Sopranos Creator David Chase (Sort of) Answers the "Is Tony Dead?" Question, Ruining a Great Ending (UPDATED)
UPDATE: Since this story was first published, Chase's publicist has issued a statement in response to Chase's alleged "reveal," which you can read at the bottom of this page.
David Chase has finally grown tired of being grilled about what happened when The Sopranos literally cut to black in its 2007 series finale. After seven years, the creator of the seminal HBO drama has begrudgingly put to bed the once-eternal question of whether or not James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano died when the screen went dark in the middle of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."
It was an ending that earned both praise and condemnation for its ambiguity, and the popular mobster's fate has been debated for years by fans and critics alike. Indeed, at times it's seemed like death, taxes, and Chase's refusal to definitively weigh in on the situation were the only constants in this world. However, in a new interview with Martha P. Nochimson of Vox, Chase has finally revealed whether Tony Soprano met his maker in that New Jersey diner.
So, is he dead? According to Chase, "No he isn't."
Nochimson's story doesn't explain how she phrased the question (or whether she had to press Chase to answer it), and Chase's answer is writ large in a graphic rather than simply transcribed in the text.
Afterwards, Nochimson writes, "Fine. Tony's not dead," and then goes on to discuss Chase's process as a storyteller and his post-Sopranos work. The entire article is worth a read, especially if you're curious about how Chase operates and where he draws inspiration from, but I doubt most people will continue beyond that point.
Either way, WTF, David Chase?! After staying mum for so long, why concede now? Did we REALLY need to know? (No, we didn't.)
The beauty of The Sopranos' series finale is that it let viewers make up their own minds. Did Tony live? Or was he murdered in front of his family and a restaurant full of people while chowing on some onion rings? The ending of the episode was a Choose Your Own Adventure book for adults, despite the many cryptic explanations Chase has given for it over the years. Nochimson notes in her story that the now-infamous cut to black was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's "Dream Within a Dream," a poem in which Poe laments being unable to grasp something as it slips through his fingers: "O god can I not save / One from the pitiless wave? / Is all we see or seem but a dream within a dream?" But now that Chase has caved, that cut to black is something firm and corporeal, which kind of defeats the purpose.
Despite the human mind being programmed to constantly search for answers, not knowing Tony's fate was a gift from Chase to us, though many people don't realize as much. The ambiguity of The Sopranos' final scene asked us to open our minds and interpret the outcome ourselves. For every fan who believes that he lived another day—possibly an even worse punishment than if he'd been gunned down—another will provide a detailed reason for why they believe Tony died. The mystery has brought people together and pushed them apart, but it's always fueled discourse, which is important.
Television is constantly spelling things out for us, telling us what happened or didn't happen. Writers often go out of their way to highlight the meaning of a scene instead of letting viewers figure it out for themselves. That's not always a bad thing—and in fact, it's sometimes exactly what the story calls for. Consider Breaking Bad's series finale, for example: Walter White's journey was meant to be finite, and while there will always be fans who choose to believe that Walt died in that car in New Hampshire, or that he was saved before he bled out, the finale made it pretty clear that Walt died on the floor of Jack's meth lab, and series creator Vince Gilligan has gone on record several times to verify as much. Was that wrong? Not at all, because the ending fit the series. Certainly, not every TV show should end in ambiguity—but ambiguity worked for The Sopranos because it nicely capped off the intricate dual-personality story that the series had been telling about Tony for six seasons.
Many Sopranos fans will take comfort in finally knowing what happened the character, but I don't. In fact, I was angry when I woke up this morning to discover Chase had broken his silence after all these years. The ending of The Sopranos is, in my opinion, one of the greatest finales of all time, and it even came up yesterday in our discussion of TV's most disappointing series finales. Some people disliked not knowing, but I'm not one of them. Chase's decision to give in and definitively reveal Tony's fate—regardless of whether it confirms my personal interpretation of the ending—feels like just one more instance in which we're being told what to think. It bothers me that Chase was so tired of being asked what happened that he finally buckled. Though I suppose we have no one to blame but ourselves.
UPDATE: Chase's publicist has released the following statement in response to the original Vox story:
A journalist for Vox misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview. To simply quote David as saying,“ Tony Soprano is not dead,” is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true.
As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, “Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.” To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.
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