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Gangster Interruptus

June 12th, 2007

Oh my gosh, the media is a-buzzin’ about the final episode of The Sopranos. You’d almost think it was some universal cultural touchstone instead of a niche TV show on a pay cable channel. (A bit of perspective: at its height in 2002, the show peaked at 13.4 million viewers, approximately as many as the average number of folks who watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition during the 2006-07 season. By the time the final run of episodes began this April, it was down to 7.7 million, about the same number of viewers as Wife Swap.)

Many of the people who actually have an opinion regarding The Sopranos are furious about the final scene of that last episode. An abrupt cut to black left them forever wondering whether Tony Soprano was alive or dead; in that moment, he became Schrodinger’s Mobster. And fans are not happy about being left hanging.

I say, welcome to the club.

The history of TV drama is punctuated with hanging ellipses. Whether by design or–more frequently–sudden cancellation, there are scores of series which lack proper closure. I’ll never know whether Agent Cooper was able to overcome the malign influence of the demonic Bob (Twin Peaks), whether the Resistance finally threw off the yoke of the Visitors (V), or whether Blake’s 7 survived their final shootout with the Federation (Blake’s 7, natch). And yes, I sometimes do lie awake at night thinking about it.

At least Sopranos viewers can take solace in knowing that the ambiguous ending of their series was intentional, and not merely the product of a last, desperate attempt to create enough buzz to gain a pickup for the fall season. With that, it has more in common with the series finale of the vampire drama Angel, which left its bloodied, battered demon fighters about to face a no-win throwdown against the assembled hordes of evil.

In both cases, it seems that ambiguity is the point. Life goes on, or it doesn’t. To find out which, you’ll have to open the Schrodinger’s box inside your own imagination.

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