David Chase cares not for your obsession with the answer to “Is Tony Soprano dead?”. Chase is, however, opening up to James Greenberg and the Directors Guild of America to discuss that infamous final scene of The Sopranos in a way that focuses on the reasons certain choices were made, artistically speaking. He just won’t answer that question, suckers.
You can, of course, read the article in its entirety at the DGA link above, but I’m going to share some of Chase’s quotes with you. First, here’s the scene to refresh your memory, but beware. It will still hit you just as hard now as it did the first time.
“It was my decision to direct the episode such that whenever Tony arrives someplace, he would see himself. He would get to the place and he would look and see where he was going. He had a conversation with his sister that went like this. And then he later had a conversation with Junior that went like this. I had him walk into his own POV every time. So the order of the shots would be Tony close-up, Tony POV, hold on the POV, and then Tony walks into the POV. And I shortened the POV every time. So that by the time he got to Holsten’s, he wasn’t even walking toward it anymore. He came in, he saw himself sitting at the table, and the next thing you knew he was at the table.”
“I love the timing of the lyric when Carmela enters: ‘Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ Then it talks about Tony: ‘Just a city boy,’ and we had to dim down the music so you didn’t hear the line, ‘born and raised in South Detroit.’ The music cuts out a little bit there, and they’re speaking over it. ‘He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.’ And that to me was [everything]. I felt that those two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. That is their life. It means that these people are looking for something inevitable. Something they couldn’t find. I mean, they didn’t become missionaries in Africa or go to college together or do anything like that. They took the midnight train going anywhere. And the midnight train, you know, is the dark train.”
“My thinking about wanting to introduce A.J. and the guy together was that both the audience and Tony would not focus on the guy so much, they would focus on A.J. Tony would focus on his son, rather than the man who might be there to do him harm. A lot of the audience I gathered doesn’t like A.J.; they think he’s a useless, spoiled fool. But there’s also something about him that is earnest. He’s got his father’s kind of questioning and kind of little boy innocence. When I see Tony reach across and grab his arm [when he arrives], it makes me feel really good. Not only that, I’ll tell you who else is reaching across the table, that’s Jim Gandolfini reaching across to Robert Iler in the last scene they’re going to do together. I never talked about it with them, but I know for a fact.”
“I tried to build the tension and suspense as much as possible. That’s why I could go back out to Meadow and her car-parking. I could use all that stuff to affect the pace. I think almost every director is thinking about the pacing. That’s what directing is. I did want to create the idea that you would wonder if something was going to happen in there. Meadow is filled with nothing but very, very deep emotions about parking her car. But possibly a minute later, her head will be filled with emotions she could never even imagine. We all take this stuff so seriously—losing our keys, parking our car, a winter cold, a summer cold, an allergy—whatever it is. And this stuff fills our mind from second to second, moment to moment. And the big moment is always out there waiting.”
“I said to Gandolfini, the bell rings and you look up. That last shot of Tony ends on ‘don’t stop,’ it’s mid-song. I’m not going to go into [if that’s Tony’s POV]. I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed. He might have gotten shot three years ago in that situation. But he didn’t. Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.”