Was This Really It For "Sopranos?"

It may be hard to believe, but it's been eight years since James Gandolfini led a cast of little-known actors into television history. But when the screen went blank before any real conclusion was reached, many viewers were left saying: "Huh?"

For six seasons "The Sopranos" set record ratings for HBO, won numerous awards and garnered a legion of fans. The much-awaited conclusion of the series arrived Sunday night in a frenzy of audience speculation. Would New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano live or be killed? Would his family die before his eyes? Would he go to jail? Be forced to enter witness protection? Would Brooklyn boss Phil Leotardo, who had ordered a hit on Tony, prevail?

"I thought it had something for everybody who's a 'Sopranos' fan," Lisa Chambers, features director for TV Guide, told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.


Photos: The Sopranos
The only ending that mattered was the one masterminded by "Sopranos" creator David Chase. Playing against viewer expectations, as always, Chase refused to stage a mass extermination, put the characters through any changes, or provide his viewers with comfortable closure or catharsis.

"I think that if you wanted closure and you wanted everything — all the loose ends wrapped up with a bow on top, you're gonna be frustrated," said Dalton Ross, editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. "That's not what 'The Sopranos' has ever been about. It's always been about you're going to start watching these people at a certain time and stop watching at a certain time. We may have stopped earlier than we thought we were going to stop, but that's what it is."

The only real development in the finale was that Leotardo was crushed. Otherwise it was perversely non-earthshaking — just one last visit with the characters we have followed so devoutly since 1999.

Many of the show's stars turned up in Hollywood, Fla., on Sunday to say goodbye at a special screening attended by most of the cast.

"It's been a great run," said Tony Sirico, who plays Paulie Walnuts.

Chase reportedly taped three endings so not even the actors knew exactly how the series would end. A smaller group of the show's stars gathered last night in New York; several of them were just as anxious as fans to see what fate lie ahead.

"I hope he comes out on top," Sharon Angela, who plays Rosalie Aprile, said at the New York gathering. "I'm a big Tony fan."

But little was revealed in the final episode. Tony did have a final sit-down with the uncle from whom he inherited the family business "You and my dad, you two ran North Jersey," Tony tells Uncle Junior, who shot him in the previous season.


Photos: "Sopranos" Shoot
"We did?" said Uncle Junior with no sign of recognition. "That's nice."

The finale displayed the characters continuing, for better and worse, unaffected by the fact that the series is done. The implication was, they will go on as usual. We just won't be able to watch.

Not that Chase, who wrote and directed this episode, didn't tease viewers with the threat of death in almost every scene.

This was never more true than in the final sequence. On the surface, it was nothing more momentous than Tony, his wife, Carmela, played by Edie Falco, Meadow and A.J. meeting for dinner at a cozy family restaurant.

When he arrived, Tony dropped a coin in the jukebox and played the classic Journey power ballad "Don't Stop Believing." Meanwhile, every moment seemed to foreshadow disaster: Foreboding-looking people coming in the door or seated at a table nearby. Meadow was on the street having trouble parallel parking her car — the tires squealing against the curb. With every passing second, the audience was primed for tragedy. It was a scene both warm and fuzzy yet full of dread, setting every viewer's heart racing for no clear reason.

But nothing would happen. It was just a family gathering for dinner at a restaurant.

Then, with a jingle of the bell on the front door, Tony looked up, apparently seeing Meadow make her delayed entrance. Or could he have seen something awful — something he certainly deserved — about to come down?

"This is why the scene is great; they're making us feel what Tony feels every single time he goes out to eat," Ross said. "That's the great editing. You feel every time the door chime goes on, you're nervous. This is the way he always feels."

But before we could find out what actually happens, the screen simply went blank.

"I thought there was something wrong with the projector," Chamber said. "I watched it over at HBO at a screening with some of the actors and some press. And there was a roar from inside the theater. We said, what? And then, of course, the credit rolled."

Many fans surely thought the restaurant scene might be Tony's last meal, but the show just ended, leaving perhaps many more questions than answers.

"Isn't that what life is about more questions?" Dan Grimaldi, who plays Patsy Parisi, said.

But Chambers said the ending might just be about Tony coming to terms with his family members. Throughout the season, he seemed to be becoming more and more isolated from everyone, but he always seems to come back home.

"In most of the seasons of 'The Sopranos,' what happened at the end was he sort of made peace about his family," Chambers said. "I talked to Ray Abruzzo, who plays Little Carmine, and that's when what he took away from it. He was teary-eyed at the screening because he said Tony found peace with his family."

Ending a series that people are so devoted to is always difficult, especially when it seemed all season long that the violence and tension was mounting around Tony. Any ending would be something of a letdown.

"It's like all of these iconic series that have to come to an end, 'Seinfeld,' 'Sopranos' is another one," Chambers said. "What do you do? No matter what you do…somebody's not going to be happy. In a way this was David Chase's sort of little joke on the audience."

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