Those of us who devoted gray cells and column inches to the fate of Tony Soprano — both before and after the head-scratching finale of The Sopranos — were brought up short last week by an interview in which creator David Chase described us as “bloodthirsty” and chastised us for caring more about the fate of his protagonist, a conscienceless killer, than injustices in the real world. My answer to Chase is easily stated: Eat me.
There is nothing bloodthirsty about hoping for a little closure at the end of a much-loved work of art. A protagonist’s fate is a kind of summation. The regicidal creep Macbeth dies the way the Weird Sisters told him he would, at the hands of a man whose family he murdered. The fanatical Ahab perishes on top of his damnable White Whale. If Chase wanted to flout convention, he certainly earned the right (although I think there are more than enough hints that Tony was whacked by the man in the Members Only jacket for unspecified reasons and never heard the bullet that killed him — unless, in 2010’s Bride of the Sopranos, Sil, miraculously risen from his hospital bed, bursts in and blows the assassin away).
How could Chase accuse us of callousness for caring about a character he invested with such stature? Does he think we misunderstood his intent? At every turn, no matter how much we empathized with Tony and his family, Chase made sure to remind us that they were thieves and murderers (or, in the case of Carmela, a hypocrite). When we met Tony in 1999, he seemed to have potential to evolve into a good guy. He went into therapy to try to come to terms with his life. There were extenuating circumstances for why he was where he was: His dad had been a gang boss; he had a crazy narcissistic mom. Moreover, he cared about his kids, and he didn’t kill people in cold blood, like his sociopathic nephew Christopher or his idiot henchmen. And then came the first-season episode in which he drove Meadow to Maine to tour a college and spied a rat — an ex-gangster relocated by the Witness Protection Program. Tony saw the man had a wife and kids and hesitated, and we knew he wouldn’t kill him.
Except he did.
Later, he ordered the murder of Adriana, the one entirely sympathetic character in the show’s history.
We cared about Tony’s fate not because he was our hero but because he was so complex that even after 80-plus hours we couldn’t resolve our feelings about him. More than that, he and his family were of their time and place. They were symptomatic — they helped to explain — the injustices in the real world. They reminded us how much we all turn a blind eye to what we know to be right in big and little ways in the name of narrow self-interest. Their lifestyle was untenable, their life built on a lie, their foundation crumbling beneath them.
So do not let Chase shame you, fellow Sopranos fans. People get all weird and manic when projects that consume a good part of their lives come to end — and, in this case, come to an end so strangely and imperfectly. Chase needs to shut up and stop undermining his — and one of television’s — finest achievements.