Explaining The Sopranos' final scene

Feature Jamie Andrew 6 Sep 2013 - 07:02

In the first of a new series, Jamie analyses what really happened in The Sopranos' final scene, and what it meant for Tony Soprano...

Warning: contains (as you'd imagine) major spoilers for The Sopranos.

As is said with JFK, no American will ever forget where they were, or what they were doing, when Tony Soprano was shot. Recall is easier in the case of Tony, as every single witness was doing exactly the same thing at the time of his assassination: getting ready to kick their TVs into a million pieces. 

The strange thing is that little of the raw emotion stirred up by the finale was connected with the actual assassination of Tony Soprano. Hardly anyone flinched, raged, gasped or wept for the terminated Don. Do you know why? Because hardly anyone - myself included - even knew that it had happened. Over a million witnesses to a murder, and not one of them could give a credible statement or offer reliable testimony. Now that, my friends, is the definition of a perfect mafia hit. It begs the question, though: if a mafia boss falls in a diner, and no-one is around to see it - or even hear it - does it make him dead? 

He's dead? Really?


Let's just remind ourselves how - to use street parlance - the final scene of The Sopranos 'went down': Tony arrives at the diner, and selects Journey's Don't Stop Believing from the juke-box console at his table. One by one, the other members of his immediate family arrive - except for Meadow - and they start to eat onion rings and indulge in small talk. Meadow's a bit late, and seems to be having trouble parking her car. Just as Meadow reaches the diner's door and pushes it open, Tony looks up and... blackness. Show over.    

When David Chase, The Sopranos' creator and guiding force, decided to end his magnum opus with that sudden cut to black, and then allowed that blackness to linger for ten agonising seconds, he convinced millions of HBO subscribers across the continent that their TV sets had committed electronic hara-kiri, or else their signal had cut out at the worst possible moment. It quickly dawned on them, once the end credits started rolling, that not only were their sets and signals in perfect working order, but also that this was the ending David Chase had intended. This was the ending... This was the ending? Americans stared slack-jawed at their screens - initially too stunned to be angry - wondering if the invisible middle-finger of David Chase had been pointing towards them through the darkness of those final seconds. And then, for the second time in as many minutes, they got ready to kick their TVs into a million pieces. 

It took me a while to realise that Tony was a goner. Even still, at the time of first viewing I wasn't one of those inspired to mete out toe-in-the-TV justice on account of the ending. I trusted David Chase so implicitly that even though I didn't - at the time - fully comprehend what he'd constructed, I knew he'd perpetrated an act of genius. Ordinarily it's rational thought that shapes my outlook on life, but there's something of the dark, Darth Jesus about David Chase that inspires yours truly, an avowed atheist and secularist, to submit to the blind faith of worship. Truth is, The Sopranos could have ended with Tony turning to the camera and spitting directly into the viewer’s face, and I would have commended Chase on the depths of his artistic vision. 

Perhaps to introduce the concept of 'blind faith' is to indulge in hyperbole, because I trusted Chase with good reason; he was my shepherd, and he never left me wanting. The Sopranos was so deliciously bold, fresh, funny, complex and authentic that, for me, it rendered most other dramas on television unwatchable. This show - that had so honestly and meticulously deconstructed man, society, psychiatry, family, America, anger, love, death, life, guilt and hate - would never, and could never, end with a 'fuck you' to its audience. And it didn't. There's no Da Vinci Code at work here, people. You won't have to quest for ancient manuscripts or spend a few months repelling mad monks in order to see the bullet-shaped truth of The Sopranos' final scene. It's more like a Magic Eye drawing. 'It's all there,' as David Chase himself said of the finale. Tony Soprano was shot. You just have to concentrate to bring it all into focus.

It goes on, and on, and on, and on?


'You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?' Bobby Baccala 

Being something of a moron, I initially believed that the final scene and its cut to black signified that Tony's life would go on, and on, and on, and on, but he'd be forever cursed to see a bullet or a set of handcuffs on the periphery of every moment. In a sense, I wrote my own ending. Which is insane. Why would a writer of Chase's calibre need me to write his ending for him? 

I'm now embarrassed ever to have considered that explanation. We already knew Tony spent his life looking over his shoulder. He'd been arrested multiple times, and had a gun charge hanging over him that wouldn't go away. Many of his guys had flipped. Some had been seduced by the allure of Johnny Sack's former family in New York. People had tried to kill him. Carmela herself gave voice to this anxiety in the episode Chasing It, when she said to Tony, "I worry, I do. You already got shot. Now you won't even go down to get the paper. Who is out there? What are the million other possiblities? The FBI waiting to take you away? You eat, you play, and you pretend there isn't a giant piano hanging by a rope just over the top of your head every minute of every day." It's an insult to believe that Chase would've summed up his entire series with a sentiment already expressed by one of the show's main characters only a few episodes prior to the finale. (It's also worth noting that Chase already knew the exact ending he wanted three years before it was shot - if you'll pardon the expression.) Besides, Chase ending The Sopranos with the message that mafia boss Tony has to stay on his guard would be like Vince Gilligan ending Breaking Bad with the message 'cancer's not very nice.'  

What really happened

"Tony was dealing in mortality every day. He was dishing out life and death. And he was not happy. All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away. And I think people did get it, it made them upset emotionally, but intellectually they didn't follow it. And that could very well be bad execution." David Chase, on The Sopranos' finale, Dec 2012 

There is an article online called 'The Sopranos: Definitive Explanation of "The END"' that reads like a university dissertation. The author is clearly a massive fan of The Sopranos, and provides an analysis of the ending so thorough that it would probably take less time to watch the entire box-set of the series than it would to read the staggering dissection from start to finish. This was the tome that opened my eyes to Chase's master-stroke. Once I'd absorbed this interpretation, no other interpretation made sense, and I kicked myself for being blind to its genius and logic. In the concluding section of this feature I'm going to distil its main points, while adding a little of my own flourish. Think of it as me standing on the shoulders of giants - those of Chase, and those of the insightful blog author - all the better to spread the revelations of my Sopranos' sermon.  

