Why the Conclusion of The Sopranos Ruined the Whole Series for Me
Tony Soprano never receives punishment for his crimes.
The series ends by hinting at the possibility that Tony (and perhaps his whole family) will be murdered by a mob assassin. But the viewer never has to experience that potential reality. They’ve felt the thrill of the fantasy ride for six seasons but escape their surrogate family paying the price for lives lived through robbing other people.
By all means, movies and TV can — and should — show us realistic sex and violence. The artist has absolute freedom — to borrow an argument from certain Roman Polanski fans. But when you insist on showing the explicit thrill of the criminal life without the real-world suffering that always comes as a result of it, then don’t be surprised if at the end of it all some people ask why they even bothered in the first place.
I can enjoy and appreciate shows centered around deeply broken, evil people who do terrible things. But they only work as serious art when the characters at least try to get better and recognize their weaknesses and shortcomings. That doesn’t happen in The Sopranos. Tony is just as much of a horrible human being who has profited off of the misery of untold numbers of victims in the final frame of the show as he was in the beginning. Only now he’s finished dragging his family down with him. His son AJ is recovering from an attempted suicide. His daughter Meadow is preparing for a career as a Marxist lawyer defending jihadists — she claims to be allegedly inspired by the routine acts of “bigotry” against Italian Americans like her dad. (This is the lie she’s internalized even though she knows the truth, that the money for her education and comfortable lifestyle came as a result of the cocaine-addicted strippers in her father’s club.)
Sure, it’s an entertaining and intelligent show with a plot that keeps you engaged. And the characters are ultimately sympathetic even if they never find redemption. But in the end, is there any payoff for the audience for taking the time to care about this criminal family? What do we learn? That there exist in this world many evil people committing crimes and enjoying the wealthy lifestyle it provides and not caring who suffers? And that a lot of them get away with it?
Isn’t that something we see every time we pull up a news site or flip on the TV?