Sopranos: Definitive Explanation of the final scene annotated guide
*Please enjoy a new fan trailer for the new Blu-Ray release of the complete Sopranos series. Special thanks to trailer maestro Lyle Goodale*
If you enjoyed the massive “Sopranos: Definitive Explanation of the End”, I hope you’ll also enjoy this new annotated guide to the final scene. Here, every shot of the final scene will be analyzed. First, this essay will briefly illustrate how Chase set up the “never hear it” concept before the final episode. Then, this shot by shot analysis of the final scene will explain how the 10 second black screen is Tony’s final point of view, and that Tony never heard the shot that kills him.
Chase had three main agendas in accomplishing his vision for the final scene. First, he had to create a scene shown primarily through Tony’s point of view and set up (through a bell ringing/Tony POV pattern) the black screen as Tony’s final point of view because he had just been shot in the head. Second, he had to show how a normally wary Tony is able to get shot. Through Chase’s directing, editing and shot selection, we see how Tony never notices Members Only Guy (his eventual killer) looking in his direction and only takes notice of him for the first time when MOG goes to the bathroom. Chase also has Tony constantly distracted and looking down at his menu. Chase’s third agenda is to use the audience’s anxiety and anxiousness about knowing this is the final scene and that something important has to happen (which turns out to be to an enormous event that they will never actually see on screen) to increase the tension in the final scene. Chase again uses shot selection, editing, and music to manipulate the audience even though what’s actually occurring in the scene itself is fairly benign. Ultimately, Chase expertly balances the second and third agendas so that the audience’s paranoia and anxiety is certainly not Tony’s, who is otherwise relaxed and not fearful.
The shot by shot analysis will also briefly touch upon the meaning of the final scene. In carrying out Chase’s ultimate purpose behind the meaning of the scene, Chase sets up a happy moment for Tony so that we understand the fragility of life and how we can abruptly lose everything that matters to us when we die.
Some of the shots will include quotes from Chase including his recent remarks for The Director’s Guild of America. So consider this a sort of “cliff notes” guide to the original site, mostly encompassing Part 1 of the original piece but also, for the first time, going through every shot of the final scene.
But before we can get to the shot by shot analysis, we will briefly show how Chase set up the final scene so that Tony would never hear the bullet that kills him.
SETTING UP THE FINAL SCENE WITH THE “NEVER HEAR IT HAPPEN” CONCEPT
In the final season episode “Sopranos Home Movies”, Bacala and Tony discuss death in the mafia and Bacala asks “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?”.
At the closing moments of the penultimate episode “The Blue Comet”, Tony has a flashback to Bacala’s question “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?” This sets up the final scene as Tony, will in fact, never hear it happen.
David Chase confirmed that these scenes and the “never hear it” concept are connected to the ending. The first confirmation was in 2007 in the HBO ultimate edition Sopranos book:
Question:Are they wasting their time? Is there a puzzle to be solved? [to the end]
Chase: There are no esoteric clues in there. No Da Vinci Code. Everything that pertains to that episode was in that episode. And it was in the episode before that and the one before that and seasons before this one and so on. There had been indications of what the end is like. Remember when Jerry Torciano was killed? Silvio was not aware that the gun had been fired until after Jerry was on his way down to the floor. That’s the way things happen: It’s already going on by the time you even notice it.
Question: Are you saying [Tony was shot]?
Chase: I’m not saying anything. I’m not trying to be coy. It’s just that I think that to explain it would diminish it.
The second (and even more explicit) confirmation was from an “Air America” radio interview of David Chase conducted by Richard Belzer on April 14, 2008:
Richard Belzer: I was working with Steve Schirripa [Bacala] recently. We were judging “Last Coming Standing” for NBC and we were talking about a lot of things and he was saying he heard all of these theories for the show that had nothing to do with your intention and wasn’t anything the actors thought. Like little hints along the way, like a word, like when Tony and Steve are on the boat at the lake and they say “‘you never know its gonna happen” or “you never know its gonna hit you”
David Chase: That was part of the ending.
Richard Belzer: Oh, it was? see, what do I know? Were there other things in previous episodes that were hints towards it?
David Chase: There was that and there was a shooting in which Silvio was a witness. Well he wasn’t a witness, he was eating dinner with a couple of hookers and with some other guy who got hit and there was some visual stuff that went on there which sort of amplified Tony’s remark to Bacala about you know “you don’t know its happened” or “you won’t know it happened when it hits you”. That’s about it.
Richard Belzer: That’s what John Kennedy said.
SO ON TO HOLSTEN’S….