So let's revisit the final scene one more time, and this time add some flesh to the synopsis... 

Tony sits in his booth, looking resigned and lethargic. He's less the vigilant mob boss and more just another regular Joe; one of a million over-weight, middle-class, middle-aged men sitting in diners up and down the country waiting for the twin comforts of onion rings and family. There are pictures arranged on the wall behind Tony that serve as a sly wink to the audience, particularly the one of the old mansion house that looks eerily similar to the one from his own near-death coma dreams. Tony selects Journey's Don't Stop Believing from the jukebox.

Here's where Chase starts to get clever. Each time the diner's door opens, its bell rings and we see Tony looking up in the direction of the noise. In the following shot we see whomever's coming through the door from Tony's point of view - or through his eyes, if you like. The bell establishes a pattern of shots and elicits from us a Pavlovian response. We learn to anticipate the sequence: the bell rings, Tony looks up, and we know that whatever immediately follows those raised, expectant eyebrows is whatever Tony is seeing at that exact second. Ding, raised brows, eyes, ding, raised brows, eyes.

Carmela arrives first, followed by AJ, and all around them, as they sit at their booth, dance the phantoms of Tony's past: guys who look like guys who've tried to kill Tony; guys who look like guys Tony has killed. We know something's wrong, but we don't know what. The entire scene is a rising, silent scream of tension. Every moment and movement is pregnant with dread. We know - we just know - that something big - something bad - is going to happen. These are, after all, the dying minutes of the final scene, of the final episode, of the final season. This is it... Tick, tick, tick. Ding, raised brows, eyes. Tick tick tick.

 Another man enters the diner at the same time as AJ; a rather twitchy guy in a Members' Only jacket, of the kind favoured by the late Eugene Pontecorvo. He perches himself at the bar, and steals a shifty glance back and sideways in Tony's direction, obviously taking a keen interest in the don's seating arrangements. The man then gets up from the bar and walks past Tony's table towards the bathroom, and as he does so the camera follows him with a tracking shot - the only such shot in the scene. This is Chase's way of saying: 'Watch this guy. I wouldn't be imbuing him with this much significance if he was just going for a piss.'  Besides, The Godfather has taught us how dangerous it can be when a connected man visits the bathroom in a diner. 

Meadow's botched attempts at parallel parking outside the diner are also significant by virtue of their very inclusion in the scene. I don't believe David Chase wanted to use his show's closing seconds to comment on how shit women are at parking. "The Sopranos final scene was great, wasn't it? Hey, remember when that guy went for a piss, and then the chick couldn't park her car properly, and then Tony fell asleep at the table?" I think not. 

Even though I didn't 'get' the ending at first - and mistakenly believed in the 'life goes on' interpretation - Meadow's lateness always played on my mind. I knew there was something more to it. And, boy, there was. Take a look back at that tracking shot, and notice where Meadow would have been sitting had she arrived at the diner on time.  Also bear in mind Tony's words to Carmela in the previous episode: "Families don't get touched, you know that." Think about the line of sight the Members' Only guy will have upon returning from the bathroom, with Meadow out of the picture.       

Meadow finishes parking, and we see her dashing towards the diner. Any second now we know she's going to push through that door, and the ding, raised brow, eyes sequence is going to repeat itself. So when that bell dings - or perhaps tolls - for the final time, and we see Tony's eyebrows and then... nothing... nothing... we're forced to conclude that this 'nothing' is what Tony is seeing at that exact moment. And under what circumstances other than death would a man's point of view change so swiftly and unexpectedly to nothing? To blackness?

Tony is dead, my friends: as surely as is the great man who played him.    

Chase did it his way - the only way

In season four, Tony has a conversation with Dr Melfi in which he sums up the problem that must have faced David Chase as he contemplated the final episode: "There's two endings for a guy like me. Dead or in the can. Big percent of the time." In fact, those two scenarios were the only viable options open to Chase, and he knew it. 

So what could Chase do? If The Sopranos had ended with a jail cell door clunking shut on Tony, we, the audience, would have reacted with a shrug. "Oh, the boss of a criminal organisation has ended up in jail. What an unexpected and clever twist." How about dead? Sure, it would have been exciting and horrifying in equal measure for Tony go down in a hail of bullets, but as endings go it wouldn't have been particularly satisfying or original. Like junk food, it would have sated us for precisely ten seconds, and then we would have been left feeling sick and bloated. Besides, the bloody violence of such an act would've sent a mixed message to those of us who'd let Tony under our skins for the best part of a decade. Instead, the sudden and bleak finality of that lingering darkness forced us to contemplate the fragility of life, and the ubiquity of death. How, in the end, maybe it's only the moment that matters. Or maybe the little moments... that were good. I don't know. Perhaps Livia Soprano was right, and it really is "all a big nothing". The Sopranos, like life itself, takes more delight in raising questions than giving answers.  

But there's no question about the meaning of those final seconds. We - the viewer, the fan - got to do what we had always done - what we'd always loved doing - over the course of six glorious seasons: see the world through Tony Soprano's eyes.

Just a little more literally - and finally - this time.

