[Sopranos spoilers follow.]
The biggest spoiler was, in fact, that there was no spoiler. Given that Tony getting killed and Tony getting arrested both seemed likely, to read in the Sydney Morning Herald that “perhaps this story should come with a spoiler alert, except that it was far from clear what was going to happen to Tony and his family,” was to find out beforehand that at least one of those things didn’t happen.
It was, overall, a satisfying final episode to a great series. In hindsight, the family having dinner together was both the most predictable and the most fitting end.
It’s hard to like the very end, though, the build-up that something was going to happen, then the cut to black. It was a gimmick. Apparently creator David Chase thought it was a very clever ending, that no show on the networks would ever allow. Unfortunately, the inconclusive ending is the cliche TV series finish, on account of the brutal creative economics of television in which producers can never be sure if they’re going to come back for another series or not.
The inconclusive ending to end all inconclusive endings was David Lynch’s finale to Twin Peaks. [Spoilers follow.] The show having been cancelled, he rewrote the last episode as a deliberately infuriating cliffhanger in which half the cast seemed to be killed in an explosion and the protagonist was possessed by the bad guy. Now that was a statement against the limits placed on art by commerce.
For all the excellence of the HBO dramas (and, with Entourage, the comedies), which do in fact depend on their having less short-term dependence on ratings, HBO has yet to show it can beat television’s most serious literary limitation and allow a series to end properly. Carnivale was cancelled on a cliffhanger. Deadwood has been left hanging.
Now, unfortunately, even if that’s not the intention, The Sopranos ends as if the creators think they just might be able to make a movie and continue the storyline.
Update: For a more positive reading of the ending, which I have some sympathy for, see this interesting essay by Larry Gross. As Gross says, though, the Sopranos‘ strengths have not been in formal innovation, so the last moment of the series is an odd time to whip out the Brechtian estrangement.