- Will Hart / HBO
Warning: Major spoilers for “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Mad Men” below.
Ten years ago this month – June 10, 2007, to be exact – the mobster HBO series “The Sopranos” came to a very abrupt end in its finale episode, “Made in America.”
Seemingly everyone has a story about the first time they saw the screen go black. Maybe you watched it live, and you were one of the millions who angrily thought their power went out, that someone unplugged the TV, or that someone forgot to pay the cable bill.
I didn’t watch “The Sopranos” until several years after the finale aired, so I knew about the screen going black. And though I knew it was going to happen, I still thought there was something wrong with my power. I screamed at my TV for 10 seconds, undoubtedly disturbing my roommates and neighbors.
I knew it was coming, but didn’t realize it was that abrupt until I saw it with my own eyes. I still don’t know what happened to Tony, and neither do most people. After a whole decade, it’s still one of the biggest debates in TV history.
Here’s why the series finale of “The Sopranos” still resonates after 10 years:
You have to start at the beginning. The critical and commercial success proved that audiences wanted to be challenged. They didn’t need everything explained to them. People like complex stories with complex characters that leave a lot of room for interpretation and thought.
Creator David Chase still gets asked about the ending today — and frankly seems to hate talking about it. But he created a show that people had opinions about, and he didn’t wrap it up with a bow like the many shows before it.
- HBO screencap
Part of what keeps the ending of the show a part of the conversation is Chase’s refusal to tell anyone exactly what happened. Of course he’s implied things to make us think he’s given us the answer, but the truth is he never has, and likely never will, unless he has some kind of awakening and decides we deserve the closure.
The unfamiliar elements in the final moments of the “Sopranos” finale made it shocking, and are part of the reason why it remains shocking. The show ended at a diner we had never seen before, alternating with shots of Meadow Soprano’s hilarious struggle to park her car.
The camera cuts to suspicious characters we’ve never seen before. Are they there to wack Tony? Or are they just random people at a diner?
The only familiar thing about any of it is that “Don’t Stop Believing” plays on the jukebox, because classic rock was a common theme throughout the show.
It was the first show of its kind, and “Made in America” was the first series finale of its kind. Until the screen went black, TV audiences were used to solid endings that bid a pretty solid farewell.
And although some shows have followed a similar track in their series finales since, it still stands out on its own.
For example, “Mad Men” went halfway “Sopranos.” The series finale, “Person to Person,” ends with the iconic Coca-Cola commercial that Don Draper probably wrote, but the series didn’t show or tell us that he did.
The almost loose end makes that finale satisfying but still a topic of conversation, but not to the level of “Sopranos.” You can easily convince someone that Don Draper went back to New York and wrote that commercial, but you can’t easily convince someone that Tony Soprano is dead.
“Breaking Bad” also followed suit a little bit in its final episodes and in its finale, “Felina.” In the last few episodes, beloved characters die. And while Walter White’s story and life come to a clear end right before our eyes, we don’t get a solidified ending for anyone else. The last we see of Jesse Pinkman, he’s driving off into the night, just happy to be alive and free.
- Ursula Coyote / AMC
In the show’s final moments, we never see what happens to Walt’s family.
The history of “The Sopranos” suggests that everything packed into its final minutes should mean something. So the thought that it possibly means absolutely nothing — besides the Sopranos family having a peaceful dinner at a peaceful American diner — doesn’t feel right.
Or does it? The show ended, so maybe that meant that everything that made Tony’s life interesting for six seasons ended, too.
Overall, whether or not Tony died is not that important to the show. It’s just something people can’t let go of. But would the finale have worked if we were told exactly what happened to Tony, Carmella, Meadow, AJ, Paulie Walnuts, and the few who survived the series? Probably not.
Even if we did get a solid answer about what exactly happened when the screen went black (and why it went black in the first place), discussion about the show and “Made in America” would likely continue no matter what.