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My point was to contradict above, the sneaky hitman theory. Very few hits in the Sopranos are sneaky kills. And really with everything that had just happened do you not think Tony would be not on guard. Tony is always on guard, always watching. Remember the scene with John Sacrimoni when the FBI comes to his house, it almost like he has a 6th sense for trouble. Why after all those seasons would that ability just disappear? Time and time again we see how smart he is, both street smart and intellectually. The argument about Meadow equally as weak, she is always like that, having difficulty with action/cumbersome. Nothing ever goes smoothly, for Meadow. Her relationship with Noah Tannenbaum was riddled with bumps. She ended up going to Columbia and ended up with a dysfunctional room mate.

It's difficult to guard against something you aren't anticipating in that particular moment. By creeping up on him, Tony (and anyone else) had no time to react to or spot the gunman. The fact that Tony may have been anticipating a hit makes it all the more likely something more subtle was needed.

Additionally for those thinking it was a panic attack they should look
to the season two episode where Tony is brought to the point of passing
out through his interactions with Richie Aprile. It is a defining POV
shot from Tony in the country club and we see Tonys experience of a
panic attack entirely from his perspective. Shakey camera, blurred
ditorted vision, culminating in him to keel over. Im not sure if chase
envisioned the exact ending that we eventually saw, as early on as
season two, but that is the only time we experienc ea panic attack from
his point of view as far as I remember and that aint what we saw in the
cut to black.

We are going to disagree on this one, because I think just the opposite and that is my point, he is always anticipating, his guard is never down. He is always watching. The theory of the bell mentioned above, that would happen to any of us, most humans look up when someone comes in and the bell makes it even more obvious. And the bell reinforces the concept that he will always be watching and it will never end. He can never let his guard down, ever.

I thought about something else. There is no actual hit shown for a reason, David Chase was obviously very conflicted about the ending, he knew 2 main theories would emerge, the life of danger goes on, or Tony dies. He did not show it because deep down he could not do it, he could not kill Tony. Would you be able to kill off the most important character you ever created?

In that scene he's fairly relaxed but, as you say, he's always watching the entrance. It is unfortunate that the shooter approaches from the place he's not watching. As Chase said about the final scene "All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away."

I just watched the final scene again, the bathroom is not behind him. And there is a short hallway. That would be definitely in his peripheral vision, and would give him time to react. Again I just do not think David Chase could kill a character that made him who he is.

I think we will have to agree to disagree. While the bathroom isn't directly behind him, it is behind him and to his right. I don't believe this area is in his vision especially as it is made quite explicit that he is watching the front entrance closely. David Chase hasn't given us a specific breakdown of the scene, but bearing mind his comments on it (such as the line I quoted above) which quite clearly indicate that Tony is killed, I often wonder why someone would be invested in a alternative explanation.

Personally, I thought it was quite interesting how easily he was killed. But I think that is also part of Chase's point in the fragility of life.

Good points, and good chat.

strangely i had a memory of the last show of him lying on the street having been shot. but that never happened... right? what a show. i watched occasionally and mostly love the shots of new jersey... his soft backyard. the forgotten streets. the guys were gross. lingering around dirty bars and strip clubs, living in dirty places even though they made enough money. tony complained all day long about his issues, mostly about killing people but never stopped. the ending is really bad cinematography. but the show has made me think. what the heck is the mob and how do they make money?

There is a serious flaw in this interpretation. The camera is significantly to the right of tony each time. And when he looks up each time the camera is on his face - it's not from his eyes.

Not that I'm saying he's alive, but I don't think this is valid for that simple fact.

I've always thought it was a heart attack

When i watched i thought the guy will be a terrorist and will blow up everyone, except Meadow,because she was late. I was waiting for the boom,when she was walking to the door. But not. This article totally makes sense,and i understand the ending, but still really pissed me off this cut!!! :)

Late to the party, but the members only jacket guy stashing his gun in the bathroom makes no sense. If your argument is that he wanted to conceal his weapon, then why not tuck it into his jacket, his sock, or his pants? Having a weapon waiting for him hidden in the bathroom is a ridiculous and convoluted explanation.

Instead, I took that characters' significance to be simply someone who looked suspicious, but then in the end turned out to just be some guy on his way to the toilet. It was a microcosm of all the stories The Sopranos was best at: life builds up to something seemingly significant, but these moments we wait for usually end up fizzling out.

I liked this article a lot, very well done.

It made me a bit sad in that moment when i realised that, yes, Tony had probably died in the moment it went dark. It actually made me quite sad.
At the same time, i liked it that they did actually leave a theoretical other option open there for those who want to believe it didn't happen no matter what.
It left the option open for people to consider at least two possible outcomes.
Yeah, if you want to believe that, it could have just cut out there and Tony could have gone on with his life and had just gotten so extremely cautious that he'd meanwhile check people coming in and going out even if there was no reason at all to that.
But yeah, more likely, there was a good reason that those guys entered there and Tony had the right sense there.

Besides that, i thought it was outstandingly well done, how in the last few moments of the series, they really achieved to make me as viewer feel what it is like to be Tony in that moment. The different camera angles, the as you explained very well Pavlovian training of the viewer to look around like Tony, check anyone who enters, in that moment, yeah, i suddenly felt like Tony, and it was kinda sad, realising the extend of his situation that really the Piano can come down from all sides, and at that moment in the series any moment. One of the best takes on letting the viewer feel the main protagonist's situation and feelings. ever.

Excellent synopsis. Great writing!

Carmella said to Tony, "Everything ends."
Dream sequence: Tony and Carmella dine with Annette Benning and a suicide (former cop). When the dead man goes to the bathroom Benning tells Tony, "I don't want him coming out the bathroom with just his dick in his hands."
Buddhism: As in an episode narrated by Burroughs "Seven Stages of the Soul"
Everything Changes - and Ends.
He's dead. No frills

Maybe, maybe not. More importantly than Tony (possibly) getting whacked, I think the scene was meant to convey that we (the audience) was being whacked. Show over, you don't even hear it coming. Fade to black. Maybe Tony went with us, maybe he didn't. Chase isn't about wrapping everything up for us. The ambiguity is intentional and I'm not sure Chase even knows or wants to know if Tony got whacked. And in the end it's irrelevant. The show/the audience got whacked and Tony's life goes with it one way or another.

