Studying ‘The Sopranos’


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OK, there’s been time to let the dust settle, to let our unconscious minds work out the details of a question much more important than how best to use the government bailout money or whether to help the big three automakers stay afloat. That question is: Did or didn’t Tony die at the end of ‘The Sopranos’?

Dana Polan is on the case in his forthcoming study, ‘The Sopranos’ from Duke University Press — and the advantage of working in a books department is getting an advance peek. Here’s part of what Polan, professor of Cinema Studies at NYU, thinks about that HBO ending, starting with some theories he has heard:


‘Might the fact that the shifty guy who goes to the bathroom is listed in the credits as ‘Man in Members Only jacket’ be a clue to his role as an angel of death, since the first episode of the season was titled ‘Members Only’ and, therefore, could have made this guy part of the mob? Does an obscure figure in one booth look like Davie, a gambler from a much earlier season who had been ruined by Tony and who might now be coming back for revenge? Might not the two black guys be the same ones who had tried to kill Tony in a previous season, now back to finish the job?...’

And then, his own perspective:

‘There could be no satisfaction in any ending to the fictional story. Instead of choosing, then, a narrative ending, ironic or not, the creators behind ‘The Sopranos’ opted, instead, for a greater irony: admitting that the show was just a constructed bit of entertainment and not giving in to the audience’s desire to imagine that its fictions could have a real-life closure to them.’

OK, so I thought I’d actually get a different explanation. But if our own Martin Miller didn’t get anywhere with David Chase earlier this month, then what could I possibly expect? Polan’s book, however, does seem worth a look: coming to bookstores early next year.

—Nick Owchar

Illustration: Darren Thompson / For The Times