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Update 6/10/15: On the eight year anniversary of the Sopranos finale, please enjoy the new Annotated Guide to the Final Scene where every single shot of the final scene is analyzed with quotes from Chase(including his new comments to the DGA). Consider it a “cliff notes” version of Part 1 of this site. Go here to read and here for page 2

Tony is not “looking over his shoulder” and only MOG is a potential threat. These boy scouts and young couple in love don’t exactly seem threatening:

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“Man in USA Cap” is minding his own business
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Young black guys checking out the treats. Not the classic Tony POV shot and between two shots of Tony looking down. Tony isn’t exactly paranoid:

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Chase gives us a multitude of shots of Tony just looking down. Tony is content as he grabs A.J.’s hand:
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Tony is happy as he makes a connection with his son. Chase sets up this rare, happy moment for Tony with his family, so that the scene becomes about what Tony has lost when he is killed (see part two of this piece).
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Furthermore, from a storytelling standpoint, it does not make much sense that Chase, who planned the ending years in advance, would use the final scene to simply make the statement that “this is how Tony will have to live the rest of his life.” The viewers already know Tony will always have to look over his shoulder. The viewers have known this since the beginning (Tony is mafia boss!). Chase could have created a Tony POV sequence to convey this message in any of the other 86 episodes. It makes much more sense that the Tony POV sequence was created to put the viewer in Tony’s eyes at the exact moment of his death. Remember, Tony Soprano is the main character the viewer has followed all of these years. We have been inside his head in multiple dream sequences and have intimate knowledge of his personality and fears through his visits to Dr. Melfi. It makes sense to put the viewer in Tony’s POV at the time of his death. Once Tony is dead, there is no show. If Tony was to die it had to be the last moment of the series. The show ends where Tony’s consciousness ends.

So the last shot of the series is from Tony’s POV. Tony does not hear the bullet as it was shot from close range and traveled faster than the speed of sound (i.e. the bullet hit his brain before his brain could process the sound). Tony never heard it coming. No chance to reflect or react. The bullet shattered his brain and there was instantaneous death. Just a void of blackness and nothingness. Worse, his family was there to be bear witness to his murder. The viewer experienced death through Tony’s eyes and it was jarring. Upon further inspection we see that Chase set up this moment by deliberately planting the “never hear it concept” into the viewer throughout the final 9 episodes. *

*One last note on the POV sequence/Blackout. Just after the finale aired, blogs on the internet contained numerous posts from viewers swearing they saw Meadow walk through the door just before the abrupt cut to black. The question arose whether Chase had two different versions of the final scene shown across the country. One with Tony’s face as the last thing we see before the blackout and the other being Meadow walking into Holsten’s before the famous cut to black. We now know that there was only one version shown. Surely someone would have recorded this alternate version if it existed. There is actually a simple explanation for this misconception and it all has to do with the POV sequence explained above. The POV pattern caused the viewer to expect to see who was coming through the door from Tony’s POV. When the bell rang, Tony looked up. Our brains were conditioned by Chase to think that we were going to see Meadow. In a sense this was a Pavlovian type response. The fact that so many thought the last shot was Meadow is a tribute to David Chase and how effective his POV pattern really was.

By putting us in Tony’s eyes in the last shot we know that Tony never heard the bullet. However, Chase has already told us what to expect from first-person death. Most significantly from a scene originally shown in “Sopranos Home Movies” and repeated via flashback at the end of the penultimate episode “The Blue Comet.” In “Sopranos Home Movies,” Tony talks to Bacala about how most mob bosses either end up dead or in jail. Bacala then refers to death in the mafia and asks Tony: “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?” At the closing scene of “The Blue Comet,” Tony has a flashback to that moment. The show rarely uses flashback so this would seem to have major significance. Chase sets up the end of “Made in America” with this flashback. Bacala asked a question that Tony can now answer: Tony never heard it coming. Bacala’s words corroborate Tony’s experience at the moment of his death.

Bacala questions Tony about death in the mafia: “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?”
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The final moments of the second to last episode “The Blue Comet”. At 2:16, Tony’s ominous flashback to Bacala’s “You probably never hear it when it happens, right?”:

The final season episode “Stage 5” also foreshadows Tony’s death and furthers the “never hear it happen” concept with the murder of Gerry Torciano. Gerry is having a sit-down with Silvio at a restaurant. Both characters have their “goomars” (girlfriends to married mafia men) at the table with them. At one point, Chase shows us an over the shoulder “goomar” POV shot of Silvio talking to her. Torciano cannot be seen at all in the shot as Silvio fills the screen. Suddenly,the sound cuts off and a low ringing is heard as blood is sprayed on Silvio while he continues to talk to the goomar while seemingly unaware of the blood. The scene also slows down for a few moments. Silvio then looks down and sees blood on himself and seems surprised, disoriented and confused (Silvio, nor us, have heard any gun shots). Finally, Silvio looks up and Chase cuts to a hit-man blasting Gerry in the side of the head as the sound returns. Both goomars are holding their ears as the guns blast (the sound cutting off and the low ringing may simulate the auditory experience of being so close to the gun blasts). Here, Chase is having the viewer share the POV of a witness at the dinner table (Silvio’s goomar). More importantly, Silvio never heard or saw it coming. This scene sets up (1) Tony’s POV in Holsten’s and (2) another unexpected murder in a restaurant in which the victim nor anybody else “heard coming.” Later, Silvio tells Tony about the Torciano murder and says “fucking scary thing was I didn’t know what happened until after the shot was fired. Fucking weird.” His words echo Bacala’s “never hear it when it happens.” The follow up scene where Silvio relays his experience to Tony seemingly has no practical significance: we know Silvio did not know what happened until after the shot was fired, we saw the scene. Chase’s purpose for Silvio’s explanation to Tony (just like Bacala told Tony) is to hammer home the “never hear it happen” concept into the viewer because it will pay off in the final scene. Also of note is that Silvio’s words correctly predict the viewer’s reaction to the final scene: The fans of the show would not know what happened until after the shot was fired at Holsten’s. Chase was setting us up the whole time.

Silvio doesn’t hear the shots until he is already covered in blood. Here is the sequence:
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Silvio relays his experience to Tony: “Fucking scary thing was I didn’t know what happened until after the shot was fired. [That’s] fucking weird.” His words echo Bacala’s “never hear it happen.”
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Silvio “never hears it”: watch the scene referenced by Chase as connected to the ending:

Chase, in an interview with Brett Martin for the HBO Sopranos final edition book, confirmed the significance of the Torciano scene:

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…?

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.

Furthermore, 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.

Audio of the David Chase interview by Richard Belzer; go to 4:27:

The “never hear it concept” is expressed by Chase throughout the final episode. Phil is killed in almost the exact same way as Tony. Phil is shot in the side of the head and presumably “never heard it coming.” Tony’s vulnerability from behind (MOG shoots Tony from behind) to set up Tony “never hearing it happen” is consistently foreshadowed in “Made in America.” Chase does this in two separate scenes. The first scene is the sit-down with New York where NY boss “George” is the mediator. George asks Tony if he wants water which is behind Tony. In response, Tony does a fast “spin around” to see what is behind him as if he is vulnerable. In the very beginning of the Tony-Junior scene, Tony is staring at Junior. An orderly behind Tony (behind his right shoulder, where MOG would be) asks Tony twice to move out of his way and raises his voice (Tony “never heard” him). Finally, Tony looks behind him and seems to be surprised to see the orderly. Furthermore, at the family’s safe house, Carmela asks Tony if he is being careful; Tony looks away and never gives Carmela an answer. In the previous episode “Blue Comet,” Tony tells Silvio to have “eyes behind the back of your head” when he is referring to Phil’s possible retaliation against Tony’s crew. Unfortunately, Tony does not take his own advice at Holsten’s.

Chase also makes explicitly showing Tony’s murder superfluous through the use of POV in the previous murders of Phil Leotardo and Gerry Torciano. In the Torciano murder, Chase shows us the POV of a witness at the table (see above). This suggests what the experience may have been like for A.J. and Carmela in the final scene. A few seconds before Phil is shot, the camera is placed behind Phil, just like the killer would be. Walden’s (the killer’s) arm and gun then enter from the side of the frame and Phil is shot in the head. The shot suggests the POV of the killer and what the experience may have been like for “Man in Members Only Jacket” in the final scene. Furthermore, Phil’s wife has a delayed reaction to Phil’s shooting (she does not start screaming until a second or two after Phil is already on the floor even though she should clearly see the gun pointed at Phil’s head before the shot is fired), this echoes Silvio’s delayed response to the Torciano murder and our delayed response to Tony’s murder. Finally, the last scene puts us in the ultimate POV, the POV of the victim-Tony Soprano. In a sense though Chase has already shown us everything: we already know what the experience of Tony’s murder would be like for Carmela, A.J., and MOG.