This is so overwritten.

I think I am on the "he dead" side, however I can be swayed to the life goes on theory. You guys are right, Tony doesn't look nervous, he looks relaxed BUUUUUUT, if you are seeing what it is like to view life through Tony's eyes, at all times he is on edge. You rarely see him appear frazzled in the show, unless he is fighting or running for his life. Tony looks cool and calm but inside he is a wreck. He is always, at least, dealing with anxiety. I have sat down to a meal with my family having an anxiety attack and no one was the wiser. But why cut to black? There are other ways to get that point across.

And that is the true greatness of the show. It can never be wrapped up. People will always have their interpretation.

Stupid ending

I finally saw the ending just a few days ago. It really wasn't that hard to figure out.
The show has for all intents and purposes been told through Tony's eyes.
Eyes shut permanently...no more story...screen goes black.
The only lingering question is who ordered the hit?

Look at all these theories different people have. I think it was designed so that you read into it as you want and create your own ending. "Believe" what you want.

You quote the author to justify your theory on being dead, but that is a poor quote, the good bit that he said in that interview is this:

"To me the question is not
whether Tony lived or died"

If you fix yourself on that question you miss out on the bits that are important, he may be dead or he may not, but that is not important, just like in the dream scenes, it is not about knowing exactly what every bit means, but about the image, sensations and global meaning. Stop looking at the trees and look for the forest. The sensation you get when you first experience the ending, that is the masterpiece, just before you try to rationalize it, when you do you forget that sensation and that is what all is about, think about that sensation and then build your thoughts from there.

It is a real shame that it gets lost when people start to rationalize it, because it makes for a real interesting debate that can challenge or reaffirm your beliefs and vision of the world, much more interesting that all this dull and bland debate over the question "Is he dead?"

Also note that you cannot kill the boss of the five families without am approval.

There was a blackout in North Jersey. Some whack job hit a power pole. End.


Teen #1
Teen #2
Teen #3
Teen #4
Man in Members Only Jacket
Man in Diner
Diner Waitress
African American Man #1 in Diner
African American Man #2 in Diner
Truck Driver in Diner
Old Woman in Diner
Old Man in Diner
Young Woman in Diner
Young Man in Diner

Chase spelled it out for those who are artistically challenged and didn't immediately think "Uh-oh. Tony didn't notice that suspicious Italian guy who keeps looking at him. I have a bad feeling about this." He tells you what the guy's wearing just in case you don't notice the thousand other hints that built up not only through this heart-wrenching scene but also through many Seasons from Chrissy's 3 o'clock, to Baccala saying that you probably don't even hear anything, to Eugene's jacket, Richie Aprile's jacket, Feech's jacket, the jacket of the guy who shoots Sil, to the first episode called Members Only, to Carmela being Soul #7-Sekhu-the remains, to the first, coffin-like frame of Made in America.

That Tony dies is indisputable. The viewer never sees Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid die either and yet they're surrounded by the entire Bolivian army. Does the viewer see Lefty die in Donnie Brasco? No. It's implied. It's artistic.

A discussion worth having is on how it was authorized. Butch sold out Phil. Who sold out Tony? Someone with nine lives. A snake with fur as he calls his feline companion.

"I live but to serve you my liege."

"I live but to serve you my liege."

Tony's power base was falling apart, but so was Phil's....a hit of this type usually come from an opportunistic insider...but who was left and the only person who I could figure, the only person who may have been playing a role to throw Tony off until the time was right.... was old man Junior.

He felt every panic attack coming on. So that can't be it sorry. When ha. A panic attack ever just shut him off like that? Doesn't make sense. But being shot in the head you " would not even hear it coming"

I just finished watching sopranos for the first time now. The first thing I thought when it faded to black was he was dead. No scientific analysis or debating. I can always tell every time before someone is going to die in Sopranos. The camera angle and vibe is always a certain way. This ending was the most blatently obvious of that attempt.

Where did you go to med school? You don't have panic attacks sitting down? That is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. So you can't lose consciousness while sitting down? So if you have an insufficient flow of oxygen to your brain (a symptom of panic attacks) - not to worry. Just make sure you're sitting up or lying down and you won't pass out, sweat, have heart palpitations, experience dizziness and all the other symptoms associated with panic attacks. You are not very bright.

Calm down. Just lie back and take a deep breath and everything will be fine. Feel better now?

I don't think so. You say that Tony had a panic attack on sensing that someone is trying to kill him? This is characterization of a cowardly person and we all know Tony is not a coward! Throughout the series, he never had an attack because his life is in danger. Remember the season in which he is unlocking his car and sees 2 goons trying to kill him through the window? He could have had a much massive attack then according to your explanation. I think the author's view is more accurate here.

Remember AJ said Tony's favorite scene in the Godfather was when Al Pacino made his first killing?...He collected the gun from the bathroom before shooting. There you are...

Nice article but I don't think you are correct. Obviously the guy who comes in with Aj and the guy with the cap are important. It's kind of like inception. Obviously the top is important but that doesn't mean it will definitely not stop spinning. I think Chase left that for us to decide. The point about the camera being Tonys view and the fade to black would have been really clever if that was his intention. But I do not think that the camera shows us what Tony sees. If you watch the episode clearly the entrance is not in front of Tony. In fact it is somewhere to his right. So the scene after the raised eye brows is not Tonys pov.

there is no way the hit-man in members only would have known they were going to eat at Holsten's, it was a last minute decision...so what did he do, hide guns in restaurant bathrooms all over north jersey?

