[UPDATE: David Chase's rep has clarified his remarks. Scroll for details.]
Sopranos' creator David Chase has finally cleared the ambiguity fog surrounding the frustrating -- but sort of brilliant upon reflection - finale to HBO's much lauded mafia/family drama from the early aughts in a new expansive profile, wherein he affirms that Tony Soprano did not die when the camera cut to black -- answering the reporter's question with a headshake and the words "No he isn't."
Chase, however, doesn't exactly bend an ear or wrap that revelation in a blanket of information about what this means and what his motivations were (aside from the mention of Edgar Allan Poe's 'Dream Within a Dream' poem), leaving us all to assess his words with the inexact science of speculation.
Of course, we unfortunately know that while the fictional Tony Soprano may live on in perpetuity, the light behind his eyes - actor James Gandolfini - is no more. So it's not as if this is the first story in a series of stories that eventually leads up to some kind of new chapter for Chase and these characters. In that Tony being alive has no practical effect, then, what is the value of this knowledge?
For some, there is now closure, I suppose. The cut to black on the finale was so abrupt that I actually thought my cable had gone out. Other people have expressed a similar reaction, but once a technical glitch was ruled out, people felt cheated because they often believe that they are owed a beginning, middle and an end with these stories... our stories. We want to feel good when we feel bad about the end of our shows, but the perception was that David Chase didn't care or that he was selfish when he took that from us and defied our hail-of-gunfire/witness protection expectations for Tony Soprano. But if that was the case and Chase was being selfish, didn't he have the right to be? It was really his show, his story and years of his life's work that came to an end in that moment, so why shouldn't he have closed things off in a way that lived up to his view of a fitting end, first and foremost?
It's a minor miracle when we love something that is someone else's creative expression and it's not surprising when we feel like it was made for us, but none of this art is custom made - even if it speaks to us intimately and we can relate to it fully. At the end of the day, it seems like we think that there is more nobility in the artist that makes themselves happy first over the one that plays to the crowd, but we (myself included) also use words like "self-indulgent" and "panderer" to label those two extremes (and the word "genius" when both things occur simultaneously). David Chase was so often a genius with The Sopranos, and to those who supported his open-ended conclusion, he was a genius to the last.
Some of those people may feel a little bit cheated now by Chase's seeming betrayal of his purposeful mystery, but with so much time passing - and with there being no way to feasibly continue the story - Chase's view of what happened is, in a way, as irrelevant as the rest of the theories and fantasies that we all dreamed up when he cut to black. So, Tony Soprano got to finish his onion rings... then what? It's just trivia, nothing more. The Sopranos ended how it ended and Chase's artistic choice remains - for better or worse.
Update: Apparently, David Chase doesn't agree with the interpretation of his head shake/remarks by the original interviewer. Here's a statement from his rep:
“A journalist for Vox misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview. To simply quote David as saying, ‘Tony Soprano is not dead,’ is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true. As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, ‘Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.’ To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.”
The Sopranos ran on HBO from 1999-2007.