Phil gets whacked in the last episode. Like Tony, he (presumably) never hears the shot to the side of his head, and dies in front of his family. Also notice the wife’s delayed reaction to his murder:
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In the next three shots in sequence, Chase give us a weird scene where George offers Tony some water. The water is placed behind Tony and Tony quickly turns around as if he’s vulnerable from behind. In the final scene, Tony isn’t as careful.
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In the next shots in sequence, Tony “never hears” the orderly behind him telling him to move. Tony looks surprised when he’s sees him. This is the final scene before Holsten’s.
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Part 1: Section B: Why David Chase chose to kill Tony in a non-traditional way. This section includes a discussion of an alternate death scene for Tony that Chase originally intended to use and very revealing comments by Chase regarding his frustration with the audience that doesn’t understand that we were meant to conclude that Tony was killed.

Technically, Tony’s death is “on screen,” but not in the way we would expect or even necessarily decipher  (the black screen is Tony’s POV, or lack thereof).  However, Chase has reiterated that he did not want to “show” Tony’s death in the traditional and obvious way, that being seeing MOG shoot Tony in the head in front of his family.  Extensive comments from Chase, both before and after the finale aired reveal his concern that he didn’t want the ending to be perceived as a preachy “crime doesn’t pay” message.  Chase believed that showing Tony’s bloody murder would incite the viewer’s righteous belief that Tony deserves to be punished. Chase wanted to avoid the cliches of the traditional, and predictable ending of the gangster “paying for his sins” or “going out in a blaze of glory” death.

Further, his comments express his concern not only that showing Tony’s bloody murder would make the scene simply about Tony receiving “justice,” but it would also satisfy the fan’s blood lust when those same fans-rather hypocritically-cheered on Tony for years.  Here are Chase’s comments from October of 2007:

“There was so much more to say than could have been conveyed by an image of Tony face down in a bowl of onion rings with a bullet in his head. Or, on the other side, taking over the New York mob. The way I see it is that Tony Soprano had been people’s alter ego. They had gleefully watched him rob, kill, pillage, lie, and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted “justice.” They wanted to see his brains splattered on the wall. I thought that was disgusting, frankly. But these people have always wanted blood. Maybe they would have been happy if Tony had killed twelve other people. Or twenty-five people. Or, who knows, if he had blown up Penn Station. The pathetic thing- to me- was how much they wanted his blood, after cheering him on for eight years”.

The quote suggests that Chase objects to the image of Tony’s death (not the idea of his death). This may be one explanation for the genesis of the POV pattern (the primary reason Chase used the POV pattern will be discussed shortly below) and the idea that we would experience death through Tony’s eyes. Chase is disgusted by the inherent contradiction that the same people who cheer on Tony also want to see his brains splattered all over the diner. He rails against fans for cheering on Tony and at the same time wanting to see his blood. By using Tony’s POV, he denies the fans the thrill of watching his bloody murder. More importantly, by putting “us,”the viewer, the same people he calls pathetic for cheering on Tony, in Tony’s eyes at the moment of death, he is indicting all of us. Most telling in the quote is that he calls the fans Tony’s “alter ego.” Chase does not allow us to be removed from Tony’s death (by seeing him shot and bloody) but gives us the same abrupt, disorienting feeling of sudden death and nothingness. We are Tony at that exact moment and it is jarring and more importantly, we deserve it for rooting for this guy. Chase was making a statement about us as well.

In 2018, David Chase was interviewed by television bloggers Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall for their book “The Sopranos Sessions.”  In it, Chase-rather flippantly-calls the final scene a “Death Scene.” Chase doesn’t even seem to realize his confession and when called out on it, says “fuck you guys” to his interviewers.  While his accidental admission should not really be a surprise to many at this point, Chase offers new information about an alternate “death scene” that ultimately was never used.  The text is cited below:

Alan: But you said that you didn’t try to plan too far ahead.  When you said there was an endpoint, you don’t mean Tony at Holsten’s, you just meant, “I think I have two more years of stories left in me.”

Chase: Yes. I think I had that death scene around two years before the end. I remember talking with [writer/executive producer] Mitch Burgess about it-but it wasn’t-it was slightly different. Tony was going to get called to a meeting with Johnny Sack in Manhattan and he was going to go back through the Lincoln Tunnel for this meeting, and it was going to black there, the theory being that something bad happens to him at the meeting. But we didn’t do that.

Matt: You realize, of course, that you just referred to that as a “death scene.”

[A long pause follows]

Chase: Fuck you guys.

[Matt and Alan explode with laughter after a moment Chase joins in for a good thirty seconds].

Chase: But I changed my mind over time. I didn’t want to do a straight death scene. I didn’t want you to feel like “Oh, he’s meeting with Johnny sack and he’s going to get killed”.  That’s the truth of it.

Chase then continues on about the alternate and original “Death Scene”:

Chase: If you were producing that [tunnel scene], you’d say, “Well, obviously he’s a gangster, and his death means the end of the show, so he should die. Anyone would, so he should go through that.” But in the end, I decided I didn’t want to do that.  Otherwise I would’ve filmed him going to the meeting with Johnny.

Chase explains in that last quote that his original version of the scene (which Chase describes as more of a “straight death scene”) would be perceived as a more traditional gangster death since the scene itself has Tony meeting his fate at a gangster meeting. Chase explains that that ending would simply be perceived as the preachy “crime doesn’t pay” message (as Chase explains: “obviously he’s a gangster…so he should die…so he should go through that”).  The question then arises is what is the distinction for Chase between the original death scene and what we ultimately saw in Holsten’s-a scene showed partially through Tony’s POV while he eats dinner with his family, and then ends with the audience sharing Tony’s POV at the moment of his death. Extensive comments from Chase will bring his thought process into focus and explain his main purpose in executing the scene the way he did:

David Chase’s comments on the final scene to Jack Coyle of the Associated Press in 2012:

“Tony was dealing in mortality every day.  He was dishing out life and death. And he was not happy.  He was getting everything he wanted, that guy, but he wasn’t happy.  All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away.”

Chase explains here that the ending was about the fragility and preciousness of life and the only way he could make that point was to instantly kill Tony.  Chase, through his point of view pattern, put us in Tony’s eyes at the moment of death, which expresses what sudden death may be like for all of us: one second we are there, the next second we are gone. We don’t always get a chance to say goodbye and we may not even know that we are dead.  Tony and the viewer are simply “ripped away” from life, like a sudden pulling of the plug (remember that many of us thought our cable went out the first time we saw that final scene).

Chase then continues:

“He [Tony] was an extremely isolated, unhappy man.  And then finally, once in a while he would make a connection with his family and be happy there. But in this case, whatever happened, we never got to see the result of that. It was torn away from him and from us.”

Here, Chase explicitly equates Tony with the viewer in the final scene, confirming the use of his POV pattern that puts the viewers in Tony’s eyes at the moment of death (“It was torn away from him and from us”). Tony and “us” do not get to see the results of Tony’s death and the specifics of exactly what occurred in Holsten’s (“But in this case, whatever happened, we never got to see the result of that. It was torn away from him and from us”). There is no closure in death. Chase also emphasizes that Tony’s sudden death occurs in a rare, happy moment for Tony (“And then finally, once in a while, he would make a connection with his family and be happy there”). Tony was then “ripped away” from the most important thing in his life: his family (Part 2 section A: “What does Tony’s death mean,?” thoroughly discusses this concept and the ultimate meaning of the final scene and how it relates all the way back to the pilot episode). Tony will never see his family again and never know the fall out of them seeing Tony murdered or what will happen to them in the future.

In 2013,  Chase was asked by Metro New York, to shed light on the final episode. Chase would only say:

“Well, what Tony should have been thinking, I guess, and what we all should be thinking — although we can’t live that way — is that life is really short. And there are good times in it and there are bad times in it. And that we don’t know why we’re here, but we do know that 20 miles up it’s freezing cold, it’s a freezing cold universe, but here we have this thing called love, which is our only defense, really, against all that cold, and that it’s a very brief interval and that when it’s over, I think you’re probably always blindsided by it. That’s all I can say.”

Again, Chase reiterates that the final scene was about Tony failing to realize the fragility of life and about how perhaps we all fail to realize it as well. Chase is again equating Tony with the viewer, which explains his use of Tony’s POV in the final scene. Chase explains that we are often “blindsided” by death which explains why Tony was killed instantly and without warning. More importantly, Chase again suggests the importance of Tony being with his family in the final scene as he says that love is truly the only thing to protect us against the lonely universe. It was this essential truth that Tony failed to realize in the final season (Again, please see Part 2 section “What does Tony’s death mean?” which thoroughly discusses this concept and the ultimate meaning of the final scene and how it relates all the way back to the pilot episode).