Good article, and the theory that he got one is a great explanation. The camera followed EVERYONE that walked into the diner, not just the guy with the members only jacket... So singling him out because he walked to the bathroom is not fair. So im not sure he got shot either. I think it was all there too... Either he got shot, or he was indicted. Does it really matter? That was his fate. Carlo is going to talk. Tony is in very big trouble either way. It doesn't really matter that he was shot. There is another episode with members only jacket. I think it was in the 5th season. Someone bought one... Might be worth going back to that episode. The panic attack theory is hilarious... He was paranoid as usual, he looked at the door every single time someone came in with a weird look. That's tony's normal life. If I had to take a guess. I think he got killed here, because why didn't they let Meadow sit down. The only symbolism I see is meadow not sitting down like the rest of the family. The picture of that house. Same house in his coma. Weird. It symbolizes death, as Chase has thought us. who would want to kill Tony? well Phil has "cousins for miles" could be anyone... Nothing was settled. The only thing that was settled was a change of power in New York that's it.

Well all nice theories but its all Just speculation. Maybe the idea was to let people decide/dream for themselves on how Tonies life woud continue/end. Thats why Tony picked the song" keep on dreaming" Dead, panick attack, busted by undercover cops or was it just an indication how paranoid Tony became. Maybe Tony was dreaming himself. The fade out to black might just indicate the end of the series....Thats the power of an open end....people can fill it in as they like, people can dream their own end. So to say hes obviously getting shot is just one perspective out of many possibilities and should not be considered as an absolute truth. Anways nice serie. Maybe one day they can make a serie about Aj becoming the next capo and successor of his father. With that said, we'll miss you. Rest in peace J. Gandolfini

I know this was two months ago, but I like your reasoning. I don't think it's as definitive as simply "He got shot" though, there are many fascinating possibilities. It's not that indisputable.

Anyway I doubt Paulie was behind it, his loyalties go as far back as before Tony was born. Pualie is getting old and slowly getting out of the game and losing pace. He also lost his mother/aunt, Christopher and Sil.

It's all open to interpretation though, any other ideas or theories?

Tony was an evil sociopath; I watched the entire series waiting for him to die. How can you be upset that his life may have been taken? I also thought the ending was not only him dying, but his entire family being blown to bits.

There is no definitive explanation. If Chase was trying to tell you that Tony was shot he'd have shown that he was shot, if it was a panic attack we'd have seen him faint, and if he was trying to make a point about Tony's enduring life it wouldn't have cut to black. Cite all the evidence you want, you simply cannot know.

You've written an article about the scene 6 years after it was aired: it makes you think, and that's surely the point.

Don't stop believing.

Fantastic article, and I'm in full agreement with the analysis and conclusion. I've also read and re-read the article on "The End" where the "whacked" school of thought is laid out in painstaking detail. Many thanks for this contribution to the literature.

You're completely wrong he was shot if you watch the scene he is not panicked at all its the camera thats showing you all the potential threats tony is totally and completely relaxed in the final scene and lets his guard down and gets got...cut to black = bullet to the back of the head...he had a panic attack complete and utter rubbish!!

Derrick you havent a clue tony is dead accept it he let his guard down clearly thought all his enemy's were smoked and he got got.. the point wasnt who killed Tony think of all the lives Tony destroyed over the years could have been anyone..I think it was butcie who had him whacked so he could absorb the whole cake as he said afew episodes beforenbut thats just an opinion tony being dead is fact!!

I like to believe that Tony goes on to become boss of New York. NY has no reason to kill Tony after giving up Phil Leotardo to NJ.... David Chase touched on that, and said that he was upset that everyone wanted to see Tony die after cheering for him for almost 10 years... Chase went on to say something like "maybe he died, or maybe he goes on to become boss of New York..."

I like to believe Tony went on to become Boss on New York.. NY has no reason to kill Tony after giving him Phil Leotardo on a silver platter. Maybe the cops would bust in and arrest him too. Chase said that he was upset that most of America tuned in to watch Tony die, and said something along the lines of "maybe he dies, or maybe he lives to become boss of New York..."

The only thing that makes me think otherwise was that quote by Baccala 'You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?'

The ending is not really about the death of Tony Soprano, but about the coming of age of AJ and the idea that vengeance begets vengeance. Remember that Tony's panic attacks are triggered by a long-suppressed memory: seeing his father gunned down in a restaurant. In the diner in the final episode, AJ sits across the table from his father. Meadow, who would have sat directly in a hit man's line of fire, is delayed by three attempts to park the car. Finally, she runs for the restaurant. The front door rings. Tony turns, his eyebrows raised not in terror, but in mild surprise, as though he had seen this coming all along -- just not here. Walking through the door, you see, isn't Meadow. It's a gunman walking in just ahead of her with a clear line of fire. AJ, like Tony, will be forced to confront the murder of his own father before his very eyes. The ending is not about the death of a crime boss named Soprano, but the birth of one.

It was made very clear that Tony was going to court. Anyone who had even the slightest worry that Tony would flip, would have reason to get him clipped. And even if that's not the case, if you watched the series, you saw how little it took for someone to get killed. Patsy's twin brother was killed for spreading rumors, Vito for being gay, Ralph almost for making a bad-humored joke, etc. etc. There are countless reasons why Tony could have gotten whacked.

It was a sh*t ending then, and it's still a sh*t ending. Also, it was not a particularly good final season-- 1 thru 5 were much better.

...and Meadow taking half an hour to park isn't 'brilliant' or 'clever.' It's dumb. Great show with a dumb ending.

