William F. Buckley

The genius of David Chase, the originator of "The Sopranos," was never more evident than in the last episode of the series. I viewed it with an earnest and cosmopolitan young man and his lady, and we wondered, as we waited for the show to start, what would the final act do to Tony Soprano. Speculation in the press had offered three alternative endings: (1) Tony is killed; (2) Tony survives and kills the leader of the other gang; (3) Tony makes a deal with the FBI.

None of these happened. What happened in the final scene was -- nothing.

The "nothing" was brilliantly set up. Tony is sitting in a booth in a restaurant. At some point, two burly men made to order for killing fields come into the restaurant and sit down at another table.

Soon Tony's wife arrives and sits down next to him. Then their son arrives and takes a seat. The only family member missing is the daughter. You are looking at your watch and there are only two minutes left in the hour. Where is the wretched Meadow? Well, we see her. She's outside, having a hard time parking her car. She doesn't quite make it into the space on the first attempt, so she has to try again. Backing a car up when there are only nine seconds to go before Pearl Harbor, or 9/11, or Hiroshima, can make for the slowest parking backup in history, which Meadow's was. But she succeeds, finally, and walks toward the restaurant.

The camera idles toward the entrance, and you rap your watch because it is showing only 15 seconds to go! Then suddenly you are looking at an entirely black screen. "The Sopranos" is over. And nothing has changed.

That was the genius, the parable, of the most successful television drama in history, giving the viewer hour after hour, year after year, exploitation of sex, exhibitionism, murder, sadism, cynicism and hypocrisy. And, according to David Chase, we are to remember that such is as it is. There was no pictorial, no dramatic end to "The Sopranos" because its point was to depict life (a) as practiced by the Mafia, and (b) as tolerated, and in fact swooned over, by the viewing public.

What theatrical obligation is there to call an end to it? To do that courts censoriousness, self-doubt.

Commenting on an episode in Year Three (there were eight years total), I wrote of a scene involving a younger member of the gang conspicuous mostly for his fearless swagger. He is enraged when a girl utters an obscenity at his expense. In some detail, we are shown how he hits and clubs her -- to death, we discover moments later when Tony comes on the scene.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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