Chase, in a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, again emphasizes the meaning of the ending and all but explicitly states that Tony died while at the same time questioning how Tony has lived his life. Chase also states that the final scene asks a “spiritual question” and is then asked what that spiritual question is:

“[Long Pause] I’ll say this: The [spiritual]question [that the final scene asks] is, to be really pretentious, what is time? How do we spend our really brief sojourn here? How do we behave, and what do we do? And the recognition that it’s over all too soon, and it very seldom happens the way we think. I think death very seldom comes to people the way they think it’s going to. And the spiritual question would be: ‘Is that all there is?”

Further comments from David Chase to the Directors Guild of America in 2015 regarding Tony looking up for the last time and the cut to black:

“I said to Gandolfini, the bell rings and you look up.  That last shot of Tony ends on ‘don’t stop,’ it’s mid-song.  I’m not going to go into [if that’s Tony’s POV], I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed.”

Also, again, Chase to the DGA in 2015 about the final scene (both comments):

“A.J had remembered a moment at the end of the final show of the first season when they were 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.” 

The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them.”

Again, Chase wanted to express the idea that life is fragile and that death can come suddenly and without warning.  The first quote is a tacit admission that Tony died and that we saw it through Tony’s POV.  The second and third quotes are critical in understanding Chase’s ultimate agenda for the final scene:  That we should appreciate the moments with people we love and truly care about because we’ll never know how it will end and we won’t even realize that we are gone. That was the ultimate point of the viewer vicariously experiencing Tony’s death.  In making this point, Chase sets up a happy moment for Tony (as Chase says “…and [Tony at Holsten’s with his family] is one of those very good times”) so that we understand his loss when he is killed.

Chase’s comment at a live discussion in Brazil in February of 2013 at the Rio Content Market festival is also very telling regarding why we didn’t see Tony murdered and his use of Tony’s POV in the final scene:

I didn’t want the ending to be about showing that ‘crime doesn’t pay.’  The scene is about what Tony’s life meant to him, not what it meant to the people out there [Chase gestures to the ‘people’ in the audience].  If that makes sense?”

Here, Chase again explains that he didn’t want the ending being a preachy “crime doesn’t pay” message.  Showing Tony murdered would simply make the scene about what Tony’s life meant to us (i.e. Tony-as a typical gangster-gets what he deserves and “justice” is served). But instead, Chases uses Tony’ s POV, in a relatively happy moment with his family, to show what his life meant to him, so that the scene becomes about what Tony has lost when his POV goes black and he’s separated permanently from them.  Of note is that Tony’s instant death robs him of his view of his precious Meadow as she is about to come through the door.  When the screen cuts to black , Tony can no longer see or “experience” anything-including the people he loved the most. 

Consequently, the critical distinction between Chase’s original “death scene” and the final death scene in Holsten’s is that the final version occurs while Tony is enjoying a moment with his family.  The latter version allows Chase to carry out his ultimate meaning behind the final scene.  The original version-despite cutting to black as Tony enters the Lincoln Tunnel-would make it fairly obvious that Tony’s dies the predictable gangster’s death.  Further, Chase explained that we would essentially know Tony is going to die on his way to meeting Johnny Sack (we could assume that the events leading to the scene would imply that New York had a motive to kill Tony). As Chase said, he rejected the original version partly because “I didn’t want you to feel like ‘Oh, he’s meeting with Johnny sack and he’s going to get killed.'” The final version would have no apparent plot to kill Tony that we are aware of, setting up the “never hear it” concept that is so crucial to illustrating how quickly and without warning that we could die (As Chase said about the final scene: “..when it’s over, I think that you’re probably always blindsided by it”; “I think death very seldom comes to people the way they think it’s going to”).

Further comments from Chase to Deadline in 2019 shed further light on his intent:

Deadline: Can I give you my interpretation? I took it that we’d seen the world through the eyes of Tony Soprano, and when he was killed and those eyes closed, that abrupt fade to black was appropriate.  After spending six seasons with Tony and Carmela and watching those kids grow up, I didn’t want to see him murdered at that table, and be left with the image of his family splattered with blood.  If that’s what you meant.

Chase: I’ve never heard anybody say that before, explain it that way.  But you are right in that I never thought you would want to see that. People said, he gets his just desserts, and I thought, you’ve watched how many years of this thing to see a guy get his just desserts?

As discussed here-and tacitly acknowledged by Chase-showing Tony with his brains and blood all over his family would be exploitative and horrific, a spectacle that would rob the scene of any meaning.  It would satisfy many viewer’s thirst for justice.  Despite the poetic way Chase ultimately killed Tony and the rumination on life and death that Chase left the viewer with, he still seems to be concerned that people are still missing the point of Tony’s death ( “People said, he gets his just desserts, and I thought you’ve watched how many years of this thing to see a guy get his just desserts?”). Also note that Chase’s words “People said, he gets his just desserts” is another tacit admission of Tony’s death.

While Chase is still apparently concerned that people just see the ending (even the artful way it was executed) as Tony simply “paying for his sins,” the history of the show does reveal that all of the mafia characters “get it” in the end.  Although not in the way we would expect. We usually do not see them getting justice in the traditional way (i.e. prison). It is usually premature, violent death; for example: Richie, Ralphie, Tony B., Mikey Palmice, Eugene, Vito, Phil Leotardo, Christopher, Big Pussy, Jackie Jr., Bacala (notice this is right after his first murder) and many others. Silvio is near death. Other characters end up abandoned (Uncle Junior) and dying alone (Livia). Some do get sent to prison (Johnny Sack and Feech LaManna). Also of note is that Chase goes out of his way to show us Paulie is not long for this world after being made capo of the jinxed Aprile crew (see Part 2 of this piece). Only Artie and Charmaine, the two characters who ultimately decided to keep themselves at arms length from Tony’s world, are in a relatively happy place as the series ends. This show has always been a tragedy and Tony’s death is the most appropriate way for Chase to complete his epic. We have seen the fall of all of these characters; that was the story Chase was trying to tell. Chase himself seems to have offered his own insight into this argument. Chase was asked by Entertainment Weekly how the show would resolve about three months before the final 9 episodes aired. Chase of course would not give anything away but offered this insight:

It is in our interest (for the show) to show that there are certain ways that we all spend our lives, and that as adults, we decide our fate, we make our own bed, and we lie in it. That to me is not the same, hopefully, as saying crime doesn’t pay, or bad people are punished. Free will exists.”

Here, Chase expresses a concern that his ending will be perceived as a simplistic or preachy “crime doesn’t pay” message (his key words are “hopefully” it will not be perceived as such). The quote seems to all but give away that something very bad will happen to Tony by the end of the show. It also expresses Chase’s concern that fans will miss the big picture: that Tony’s fate is a consequence of the choices in his life. Chase lays this out with Tony’s coma-trip and his chance of change which will be explored fully in Part II of this piece. Chase knew that showing Tony being murdered would incite the viewer’s righteous belief that Tony deserves to be punished.  Instead, by putting us in Tony eyes in the moments just before his death-in a rare moment where he appears to be happy with his family-and finally in Tony’s eyes at the moment of his death, the scene becomes about what Tony has lost.

Chase uses the grammar of film to carry out this idea that it’s Tony’s own choices and “free will” that led him to his death at Holsten’s.  In executing this idea, Chase executes four separate scenes in the final episode where the viewer is given the illusion that Tony sees himself in his own POV. This occurs in the scenes (in order)(1) Tony and Agent Harris at the airport, (2) Tony visits Janice at her home, (3) Tony visits Junior, and (4) Tony walks into Holsten’s (See section IX: The influence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey on the ending of The Sopranos,  for more discussion regarding all of these scenes). Chase, on the “Supper with The Sopranos” special feature on the complete series DVD collection, stated the idea came from the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey where the astronaut Bowman appears to see himself (in his own POV) aging. Chase describes the technique as “[Tony] projecting himself into his own future.”

David Chase’s comments to the DGA in 2015 discussing the technique:

“It was my decision to direct the episode such that whenever Tony arrives someplace, he would see himself. He would get to the place and he would look and see where he was going. He had a conversation with his sister that went like this. And then he later had a conversation with Junior that went like this. I had him walk into his own POV every time. So the order of the shots would be Tony close-up, Tony POV, hold on the POV, and then Tony walks into the POV. And I shortened the POV every time. So that by the time he got to Holsten’s, he wasn’t even walking toward it anymore. He came in, he saw himself sitting at the table, and the next thing you knew he was at the table.”

