I haven’t seen the final season of The Sopranos, and I am trying desperately to avoid discussion its conclusion, an imposition that is becoming increasingly difficult as the television commentariat natters away about what will surely be regarded as perhaps the greatest television series in the history of the universe etc etc.
Some information has seeped through the blackout curtains, though, and I am now aware that The Sopranos finale doesn’t wrap things up in a nice little bundle of resolution. It doesn’t finish, is the criticism that I’m hearing the loudest from disgruntled fans.
Well, what did you expect? The Sopranos was never about resolution. And all we have the right to expect from a television finale is that it is true to itself.
Sex And The City got it right. It was a comedy about romance that became a drama about love. What is it? How do we find it? And what the hell do we do with it when we do? Carrie, finally getting it together with Mr Big, left us for the last time on the right track to finding the answers.
Seinfeld went the other way. It was never about warmth or sentiment. It was savage, and cruel, and heartless. Its motto: no hugs. Ever. Its mistake was abandoning that wonderfully dark ethos for its final episode in an attempt to honour the affection its audience felt for it. A true Seinfeld finale would have given us nothing but the knowledge that Jerry et al would continue as they began – a series of failed relationships and banal obsessions over the minutiae of contemporary life, all adding up to four miserable lives. Perfect.
Every TV show creates its own moral code. Through its life, its writers will use that code as a touchstone for their storytelling, and over time it becomes a sort of pact with the audience. Lying to a friend in Home and Away might earn you dark looks and a couple of weeks on the outer at Summer Bay High, but in the end you’ll be friends again. Lie to them in Rome, and you’ll be lucky if you just get your fingers cut off. Vastly different responses, but consistent with the codes of each show.
Loyalty to that code is the single most important thing for any television show. Because to depart from it sends a message to an audience that the world of the show isn’t consistent, or logical, or even to be taken seriously. To betray that code is dramatic cheating.
Imagine, then, the pressures on The Sopranos’ writers as they planned their final episode. They knew there would be people out there demanding resolution, but they also knew that to provide it would undermine everything The Sopranos was about.
For six seasons, The Sopranos has made it very clear that what we see on the telly is only the tiniest fraction of an extraordinarily intricate world. We didn’t follow the lives of its characters every step of the way; we were lucky enough to be given the odd snapshot. The rest we had to piece together. A neat and tidy resolution? Obviously you haven’t been paying attention.
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So Sopranos questions will forever remain. What’s going on with Furio? Where did Christopher’s pregnant girlfriend come from? And the most pressing of all: what the hell happened to the Russian?
Forget it. We’re never going to know. We should just be grateful we got the moments we did.