Made in America

As yesterday afternoon wore on, I was thinking about how sad I would be in five or six hours, after I had seen the series finale of The Sopranos. Whether or not Tony himself died, the world of the Sopranos would have expired. I was wondering whether to email Bob Imbelli and ask if he could say a funeral mass for the fictional characters that had died in a drama created in the minds of human beings as well for the entire fictive world that world was dying in the series finale. Even the characters who survived would be dead. And I would be sad. I was pretty far along in concocting a very creative theological justification for this funeral mass (involving the divine Logos, divine creativity, human creativity, the imago dei and the imago hominis) when it was time to turn on the television to watch the episode.

As it turned out, I neednt have worried. I should have paid more attention to the title of the series finale, Made in America. Initially, of course, the title refers to the mob Tony, Paulie Walnuts, Uncle Junior, all of them are made members of the Italian mob but made in America, not in Italy. The story of the Sopranos was the story of a familys assimilation into broader American cultural values and the tensions this caused with the ethnic values that animated prior generations with the continuing complication, of course, that this family was in the Family. Can a good capo be in therapy? Can you perform a mob hit when taking your daughter on a college visitation trip? Old world values and the exigencies of modern life continued to brush up against each other in the series. And the show found both drama and comedy in the attempt of the characters to negotiate the tension.

In the final episode, we saw the resolution of this tension, in the definitive passing of the old world. We saw this passing in the (very gory, but very gratifying) death of Phil Leotardo (the New York capo who went after the New Jersey crew in part because they didnt preserve the old ways). We saw it most especially in the descent into senility of Uncle Junior. When Tonys sister Janice visits Uncle Junior in the grim state facility, he doesnt recognize herand in a way, she doesnt recognize him. She fails to understand the bit of Italian he speaks to her. Her little daughter, who has a traditional Italian name (Domenica), will be raised thoroughly Americanlike Tonys daughter, who has a trendy American name (Meadow (!)). When Tony visits Uncle Junior, to effect some form of reconciliation (and to find out where Uncle Junior hid his money before Janice does, so he can give it to Bobby's kids), he realizes Uncle Junior doesnt recognize him. With tears in his eyes, Tony reminds his uncle about this thing of ours. Uncle Junior asks, with bewilderment, I was in that? And Tony tells him how Uncle Junior and his brother Johnny Soprano ran the North Jersey mob. That world is now gone.

But the whole world isnt gone. We need to pay attention to the second meaning of Made in America. Here, the phrase refers to the series, not the characters. The series itself is made in America, and we Americans make comedies, not tragedies. The perspective of the viewer, which flirted with being identified with being Dr. Melfi and the therapeutic perspective, settles decisively into identification with Agent Harristhe FBI man with the stomach problems who's now pursuing terrorists. Tony contacts Agent Harris, giving him some information about the Arabs bank accounts in the hopes that the FBI will be able to give him some clues as to Phil Leotardo's location, so that Tonys crew can take him out. If they do that, the war will be over even the New York guys think Phil is too rigid and old school. They wont kill him themselves, but they wont stand in Tonys way.

It turns out that Agent Harris isnt so different from Tonythey both have stressful jobs, demanding wives, and petulant mistresses. And so, Agent Harris calls Tony from a hotel room (after an unsatisfying assignation with his FBI-agent girlfriend), and lets him know that Phils calls to his crew have been traced to a gas station with a payphone on Long Island. So Tonys crew gets to work. They finally track Phil down, getting out of the SUV that his wife is driving, with his two twin baby grandchildren strapped into car seats in the back. A Soprano operative shoots him in the head, and then again in the chest, but doesnt touch Phils wife or the babies. Significantly, the Soprano crew operated by the rule Tony reminded Carmela of before the Sopranos moved to the safehouse by the beach: they dont touch family. I couldn't watch it, but it was perversely morally satisfying when Phil's wife's SUV slipped into D and accidentally ran over Phil's head--the decapitation of the capo--and the squashing of the threat to Tony. When the normally taciturn Agent Harris learns that Phil has been taken out, he raises a cheer, Were gonna win this one. Exactly what the audience feels at the same time.

But will Tony make it? Will we win this one? As many spoilers indicated, the series ends in an old-fashioned ice cream store, with juke boxes on the tables in the booths. We see Tony go in first, waiting for the rest of his nuclear family, and scanning the songs on the play list. With mounting anxiety, we watch a suspicious looking man come in, and sit at the counter. Carmela comes in and Tony smiles at her with affection and relief. Another two men come inare they dangerous? No, ones AJ, followed by a random manhes ok, we see, hes wearing a USA hat.

