The Last Chapter

Saying Goodbye to Tony & Harry

It’s been a month since the HBO series The Sopranos faded to black, the details of New Jersey gangster Tony Soprano’s destiny left ambiguous. In just a week—but who’s counting?—the last book in the Harry Potter series will reveal how this story winds up, too, and we will see whether the world’s most famous high-school hero ever makes it to graduation. This is a summer of pop-culture desertification, of long-dreaded endings that will be argued over for years. (And really, couldn’t Paul Newman have waited until September to announce his retirement from acting?)

Yet, though we’ll never know whether Tony lived to finish his onion rings, his fate was not so much foreshadowed as it was predestined. The asbestos king of Essex County wasn’t going to be The Boy Who Lived any more than Harry Potter was going to grow up to be cowardly. Whatever the specifics of the last episode—whether Tony had been killed on camera or gone into the witness protection program—redemption was off the table from the start.

Comic references to the Virgin Mary notwithstanding, The Sopranos was Catholic like the Olive Garden is Italian: they weren’t trying that hard to fool anybody. Why would they, when in Tony’s world, we were all posers—pretending to know Yeats, pretending to know ourselves? Windshield or bug, we were all doomed; and federal agent or hit man, we were all corrupt. Whether we are bought off by a...

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About the Author

Melinda Henneberger, a Commonweal columnist, is the former editor-in-chief of