The Sopranos was a U.S. television show that broadcast 86 episodes in seasonal blocks of 8-13 episodes on the cable service HBO from 1999 to 2007 depicting the daily life of an Italian-American crime family in New Jersey. Centered around the family ties and criminal business enterprises of crime boss -- and suburban father -- Tony Soprano, the show employed extended sequences of comedy, fantasy, and ironic, stylized representations of violence to advance the story. David Chase, the show's creator, wrote most of its dream sequences. The show's popularity made it the most highly rated cable television program its entire final season, rivalling broadcast network television's numbers when it maintained an audience of about five million households, and three times that number when an episode's subsequent airings are included (Nielsen's "coverage" rating). 22.7 million households viewed the final episode the week of June 10, 2007.
For the run of the series, Tony's immediate family composed his wife Carmela (Edie Falco), eldest daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), youngest son Anthony Jr. or "A.J." (Robert Iler), and himself (James Gandolfini). His mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) died early in season three, but his uncle Corrado "Junior" Soprano (Dominic Chianese) played a key role each season, as did his nephew Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and, starting with season two, his sister Janice (Aida Turturro).
Christopher and Uncle Junior were also part of Tony's crime family, which also included, for the run of the series, Tony's consiglieri Silvio "Sil" Dante and captain Paul "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri. Salvatore "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) was a captain Tony, Paulie, and Sil murdered early in the series when they discovered he had turned FBI informant. Tony's guilt over murdering his longtime friend returned thematically from time to time, as did Big Pussy himself via fantasy sequences.
Other prominent crime family members included: Adriana La Cerva (Drea de Matteo), nephew Christopher's longtime girlfriend whom Tony had Sil murder late in the series when the FBI pressured her to turn informant; Robert "Bobby Bacala" Baccalieri (Steve Schirripa), uncle Junior's soldier and assistant who eventually married Tony's sister Janice and became a captain; Jewish loan shark Herman "Hesh" Rabkin (Jerry Adler), Tony's sometime advisor; John "Johnny Sack" Sacrimoni (Vincent Curatola), head of New York's Lupertazzi crime family until he was convicted and imprisoned in the final season; and Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent), who replaced Johnny Sack and was murdered in the war he started with Tony.
Aside from criminal and family, the story incorporated many other kinds of recurring supporting characters, such as FBI Agent Dwight Harris (Matt Servitto) and Tony's non-criminal childhood friend, restaurateur Artie Bucco (John Ventimiglia). Tony's psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) played a prominent role throughout the series, appearing in almost every episode. Tony's psychotherapy begins in the first scene of the first episode at Dr. Melfi's office when she treats him for panic attacks, and the show thematized Tony's ongoing sessions with her as much as his family and criminal business. The show even occasionally portrayed Dr. Melfi's own psychotherapy sessions with Dr. Elliot Kupferberg (Peter Bogdanovich).
The Last Episode and Its Controversy
The final episode aired on June 10, 2007, resolving Tony's war with Phil Leotardo when Phil's men betray him and his murder is depicted gruesomely and ironically. At a gas station, Phil urges his twin grandchildren to wave "bye-bye" to him as they sit in his car, whereupon Tony's hit men shoot Phil in the head. When Phil falls dead his own car runs slowly over his corpse, graphically crushing his skull on the audio track as we watch the two infants smiling innocently in the car unaware of what's beneath them. Among other plot elements, the episode also resolves the direction troubled A.J.'s life takes into an entry level filmmaking job after his attempted suicide, Meadow declares with conviction her desire to become a defense lawyer, and the elderly Uncle Junior's dementia becomes total as the intensely dramatic penultimate scene with Tony reveals Junior doesn't even remember that he "once ran North Jersey."
While the last episode typified the series, its final sequence raised a controversy because it ambiguously represented the series's actual final moment by employing non-linear technique to a far greater degree than all the previous episodes. More characteristic of an auteur's style, the director and show's creator David Chase's technique raised the ire of many devotees enough to threaten canceling their HBO subscriptions and vent their dissatisfaction and even rage at Chase publicly on web sites. The episode became so well known that prominent 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton parodied it to produce one of her campaign's promotional videos.
