Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tony's death . . . or not

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in the final scene of ´The Sopranos.´ (Photo via HBO)
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in the final scene of 'The Sopranos.' (Photo via HBO)

I HAVE NEVER particularly cared about whether Tony Soprano (the late, tremendously lamented James Gandolfini) dies in the final episode of the seminal HBO series "The Sopranos," which ended in 2007 with a fade to black that left a lot of viewers wondering if their TV service had cut out. The conduct of Tony's life, the moral decisions the people in his life made and the 86 episodes of television that preceded that moment seem far more momentous.

But the debate continued until yesterday, when a profile of "The Sopranos" creator David Chase, published in Vox, finally got the sphinx-like showrunner to answer the question: No, Chase says, Tony Soprano did not die. If we are going to answer the question, and give in to our inability to tolerate ambiguity, this seems to me to be the preferable choice.

There are plenty of ways to think about Tony Soprano's potential death. If he went out in a hail of bullets (or maybe just one well-placed one) in a New Jersey diner, we could interpret his end as both conventional and inevitable, given his profession and the conventions of the genre of which his story is a part. Seeing Tony murdered before them might provide a galvanic kick to his family, forcing the reckoning with the reality of Tony's work which they have avoided so as to more comfortably enjoy the fruits of his criminal labors. Or death could be punishment for Tony himself.

But if we want Tony to suffer for the damage he has done, I think it is better for him to live.

This is in line with my general thinking on the death penalty. It seems both harsher and more hopeful to keep our worst malefactors alive and capable of achieving a reckoning with the harm that they have caused.


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