s norms and expectations. Since serial storytelling thrives on the gaps between episodes to encourage conversation and interpretation, the lack of a next chapter after such an unusual moment encouraged viewers to fill the lack of forthcoming storytelling and authorial explanation with their own speculations and analyses. Even though the final season of The Sopranos did not embrace metastorytelling as much as Lost and The Wire did, this final moment encouraged viewers to reassess how the narrative had led to this point and what it might mean at the level of both story and discourse.

Viewers developed a range of explanations to make sense of this unconventional ending. The most immediate reaction seems to have been an assumption of technical failure, such as broken televisions or disconnected cable; while obviously incorrect, this is also a justified reaction, as such an extreme violation of media norms leads people to assume that it was some sort of error, not a choice to intentionally break the rules. Of course, it is an intentional edit, not an arbitrary one, occurring precisely as Tony looks up to see Meadow entering the diner (presumably) and as the Journey song offers the lyrics “don’t stop” one last time. Notably, creator David Chase wanted to end the episode with 30 seconds of blackness, eliminating all credits until the final HBO bumper, but both HBO and the Directors Guild vetoed the idea of forgoing closing credits. Instead, the 10 seconds of black served as enough of a gap to create technological panic among viewers but without eliminating all vestiges of a normal episode ending. Chase’s desire to extend the black screen does suggest that the blackness signifies something, not just demarcating the end of the story—a distinction that becomes crucial for subsequent debates over the ending.

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