Television series are often judged by their series finale, for better or worse. Here at 25YL, we’re going to be looking at both the best and worst finales and what made them great (or not so great) in our “Art of the Finale” series. Got a finale you think should make the list? Be sure and let us know!
Some series finales are universally loved and adored, like Six Feet Under. Some are remembered so poorly that everything that came before the finale is now remembered less fondly, like Dexter. Then there are those series finales that will incite debate and speculation seemingly until the end of time, like The Sopranos. If you’ve read any of my previous articles on The Sopranos here on 25YL, you probably already know how I feel not only about the ambiguous ending but the episode as a whole (If you haven’t read any of those previous articles, check this one out first and I’ll provide links to the others at the end). In this article, I plan to discuss more than just the fade to black that had millions of people thinking their power went out. “Made in America” is one of the greatest television series finales ever, and I’ll discuss why in this article.
“Oh the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on”
– Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin'”
“Made in America” packs a lot into its one-hour run time, more than I think it gets credit for. People have been so fixated on the final scene over the years that everything that happens in the first fifty-five minutes of the episode feels unfairly downplayed. The episode can almost be looked at as being two uneven halves. The first twenty minutes of the episode serve as a conclusion of sorts to the previous episode, which included the assassination spree that took Bobby’s life, left Silvio in a coma, and also saw Phil’s mistress and her Ukrainian father (who, in all fairness, did look a lot like Phil) shot dead.
Phil is now in hiding and Tony is in a safe house, surrounded by the living members of his crew. Carmela and the kids are also stashed away in the property Carmela is planning to sell as part of her new career, which she started in response to seeing the widows of so many of Tony’s peers left with little to get by on after their husbands met their fates. This first half of the episode is filled with tension as we don’t know who is going to die next. It’s the series finale of a mafia show; all bets are off. Midway through the episode a sit-down happens, with Little Carmine and George (a character we hadn’t previously met) providing a neutral location for Tony and Paulie to reach an agreement to end the war with Phil’s top two guys—a meeting that means Phil’s days are numbered. The second half of the episode sees our characters free of their safe houses, able to be in familiar locations such as the Soprano home, the Bada Bing, and Satriale’s for the final time.
One of the biggest themes throughout the series and series finale alike is family. “Made in America” gave AJ perhaps more screen time than most people expected, showing us an accelerated version of a phase many young people go through. AJ starts the episode off still coming out of his most recent bout of depression, accompanied by his younger girlfriend who also has mental health issues. They both look at the government and the problems of the world and begin questioning why things are the way they are. They discover Bob Dylan. They debate major life changes (AJ considers joining the Army) until something else grabs their attention and their activism phase is over. In this case, it is Tony and Carmela pushing AJ towards the film business with promises of networking and making connections that would perhaps one day help him open his own club, which he had previously wanted to do. Score one for the parents here with the swift act of manipulation and bribery, keeping their son from making a decision they knew he would regret.
Meadow, on the other hand, appears ready to embark on major next steps both professionally and romantically. Her relationship with Patrick Parisi appears serious and his boss at the law firm has been courting Meadow with a six-figure salary after she graduates. The finale doesn’t give us any conclusive ideas about where either of the Soprano kids are headed in life, but we have reason to be hopeful with both. The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on…
Tony’s relationship with Janice is briefly touched on in a scene where he checks on his newly widowed sister. We get to see both their shared sense of humor and Janice’s continued denial that she has things in common with their deceased mother (as well as Tony’s annoyance by that). With Janice, progress was always short-lived and things are no different here in the finale.
In one of the most difficult scenes of the episode, Tony visits Junior for the first time since Junior shot him. Just like anyone would, Tony had expectations on what this visit in the state-run nursing home would be like and none of them were met. Tony had to see what people had been trying to tell him for so long now—that Junior had, in fact, lost his mind. Some names rang a bell but Junior’s memories are gone. Tony’s pent-up hard feelings are directed at a man who can barely remember his own life and is going to die, spending what time he has left staring out the windows of this decrepit facility, watching the birds.