In April 2014, David Chase, during an interview at the Museum of Moving Image, also discussed the four scene “Tony seeing himself in his own POV” sequence (it should be noted that Chase does mistake the Tony/Janice scene as the first in the sequence):

“Tony, all the way through [the final episode] would come somewhere, see the person he was going to talk to, cut back to him and then cut to him walking into his own point of view and he would then arrive and start talking. And that time got shorter and shorter and shorter. Janice was the longest and then there was another one that I don’t recall, and then there was Junior which was even shorter. Then [in Holsten’s] it went from Tony looking at Tony, back to Tony seeing himself. I sort of got that from 2001.”

First of the four scenes of Tony appearing to see himself in his own POV.  Tony looks and sees:
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Tony POV shot of Agent Harris in his vehicle:
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Cut back to close-up of Tony looking again at Agent Harris in his car:
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Cut back to what appears to be the prior Tony POV shot.  We then see Tony enter into the shot by walking towards Harris’ car, creating the illusion that Tony sees himself walking into his own POV:
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The second scene of the four sequences.  Tony looks and sees:
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Tony POV shot of Janice sitting on a lawn chair.
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Cut back to a close up shot of Tony looking towards Janice.
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Cut back to what appears to be the prior Tony POV shot.  We then see Tony enter the shot by walking towards Janice, creating the illusion that Tony sees himself walking into his own POV.  This walk is shorter than in the first sequence.
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The third scene of the four sequences.  Tony looks and sees:
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Tony POV shot of Junior.
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Cut back to close up Tony looking towards Junior.
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Cut back to what appears to be the prior Tony POV shot.  We then see Tony in the shot basically finished with his walk towards Junior creating the illusion that Tony sees himself in his POV.  We essentially do not see any of Tony’s walk to Junior (and we never see Tony enter the frame) making this scene closest to the jarring “jump cut” in the final sequence below.
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The fourth and final scene of the four sequences, when Tony walks into Holsten’s. Tony looks:
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Tony POV of the inside of the diner.
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Cut back to close up of Tony looking at the inside of the diner.
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Cut back to what appears to be the prior Tony POV shot.  We then see Tony sitting down in the  middle of the frame.  We do not see how Tony got to the booth.  This has been called the jarring “jump cut” in the final scene where it appears Tony sees himself.
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As discussed by Chase, the last such scene occurs in Holsten’s when Tony walks into the restaurant and a “jump cut” gives the illusion that Tony sees himself sitting down at the booth as we are not shown how Tony gets to the booth. The scenes give the illusion that Tony is watching himself or projecting himself into his own future (See section IX: The influence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey on the ending of The Sopranos,  for more discussion).

In in an interview at the Series Mania Event in France in April of 2016,  Chase discusses these sequences and its inspiration by Kubrick’s 2001.  Finally, he also elaborates on the purpose of executing this technique:

“I wanted to get across the idea that Tony Soprano created his own life. In other words, in a way, he made the film of his own life, or he wrote the book about it the way we all do. We put ourselves in these situations, we don’t just happen to wind up there. We put ourselves in these situations and what I wanted to portray [that] by starting out with him coming into a room and seeing his sister way across the porch and then walking over to her and sitting down. [Each time I did it] the interval between him looking and entering the frame got shorter and shorter so that [in the final scene] it was almost non-existent. [Tony] was almost seeing himself in the frame.”

And Chase, again, discussing the concept behind “Tony seeing himself in his POV” sequences to Matt Seitz and Alan Sepinwall in their book “The Sopranos Sessions”:

“The influence for that [filmmaking technique] was 2001: A Space Odyssey…and what I was trying to say was that we put ourselves in these positions.  We put ourselves in these scenes. Nothing happens by accident. We are the engineers of our own destiny. Like, for example, when he came up the stairs and saw Janice, it took a certain amount of time before he went over and walked to her. There’s less walking with Junior, and then in the last scene, there’s no walking at all. It was all supposed to be about ‘We are responsible for our own destiny.’ That’s what that was supposed to mean, what I was supposed to get to.”

Here, Chase explains that Tony is responsible for the choices in his life and ultimately, his pre-mature death in Holsten’s (“We put ourselves in these scenes.  Nothing happens by accident…”). As Chase says, “free will exists.” It is Tony who is projecting himself into the “scenes” of his life. Tony “sees” himself in his POV because as Chase says, “…in a way, he made the film of his own life..” Chase wants the viewer to consider the big picture:  How Tony’s own choices led him to Holsten’s (“we put ourselves in these situations, we don’t just happen to wind up there”).  Despite Tony’s criminal upbringing and being raised by Livia and Johnny Boy, it was still Tony who “made the film of his own life” or “wrote the book about [his life], the way we all do” (this concept, and Tony’s rejection of the lessons from his Kevin Finnerty near death experience, will be discussed more in depth in “Part 2: What does Tony’s death mean?”). The beginning of the final scene is the last time this technique is used, and by literally skipping all of Tony’s walk to his booth, it is clearly the most jarring and pronounced of all the four scenes in creating the illusion that Tony sees himself. This make sense in a way because it reflects the idea that Tony’s choices led to the “ending”(i.e. death) of, as Chase says “the film of his own life.” Furthermore, a significant part of the show revolves around Dr. Melfi and her exploration of Tony’s psyche and how he became the man that he ultimately is.  However, Chase doesn’t let Tony off the hook or excuse his actions.  It’s a remarkably moralistic stance by Chase, and something much more interesting and complex than simply “crime doesn’t pay.”

Chase further discussed his use of POV to express this idea in an article that appeared in Men’s Journal in December of 2012.  In that article, Brian Hiatt appears to be the first journalist to ever openly question Chase about the use of POV in the final scene and the final 10 second black screen as Tony’s final POV.  Chase, as usual, is careful not to explicitly state that Tony was killed but acknowledges the use of Tony’s POV in the final scene, that something in fact “happened” in Holsten’s, and finally suggests that Tony’s death was the result of the choices he has made in his life.   Excerpted below is the relevant section of Mr. Hiatt’s article.  The actual complete interview was not transcribed in that article, but I have bolded Chase’s direct quotes below:

Chase knows that many people are still baffled by the ending of ‘The ‘Sopranos”, that brutal cut to blackness. He joked to the ‘New York Times’ not long ago that he should’ve swapped endings with ‘Seinfeld’ – with Jerry and Kramer ending up in a diner and Tony in jail – but there’s a growing consensus that the show’s ending is actually very clear. The final image, the empty void, is simply one of the show’s many point-of-view shots from Tony’s perspective: He’s been whacked, probably by that guy in the Members Only jacket.  Chase comes very, very close to confirming this theory. “We did a lot of POV stuff,” he says. “I did a lot of setups with POV shots in that episode. People have not picked up on that.” (Watch the final series of shots closely: He sets up a pattern of them from Tony’s point of view.) “The only thing I would say definitively about it is, whatever happened, Tony put himself there. It was the world as he saw it. He was responsible for where he ended up – wherever that is. Just as in the beginning, he sent himself to therapy and he was looking at that statue.” (He’s referring to the very first POV shot in the show – another tacit confirmation.)  Despite Tony’s apparent fate, Chase doesn’t think we’re all facing that void in the end. “I don’t believe in the afterlife and all that,” he says. “I try to go along with, I guess, the Buddhist interpretation of it, which is that the flowers are made up of nonflowering elements. That a flower is part water, part sunlight, and that somehow we’re all part of that. That’s what I try to tell myself.”

As noted in the above excerpt, Chase makes reference to the very first scene in the first episode: a Tony POV shot of a female statue in Dr. Melfi’s waiting room. Here, Tony’s journey begins.  Also note that the very first shot of the show frames Tony underneath the female statue’s legs, suggesting that Tony is being “born.” The Tony POV shot that opens the show has a beautiful continuity with the final Tony POV shot signifying Tony’s death.  Chase also equates the two scenes because they are both the result of Tony’s choices in his life.  Tony’s journey began with an attempt at self-improvement and perhaps a quest for the truth about his life with his initial visit to Dr. Melfi.  However, it was ultimately Tony’s wrong choices that led to his pre-mature death and Tony facing that black void in the end (as Chase says when discussing his use of POV in the final scene: “whatever happened, Tony put himself there…he was responsible for where he ended up-wherever that is.  Just as in the beginning,  he sent himself to therapy and he was looking at that statute”). 