I also concluded the same ending...

I, then got to thinking something that someone eluded to earlier, but not exactly.

The alternate universe that Tony slid into after being shot was his actual reality and the series itself was some sort of dream.

Have you ever woke up suddenly from a good dream that has a crazy climatic ending and feel like you have been jerked back into your body? Well, what happens to the dream when you wake up? It goes black. It was just another theory, but I do agree, that The Tony Soprano that we knew was murdered.

In addition, the panic attack theory is close, but is also in conjunction with my last point. The panic attacks...I believe were associated with the fact that he became afraid that he would be figured out. He was not really the boss, but some salesman with a regular middle-class family, as he was in the alternate universe.

Remember when Tony was recovering from the gunshot in the hospital. He was watching the boxing match in that rapper's room and the old man made reference to Schrödinger's equation. Something interesting about this equation states:
Quantum tunneling through a barrier. A particle coming from the left does not have enough energy to climb the barrier. However, it can sometimes "tunnel" to the other side. When you get a chance, go back and look at Tony's face after the old man attempts to dumb down Schrödinger's equation.

Id still love to see a followup movie.

Pretty good analysis, but with that said, there's still no explanation on to who would wanna kill Tony, everyone that was a threat to him died, who issued this hit on Tony, and Tony's a made guy, a boss, u don't think he knows whats going to happen when he sees a guy in a members only jacket, the same type of jacket Eugene wore when he made hits, come on, you guys are acting like Tony was an idiot, through the whole series he was always observant and watched his surroundings, you mean to tell me that this time in the Diner he's just "oh F it, if it's my time it's my time" right after having Phil Leotardo killed, no one has been successful in killing Tony

I fainted sitting down in a doctor's office no less. On an elevated examining table. I then fell face first onto the floor knocking out my front teeth and had a concussion. That said i'm going with wacked because usually Tony didn't go out instantly.

Because Carlos flipped. If Carlos flipped he's compromised all the Soprano people and anybody not already dead can be squeezed for the New York Guys especially Tony. Plus Tony has that gun charge that has no statute of limitations on it since it's a murder charge. You kill Tony so he doesn't flip too on the New York guys he dealt with. It's tieing up loose ends. Same as Adriana.

I just watched it again and I think Chase knew he botched it.
He said, And that could very well be bad execution.
There was a better way to end that scene, and to create the impact he wanted.

So New York just decided to whack all the Jersey guys as a prophylactic measure (as Mike Ehrmentraut put it)? Why would they think Tony would flip on them? Why didn't they whack all the other guys who went to jail over the years? Even if they knew about Carlos at that point, I don't buy it.

Tony wasn't an idiot but he was being quite introspective in that scene. His mind was clearly occupied by his family. Perhaps he wasn't as aware of his surroundings.

no, he doesnt die. carlo flipped, so tony's looking at jail. that's the punishment. who wants him dead? nobody from the story. life is suffering, death is too easy; the them of the sopranos.

All these theories have some meaning, but the major question that needs to be answered is who would kill him? Phil's dead, and a deal struck with New York to end the violence, so that rules them out. Nobody in his own crew could of done it, with the only senior members let being Tony himself, Paulie and Silvio who's in a coma. The FBI surely wouldn't kill him so who would? If it was a hit on Tony, would they do it in front of his family in a packed diner? I agree it looks like he has been shot by the feller in the members only jacket, I just don't see a motive. I think Chase has directed it to show all the potential dangers someone like Tony is looking out for on a daily basis and the people who look suspicious, Tony looks up at the members only man as hes walking to the toilet so he has noticed him more than the others who enter the diner. The black screen to me represents the potential for the viewers to determine their own outcome, the obvious way is to think that he lives on, but as there was a sequence and special attention drawn to the man, there is also the possibility of viewers thinking the shooting is the ending, so there is two potential endings in my opinion.

I bought the series DVD last year and enjoyed every minute and I thought the ending was perfect!
My FAVORITE scene out of many in this remarkable series is when Carm visits a lawyer seeking divorce from Tony. He says he won't take blood money from her for the consultation which surmises that she should leave Tony, take the kids and not look back. She of course, doesn't like that at all, no money as a single mom, which makes her just as venal as her mobster hubby and a thoroughly unsympathetic character.
The series should be praised portraying the dreadful offspring of Mr. Soprano and Carmela. Meadow is revolting and AJ is vile. The whole family were vampires, add fangs and opera capes and some East European accents and there you are!
Tony arranged for Adrianna's demise, so he deserved whacking!
I do admire Gandolfini's performance, the only worthwhile scenes in the series are his interfacing with Dr. Van Helsing...er..uh..Dr. Melfi. Those two should've become lovers but didn't, a big script disaster. They eat each other up in their scenes together. I read that Edie Falco was crazy about Gandolfini and jealous of his wife and the women who swarmed around him on and off set.

Lucky Luciano was once offered a similar choice. Eliminate one boss for the benefit of a rival who would succeed him. He declined because ultimately it compromised both his own ambition and future wellbeing. The terms by which Tony is given the head of Phil Leotardo give him all of the blame and none of the credit. In short he is a dead man walking from then on.

Does anyone remember the title of the first episode of season six part one? It was called "Members Only". Eugene Pontecorvo was asked by Tony to make a hit at a diner wearing a Members' Only Jacket, and he wanted out of "the family". Eugene made the hit, and Tony said no. Eugene hanged himself, to get out.

It all makes sense. Eugene's wife was not a typical NJ yenta/italian housewife. Tony died at Holstens because he forgot about Eugene Pontecorvo's wife. That woman took action.