So the foundation for the idea that Tony will never hear the shot has been established before the viewer gets to Holsten’s. The final scene is largely shown from Tony’s point of view. More importantly, whenever Tony hears the bell of the door, he looks up and we then see Tony’s POV. This happens four times prior to the final time the bell rings. However, the last time Tony hears the bell and looks up, Chase cuts to the 10 second black screen and the audio cuts off. This is Tony’s point of view because he was shot in the head and died instantly before he ever heard the bullet(the bullet traveled faster than the speed of sound). As you go through the analysis, you will notice my emphasis on the fact that Tony is looking down at his menu or is otherwise distracted by the jukebox in just about all of Tony’s shots. This point is critical in establishing how a normally wary mob boss is able to get shot. This fact, along with Tony’s general contentment in the scene, completely refutes the belief by many that the scene is about Tony’s anxieties and paranoia. Further, Chase’s recent comments to the Directors Guild of America confirm that he created the tension for the viewer and not for Tony and that it is the viewers who are projecting their tension and anxiety unto Tony.
FINAL SCENE SHOT BY SHOT:*
*The text describing the shots where Tony hears the bell, looks up and cuts to Tony’s POV will be bolded due to it being the most important aspect of the scene.
Shot #1: The camera tracks Tony into the diner as he opens the door and the bell rings. This is only one of two tracking shots in the scene (the other is when “Man in Members Only Jacket” enters the bathroom).
Shot #5: Cut again to Tony’s point of view of the inside of the restaurant except Tony is sitting down in the middle of the frame. This is the famous “jump cut” in the scene which temporarily provides the illusion that Tony sees himself. Its purpose is to subconsciously put us in Tony’s head space as his POV will be a key component of the scene. The shot also establishes that Tony’s POV will be straight to the door (this will be critical). Tony also sits in the middle of the restaurant with his back exposed, which sets up his murder by MOG and also refutes the theory that Tony is paranoid and watchful in the scene.
The shot also establishes that Meadow will have a clear view of Tony’s murder when she enters Holsten’s. As Chase said to DGA in 2015:
Shot#9: Waitress taking orders at another table. Chase will randomly show other people in the diner (who are mostly clearly benign) to create tension in the scene by playing off the viewer’s anxiousness and anxiety because this is the last scene ever and the viewer expects someone may attack Tony.
Shot#12: *This begins the most important sequence/pattern in the scene: Every time Tony hears the bell of the door, he looks up and Chase cuts to his POV of whoever enters. So in this shot, Tony is looking down at the jukebox, hears a bell, and then looks up. As Chase said to he DGA in 2015:
Shot #20: Tony puts change in the jukebox. He is no longer looking at Trucker in USA cap by the door. Tony is distracted and not at all paranoid or fearful, dispelling that myth regarding the meaning of the final scene.
Shot #28: Cut to shot of young couple in love sitting at the same side of their booth and laughing and staring at each other. This shot is third-person and is used by Chase to create tension by again showing other patrons in the diner to tease the viewer that something may happen. However, Tony is not looking at them (see shot 27) refuting the Tony paranoid theory.
Shot #29: Shot of an older grey haired man sitting down at a booth with 3 cub scouts. The man points his hand like a gun. This shot is third-person and is used by Chase to create tension by again showing other patrons in the diner to tease the viewer that something may happen. However, Tony is not looking at them (see shot 27) and the scene will later establish that they are behind Tony (see shot#46).
Shot #45: Trucker in USA cap putting sugar in his coffee. Shot#44 and shot#46 below establish that Tony is not looking at the trucker, refuting the theory that Tony is paranoid or fearful. This random third-person shot of this patron is used by Chase to ratchet up the tension for the viewer that someone in the diner will attack Tony, as the viewer expects something to happen in the last scene ever. However, this is the last time the trucker is shown and he is not shown here looking at anyone.
As Chase told the DGA in 2015, he plays off what “we” bring to the scene, which is we know that this is the last scene ever and Tony always has to watch his back. The viewer then projects their feelings onto Tony, who is otherwise relaxed and having a happy family moment. Therefore, the “Tony’s paranoid or fearful” interpretation is a fallacy:
Chase: “Tony leads a very dangerous, suspicious life and he’s always on guard. But he’s in this old-fashioned American sweet shop with those round stools and the counter and the football hero pictures and Cub Scouts. Everything that should make him feel at ease, and yet there is a slight ill at ease feeling which we bring to it because we know who he is and what he’s done.”
But Tony himself is otherwise happy in the scene. Chase continues:
“What they’re talking about is how good those onion rings are. For me, food is always central to a feeling of family and to a feeling of security and happiness. A.J. had remembered a moment at the end of the final show of the first season when they were all sitting down, eating in Vesuvio’s Italian restaurant and Tony said, ‘Just remember … value the good times,’ the moments, there really aren’t that many of them. And this is one of the very good times.“
Chase further discusess creating tension in the scene through editing even though the tension is not really there for the characters:
“The tension is quite high now, but if you think about it, for no real reason. Who’s in the place? A guy in a jacket, Cub Scouts, a young couple, a trucker in a hat, a couple of black guys in there to buy some candy. There’s no real reason for the tension to ratchet up. But it does. And that’s what I love, how you make that. Of course, a tremendous amount of that happens in the editing room. You’ve got the pieces and you’ve got the intention, but who do you come back to and who you don’t, what’s the expression on their face. I think that’s what montage and editing do best.”
