Spoiler alert: Tony Soprano swims with the fishesApril 9, 2019
By SCOTT SAALMAN
I re-watched The Sopranos. All 86 episodes. My biggest binge. Just like last decade when it aired, I couldn’t get enough Tony Soprano.
I knew I was in way too deep the second time around when:
• My body ached from too much reclining.
• Waking, I’d automatically hear the theme song in my head, “Well, you woke up this morning, got yourself a gun…” I don’t even own a gun.
• I frequently felt a curved lower lip frown form on my face, à la Silvio Dante.
• I wondered what I would look like with Paulie Walnuts’ silver wing hairstyle.
• I said “whaddya gonna do?” a lot, even when the situation at hand wasn’t hopeless enough to merit such response.
“Scott, the toilet is still running.”
“Whaddya gonna do?”
“Well, you could do what you normally do, jiggle the damn handle.”
“I’m watching The Sopranos. Just shoot the toilet with my gun. That’ll fix it.”
“You don’t own a gun.”
“Whaddya gonna do?”
• For three weeks, instead of writing a column, I watched more episodes. When I finally did write, guess what the subject was? Yep. You’re reading it now.
The Sopranos ended 12 years ago but remains the best series ever made. I enjoyed it even more viewing it a second time. During the final episode, I recalled the frustration I felt in 2007 when the TV screen abruptly cut to black and left viewers in the dark over what was about to go down—if anything—during the tense final scene at Holsten’s diner.
Was Tony shot? Or was this a happily-ever-after ending (if there even was such a thing for a gangster)?
Final episode spoiler alert:
• With only about five minutes left in the final episode, mob boss Tony, wife Carmela, and son Anthony Jr. sit at a booth, snack on onion rings, and await Meadow.
• Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ plays from a jukebox. Nothing bad can happen when a song that exudes this much optimism is the soundtrack. The Sopranos is going to have a happy ending, I think.
• A table of Boy Scouts sits nearby. No one is going to get whacked in front a trio of innocent Boy Scouts, I think. But then I recall that the Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” causing me to wonder, “Are we actually being foretold that Tony has let his guard down and is not ‘prepared’ for what’s about to happen to him?”
• Every time the bell above the door announces someone’s arrival, Tony glances up, as if he’s on edge
• A guy in a Members Only jacket enters. He sits at the counter and occasionally glances Tony’s way, like he’s calculating a future bullet’s trajectory. There’s way too much emphasis on Members Only Guy, I think. Still, Journey plays on.
• Members Only Guy prematurely rises and heads to the men’s room, conjuring in my mind the restaurant scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone rises from his table and heads to the men’s room to retrieve a handgun taped behind the toilet tank. Corleone returns and shoots the two men at his table. Members Only Guy is going to pull a Corleone on Tony, I think. But no one can get whacked during Don’t Stop Believin’, I remind myself.
• Meadow, after successfully parallel parking, hurriedly crosses the street. She reaches the diner’s entrance and is about to be the eighth person to enter since Tony has arrived. The bell rings. Tony glances up just as Steve Perry sings “Don’t stop…” The TV screen abruptly goes black. All is silent as the credits roll.
Originally, I felt abandoned by the show’s makers due to the ambiguity of Tony Soprano’s fate. Eighty-six ass-numbing hours and this is how it ends? Is Tony dead? Is Tony alive?
Since the ending lacked closure, it triggered controversy and complaints. The Internet became so populated with theories on the ending’s meaning that a college course could revolve around it.
In 2007, I took the optimistic route: Tony lived. Mainly because I didn’t stop believing that there would be a big-screen follow-up with James Gandolfini returning as Tony. It would undoubtedly sell a lot of movie tickets. David Chase was no dummy. But sadly, Gandolfini died six years later. There was no way another actor could play Tony in a Sopranos film. Tony Soprano died with James Gandolfini.
With the actor’s death weighing heavily on my mind while re-watching The Sopranos this year, it became easier to imagine Tony’s demise at Holsten’s: Members Only Guy returns from the restroom. It is a clean, calculated shot to the temple. No one else is hurt. Members Only Guy drops the gun, brushes by a stunned Meadow, and disappears among the “street light people” on a dark Jersey night. The last words Tony hears: Don’t Stop. The smell on his final breath: onions.
Yes, Tony Soprano swims with the fishes. I have stopped believing otherwise.
Whaddya gonna do?
Stories and Songs #4, featuring Debbie Schuetter, Kyle Lueken and Scott, will take place 6:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 18, at Jasper Public Library. No charge.
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