Outside, Meadow pulls up to the restaurant, and tries to parallel park her Lexus with mounting frustration and lack of success (Doesnt Lexus make a car that parallel parks itself?) Will she be hit crossing the street? We see two other big men come into the restaurantbut they look African-American, not Italian, and theres no story about a beef with Tony from the African-American community. The first strange guy at the counter gets up to go to the mens room Tony throws him a glance. And Meadow runs across the street, and the door to the restaurant opensAND THE SCREEN GOES BLANK.

Thats it.

How should we read this? The key, in my view, is in the song titles Tony peruses while waiting for his family. They encapsulate various themes the show has dealt with over the years. . He looks at Ive Gotta Be Me, and A Lonely Place (Tony Bennett) while This Magic Moment and Since I Dont Have You (Jay and the Americans) aand Crystal Blue Persuasion and Im Alive (Tommy James) are in the background of the shot. He flips the card, and you see Somewhere in the Night and My Baby Drives a Buick, by Sawyer Brown, Who Will You Run To?, and Magic Man, by Heart, and "Those Were the Days," and "Turn Turn Turn" by Mary Hopkin, and Dont Stop Believing, and Any Way You Want It, by Journey.

He flips back, for a second, to Ive Gotta be Me, and A Lonely Place, by Tony Bennet, and then makes his choice: Dont Stop Believing, by Journey. Thats the key to the interpretation of the end of the series--that's why it's a comedy, not a tragedy. The lyrics begin as Carmela walks in, and continue through the rest of the scene:

Just a small town girl, livin in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin anywhere
Just a city boy, born and raised in south detroit
He took the midnight train goin anywhere
A singer in a smokey room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on
Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people, living just to find emotion
Hiding, somewhere in the night
Working hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time
Some will win, some will loseSome were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on
(chorus)
Dont stop believin
Hold on to the feelin
Streetlight people

So. . the movie never ends. It goes on and on and on and on. Don't forget that first half of Season Six began with this the first episode of the last half of Season Six was entitled "Sopranos Home Movies." And the first episode of the first half of Season Six was based on William S. Burroughs's "Seven Souls," which is about "the film of your life."

AJ is bucking upand it looks like hes reclaiming his place as Tonys son from Christopherhes got some optimism, a model for a girlfriend, a new BMW, and a an entry-level position as an executive in a mob-funded movie production. Meadow has given up her dream of being a pediatrician, shes going to be a criminal defense lawyer (she told her dad that seeing him being taken away by the feds has impressed upon her the power of the government to crush the individualand the rampant prejudice against Italian-Americans). Shell be the consigliere to replace Silvio (who, unfortunately, is still in coma).

And Tonywell, its not all sweetness and light. It looks like one of his crew has flipped, and hell be indicted. But I see the possibility of a fruitful cooperation with the feds. Agent Harris noted how the Italian mob had patrolled the Port of Newark during the Second World War in exchange for some freedom to operateI could see Tony negotiating a similar deal for the duration of the War on Terrorism.

As far as spirituality, well, we leave with a benign agnosticism. Paulie is spooked by a stray cat that keeps staring at the photo of Christopher in the back room of the Bada Bing. It may well be the reincarnation of Christopher. Before taking a lucrative new job as the crew manager, he tells Tony that hes not sure he wants the jobthere may be more to life. Paule confesses to Tony that he was in the Bada Bing alone one time, and he saw the Virgin Mary (maybe a form of Adriana, who was spiritually virginal).

Tony tries to make a joke out of it, but then, when Paulie responds with hurt, says. . . There may be something out there, but what are you going to do. . . You dont know, and you have to live your life. The ultimate American worldview is pragmatism.Paulie takes the job and goes on.

And so do we. We dont know. Yet Chase lets us believe that the world of the Sopranos still exists, even if its dynamics have changed. The dramatic tension we followed for six seasons is resolved the New World won, the Old World lost. What about Yeat's "rough beast, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born"? Even that ominous image is given a comic twist, as AJ mispronounces the poet's name as "Yeets." It's the new form of the family, and the Family, in an era where their Italian heritage is something to be claimed from America's identity politics, rather than lived in close and authentic connection with Italy.

The screen has gone dark. But even if we have relinquished our window into their world, their lives are still going on, beginning with their dinner in the quintessential American locale, the ice cream shop. The family and the Family will be okay.

And so it will all be okay. We can go now.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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