Sopranos: Onion Rings and Loose Ends


by Mike MacLean

If you haven’t heard about the Soprano’s finale perhaps you should crawl out of that cave you’re living in for a little sunlight.  For you, my pasty skinned friends, I respectfully offer this SPOILER ALERT.

The whole season, I’d anxiously waited to find out Tony’s fate.  Would he end up in prison?  The grave?  Maybe he’d wind up in a white-bread suburb somewhere, a guest of the witness protection agency.  Sunday night all my questions would be answered.  I couldn’t wait.

As the final minutes ticked off, the tension was masterfully brought to slow boil—impending doom contrasted brilliantly with cheesy 70s arena rock.  Then the music cut out and the screen went to black.

Instantly, I fell into the stages of grief.  Shock.  ANGER!  Despair.  I didn’t make it to acceptance.  Perhaps I never will. 

Love or hate it, you can’t deny the final episode was something to talk about.  For me, it sparked questions about the nature of storytelling and the responsibilities of the storyteller.Emmyhboptys1

I’m not someone who needs to be spoon-fed his fiction.  Writers don’t need to provide all the answers.  It’s far more gratifying to interpret and speculate.  Why were there so many oranges in film version of The Godfather?  Why does Hannibal Lecter really agree to help Clarice?  What’s with Hemmingway and the bulls?    

And the Sopranos finale surely created a buzz of speculation.  It brought the audience into the creative process, allowing them fill in their own blanks and to create their own ending. 

Was this a brilliant, thought-provoking move, or was it a cop out?

I’d like to don my artsy-fartsy, literary cap and vote brilliant.  But the storyteller in me leans towards cop out.   

David Chase is obviously a fantastic writer who has given us a groundbreaking show.  After several remarkable seasons, he must have faced tremendous pressure to create a fitting ending.  In the end, he didn’t do his job.  He brought us to the edge of our seats, made us sweat, and then failed to finish the story. 

070606p9_2 You might say it was a bold, artistic move on Chase’s part, but I wonder if fear didn’t rear it’s ugly head.  Tony’s final chapter couldn’t live up to expectations, so he put the burden on us, the viewers.

Of course, that’s just my opinion.  And you know what they say about opinions.  Whatever the case, I still thank Chase and HBO for a great show that raised the bar for TV storytelling.    

So I ask you murder fans, what did you think of the ending?  Would you have written it differently?  And of course, what do you think was Tony’s fate?          

17 thoughts on “Sopranos: Onion Rings and Loose Ends

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    The discussion about this ending on my screenwriter board has been HILARIOUS – people are parsing the episode for clues as if it’s a lost book of the Bible.

    As an on-off watcher of SOPRANOS (sorry, grew up sort of around San Francisco Mafiosos and despite GREAT writing can’t work up a convincing interest in the subculture…) I still had to watch the final episode. I think it’s a pretty good Lady and the Tiger ending, with one clear question for the audience to decide for themselves: Does Tony get to transcend his Mafia background and go forward with the All-American life, or does he get whacked? He’s sitting in a diner with his family, he’s chosen Journey over Bennett, and onion rings over… (some Italian thing, I’m bad with food), and maybe that’s his salvation.

    But that Godfather bathroom reference was the deciding factor for me. Tony doesn’t get his happy ending – because, to be perfectly blunt, he doesn’t deserve it. Karma, and all.

    Better luck next life, Mr. Soprano.

    Like the ending or hate it, you’ve got to admit it was art enough to inspire perfectly rabid discussions.

  2. pari

    Hey, Mike,I’m one of the cave-dwellers — only have cable for dopes — and, from your post, I don’t really know what happened.

    But, it sounds like even the most staunch viewers felt the same way . . .

    Do writers have a responsiblity to their audience? Yes, to tell a good story well.

    Satisfyinging endings are only guaranteed in certain subgenres (who has ever heard of a noir romance?) — but from the few SOPRANOS shows I’ve seen, it sounds as if this ending was totally in keeping with the story; there was so much ambivalence– especially in Tony himself — why wouldn’t the series end on the same note?

    Brilliant? Cop-out? I don’t know.

    Consistent? Yeah, it sounds like it.

  3. billie

    If basic cable is cave-dweller, then I’m living deep in the earth’s core, since we have nothing but Netflix and I’ve never seen a Sopranos episode.

    But. The series has been recommended a number of times b/c of the quality of the writing and the therapist character, so… eventually one day I’ll get around to it on Netflix.

    I’m intrigued with the question about the ending, nevertheless. I have read books where I felt cheated by the ending and it’s very frustrating. I guess if a reader buys into the book enough to get angry at the ending the author has been successful on at least one level.

