With the very sad, untimely death of James Gandolfini last week, Tony Soprano is definitely, for sure, no fooling, unambiguously dead.
The actor’s passing has kicked off a great many well-deserved tributes to his work, on The Sopranos in particular, which in turn has renewed the debate on that series’ controversial cut-to-black ending — specifically, whether Tony was killed in the final scene.
The people who feel that Tony died — specifically, that he was shot in the head by the guy in the Members Only jacket coming out of the bathroom — have a pretty strong case, best summed up by the “Master Of Sopranos” essay that picks it apart shot by shot. Cliff Notes version: it’s clearly set up that the scene is alternating between closeups of Tony and Tony’s point of view, so when he looks up and the scene then cuts to black, it’s cutting to his point of view, which, in death, is nothing.
There is another, less vocal camp that feels that the ending is meant to show that after everything, Tony’s punishment is to live life with one eye forever on the door, waiting for the murder that he knows will someday come, and yet, as Steve Perry would have it, “paying anything to roll the dice just one more time.” As the song also says, “The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on,” but as that was not the language in David Chase’s contract, he had to end somewhere so he picked an arbitrary spot and ended it.
Those are both very interesting arguments and I don’t particularly disagree with either of them, but my reading of that ending was a little different.