Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Forget About It

I didn’t think I would write about it, really, as so much is being said at the moment and, by and large, it’s being said rather well. But the continuing controversy doesn’t show any signs of abating, so I’m tempted to offer a few thoughts.

I haven’t seen this many people upset about a show’s last episode since The Prisoner and, frankly, they were only upset in the UK. No one here really noticed. Twin Peaks had a doozy of a finish, but it didn’t have that many viewers left to upset.

But everybody had a horse, and a theory, in this race. What’s astonishing to me is that there seems to have been so many viewers that, even after having watched season after season of a television show that made a point of playing by its own rules, somehow expected that David Chase would become a different animal entirely and capitulate when it came to the finale, delivering the trite old goods at last, perhaps some nice secondhand goods from the Houses of Scorsese and Coppola.

I’ve been sampling the reaction and although I think it’s safe to say that the positive comments outweign the negative ones, that negative club is still pretty sizable. There’s also a vocal contingent that insists on reading the end of The Sopranos in an intensely literal way (He’s dead! See that creepy guy? He whacked him! That's why the screen went black! I'm tellin' ya!), even though this theory depends on the show (as I said before) completely changing its narrative approach.

In a season that was so full of the violent and dramatic moments that many fans had complained were lacking in recent years, I suppose it wasn’t unreasonable to expect one last stinger at the end. But this had always been a show that went about its business so slowly and quietly that you didn’t realize where it was going until it got there, and then the result seemed so inevitable and perfect that you sort of sat back in awe.

Far from being the low-key letdown that many said, the last episode of The Sopranos deftly gathered up the threads it had unwound all season (or, maybe, all six seasons) as long-standing opposites finally converged and we all finally ended up in the Hell that Tony has so devoutly wished for.

The best of these may have been the revelation that Agent Harris, the FBI man who’s worked so hard these many years to put Tony away and who’s been working the anti-terrorism beat of late, is virtually the flip side of the same coin. Having him show up so frequently to pump Tony for possible terrorist info distracted us from the real story. These two like and respect each other. Towards the end and at his lowest ebb, Harris is the one person Tony can safely trust. His lifestyle turns out to be a mirror image of the mob boss’s, complete with goomah. He practically replaces Silvio as consigliere.

It may seem a little LitCrit 101 (Good and Evil wear the same tieclip! Ooh!) but in the context of The Sopranos, a program that has insisted from the beginning that there are no such things as moral absolutes, merely different degrees of corruptibility, it just enforces the general feeling of hopelessness. Thank god it does it with a sense of humor – one of the episode’s high points is when Harris, having been informed of the death of Tony’s rival Phil Leotardo, throws away his last remaining vestige of being a lawman and blurts out like a Bush/Cheney cheerleader, “Damn! We’re gonna win this thing!” Harris has stared into the abyss too long and we leave him as mad as Ahab or Kurtz. The show has never been shy about who it thinks the real crime family is and having our guy from the anti-terrorism squad unabashedly rooting for the murderer that he personally likes, babbling crazed bromides about the success of a mission he’s completely lost his moral compass on, is the program’s final parting shot.

In that sense, the series was sort of a throwback to the films of the 1970's that featured protagonists that found themselves floundering in the depths of moral ambiguity, specks in an amoral universe that no longer believed in right and wrong. If post-Watergate films like The Conversation, Night Moves, and Chinatown (which may have gotten a brief shout-out last Sunday night when Butchie found himself suddenly lost) were born out of our disillusionment with the cultural heroes of the previous generation, The Sopranos found us with amnesia once again. Feeling nostalgic for an America long gone, that Reaganesque dream of straight-shooters (no pun intended) and men's men (is it a coincidence that the ascendency of The Sopranos occurred in tandem with the rise of cigar smoking clubs and lad's mag culture?), we wanted a brute who'd read the riot act to our new touchy-feely landscape.

Who better than a gangster trying to get in touch with his feelings?

Conclusion: Tony Saw Quark’s Million Pets, or: The Infinite Googootz


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