June 15, 2007

The Sopranos Finale Explained


We meet at our regularly scheduled Monday lunch spot, and my friend says, "did you see the Sopranos finale?"  No.   "It sucked, nothing happened.  It was completely unsatisfying.  It just ended with him sitting in a diner, eating with his wife."

"What did you expect would happen?"

"I don't know, something, some closure.  Maybe he gets whacked or something."

"How did it end?"

"He's just sitting there, eating an onion ring, and Journey's playing, and suddenly it ends. Like the film  broke.  And they go right to the credits."

I had never seen an episode of the Sopranos, but I knew at that moment that Tony Soprano had died.

Before I explain, I'll tell you that last night, drunk at a hotel bar around midnight, there was The Sopranos on the TV above me.   It was the last five minutes, but I recognized it immediately from my friend's description.  Tony sitting in a booth, his wife slides in and he gives her a grunt-greeting reserved only for the most familiar of contacts-- beyond love or friendship-- then another guy comes over and joins them.

Meanwhile, suspicious characters abound-- the Member's Only jacket prominent, a signal of belonging vs. exclusion; his daughter trying to park the car-- figuring things out on her own, she'll get it eventually--  and, of course, Journey's Don't Stop Believing.

And, like my friend said, the show simply stopped.  The bar I was in had been silent-- but a collective groan arose when the credits rolled.  Everyone hated it.

I was right.  He was dead. 

I knew he had died because I knew my friend.  He is a human being living in our times, possessing an element of natural narcissism common to all of us.   Remember, the narcissist believes he is the main character in his movie.  This is why they-- we-- have such trouble with death.  In any movie or show, even when the main character dies, the movie continues (the movie never ends/it goes on and on and on and on). It is still about him-- you see the reactions of other people to his death, you see consequences.  

But in reality, when you die, it ends.  There's no more; you don't get to see the reactions of other people to your death. You don't get to do anything.

I knew Tony Soprano was dead because it was too abrupt, too final, for my friend, and for everyone in that bar.  There was no denouement, there was no winding down, no debriefing, no resolution.  Not even a struggle for survival-- at least let him draw his gun! No death on your terms.  And, most importantly, the death didn't seem to flow logically from the show.   The death made no sense, it was arbitrary.  It was unsatisfying.

In other words, it was too real. 

We all have an element of essential narcissism in us, that's part of having an identity.  But it alters our relationship to death. We want it to flow logically from our lives, and most of the time it does.  But sometimes it doesn't.  Except for heroes and suicides, no one gets to choose the time and place of their death, nor the manner.  Nor can we control people's reactions to our death.  

All we can do is choose the life we leave behind.  Choose.