David Chase speaks!
Posted by Alan Sepinwall June 11, 2007 10:50PM
What do you do when your TV world ends? You go to dinner, then keep quiet. Sunday night, "Sopranos" creator David Chase took his wife out for dinner in France, where he's fled to avoid "all the Monday morning quarterbacking" about the show's finale. After this exclusive interview, agreed to well before the season began, he intends to go into radio silence, letting the work -- especially the controversial final scene -- speak for itself.
"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," he says of the final scene.
"No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God," he adds. "We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people's minds, or thinking, 'Wow, this'll (tick) them off.' People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them."
In that scene, mob boss Tony Soprano waited at a Bloomfield ice cream parlor for his family to arrive, one by one. What was a seemingly benign family outing was shot and cut as the preamble to a tragedy, with Tony suspiciously eyeing one patron after another, the camera dwelling a little too long on Meadow's parallel parking and a man in a Members Only jacket's walk to the men's room. Just as the tension had been ratched up to unbearable levels, the series cut to black in mid-scene (and mid song) with no resolution.
"Anybody who wants to watch it, it's all there," says Chase, 61, who based the series in general (and Tony's relationship with mother Livia specifically) on his North Caldwell childhood.
Some fans have already assumed that the ambiguous ending was Chase setting up the oft-rumored "Sopranos" movie, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.
"I don't think about (a movie) much," he says. "I never say never. An idea could pop into my head where I would go, 'Wow, that would make a great movie,' but I doubt it.
"I'm not being coy," he adds. "If something appeared that really made a good 'Sopranos' movie and you could invest in it and everybody else wanted to do it, I would do it. But I think we've kind of said it and done it."
Another problem: over the last season, Chase killed so many key characters. He's toyed with the idea of "going back to a day in 2006 that you didn't see, but then (Tony's children) would be older than they were then and you would know that Tony doesn't get killed. It's got problems."
(Earlier in the interview, he notes that his favorite part of the show was often the characters telling stories about the good ol' days of Tony's parents. Just a guess, but if Chase ever does a movie spin-off, it'll be set in Newark in the '60s.)
Since Chase is declining to offer his interpretation of the final scene, let me present two more of my own, which came to me with a good night's sleep and a lot of helpful reader e-mails:
Theory No. 1 (and the one I prefer): Chase is using the final scene to place the viewer into Tony's mindset. This is how he sees the world: every open door, every person walking past him could be coming to kill him, or arrest him, or otherwise harm him or his family. This is his life, even though the paranoia's rarely justified. We end without knowing what Tony's looking at because he never knows what's coming next.
Theory No. 2: In the scene on the boat in "Soprano Home Movies," repeated again last week, Bobby Bacala suggests that when you get killed, you don't see it coming. Certainly, our man in the Members Only jacket could have gone to the men's room to prepare for killing Tony (shades of the first "Godfather"), and the picture and sound cut out because Tony's life just did. (Or because we, as viewers, got whacked from our life with the show.)
Meanwhile, remember that 21-month hiatus between Seasons Five and Six? That was Chase thinking up the ending. HBO chairman Chris Albrecht came to him after Season Five and suggested thinking up a conclusion to the series; Chase agreed, on the condition that he get "a long break" to decide on an ending.
Originally, that ending was supposed to occur last year, but midway through production, the number of episodes was increased, and Chase stretched out certain plot elements while saving the major climaxes for this final batch of 9.
"If this had been one season, the Vito storyline would not have been so important," he says.
Much of this final season has featured Tony bullying, killing or otherwise alienating the members of his inner circle. After all those years viewing him as "the sympathetic mob boss," were we supposed to, like his therapist Dr. Melfi, finally wake up and smell the sociopath?
"From my perspective, there's nothing different about Tony in this season than there ever was," insists Chase. "To me, that's Tony."
Chase has had an ambivalent relationship with his fans, particularly the bloodthirsty whacking crowd who seemed to tune in only for the chance to see someone's head get blown off (or run over by an SUV). So was he reluctant to fill last week's penultimate episode, "The Blue Comet," with so many vivid death scenes?
"I'm the Number One fan of gangster movies," he says. "Martin Scorsese has no greater devotee than me. Like everyone else, I get off partly on the betrayals, the retributions, the swift justice. But what you come to realize when you do a series is you could be killing straw men all day long. Those murders only have any meaning when you've invested story in them. Otherwise, you might as well watch 'Cleaver.'"
One detail about the final scene that he'll discuss, however tentatively: the selection of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" as the song on the jukebox.
"It didn't take much time at all to pick it, but there was a lot of conversation after the fact. I did something I'd never done before: in the location van, with the crew, I was saying, 'What do you think?' When I said, 'Don't Stop Believin',' people went, 'What? Oh my god!' I said, 'I know, I know, just give a listen,' and little by little, people started coming around."
Whether viewers will have a similar time-delayed reaction to the finale as a whole, Chase doesn't know. ("I hear some people were very angry, and others were not, which is what I expected.") He's relaxing in France, then he'll try to make movies.
"It's been the greatest career experience of my life," he says. "There's nothing more in TV that I could say or would want to say."
Here's Chase on some other points about the finale and the season:
-After all the speculation that Agent Harris might turn Tony, instead we saw that Harris had turned, passing along info on Phil's whereabouts and cheering, "We're going to win this thing!" when learning of Phil's demise.
"This is based on an actual case of an FBI agent who got a little bit too partisan and excited during the Colombo wars of the '70s," says Chase of the story of Lindley DeVecchio, who supplied Harris' line.
-Speaking of Harris, Chase had no problem with never revealing what -- if anything -- terror suspects Muhammed and Ahmed were up to.
"This, to me, feels very real," he says. "The majority of these suspects, it's very hard for anybody to know what these people are doing. I don't even think Harris might know where they are. That was sort of the point of it: who knows if they are terrorists or if they're innocent pistachio salesmen? That's the fear that we are living with now."
Also, the apocryphal story -- repeated by me, unfortunately -- that Fox, when "Sopranos" was in development there, wanted Chase to have Tony help the FBI catch terrorists, wasn't true.
"What I said was, if I had done it at Fox, Tony would have been a gangster by day and helping the FBI by night, but we weren't there long enough for anyone to make that suggestion."
-I spent the last couple of weeks wrapping my brain around a theory supplied by reader Sam Lorber (and his daughter Emily) that the nine episodes of this season were each supposed to represent one of the nine circles of Hell from Dante's "The Divine Comedy." Told of the theory, Chase laughed and said, "No."
-Since Butchie was introduced as a guy who was pushing Phil to take out Tony, why did he turn on Phil and negotiate peace with Tony?
"I think Butch was an intelligent guy, he began to see that there was no need for it, that Phil's feelings were all caught up in what was esentially a convoluted personal grudge."
-Not from Chase, but I feel the need to debunk the e-mail that's making the rounds about all the Holsten's patrons being characters from earlier in the series. The actor playing Member's Only guy had never been on the show before, Tony killed at least, one if not both of his carjackers, and there are about 17 other things wrong with this popular but incorrect theory.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com