Monday, June 11, 2007

The Finale

So, right after watching the series finale of The Sopranos I logged onto the the internet and went to Sean's blog to see what he had to say.

He only had this very short post, so I commented:
The only thing I'm really not looking forward to are the explanations about how we're "supposed" to interpret the ending as Tony getting whacked.

Sean replied:
I thought the EXACT same thing. What a strange way to engage with these kinds of things!

And, you know, this is a very strange way to engage with something. It's like: I'm watching and enjoying Sopranos the show, but, as soon as that's over, I'm thinking about and responding to Sopranos the media event.

As much as I like TV shows and movies and comic books, I'm becoming less and less interested in "Television Events", "Cinematic Events", and "Comic Book Events". Not only is the hype tiring, but I think it can warp your actual experience of the shows, movies, and comics in question. Like, The Sopranos finale is an Event, so it needs to be a Big Deal and make a Big Statement and everyone needs to have an opinion on it. In fact, having an opinion is probably more important than just, you know, engaging with the show on its own terms and just responding to what's actually on the screen* - positively, negatively, or however it is you responded to it.

One of the things I like about watching old movies (or old TV shows, etc.) is that there's really no hype surrounding them. Sure, they might have a reputation for being a classic (or whatever), but a historical/critical reputation is extremely passive (not to mention old-fashioned) compared to the constant cycle of media hype.

Hey - my prediction regarding this last season of The Sopranos, which a lot of the show's fans found "disappointing", is that people watching the show on DVD for the first time 10-20 years from now will be see Season 6 as a one of the show's strongest. Ok - maybe that's my prediction because it's also what I happen to believe, and maybe I'm being a little self-centered (not to mention delusional) in thinking that "Of course the world is going to come around to my POV", but I can't help feel that a lot of the disappointment has to do with the way the show played against all the predictions of the cultural commentators and the expectations of the show's fans. And, personally, I think these expectations at least were always a little at odds with what David Chase et al. were actually doing. The signpost moment: when in Season Four the big moment occurs when Tony decides not to do something (go along with Johnny Sack's plan to kill Carmine).**

My prediction was that the show would go out with a whimper and not a bang, and I was only kind of right. It went out on a quiet moment, but one that was extremely resonant, reaching back all the way to the very earliest episodes of the series.

But what I liked best about the last episode were the weird, throwaway moments that didn't have to be there and only added to the series in the most tangential manner, mainly because so much of what I loved about the show were its tangents and the creators' refusal to play connect-the-dots with narrative resolution (plot-wise and theme-wise).

My two favorite tangents:

A.J.'s girlfriend's reaction to listening to Bob Dylan for the first time (that he sounds like he's singing about right now).

Paulie pretending to sweep after Tony almost catches him hitting the cat with a broom. (I liked everything with the cat).

Oh yeah - maybe the most moving scene (aside from the ending) was when Tony goes to visit Janice. It's amazing: I don't think I've ever felt anything for that character before, and, all-of-a-sudden, you can see that she really is grieving (even if the scene ends with some heavy irony).

*I brought this up regarding Borat, too. Borat the Event seemed to cloud people's eyes (or maybe their minds) about what was actually going on in Borat the movie.

**I think that the people who approached the show from the "Who's Gonna Get Whacked this Week"-perspective were really missing the point. Like, I can't help but think that most of the show (and not just the sixth season) would have been really unsatisfying if that's why you were watching.


Steve said...

I'm pretty immune to the "event" nature of these things, particularly as I get older. Still, as you say, the hype gets wearisome.

I can't comment on THE SOPRANOS because I haven't been following the series, but I liked the VERONICA MARS series ender precisely because it wasn't intended as a capstone or trying to blow you away -- it had a nice low-key, melancholy, life-goes-on feel to it. Sounds like THE SOPRANOS might have gone the same route. And I think that approach works for a TV show in a way that it doesn't, say, for a novel or movie. A long-running show, involving many hours of following several people's lives, by its very nature favors an open-ended approach. For one thing, you can't wrap up *everyone's* fate at the same time -- that would feel too pat. (Which is why some commentary I read --I think by Matt Yglesias--complaining that Chase didn't wrap up his story the way Tolstoy wrapped up Anna Karenina's fate struck me as off base.)

Jon Hastings said...

Steve - I found the ending of Veronica Mars pretty moving (even though the last couple of episodes were kind of rough). The ending of The Sopranos was similarly open-ended, but it was a bit more "aggressive" in its approach in that it kind of makes you think something "big" is going to happen. I think something "big" did happen, but it wasn't what fans of the show were looking for.