The first shot of the first episode: Tony looks up at the statue and Chase cuts to Tony’s POV.
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The last shots of the series: Tony looks up and Chase cuts to Tony’s POV.
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As discussed, Chase wanted us inside Tony’s POV throughout the final scene while he is experiencing a happy moment with his family so as to emphasize the fragility and preciousness of life when Tony is taken from them.  In May of 2016,  David Chase was interviewed by Matt Seitz at an event called a “A Sunday Night with David Chase.” At the event an audience member (or perhaps the writer of this very essay!) posed a question to David Chase concerning the meaning of the ending:  that the ending represents death as separation from the people we love the most.   Chase answered that the ending for him is deeply sad and emotional and confirmed that the idea of “separation” is a pivotal component of the scene.  He also explained his sadness of the ending is not because the show itself was ending, but because what was actually occurring on screen:

Audience member: To me, something about that ending is very very profound. To me, it’s the idea of separation. Tony not seeing Meadow. And I know you’re not going to talk about this. [Tony] sees his family come in and he sees these people come in. [Tony] doesn’t see Meadow come in and I personally believe it’s because he’s gone in that moment. It’s just very profound to me, the way you did it. [Tony] not being able to see his daughter was so moving to me. It’s just amazing to me and I don’t know if you want to comment on that, whether I’m right or wrong?

Chase: Well, you really like it so you’re right [audience laughs]. I’ll tell you this about it. For me, when I watch it-I just did a thing recently, another Q&A somewhere and they screened it-and it’s always been this way for me. I’m filled with sadness when I see that ending. I get all choked up. In fact, just thinking about it I get all choked up and that’s the dominant emotion I have. I don’t know, “separation” is really a good word I guess. The way the thing builds and the music and all that. To me it makes me want to cry. And its not because “oh, there goes the show”-that’s not what I’m talking about- or “there goes part of my life.” It has nothing to do with that. It’s what’s going on on screen.

By its very presentation, the ending is initially ambiguous and open to interpretation. However, Chase wanted us to engage the material and find the answers ourselves, while at the same time discovering what the show was really about. As a plot point, the simple answer to the question: “Does Tony live or die?” is of little interest to Chase. Chase wanted to explore the meaning behind that answer (that “meaning” has already been discussed here and is discussed more in depth in Part 2 Section A: “What does Tony’s death mean?”). Chase knew that simply showing Tony get killed would end that process of viewer engagement in the series. As Chase said to the AP in 2012:

“To me the question is not whether Tony lived or died, and that’s all that people wanted to know: ‘Well, did he live or did he die? You didn’t finish the show. You didn’t answer the question.’ That’s preposterous. There was something else I was saying that was more important than whether Tony Soprano lived or died. About the fragility of all of it…All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away.”

Chase does not want us to simply take away from the scene that “Tony died.” In Chase’s comments to the Directors Guild in 2015, he may have suggested that Tony’s death is not definitive, while again stressing the importance of the meaning behind the final scene:

“The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing”

Despite the filmic evidence of Tony’s death in the final scene, the overwhelming foreshadowing and clues prior to Holsten’s, and extensive comments from Chase suggesting-if not explicitly stating-that Tony died, there are still many who cling to Chase’s words “Either it ends here for Tony or some other time…” to argue that Chase didn’t intend for Tony to definitively be killed in the final scene or that there is no “definitive” answer. However, Chase has also made comments explicitly stating or suggesting that he does not want to simply give us the answer. This explains why Chase uses qualifying language in his comments cited directly above. Chase does not want to explain his art and wants the viewers to find the answer themselves (although, ironically, he has explained it so thoroughly that he has already essentially said “Tony died”). Chase’s comments in the 2007 Sopranos Ultimate Edition book explicitly make this point:

Chase: …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 died]?

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.

Again, Chase in an interview with Bryan Alexander for USA Today in 2012 explicitly states that he will not give us the answer, while also making a “wishy-washy” statement (similar to his comments to DGA above) suggesting that Tony was killed:

“People still ask me what happened. They don’t ask me if Tony is alive or dead. But I know that’s where it’s going.  My answer is, if I was going to tell you that I would have told you.”

Chase then continues:

“If he didn’t die that night he’s going to die very soon.  And the problem is the same: there are a number of minutes in life and they go like this,” says Chase, making a ticking sound.  “They’re gone. And you don’t know when it’s coming. That’s all I wanted to say.”  

Since Tony’s death is never explicitly shown on screen, the final scene is always-arguably-open to interpretation. Further, there are many who do not believe that the creator’s intention is paramount. I would surmise that this website is not for those people. In any event, Chase’s reference to the “Gerry Torciano” death scene in the 2007 HBO Sopranos Ultimate Edition book (see Part 1: Section A) and his later radio interview citing both Bacala’s “never hear it happen” line and the Torciano killing as “part of the ending” (See Chase comments to Richard Belzer in Part 1: Section A) illustrate that clues or harbingers of Tony’s death in the final scene were carefully planned early on in the final season narrative to clear up the ambiguity of the end. Logic dictates that Tony’s literal death is Chase’s personal interpretation of the events in Holsten’s, otherwise he has undermined his own narrative (i.e. all of the foreshadowing would be utterly pointless). Further, if Chase didn’t actually intend for Tony to die that night, then the POV pattern in the scene-and the silent black screen that appears at the exact moment that we are supposed to see Tony’s POV-becomes utterly meaningless and nothing but a coincidence.

Further, as discussed, Chase would later in 2018, accidentally admit that the final scene is a “death scene.” Chase’s “long pause” after realizing his confession and subsequent lashing out (“fuck you guys”) reveals that he wants to keep the debate alive and never had the intention of explicitly giving us the answer. In 2012, Chase also told the AP:

“Tony was dealing in mortality every day. He was dishing out life and death….All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away.”

Chase does not seem to be speaking here in hypotheticals, or that “maybe” Tony died that night. Here, he clearly states that he did, in fact, “rip it (Tony’s life) away.” Consequently, Tony’s death that night is clearly his personal interpretation of the final scene.

Also note Chase’s comments to the Brazilian publication Globo on February 22, 2013 in an interview with Liv Brandao while Chase was in Brazil as a guest at the Rio Content Market festival.  An online translation was used for the excerpt.  Chase was asked about always being questioned about the final scene:

“It’s inevitable.  Everybody asks me if Tony Soprano dies in the end.  I always say that-for me-there is a closed ending.” 

Finally, in one of Chase’s earliest, and mostly unknown comments at the Television Critics Awards in July of 2007, Chase, perhaps still stinging from the enormous negative reaction only a about a month out from the airing of the finale, seems to show his clear frustration at those who do not understand that Tony was killed. Further, the comment cements that Tony’s death is definite and not open to interpretation:

“Somebody said it would be a good idea if we said something about the ending.  I really wasn’t going to go into it.  But I’ll just say this: When I was going to Stanford University graduate film school, 23 years old, I went and saw ‘Planet of the Apes’ with my wife.  When the movie was over I said, ‘Wow, so they had a Statue of Liberty, too.’  So that’s what you’re up against.”

Chase makes the Planet of Apes analogy (with tongue planted firmly in cheek I would surmise as we can’t seriously believe he didn’t understand the ending to that film) to say that the audience is missing an implied or inferred ending that isn’t made clear through exposition.  In the case of ‘Planet of the Apes,’ the appearance of The Statue of Liberty infers that the planet was earth all along.  This is not made clear in the film with explicit exposition (i.e a character actually explaining that the planet is Earth).  Likewise, at the end of The Sopranos, we are to infer that Tony is killed, although it is not explicitly shown, nor does a character explain “Tony is dead!”   Chase’s words: “So that’s what you’re up against” reveals that Chase doesn’t really respect the portion of the audience that does not realize that Tony was killed.

While it’s hard to fathom that the ending of ‘The Planet of the Apes’ and the ending of ‘The Sopranos’ are equally clear,  the comment does show-that for Chase-the ending isn’t very ambiguous.   As Chase said “If you look at the final episode really carefully, it’s all there.”  In an interview with EmmyLegends.org in 2009, Chase also said this about the ending:

“It’s no big mystery.  There’s not a lot of mystery to [the ending]”

Part 1: Section C:  Addressing other arguments against Tony dying.  Includes discussion regarding the “audience was whacked” theory.

Some believe David Chase was just “playing” with the audience in the final scene. The argument being that Chase ratchets up the suspense but provides no payoff, this being his way of “messing” with the audience. This argument is not consistent with the way Chase has done things on the show. Chase seems to dispute this theory himself in his earliest post-finale interview:

“No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God. We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people’s minds, or thinking, ‘Wow, this’ll(tick) them off.’ People get the impression that you’re trying to (mess) with them and it’s not true. You’re trying to entertain them. Anybody who wants to watch it, it’s all there.”