The final sequence, set at the family restaurant Holsten's in New Jersey, runs 274 seconds with about 90 cuts, a particularly busy rate of camera changes more characteristic of a music video, but less frenetic. The sequence begins with the song lyric singing "all that you dream" as Tony enters the restaurant's front door. We then see, from Tony's point of view, an empty table, then a close-up of Tony looking at it, then back to Tony's point of view, which now shows Tony sitting at that table. The moment's ambiguity from the 180 degree cut that was supposed to be Tony's point of view (shots 3-4) suggests this may be Tony fantasizing as he stands in the restaurant's doorway. In any case, the scene's remainder proceeds realistically at Tony's table where Tony looks over, in shots 5-20, such suggestive music titles in the table's jukebox as "Those Were the Days," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "This Magic Moment," "Who Will You Run To?," "Magic Man," and "Any Way You Want It," finally selecting Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," which plays throughout the rest of the scene.
Carmela arrives to a close-up as the music's lyric begins with "just a small town girl," and "just a city boy" accompanies the responding close-up of Tony (shots 23-32). A.J. arrives and the three all pop an onion ring into their mouths in the same manner (shots 43, 71-77), as we see Meadow outside the restaurant repeatedly attempting to parallel park her car (shots 48-49,62,70). An ordinary mix of patrons walks in the front door, sounding its bell each time the door opens (shots 1,11,17,21,38,77), but the editing's pacing suggests a tension--at odds with Journey's music--making us consider whether any of the males walking in could be hit men (shots 18,39,68). One man in a Members Only jacket sits at the counter and keeps turning to look in the direction of Tony's table (shots 46,52). Finally, the man gets up and walks toward the men's room, which is near Tony. As he passes Tony's booth the man displays an unusual body language, turning his torso toward Tony, but his head in the opposite direction to look at the men's room, where he walks and enters (shots 63-67).
The show's regular viewers and movie buffs understand the strong graphic parallel to a famous murder scene from The Godfather where the murder weapon was hidden in a restaurant bathroom, though hiding a weapon in Holsten's instead of the man concealing it on his person doesn't make realistic sense in this context. The Godfather--and filmmaking in general--recur as themes from the show's first episode. For example, A.J. cites this same murder scene to justify his attempt to assassinate Uncle Junior in a previous season in revenge for Junior's shooting and gravely wounding Tony. The film's popularity with the characters of The Sopranos is another effect of the show's realism: as of 2007 The Godfather remains one of the most popular U.S. movies ever made.
Meadow finally successfully parks her car, runs to the restaurant's front door and opens it, sounding its bell (shots 75-78). Tony looks up as the chorus of "Don't Stop Believing" repeats "don't stop" yet again and shot 79 cuts abruptly to black and dead silence, which hold for ten seconds, by far the sequence's longest camera shot. The credits then scroll over the black background for two minutes in silence, without the narrative ever deciding whether this was another of Tony's fantasy scenes, a scene of murder, or nothing more than a family meal, each of which the show has staged so many times. Each is possible. As the lyric sang at one point "the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on," but the show's symbolism always centered on human relationships, never before thematizing its own storytelling style.
- Sepinwall, Alan. The stuff that Tony's dreams are made of, The Star-Ledger, March 6, 2006. Accessed June 17, 2007.
- Nielsen Media Research ratings at TVWeek.com. Accessed June 23, 2007.
- Justin, Neil. 'Sopranos': Last episode goes very, very dark, Star Tribune, June 11, 2007. Accessed June 18, 2007.
- Finke, Nikki. [http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/thats-what-we-were-waiting-for-angry-fans-crash-hbo-website/ THAAAT'S What We Were All Waiting For? Angry 'Sopranos' Fans Crash HBO Website], Deadline Hollywood Daily, June 10, 2007. Accessed June 18, 2007.
- Garretson, Craig. [http://www.nj.com/jjournal/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1181802071273820.xml&coll=3 TV's favorite family goes out with a bang...or not], The Jersey Journal, June 14, 2007. Accessed June 18, 2007.
- [http://tailrank.com/2085772/One-Last-Family-Gathering ], Tailrank.com. Accessed June 18, 2007.
- [http://tv.yahoo.com/the-sopranos/show/218/reviews?start=5&count=5&sort=4 ], Yahoo.com. Accessed June 18, 2007.
- [http://www.twitchguru.com/fringedrinking/2007/06/the_sopranos_endssort_of.html ], twitchguru.com. Accessed June 18, 2007.
- [http://www.breitbart.tv/html/1902.html Hillary Spoofs ‘Sopranos’ Finale ], Breitbart TV. Accessed June 19, 2007.
- Pelofsky, Jeremy. Clinton spoofs Sopranos to unveil campaign song, Boston Globe, June 19, 2007. Accessed June 20, 2007.
- Tatara, Paul. The Godfather. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved on 30 October 2013.
- , American Film Institute. Accessed June 20, 2007.