"In the end it's all a big fat nothing." The words uttered by Tony's mom and repeated by himself and his son several times across multiple episodes. The meaning at the end if Sopranos isn't that Tony was whacked, it's that there is no meaning. Life, the Sopranos series, all a big fat nothing.

Having just finished watching the series for a third time, I think this blog is pretty much spot on. Although there is leeway for interpretation, I think Chase intended to depict the death of Tony from his own perspective, and the final season gives several clues:

1. The conversation between Bobby and Tony ... "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

2. During the penultimate episode in the final scene with Tony cowering on the bed with his assault rifle, Tony has a brief flashback of this scene... again, this is not coincidental

3. Earlier in the season, Gerry Torciano was hit whilst Sil was eating nearby in the same restaurant... the scene is depicted in slow motion, where Sil doesn't realize what has happened until after the even has taken place. Sil shares this experience with Tony later in the episode, prompting a conversation on the complete lack of awareness that comes in the moments prior to being hit... again, I don't think this is coincidental

I think the more interesting question is who exactly is responsible for the hit on Tony?

In the crisis meeting between Jersey and New York crews earlier in the episode, it appears Butch has abandoned Phil's tyranny, and effectively greenlight's Tony doing what needs to be done. Chase seems to allude that someone in the Jersey crew had 'flipped' in the final episode, but its never quite clear who

We know Tony had in the past killed Patsy Paritsi's twin brother --> something he clearly resented Tony for... I have a vague recollection of Patsy being belittled about this in one of the earlier seasons. Further, if Tony has organised a low key dinner with his family, how would anyone reliably know his location? Patsy's son of course was engaged to Meadow which would have allowed him to know exactly where Tony would be... and this is more speculative, but maybe Meadow looked so strained and rushed in the final scenes because she had cottoned on to something from Patsy's son?

And what would his motive be? Well he was next in line for the big job. Sil is comatose, Bobby is dead, Carlo is an informer

I would of preferred a little more help in coming to the conclusion that Tony was dead. Seeing Tony' point of view just before it turned black would of helped the delivery of the ending in my opinion. Perhaps a slight but not so obvious expression on meadows face just before it went black....

I don't care what anyone says - it was a truly shocking ending. Terrible. It didn't end. The story is still open ... he should have either been imprisoned, killed or continued living a prosperous life - enemies eliminated and free to reap the rewards.

Binge Watch all six seasons in about 1 week ... i'm completely disappointed.

WOW.....I love the fact that people still want to hold on and believe that Tony is alive and well, maybe retired or maybe selling patio furniture off the highway somewhere, living the dream. The life as a mobster ends a few ways for the majority. 1. DEAD, 2. RAT. 3. JAIL. Tony's life outcome was no different. What else happen through out the entire show to just about every charcter at some point. Members only guy was not a body guard, he was not there to have a nice meal at a shitty diner, he was there to "WHACK" the big guy. Refer to the scene when Silvio was having dinner and silence came over the your speakers and blood splattered all over him. Mob hit's are always done in restraunts it is usally when the target is the most vulernable. Refer to the Godfather at louis restraunt, go to the bathroom to take a piss and come out blasting. The Sopranos refered to the Godfather so much through out the show and why wouldn't Chase end it in the manner that Tony had coming to him. Anthony Soprano did die in the final scene in front of his family listening to Journey and eating onion rings, no conspiracy, no passing out, no limbo, no special life goes on message, He lived like a gangster and died like one.
R.I.P. Tony Soprano

Argh, I just wrote my post and it evaporated. I will try once more, but I'm afraid I might be less eloquent; sorry. (You should have seen the one that got away!)

So, I, too, explored the site mentioned above, "The Definitive Explanation of 'The End'". I'm not claiming I read it all; there's not enough Red Bull in my state to fuel a read-a-thon of that magnitude. Huge kudos to its author, though; what an opus.

Then I re-watched the pilot episode. I feel strongly that Tony's Uncle Junior had him whacked and here's why: in the pilot, Tony confesses to Carmela that he's in therapy and he very pointedly tells her that no one can hear about this because, "the wrong person finds out about this and I get a steel-jacketed anti-depressant to the back of the head" (that is a direct quote <--BTW, notice the reference to a jacket, as in the Members Only Guy).

David Chase has famously said that everything we need to know is "all there". I think this is it. It was AJ, the son Tony could not succeed in guiding to a success in either the family business or any other future, who leaked the information to Livia who had formed a bond of hate for Tony with Uncle Junior way back in the pilot.

(BTW, did anyone ever notice how much Melfi resembles Livia, both physically and in her affect, not to mention she's the one female Tony can't, ah, penetrate, much as he wants to? And, that she's the key to his understanding his issues, all of which are Livia's fault!)

Anyway, Livia can't handle Tony discussing her with his therapist and since she draws the paranoid and resentful Junior into her scheme, even after she is dead, he's still around to complete the mission.

That final episode opens with Tony kind of "digging his own grave", looking for Junior's lost money, so, IMO, David Chase is reminding us that Junior had the means to pay for a hit on Tony. At the state hospital, he would have had the opportunity because we are lead to think of it as a cesspool of the lowest of the low, so there might easily have been a corrupt employee, not to mention Junior's buddy (can't remember his name or relationship) from Florida who had already offered to help him escape via a dentist appointment. As for motive, Tony very coldly and finally turned Janice down when she came to plead for funding to keep Junior out of the state facility; obviously Junior eventually knew that because he did have to go to the state hospital. Also, the last coherent shot we have of Junior before he goes to the state hospital was an ominous and rage-filled, seething evil eye to the camera, almost unsubtle and frankly out of character for David Chase (on purpose?).