  4. J.D. Rhoades

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I thought it was a big “fuck you” to the audience, as if producer David Chase was Lucy with the football and the audience was Charlie Brown. “Ha ha! Screw your predictions! Screw your expectations! Up in the air you go!”

    I’ll say this, though: that final scene needs to be shown in film schools as an example of building suspense through editing. It’s really amazing how even the most mundane details can be made into something sinister and threatening.

  5. Mike MacLean


    I’m probably more on the fence about the ending than my post would imply. I hadn’t thought of the onion rings over Italian food symbolism (which is pretty damn brilliant). And the show has sparked much conversation and debate, which means tit has hit a nerve with the public.

    However, I wonder about the Chase’s motivation. It feels like he’s jerking us around a bit, but maybe that’s not the worse thing a writer can do.

    I guess I wanted a little bit of Scarface in my ending.

    Pari and Billie,

    Hey… you guys didn’t take offense at the whole “cave dweller” comment, did you? Some of my best friends are cave dwellers.


    “I guess if a reader buys into the book enough to get angry at the ending the author has been successful on at least one level.” This describes the show to a T. I felt frustrated but couldn’t complain too loudly, because I loved the show for what it was.

    Thanks Pari,

    Schlocky holiday or no, I’m taking advantage of it.

  6. Rae

    I thought the ending was brilliant. Every single story arc in every season of The Sopranos was just drenched in ambivalence, so to have a neat, pat ending would have sounded such a false note….at least, that’s the way I saw it.

    As to Tony’s fate, I think he got up the next day, and kept on keepin’ on.

  7. Mike MacLean


    Lucy with the football is a great analogy (I always cringed watching Peanuts when that part came on). Like I said before, I felt jerked around. But is that such a horrible thing for a writer to do? I think it becomes a question of motivation. Why did Chase decide to end it like that?

    And you’re right about the suspense in that scene. It was an amazing job.

  8. JT Ellison

    Hi all.I never really got into the Sopranos, but have followed the discussions with interest. Chris Grabenstein posted to DorothyL a different interpretation of the ending that I think should be tossed in the mix.

    He noted that in Season 2, Tony was talking about what he thought it would be like getting whacked. (I’m paraphrasing) He said you wouldn’t feel or do anything, everything would just go black.

    Sounds to me like Tony DID get whacked and the writer was being true to an earlier set up.

    I do think you owe your readers/watchers some sort of conclusion, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a tidy, pat resolution.

  9. Bill Peschel

    Chase didn’t have an ending, didn’t want one, and chose flash over the story.

    Also, he wanted the option for a movie deal when his other films tank.

    The interpretations are interesting and worth chewing over, but in the end, it was up to Chase to provide the ending.

    Think of the alternative ways of ending the story. If Tony dies, it could have ranged in tone from a shoot-out to the sound of a shot to the near-quiet sound of a gun being unholstered. Anything that would clue what would happen next.

    If Tony lives, but constantly haunted by the thought that a bullet could come at any time, Chase could have pulled back the camera on the family.

    Chase chose not to choose. You’re left chasing shadows, because at no time is there a direct clue that a hitman is anywhere in the area.

    (I’m not sure if this is true, but I’ll throw it in anyway: If there’s a hit man after Tony, how did he know that they would be at that restaurant?)

    Anyway, the point is that it’s too easy to think of “The Sopranos” as real life and treating it as such (this is where all the searching for clues comes from). It’s not: it’s a story, told by David Chase. Look at what he chose to give us.

    He chose notoriety over storytelling. He sunk his series for the money.

  10. Elaine Flinn

    As probably the only Italian-American among you – (except for J.T.-but she’s too young) I guess I’ll have to let you in on a little secret about what I think Chase’s ending meant.

    Well, maybe not.

  11. Mike MacLean


    I might’ve remembered that line from the show if I hadn’t had to wait TWO FRIGGIN’ YEARS BETWEEN SEASONS!!!


    Well said. Thanks for dropping in.


    Very funny.

    If you’re correct, and an Italian-American can only truly understand the finale, then I REALLY dislike Chase. You can’t spend several years telling me a story only to get to the end and say, “but you wouldn’t understand.” Like JD said, that’s a total “fuck you” to the audience.


    I believe there is a special place in hell for critics who spoil endings. That being said, word about the Sopranos is everywhere.

    Good luck trying to avoid it.

  12. Carol Baier

    I’ve seen every episode, and while the abrupt switch to a black screen just about shocked me off the couch, I didn’t feel cheated. As others have pointed out, that series was always the soul of ambiguity. I’m with the “It’s art, dammit” and Tony wants ice water crowd, but if Chase meant he lives on, in ever increasing paranoia, I can buy that, too.

    Elaine, I have an Italian friend who can’t make up her mind about the ending. What do you know that she doesn’t? Is your maiden name Chase?


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