For Chase not to give the viewer an ending, after setting up the final scene for a big payoff (or for Chase to simply say that “life goes on”), would be in direct contrast to the structure of all six seasons. The show was complex and often ambiguous with its themes and character motivations. However, plot-wise, the show was pretty classic story-telling. When Chase did wallow in plot ambiguity, it was only for peripheral matters or the ending was there but the audience just failed to see it. Take the famous Russian Valery in the “Pine Barrens,” the episode was not really about him or his ultimate fate, it was about Paulie and Christopher’s deteriorating relationship. Interestingly enough, after that episode, Chase cites the missing Russian three times after that episode throughout the rest of the series. All three scenes imply that the Russian never surfaced. Chris mentions the missing Russian during his intervention which causes an angry Paulie to shut him up. Paulie and Chris relay the Pine Barrens story to other crew members in the Season 5 opener. When Patsy asks what happened to the Russian, Chris replies “Who the fuck knows?” In one of the final episodes, “Chasing It,” Tony relays to Bobby, Paulie, and Chris that he has to go see Slava (the Russian boss and Valery’s close friend) to retrieve some money. Logic dictates that if Valery survived there would have been major consequences given Valery’s close relationship to the Russian boss Slava. However, those three scenes imply that Valery never surfaced and Tony has continued doing business with Slava. If Chase was so invested in narrative ambiguity he would have no reason to include these three follow up scenes.

Many also cite that there was no follow up regarding Dr. Melfi’s rapist as an example of Chase’s perverse pleasure in leaving story lines dangling. Once again the ending is there, ifyou want to see it. Once Dr. Melfi took her moral stand not to tell Tony to avenge her rapist, the story was over; that is what that episode was about. The important answers have always been there on this show. Chase always liked to hammer a point home, always artful but never clear until the end. Each episode of each season was like 13 separate pieces, each with its own story-line and themes that ultimately coalesced into the season’s ultimate themes, that all become clear by the finale. Only in retrospect can the viewer see that the arrows were always pointing the way toward the end (in part II of this essay, you will see, with the benefit of hindsight, why Tony dying is the only ending that makes sense). It makes no sense that Chase would abandon this style in the final season, all just to say “life goes on” or to leave the viewer hanging. Whether or not Tony died in the diner would not be a peripheral matter to the show, it is not something Chase would leave hanging. Chase decided to show Tony’s final fate in an artful way that required the audience to work a little bit, but the answer is there. The true identity of Tony’s murderer, and the motive, is the real ambiguous part of the finale and only of peripheral concern to Chase. Below is an illustration of how the first five seasons have a clear narrative drive that ends conclusively. Each season has its major themes and story lines that pay off by the end:

Season 1: The major thrust of the season is Tony’s struggle for control of the “family” with Uncle Junior and Tony’s relationship with his Mother. The season ends with Tony defeating Junior to become boss of the family. Junior’s crew is wiped out. Tony comes to the realization that Livia is not the loving Mom he thought she was and attempts to kill her at the hospital.

Season 2: The two major plot lines are two separate threats to Tony Soprano. Big Pussy, Tony’s best friend has flipped to the FBI and may bring Tony down. Richie Aprile returns from prison to challenge Tony and rekindles his old romance with Tony’s sister Janice. These story lines are resolved neatly. Richie is killed by Janice and Pussy is killed when Tony discovers he is a traitor.

Season 3: The two major plot lines involve Jackie Aprile Jr. and his attempt to break into the Mafia (and Tony’s attempt to keep him out) and the introduction of Ralph Ciffaretto, a new thorn in Tony’s side. By the end of the season, Jackie Jr. is killed on Tony’s orders and Tony resolves (at least temporarily) a season long feud with Ralphie.

Season 4: This is probably the least “clean” of all the season’s endings. Tony and Carmela separate in the finale (although the separation was a natural conclusion to their relationship during this season). Junior’s trial ends with a hung jury and he avoids prison.

Season 5: A season long civil war in the NY Lupertazzi family is the thrust of this season. Tony’s cousin Tony Blundetto is also introduced and gets involved in the NY war. By the end of the season the NY war is resolved when Little Carmine surrenders to Johnny Sack and Tony kills his cousin Tony Blundetto (to avoid Tony’s family having its own war with NY). Also, Tony and Carmela are back together by the season’s end.

Consequently, for Chase to have this big buildup in the final scene of Season 6 only to end it with “nothing happening” or that simply “life goes on,” violates the shows basic structure. Why would Chase and his team of writers leave the viewer to “choose their own ending”? Why would Chase introduce the prospect of Tony’s trial in the final few moments of the final episode? Would Chase not consider this major event in Tony’s life worth seeing? The answer is simple: Carlo’s flipping and Tony’s inevitable trial become a moot point once Tony is killed. That is why Tony’s impending indictment is mentioned again in Holsten’s. It is meant to distract us from what is really coming.

Some believe that the blackout represents the “viewer getting whacked.”   This is in a sense partially true, since we share Tony’s POV at the moment of his death.   However, if you take Tony’s death out of it,  this argument would otherwise violate the basic structure of the story. When has the viewer ever become part of the show? This would make the ending a complete gimmick. It would be the “cop out” that many fans complained about after the finale. Did Chase take nearly two years off to come up with that?

Chase’s many comments to Jack Coyle of the Associated Press in 2012, seem to put the rest the theory that the “audience was whacked” as he specifically states that he ripped both Tony and “us” from the narrative.  Since we were in Tony eyes in the last shot, we were whacked, along with Tony (“All I wanted to do was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away”;  “It was torn away from him and from us“).

In an interview for “Series Mania” in France on April 16, 2016,  Chase finally, and explicitly,  rejected “the audience was whacked” theory:

Q: I watched it many times. [It feels like ] violence done to me as a viewer.  It’s sort of the death of the viewer to me.  If there is one death, it’s the death of the viewer and I can’t see the show anymore.  Is [this] anything in your [intention]?

Chase : No.

Some believe Chase was simply making a commentary about storytelling; that Chase simply stopped the story to undermine the idea of closure. This was his bold critique of the arbitrary structures of traditional narration and a refusal to comply with expectations and norms. This would certainly be a confrontational way to the end the series and would be more in line with the “audience was whacked” theory. This view seems contrary to Chase’s own words that the ending was not a slap in the face to the audience. This theory also assumes that the ending was about the Sopranos as a television series or cultural phenomenon distinct from the Sopranos as a group of characters within a narrative. This arbitrary type ending would be nothing more than an adolescent and defiant stance by Chase and would run counter to everything that came before it. If you choose to follow Chase’s words-“If you look at the final episode really carefully, it’s all there”-then we are only to look within the narrative itself to find the meaning. To think that Chase simply wanted to piss off the audience is to ignore the artistry, depth, commitment, and creativity Chase and his team has shown throughout the entire series. Chase has been on record as orchestrating the ending for several years. To think he meant the final scene to be a “fuck you” at the last moment strains credibility. This excerpt is also from the HBO Sopranos final edition book:

“I saw some items in the press that said “This was a huge “fuck you” to the audience. That we were shitting in the audience’s face. Why would we want to do that? Why would we entertain people for eight years only to give them the finger? We don’t have contempt for the audience. In fact, I think The Sopranos is the only show that actually gave the audience credit for having some intelligence and attention span. We always operated as though people don’t need to be spoon-fed every single thing- that their instincts and feelings and humanity will tell them what’s going on.”

These words sound similar to his earlier “If you look at the final episode really carefully, it’s all there” remark to Stephen Armstrong of The Times UK. Chase says the viewer can figure out “what’s going on”. This suggests that something is in fact going on-the hidden event that is not explicitly shown on-screen.

Chase to Jack Coyle of the Associated Press in 2012:

“I think a lot of people thought they were being made a fool of, that I was being really meta — is that the word? — and postmodern or just showing my quote-unquote “contempt” for the audience or going “Ha, ha, ha. It’s just a TV show.” None of that was what was going on.”

Many believe that Tony survived because there was nobody left with a motive to kill him. This is certainly debatable. Tony Soprano has directly and indirectly ruined so many lives that he must have dozens of enemies. This may be reason for the “Members Only Guy”/Eugene Pontecorvo connection (I will get more detailed with this concept later on in the “What does Tony’s death mean?” section). The man who kills Tony is credited as “Man in Members Only Jacket.” The first episode of the final season is titled “Members Only.” The title refers to Eugene Pontecorvo (a member of Tony’s crew) who wears the jacket in this episode. In the same episode, Eugene commits suicide after Tony will not let him and his family retire to Florida after he receives a two million dollar inheritance. Eugene is another life that Tony ruined. Maybe that is Chase’s point: Tony’s death was inevitable given all of the lives he has destroyed and all of the potential motives of unknown killers. Mr. Chase was not interested in the identity of the killer or his motive but in the inevitability of Tony’s pre-mature death. This argument may be supported by Alik Sakharov, ASC, the main director of photographer for The Sopranos. Mr. Sakharov has shot 39 of the 86 episodes. More importantly, he shot the final episode. Mr. Sakharov’s words seem to rebut the “nobody with a motive left to kill Tony” argument which is especially relevant because he is discussing the final scene in Holsten’s. The following quote is from an audio interview with Mr. Sakharov for American Cinematographer Magazine just two weeks after the finale. Once again, Mr. Sakharov is discussing the final scene in the context of the people in the diner who may or may not be a threat to Tony:

“Tony Soprano revolves around the people, many of whom he has hurt indirectly and directly. He is a very vulnerable character. The hit (on Tony) could come from anyplace, anytime, anywhere, and (by) anyone.”