Throughout the years, Tony sought Junior’s approval and never outwardly got it. Instead, he received jabs from a man slowly losing his mind and, eventually, a bullet in the stomach from his uncle. As Tony walks out of the room, he is visibly shaken, upset both at Junior’s condition and being forced to face a wide range of complicated emotions regarding his (lack of a) relationship with Junior in Junior’s final years. In an episode that doesn’t make many definitive statements, this scene was the least ambiguous of all. It was about pain and loss and it was hard to watch.
Tony’s other family, his crew, was pretty well gone by the time we reached the series finale. Paulie is the last man standing of the inner circle guys. Benny and Patsy, both of whom had always been around but were never quite main players, seem to be next in line after Paulie (which tells you all you need to know about how hard the crew had been hit over the years). Carlo, another secondary character, has flipped after his son’s arrest, which added to the narrative tension. The ghost of Christopher looms large as a stray cat becomes obsessed with Christopher’s picture, staring at the picture no matter where it was. This freaks out the overly superstitious Paulie in a final note to the complex and often hysterical relationship between Christopher and Paulie throughout the years.
Tony pays the still comatose Silvio a visit in the hospital in another hard to watch scene. Seeing Silvio there in the hospital felt like the end of an era. In many ways, Silvio was the heart and soul of the crew and his absence from the plot was felt, by design, in the scenes with the remaining crew. The movie might go on and on and on, but it would never be the same without Silvio. We’ll never know whether he survived or not, but David Chase showed us how important the character was to that world, all without him saying a word in the finale. There was a haunting scene of Tony and Paulie sitting together at the table outside Satriale’s—a table that had previously been filled with the likes of Christopher, Big Pussy, Ralphie, Silvio, Vito, Eugene, Junior, Tony B, and so many more that were all now gone. As Tony got up to leave, Paulie was all alone at the table: a reminder of all those that were now gone and perhaps a foreshadowing of what’s to come.
Some of my favorite parts about this episode are the callbacks to previous seasons and storylines. While most finales do this, the best ones do it in a way that feels natural, and that’s exactly what happened here. Longtime fans of The Sopranos often used to note that the most dangerous job in the show was to be the captain of the crew that worked construction; every single one of them died throughout the show. In the finale, Tony offers Paulie the job after Carlo flipped and Paulie acknowledges on-screen what people off-screen have been saying for years, listing all of the dead characters who had the job before.
In another great Paulie callback, he finally tells Tony about the time he saw the Virgin Mary at the Bada Bing, which is just as funny today as it was back in 2007. Other callbacks brought up in the finale include AJ remembering Tony’s “Remember the good times” speech from the Season 1 finale; Tony’s joke about Janice giving blowjobs under the boardwalk from “Soprano Home Movies,” which resulted in Bobby punching Tony; AJ almost going to military school (until he cried and had a panic attack); and really clever ways of including many minor characters from years past without it feeling forced.
Which brings us to the end. So much has been said, written, and theorized about the closing scene of “Made in America.” We all know the score: one by one, the family arrives at a diner to meet for dinner. Several suspicious-looking characters arrive as well, giving us a tense feeling, wondering if we’re ending with a happy family dinner or bloodshed. Instead, we got neither. We got the “choose your own adventure” ending of The Sopranos. To some, Tony didn’t die in front of his family that night and lived to see the trial that was surely awaiting him after Carlo flipped. To others, enough hints were dropped—ranging from the “Kevin Finnerty” episodes, Members Only jackets, and the conversation Tony and Bobby had a few episodes prior speculating about what death would be like—to reach the conclusion that Tony was indeed killed right there.
Whether the fade to black was used to allow us our own conclusions or to shield us from the horror of the final scene of the series being Tony’s murder in front of his family, that’s anyone’s guess. Those final moments have become synonymous with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” and like the song says, the movie never ends. The open-ended nature of the finale has often had me wondering what happened to not only Tony, but all of these characters. Did Paulie break the curse of the crew he took over? Did Silvio survive? Did the war between New York and New Jersey ever end? Did AJ ever grow up? I loved the journey we took with these characters in the first fifty-five minutes of this series finale and the last five minutes gave me something to think about forever. It goes on and on and on. What more could I ask for from a series finale?
If you’re interested in reading additional analysis on The Sopranos, including what I believe happened to Tony, please be sure to check out these articles!