In a recent interview with David Chase about his new film, “Not Fade Away,” the conversation inevitably turned to “The Sopranos” and its infamous ending. Below are Chase’s comments reflecting on watching the final episode for the first time two years ago, with only an occasional interjection from a reporter.
I thought the episode itself might have been kind of a dud, but it wasn’t. I was proud of it. I was satisfied that we’d done something. What I didn’t understand was that the ending would be so talked-about that it would completely obliterate the rest of the episode that came before it. No one ever even saw it, talked about it, mentioned it or anything about it — and I think didn’t even interpret it correctly because all they talked about was that ending. I did not know that would happen.
I think a lot of people thought they were being made a fool of, that I was being really meta — is that the word? — and postmodern or just showing my quote-unquote “contempt” for the audience or going “Ha, ha, ha. It’s just a TV show.” None of that was what was going on. That was the best ending I knew to come up with and I thought it said some things but people didn’t get it because they were angry. Or maybe it wasn’t executed well.
I do wish that connection had been made better. To me the question is not whether Tony lived or died, and that’s all that people wanted to know: “Well, did he live or did he die? You didn’t finish the show. You didn’t answer the question.” That’s preposterous. There was something else I was saying that was more important than whether Tony Soprano lived or died. About the fragility of all of it. The whole show had been about time in a way, and the time allotted on this Earth. That whole trip out to California was all about that — what people called a dream sequence. And all the dream sequences within the show. Tony was dealing in mortality every day. He was dishing out life and death. And he was not happy. He was getting everything he wanted, that guy, but he wasn’t 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.
Did Tony die or didn’t he die? Well, first of all, it really comes down to this: There was, what, six seasons of that show? Seven? Am I supposed to do a scene and ending where it shows that crime doesn’t pay? Well, we saw that crime pays. We’ve been seeing that for how many years? Now, in another sense, we saw that crime didn’t pay because it wasn’t making him happy. He was an extremely isolated, unhappy man. And then finally, once in a while he would make a connection with his family and be happy there. But in this case, whatever happened, we never got to see the result of that. It was torn away from him and from us. I forget what my point was.
(AP: That the meaning of the show didn’t have to be there in that final moment. It was there all along.)
Exactly. That’s what I felt. It’s really about time, to me — just to me — and love. What else do we have in this universe? It’s a cold universe. People said, “Oh, the show is so dark,” and it posited the notion that nobody ever changes. That was never my intention. Change is hard to come by, and like most of us, he wasn’t trying hard enough. People said, “Oh, it got worse and worse and worse.” I think he’s the same guy in the beginning as he was in the end. Maybe had a little bit more capacity for compassion for people, I don’t know.
I said it’s a cold universe and I don’t mean that metaphorically. If you go out into space, it’s cold. It’s really cold and we don’t know what’s up there. We happen to be in this little pocket where there’s a sun. What have we got except love and each other to guard against all that isolation and loneliness?