Also of note are Bacala’s own words about death as a way of life in the Mafia in the now crucial scene in “Sopranos Home Movies”:

“Our line of work, it’s always out there. You probably don’t even hear it when it happens right?”

Finally, in 2018, Chase discussed this issue himself with Alan Sepinwall and Matt Seitz for their book “The Sopranos Sessions:”

Alan: One of the reasons that I, for a very long time, was ardently, “Tony is obviously alive” is the idea that in the narrative of the show at that point, nobody wants him dead.  Did you think through this idea much of, if Members Only Guy is actually there to kill him, who is he and why?, or was that not a concern?
Chase: Not a concern, there is always someone out there who hates a guy like this.
Matt:  So, in theory, somebody else could kill him.  There’s always somebody who could kill Tony.
Chase: There you go.  There is always somebody that can kill us, any of us.

Many also believe that if Chase wanted us to interpret that Tony died, he would tell us who exactly did it and why. However, a huge part of this show has always been the surprises. How would Chase accomplish this task with scenes setting up Tony’s murder? Worse, how anti-climatic would it be if we find out the details after Tony is killed? Once Tony is dead the show is over (more on this concept in the next paragraph). More importantly, the “never hear it” concept and blindsided nature of Tony’s death would be disrupted by scenes setting the plot to kill Tony in motion.

It is also plausible that the hit could have been at the orders of Butchie. There appeared to be an agreement between Butchie and Tony but the exact way that the Phil Leotardo hit went down may have changed everything. Phil being killed in front of his family and not being able to have an open casket (his head gets crushed by his SUV) may have crossed the line and embarrassed NY. Butchie has never been shy about killing Tony and the final season made it clear that the NY family has no respect for the NJ family. It is certainly plausible that there was a double cross. Butchie may not be able to adequately lead his men by letting Tony kill Phil without retribution. Chase even hints at the possibility that there could have been a double cross. When Paulie calls Tony to tell him Carlo is missing he suggests that perhaps Butchie took him out and the sit-down was a ruse. Later we learn Carlo flipped to the Feds but the idea of a double cross was certainly possible to Paulie. Furthermore, it would be the perfect retribution for Phil for Butchie to have Tony’s death occur right in front of his family. It would simply be a “A boss for a boss” and the slate is wiped clean. NY can now do business with the remnants of Jersey. The NY motive may also explain MOG’s hesitance in Holsten’s; MOG may simply be waiting for Tony’s entire family to arrive so that they can witness his murder, just like Phil’s family witnessed his. In any event, Chase leaves us with an abundance of evidence that Tony is killed but only crumbs that may suggest the identity of his murderer. Consequently, the identity of the killer and the possible motive for it are clearly not important to Chase. Chase left this point as the great mystery of the series and perhaps Chase himself has no answer. Remember the “never hear it” concept, Chase wanted us in Tony’s eyes at the moment of his death. In achieving the ultimate vicarious experience of Tony’s death, Tony himself would never know who killed him or why, so the viewers shouldn’t know either.

Some are resistant to the idea that Chase showed us Tony’s death through his eyes because the show has never been told strictly through Tony’s POV. This may be true, but that does not preclude Chase from crafting the POV pattern in the final scene to express Tony’s death. Once again, this show is primarily about Tony. Through Dr. Melfi and his dreams, we have become incredibly intimate with Tony and his thoughts. Furthermore, just about every other plot-line on the show relates to Tony or informs his character on some level. Practically, it would be impossible for Chase to shoot every scene of the series from Tony’s POV and even the final scene only shows Tony’s POV in certain instances. Chase makes this point on his DVD audio commentary (with Peter Bogdanavich) of the very first episode. What is intriguing here is that Chase had thought about doing the entire show from Tony’s POV. The genesis of the POV pattern seems to have derived from his original conception of the series. Chase, while talking about the scene early in the first episode where Tony chases down a degenerate gambler with his car, explains that the scene is meant to show Tony’s POV through an over the shoulder shot. He then explains:

“I originally had thought of maybe doing the whole show-it’s ridiculous-like that, as an over [the shoulder shot], [doing the show through]Tony’s POV”

Many believe that Tony was not killed because MOG’s actions do not indicate that he was a professional hit-man due to the length of time it takes for him to carry out the hit. However, there could be dozens of reasons why MOG took his time in the diner. He may have needed to positively identify Tony before moving in for the kill. He may have wanted to sell to Tony that he was just a regular customer. More importantly, by going to the bathroom he is now behind Tony, a much easier shot. There is also no reason to assume he is a professional hit-man. He may just be a man with a grudge who may have followed Tony to Holsten’s or just happened to discover Tony there and decided to kill him at that moment. In Season 5, Tony Blundetto attempted an unsanctioned hit on capo Phil Leotardo (as revenge for Phil’s murder of Angelo Garepe) and nearly killed him, and fatally shot his brother Billy; certainly Phil and Billy “didn’t see it coming.” Others argue that MOG could not have known that Tony and his family were at Holsten’s. This argument assumes Chase cares about relaying this information to the audience. However, Chase never explained how Bacala or Jackie Jr. were found by their killers. Mr. Chase is not primarily interested in the realism of the scene. He is interested in created the most effective and suspenseful scene that he can make. There are dozens of other whackings on the show that are not entirely realistic. Phil is shot dead in front of a half dozen witnesses (and most gas stations now have cameras). Silvio is shot in daylight in front of witnesses as dozens of vehicles drive by on the highway adjacent to the Bada Bing. In the final season, Gerry Torciano is shot dead in a crowded restaurant (setting up the final scene in Holsten’s). As far back as Season 1, Tony actually shot and killed Chucky Signore in broad daylight by pulling a gun out of a dead fish! The whacking of Bacala by two hit-men is another important example of Chase’s preference for entertainment over realism. The hit-men can just as easily kill Bacala outside the toy train shop. The shop probably has cameras (Bacala’s dialogue explains how expensive some of the toy trains are) and the shop had many witnesses, including children. Yet, if they waited to kill him when he came outside then we would not have witnessed a spellbinding sequence contrasting Bacala’s death with the derailing of a model train (not to mention the irony of Bacala dying in the context of his childlike, innocent love for toy trains). Furthermore, if we assume Tony’s murder was revenge for Phil being murdered in front of his family, MOG is simply waiting for Tony’s entire family to arrive so that they can witness his murder (thus explaining the delay in carrying out the hit).

On the season 1 DVD, Chase was interviewed by director Peter Bogdanavich. The interview was conducted in 2000 but it illustrates how Chase would craft the final season and final scene. Chase reveals that he wants the viewer to engage in “active watching” in order to figure things out for ourselves. He does not want to spoon feed the viewer and if we pay attention, we will be rewarded:

Chase: We don’t have to explain everything like at a network. It really is the old Hollywood adage: tell them what they’re going to see, show it to them and then tell them what they just saw. We don’t do that anymore and I really took that to heart and also I felt the movies I like best are the movies where-notice I said movies, not television shows-because I don’t think this happens. Something happens in act 1, someone says something and then you see a pattern of this recurring, someone says something, either you see the guy contradict what he said. It’s active watching. You need to bring every little piece of information you’re given to the watching of the entire thing, especially with European movies, that’s really essential. That’s what I felt, that it would be fun to do that.

Bogdanavich: You do do that and there are things that are not paid off for several episodes. The ducks are paid off again and you bring them back and you connect that and there are things that pay off in the 13th episode that really connects the whole 13 hours.

Chase: But even within the hour I feel that that’s true. That’s always been my favorite kind of movie since I’ve been an adult. I’ve always liked that kind of thing where little clues are given to you and I don’t mean corny detective movies.

Bogdanavich: It’s human things.

Chase: It’s human things and in the end it’s still a puzzle even though it’s over.

