A lot of Sopranos fans are still feeling this way close to 48 hours after wannabe artiste David Chase finally got completely lost up his own ass and chickened out of giving us a proper ending. As I have written here before, I have always been more critical of the series than most and have felt Chase's pretensions have hampered the series. Therefore, I was not as surprised as many that he would pull a stunt like this. However, that doesn't stop me from wanting to take him fishing on Lake Tahoe.
Of course, everyone is talking about the copout ending, but on the whole this episode was a huge disappointment. Its awkward pacing and hamfisted writing and direction (both by Chase) had already made the episode a failure before the abrupt cut to black, which might have worked if the 60 minutes before it had provided a proper setup. These problems overshadowed the many good aspects of the episode. Lets take a look at the good, the bad and the bungled of "Made in America":
- Meadow: I knew that after last week's action-packed episode in which war broke out between the two families, the finale would focus on Tony's other family and that the final tragedy would not be Tony getting capped or arrested, but watching his kids, whom he had worked so hard to give a better life, following in his footsteps, morally if not career-wise. Meadow's denoument was a perfect followup to last week's great closing shot of her and Carmella mirroring each other in matching coats. This week, she finally became Carmella, reaching a new level of denial in saying that she was inspired to study law because of the racism of the FBI's persecution of Tony. The look on Tony's face let us know that even he realized that was bullshit.
- Janice: Though she had little to do this past season aside from the premiere episode, Aida Turturro was given the opportunity to give Janice a proper sendoff. Janice is one of the most loathsome and unlikable characters in TV history, and the combination of genuine greif and self-pity she showed in mourning Bobby's death was pitch-perfect.
- Tony and Uncle Junior: I thought Uncle Junior was done after the wonderfully heartbreaking scene of him petting the cat a few episodes back. But we needed a final scene between Tony and Junior, and it was brilliantly done. For me, the series ended there, as Tony realized the answer to his question for Melfi: "Is this all there is?" The answer was yes: this is what you can look forward to Tony. If you manage to survive a life in the mafia and not get shot or go to jail, you end up in a crummy retirement home, with no memory that you ever ran North Jersey. Brilliant.
- Agent Harris: Matt Servitto's Agent Harris has been one of the show's great supporting characters, but everything about him in this episode was horrible. After years of hovering in the background, he suddenly, with no motivation, decides to compromise his professional ethics to support Tony in his gang war. Nobody knows better than Harris what a scumbag Tony is, so why would he suddenly choose sides. The idea of an FBI agent being seduced by the mob life is interesting, it is appropriate for a multi-episode arc, not the last half-hour of the series finale.
- Paulie and the cat: The less said about this stupid plot thread, the better.
- Phil's Death: The number one argument against ever letting Chase behind a camera again, as he shoots the climactic murder of the series like he was Chuck Jones. From the mawkishness of the two grandbabies to the ridiculousness that a mob boss at war would be so unprepared to the cartoonishness of Phil's head being crushed, it was a disappointing end for a series that perfected the art of killing off characters.
- A.J.: The most interesting plot thread of the final season goes down in flames with A.J.'s SUV. I liked A.J. being cured of his depression by once again becoming his selfish and venal self. But his "cure" felt rushed and his rant at Bobby's funeral was hamhanded and redunant.
- The final scence: And finally we come to it. I don't wish to contribute to the growing Talmudic commentary accumulating on the internet as we speak, but I will just say this. I loved the idea of ending the series with Tony not getting killed, arrested or turning government witness and instead ending up in a grimy diner with his screwed-up family, whom he has managed to infect with his "putrid fucking genes" and realizing that escaping his way of life means a lot more than working a legitimate job. But then Chase has to go and screw it up with his modernist trick. What was the point? Who cares anymore?