Sopranos and Seinfeld: Plus Ça Change…


Sartre would be proud.

The shocking (and to many viewers, utterly disappointing) ending of The Sopranos series finale was perfect. The tableau itself was a perfect jewel: the nuclear family all together, happy it seems for the moment, but completely surrounded by unknown and unseen danger. David Chase pumped the scene full of more tension than any other moment in the series’s history — is the whole family about to get whacked? — but ultimately there is no concrete evidence for the audience to be sure that any violence is about to happen.

Most of the predictions made about the finale, even the ones in our office pool, are still possible, as they always have been. The violence that surrounds the Soprano nuclear family has always been the subject of the series, and the finale simply wrapped that up into a single vignette, a microcosm of the whole 8-year series.

Consider the Seinfeld series finale, where the core cast found themselves in jail for, apparently, eternity. This ultimate predicament was a microcosm, too, of the series itself and the relationship between Seinfeld‘s four core characters, the Seinfeld nuclear family, if you will. Seinfeld was often called a show about nothing, but it was always about the characters. Every episode we learned more about, and dove deeper into, the four main characters and explored a little bit about some unique and colorful secondary characters.

The Sopranos finale was similar. We’ve never asked The Sopranos for long-arc plots with carefully-planned setups, mysterious clues that come to fruition later. Generally, all that ever happens on The Sopranos is that we are drawn deeper and deeper into our understandings of the characters, particualarly Tony, and occasionally we find surprises inside of them. This is what The Sopranos is about, not plot. My wife, Peggy, noted that ultimately The Sopranos was not a “gangster movie” but a “soap opera”. And in a soap opera, ultimately, nothing ever happens. Dr. Melfi’s decision to end Tony’s therapy also reflects this realization, that despite all her efforts over eight years, Tony has not changed and will not change. The final moment of the show encapsulated this tense stasis perfectly.

The Behavior office pool got almost nothing correct, but we had one phenomenal write in winner: “Cliffhanger”. Some of us got Phil Leotardo’s hit. But that’s it. And nobody predicted that Christopher would come back from the dead as a cat.


7 responses to “Sopranos and Seinfeld: Plus Ça Change…”

  1. I hate it when I experience tense statis.

  2. Robert Bringhurst writes that good typography should “induce a state of energetic repose, which is the ideal condition for reading.” Sounds similar to “tense stasis”.

  3. Lame, lame, lame. What ever happened to classic story-telling protocol? Intro -> plot -> climax -> conclusion? I can completely appreciate artistic expression and deserving self-indulgence, but in the end, the most predictable ending was what we should have known was coming all along. Interpretation, allegories, ambiguity, clues, metaphors, references…THOSE have all become the easy way out. For me, a golden opportunity was wasted. What was evolving as the finality was so sad and powerful.

  4. The perspective of the series has largely been 3rd person. That is we watch the characters and plot from an outsiders point of view. For the most part this is the perspective. However, every once in while it becomes a sort of 1st and 2nd person perspective. Every once in while we are thrust into the perspective (usually just visually) of Tony. There are many instances which I will bring up later, but this has been the basic pattern of perspectives for the series. Let us say that those 11 seconds of nothing was really being suddenly thrust into that Tony perspective. What would this nothing mean? Well, it would mean he is dead. Suddenly, without warning, Tony is dead. Well, how would he have a died? I don’t know about you, but did you notice that guy who barely touched his food at the counter go to the bathroom? We know how they do it. Inconspicuous. Methodical. Without warning. Headshot. Dead. So, Tony is killed in front of his entire family. Some may say how do I know if this is what the nothingness is? Okay, let’s say you’re right and Tony is killed, why wouldn’t they just show it. My reply is that I guess I’m not as heartless as you. I really don’t want to see Tony get offed. It seems a little perverse. And for you fans who would want to see it just to know, you really aren’t fans. A real fan would relish the opportunity to experience that last moment rather than merely witnessing it. A real fan (unlike Dr. Melfi) believes there’s something good in Tony worth experiencing. And for those fans who refuse to step into Tony’s world, David Chase gave you the ending you deserved: nothing. As for the true believers who have made it a habit to empathize and understand, we have the special treat of truly experiencing who the man is, his essence, and his purpose. And if you need any further encouragement to accept this interpretation, remember what Bobby said to Tony on the boat: When you die, all you see is blankness. Coincidence–probably not. For those who are now ready to step inside the world of Tony, remember that at the heart of understanding The Sopranos lies the viewers’ willingness to infer. (Check out more on my blog

  5. I think focusing on Bobby’s premonition about death being a sudden blackness is correct, but the interpretation that the final blackness of the show being Tony’s death is incorrect. The last shot of the show is not Tony’s-eye-view, as many are claiming, but is rather our point of view.

    We, the audience, got whacked.

  6. i liked the last episode, and as a displaced nj-ite and closet francophile, i like the photoshopped njtp sign in this post even more. friggin awesome.

  7. @mark: Thanks, I am very proud of my PS doctoring skills.