Many still refuse to believe that Tony died because Chase would have shown MOG shoot Tony if he wanted us to believe Tony died. After all, any death of a major character on the show has always been explicitly shown to the audience. However, Tony is not just any other character on the show. The viewer has been primarily following his story and has been inside Tony’s head. Tony Soprano may be the most famous gangster in television and film history. Millions of fans have wondered what his death would “look like.” For this reason Chase cannot kill him in a cliché manner. A quick bullet to the head just doesn’t work for Chase’s purposes. It is an ending not worth the character. Besides, we have already seen Tony shot on two previous occasions. Consequently, Chase crafted a way to show Tony’s death without showing anything explicit. More importantly, he avoided any of the clichés of a gangster’s on screen death. He created something no one could have predicted, a POV sequence that puts the viewer in Tony’s eyes at the moment that he is shot. Chase had no interest in showing Tony dead and bloody and his family screaming in horror. Besides, Chase already showed you what that would look like just a few scenes before when Phil Leotardo is killed right in front of his family. Instead, Chase creates a jarring cut to black through Tony’s eyes that is far more satisfying intellectually and emotionally. More importantly, it has never been done before and could not be predicted by anyone upon the first viewing. It is one of the great deaths in cinematic history. It is the anti-Scarface ending (Chase denies the fans the “Tony going out in a blaze of glory” death they might expect). Instead of a bullet ridden corpse we get to experience death as Tony would experience it. Tony Soprano and us never saw it coming. As Part I ends, I leave you with these words by David Chase discussing the ending from a December 2007 GQ magazine interview that encapsulates his thinking about the final scene:

“In a certain way, I think [the controversy over the ending] revealed some of the problems that we have. We’ve been fed so much ham-handed, overly explicit storytelling, particularly in television over the years-tell them what they’re going to see, show it to them, then tell them what they’ve seen. And some things are beyond words, actually.”

David Chase did not show us Tony getting killed. He did what great artists do, he made us feel it…..

*One last thing regarding Part I: Could Chase have filmed Tony being murdered?

All of the prior discussion regarding the ending perhaps ignores the most practical reason Chase executed it the way he did: Chase could not actually film Tony being murdered without it leaking to the public before the episode aired. Chase has been fanatical about plot leaks and keeping Tony’s death a secret would have been his biggest challenge. Someone among the hundreds of crew-members or the dozens of extras in Holsten’s would certainly leak the Tony murdered scene. Even if the scene was filmed on the sound stages of Silver Cup studios in Queens, New York (where many interiors are filmed), someone in the crew may have leaked it. Consequently, Chase killed Tony entirely in the editing room, with the point of view pattern and black screen discussed above in a brilliant exercise in minimalism. More importantly, the crew of hundreds on the show, and the fans, would never know it until the episode aired (and many still do not believe it today).

Part I Epilogue: “It’s all a big nothing”: Death and David Chase*
*Updated in December 2012 with new Chase quotes

In cinematic history, when the main character dies, the film continues. We usually see the reactions of other characters to the protagonist’s death. But what Chase was telling us was that when you die, it’s all over; you do not get to the see the consequences or people’s reactions to your death. That was part of the reason why Chase put the viewer in Tony’s eyes at the moment of his death; Tony would not know the details and neither should we. In reality we don’t often get to choose the circumstances of our death. Death is often arbitrary and does not always flow logically from our lives (in the final scene, there was no apparent plot to kill Tony that we are aware of)and we won’t know it anyway because we’ll be dead. All we can really do is “remember the good times” (as AJ reminds Tony in Holsten’s) and choose the life we leave behind; a lesson that unfortunately Tony did not learn from his Kevin Finnerty near death experience (see Part II). Tony’s sudden death leaves the audience with the beginning of the process in understanding the sudden shock, disbelief and denial when someone we know dies. For anyone who has had a loved one die suddenly, it is often hard to accept and difficult to believe (not unlike many Sopranos fans who are still in denial about Tony’s death) especially without all of the details, and when you do get the details, it is often never how you imagined.

Tony’s sudden death and world of darkness ties into Chase’s personal fears about death. As Livia said “It’s all a big nothing” and “In the end you die in your own arms.” In the second season finale “Funhouse”, Tony’s food poisoning lead to dreams that reveal Tony’s subconscious fears that his friend Pussy is a traitor. At one point in the dream, Tony tells his crew that he has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. In order to spare his friends having to visit him in the hospital, Tony decides to kill himself. He pours gasoline over his head and lights a match. At the exact moment he explodes, and presumably dies, Tony wakes up crying and says “Everything’s black!”

Those final 10 seconds of darkness illustrates Tony’s greatest fear: that when we die, it’s all over. We look for meaning in life and we fear an empty existence; this was often illustrated with Tony’s sessions with Dr. Melfi and the entire psychological aspect to the show. Death in popular fiction is usually glorified in some way. It’s usually about courage, sacrifice, and the tragedy of loss. There usually has to be some great “meaning” behind it. But for Chase, any “meaning” vanishes the second the bullet enters Tony’s brain. In the end, Tony (and us) are left with eternal nothingness, all we can really do when we are alive is “remember the good times.”*

*2014 update: Chase, in a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast, states that the final scene asks a “spiritual question” and is then asked what that spiritual question is:

[Long Pause] I’ll say this: The [spiritual]question [that the final scene asks] is, to be really pretentious, what is time? How do we spend our really brief sojourn here? How do we behave, and what do we do? And the recognition that it’s over all too soon, and it very seldom happens the way we think. I think death very seldom comes to people the way they think it’s going to. And the spiritual question would be: “Is that all there is?”

Again, here Chase discusses the fragility of life and how we have to appreciate our time here. At the same time, the black screen as Tony’s final POV, may chillingly answer the question “Is that all there is?” (Tony himself asks the very same question to Dr. Melfi in the 6b episode “Walk Like A Man,” which aired just four episodes before the finale). end of 2014 update

As discussed early on in Part I, the viewer’s first reaction to the cut to black was of confusion and disorientation.  For the viewer, the cut to black feels like an interruption and a cheat.  We want to know what happened and want to see the scene come to a natural conclusion.  In having us die along with Tony, the viewer experiences what it might be like to die without even knowing it; to be abruptly plunged into darkness. Chase expresses the idea of death as an interruption of life by having the audience initially believe the plug was pulled on their cable box. Death is disconnection from life and the people in it.  For us, our view of the world of the Sopranos is over.  For Tony, he will never see his family again or know the results of the bloodbath at Holsten’s (Chase: “But in this case, whatever happened [at Holsten’s] we never got to see the result of that. It was torn away from [Tony]and from us”). Death robs us of the details and is the ultimate loose end.  Chase was going for an instinctual and emotional reaction from the audience that taps into our universal fear of death and disconnection from this world:

Chase: So why did I do [the end]that way? I thought everyone would feel it. That even if they couldn’t say what it meant, that they would feel it.”*
*(this quote is an excerpt from Alan Sepinwall’s book: The Revolution was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers who changed TV drama forever)

And as Chase told the Associated Press in December 2012:

“All I wanted to do [for the end]was present the idea of how short life is and how precious it is. The only way I felt I could do that was to rip it away. And I think people did get it. It made them upset emotionally, but intellectually they didn’t follow it.”

Even as far back as Season 1, Chase has hinted at these broader themes. Director Peter Bogdanavich (who plays Dr. Elliott) interviewed Chase for the Season 1 DVD back in 2000. Their conversation excerpted below is almost prophetic regarding the final scene and what I discuss in Part II of this piece regarding the very first episode and Tony’s fears of losing his family (symbolized by the ducks leaving Tony’s pool) which comes to fruition when Tony is permanently separated from them when he is instantly killed in Holsten’s. Here, Chase ties death to the ducks that leave Tony’s pool and Tony’s “remember the good times” speech in the first season finale, a speech that is fondly recalled by AJ in Holsten’s:

Chase: [Tony’s]kids are probably the only normalizing influence in his life.

Bogdanavich: The family [Tony’s real family] is really the key to the whole thing

Chase: Yeah. Parents and children.

Bogdanavich: And that connects to the ending of the first season, the last episode when he [Tony] toasts “the good moments”, that connects to the ducks leaving. There is an element of elegy to this series. Is that conscious? an elegiac feeling to it?

Chase: It’s not conscious.

Bogdanavich: But do you notice it in a sense of…[cut off by Chase]?

Chase: I think I’m just kind of hung up on death. I constantly have to remind myself [Chase snaps his fingers indicating how fast we can all die] that’s it’s all going to be gone.

Also, in the “Supper with the Sopranos” section of the Complete series DVD, director Alan Taylor and writer Matthew Weiner discuss the philosophical influences on Chase’s work. Tellingly, Chase brings the conversation around to his fear of death:

Alan Taylor: [the show exhibits] personal concerns that I assume grew up out of your life, [like] therapy: what it can and can’t do or Buddhism and what it can and can’t answer.

Chase: I never explored Buddhism, but therapy I certainly explored, living in Jersey I certainly explored.

Weiner then starts to talk about the writers room and ideas that get bounced around. He then refers to Buddhism and the Kevin Finnerty sequence with the monks:

Matt Weiner:..and [in the writer’s room] you were interested in Buddhism.

Chase: I don’t know if I was interested in Buddhism per se [Chase cuts himself off and begins fake crying], I don’t want to die!

Continued on Page 3 https://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/page-3/

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