Shot #46: Wide shot of Tony and Carm looking down at their menus. Grey haired man (and Phil Leotardo look a like) with cub scouts suddenly comes into frame over Tony’s left shoulder adding some tension for the viewer but unnoticed by Tony.
Shot #52: Tony looking concerned about Carlo and then looks back down to his menu. Chase again, in just about every shot of Tony, has him looking down. Tony is not eying anybody (refuting the “Tony’s paranoid” theory) and is otherwise too distracted from the danger that will arrive in the room shortly.
Shot #54: Cut to the front door as “Man in Members Only Jacket” approaches the door. He is the only patron shown approaching the door before the bell rings. Chase is signaling to the viewer to pay special attention to this man.
Shot #56: Cut to Tony’s perspective of MOG entering with AJ entering behind him. MOG almost completely obstructs Tony’s (and our) view of AJ. This again signals to the viewer the importance of this character. MOG walks directly straight ahead and eventually covers the right half of the frame while AJ walks behind him left of the frame. MOG basically walks straight into the camera. None of the other patrons enter in such a fashion, further signaling the man’s importance. MOG enters on the lyric “strangers waiting up and down the boulevard…” Chase has AJ enter with MOG because Tony will naturally focus on his son instead of his eventual killer. This sets up how MOG will eventually shoot Tony as Tony is not paying enough attention. As Chase told the DGA in 2015:
“My thinking about wanting to introduce A.J. and the guy together was that both the audience and Tony would not focus on the guy so much, they would focus on A.J. Tony would focus on his son, rather than the man who might be there to do him harm.”
Shot # 60: In this shot the camera is placed over Tony’s right shoulder showing AJ. An over the shoulder shot is a type of shot of someone taken from the perspective or camera angle from the back of the shoulder of another person. The shot suggests the point of view of someone sitting on the side of the booth where Tony is sitting (or suggests Tony’s POV). In between Tony’s right shoulder and AJ, MOG is shown in the background sitting down at the counter in the middle of the frame. This shot establishes MOG’s location in the diner relative to Tony’s booth and that he is in Tony’s direct line of sight. AJ then comments on the onion rings at Holsten’s.
Shot #61: Tony looking down at his menu and responds to AJ that Holsten’s onion rings are the “best in the state”. Tony then gently and affectionately grabs AJ’s arm while still looking down. Chase explicitly makes sure here that Tony never notices MOG sitting down at the counter.
Shot #63: Cut to full shot of MOG. He taps his fingers on the counter and casually turns his head to the right and appears to be looking at something. Shot #64 reveals he is looking in the direction of Tony’s table. Chase has MOG look off Tony very fast so that MOG does not tip off Tony that he is a danger. This further explains how a normally wary Tony is able to get shot. Shot #62 also suggests that Tony is looking down when MOG looks over.
Shot #64: The same over the shoulder shot of AJ as shot #60. MOG is seen out of focus in the background turning and looking in Tony’s direction (and then turning his head straight after apparently seeing what he wanted to see). Neither AJ (who is looking down), Carmela, or Tony say anything in this shot; a signal by Chase that the shot’s essential purpose is to show that MOG is looking in Tony’s direction. Chase’s direction (Tony looking down in shot #62) and the over the shoulder shot showing MOG directly in Tony’s line of sight, but out of focus, establish that Tony never (at least at this point) takes notice of MOG looking at Tony’s table. Chase is setting up how MOG is able to shoot Tony.
In the second screen grab below of the same shot, MOG is seen in the background turning his head straight again after looking in Tony’s direction. There was a deliberate choice in Chase’s direction to have MOG quickly look at Tony, but at the same time not to be staring at Tony, as that would tip off the normally wary Tony that MOG may be there to do him harm. This sets up how MOG is eventually able to kill Tony. As Chase told the DGA in 2015:
“I just wanted the guy to look over. I didn’t want him to look particularly menacing. And he glances off Tony so quickly. We worked on that quite a bit so he wasn’t staring at him.”
Shot #65 through shot #75: Camera goes outside to show Meadow attempting to parallel park. Chase (at least partially) does this to increase the tension and anxiety of the scene for the viewer. The viewer knows this is the last scene and something may happen in the diner yet Meadow’s parking troubles delay our return back to Tony. Again though, Chase is manipulating the viewer, but Tony himself is relaxed and has no idea of Meadow’s troubles. As Chase told the DGA in 2015:
“Cutting to Meadow parking was my way of building up the tension and building up the suspense,…” “I tried to build the tension and suspense as much as possible. That’s why I could go back out to Meadow and her car-parking.”