So I feel that Junior took out a hit on Tony, a fate that can be traced back to a partially innocent, partially stupid move on AJ's part (which I see as being just as much Tony's fault, since he failed to raise AJ successfully, and, in return, Livia's fault, since she visited her sociopathy on Tony dooming him to be a failure as a parent, even though he thought he wanted to do better). And, since I'm going full-tinfoil-hat here, maybe it's no coincidence that the names of these three guilty parties are Anthony, Anthony Junior, and Junior. Go on, say uncle.

And in The End, AJ enters the diner at the same time as Tony's executioner (the only two-person entrance of the entire scene, a scene where, if you subscribe to the insights of TDEOTE, nothing is accidental. I think Chase is telling us that AJ is equally guilty in Tony's death.

As for Meadow, I think the parking difficulty she had was symbolic of her trying to "fit in", which could easily be a metaphor for her role throughout the entire series. In her new-found but sure success with her career and reliable boyfriend, she showed that, of the four of them, she was the only one who had earned the writer's "save".

The author over at "The Definitive..." (Could it be David Chase?) mentions a facet of this "Tony Died vs. Tony is going to have to look over his shoulder for the rest of his life" theory - the episode is riddled with references to 9/11 and it does seem like David Chase is saying that we Americans have turned a blind eye to the lessons we might/ought to have learned from our tragic history of assassinations, Lincoln, Kennedy, and even MLK (the as-yet unmentioned, "I had a dream" connection). If we "don't stop believing", we may be disappointed when our lives end in "a big nothing". Alternatively, we could try to make something worthwhile out of this, the only time we have.

Check out my Junior/Olivia/AJ theory, above. Maybe you'll like it (you asked who would kill him - you see, I don't see it so much as 'who's left' as 'who did David Chase show from the very start as the most likely').

Except for the many references to "you don't hear it coming".

Even if James Gandolfini were still alive, it would not be practical to have a Sopranos reunion of any kind due to the age of the surviving actors and the obvious need for flashbacks considering the fate of most of the Sopranos characters. I'm hoping some books will come out someday a la the recent Godfather novels to give some closure.

No. Just no.

I think the ending means nobody knows what happened. Why? Well because nobody knows what happened.

Remember Butch became the new boss after Phil was clipped. Tony pulled a gun on Butch and kept threatening to put a bullet in his head when he was pistol whipping Coco to avenge his daughter's honor. That sorta thing doesn't just fade away. Butch most likely decided to cripple the Soprano crew by killing Tony, regardless of the "truce" sit down.

You are correct in that the shots immediately after the door opens, the first shot we see each time is Tony, looking towards the door. But the shot immediately after Tony's face is from his point of view, looking at the door and the people walking through it.

The ending was so clever...it takes a 3 page article to explain it.......and then a well maybe or what? Please, this lazy ass writer's mind went blank that's what.

Meh, your over interpret the ending. It was just showing that life continues for Tony but he is still unhappy, he'll probably get more and more paranoid because people are always trying to kill him, or he can go to jail at any time. He makes a lot of money with crime, but it's definitely not worth it with all the risks. He is alone, stressed, may go to jail or die, anybody can betray him.

Exactly. The debate of is he a live is to sum up an entire story based on it's ending. The debate of "is he alive" is fun and nothing wrong with it - But it's not all there is here!

People commonly judge entire films or stories based on such singular characteristics ("didn't like ending", "didn't like actor or actress", "didn't like the music"). It's as if you think of a meal as something to judge and forget it's role in how it keeps you alive (and that it grows from the same earth as you)!

I'll quote a great New Yorker on the subject: "People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about, and that's what these clues help us to find within ourselves."


Using maths as an example: This ending is like trying to divide by zero. You miss the entire point. you are not TOLD if he lived or died. To kill the mystery, the experience, by debating if it is POSITIVE-ZERO or NEGATIVE-ZERO and irrational math may be another interesting discussion - but this story ending is all zero... the infinite range of zero (negative, center, positive). The ending is literally depth beyond illustration. Years later, in 2012, it's spelled out in the quote you cite by the creators. If he lives or dies is to drain the experience.

That's reading a lot into something that had nothing leading us to that conclusion. They might as well just have shown us a My Little Pony episode. None of the wives die in the show unless they turned into a rat. None of the family gets touched remember? The writers NEVER lead us to the conclusion that he didn't like his mafia family. They just got desperate and made him kill his right hand man in the car... FOR NO REASON! The sudden lack of concern about doing Mafia hits in the day light with no masks on just brings me to the conclusion that they got lazy and stopped following reality. THAT... is lazy

Who would have killed him? His rivals were dead... How are people coming up with the idea that some one killed him?!?!?!

But why was he so paranoid at the end?? The writers NEVER explained what he has to fear all of the sudden now that all of his rivals were dead...

The show was filled with holes in the plot just like this. Toward the end they even forgot about the don't let any one see you idea when you kill some one. They just wrote in a bunch of unmasked men walking in the day time killing people like danger and the police stopped existing in season 6...

The likelihood of passing out sitting down drops drastically! Especially when at home and/or not in a place of worry or danger. Con has a valid point.

Because that's what happened! Sorry if you couldn't figure that out.

The actual shooter was probably those 2 black guys that walked in right before Meadow comes in. Earlier in the episode Tony says something along the lines of her becoming a defense lawyer to protect black people. The Italian guy drinking the coffee was probably just there to make sure the job got done and supervising. The irony of Tony saying that earlier to Meadow is most suggestive they are the shooter. On top of that Tony looks forward not to the side where the Italian guy coming out of the washroom would have shot him from. Not sure if anyone say the giant painting in the back with the football players is actually of the med school I went to, which probably means after Tony's death Meadow is going to attend med school instead of law school because she is done trying to defend "black criminals." Since just earlier in the episode he again tries to pressure her into going into some sort of medical field.
Just a thought.

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