Phil Leotardi wore his hair like a suit of armor, but in the end it was no match for an SUV. Still, he got off easy compared to Tony Soprano. Series creator David Chase always made it clear he liked his main character much less than most fans of the show did, and in the big finale, Chase gave his contempt free reign, saddling the macho, self-absorbed thug with a fate worse than Phil’s crushed head. Whatever he was during the life of the show, Tony Soprano is now Barbie.
Although Barbie is one of history’s most successful characters, there has never been a Barbie movie or a Barbie TV series, and that’s because Mattel Inc. executives know that imposing a specific narrative line on their property would diminish its appeal as an open-ended tool for creative invention.
Barbie has no story, so Barbie can have any story, and now that’s true of Tony Soprano, too. As amateur Sopranos scholars have already determined through a close exegesis of the final show’s credits, it appears that the restaurant where Tony and his (biological) family convene for a potential last supper in the series’ closing scene was well-staffed with Tony’s enemies. But was a hit actually attempted? And if it was, was it successful?
Throughout the course of The Sopranos, Chase never catered to sentimentality or viewer expectations. He seemed to take perverse pleasure in whacking fan favorites and abruptly abandoning seemingly significant plotlines. Even more than Tony, who was surprisingly willing to compromise for a man who was also quite comfortable using strangling as a negotiating tactic, Chase always made it clear that The Sopranos was his show, his vision, like it or leave it.
The whackus interruptus of the show’s final scene, the jolting blackout that offered no definitive fate for Tony and his clan, was certainly in character for Chase—it was unconventional, and it was bound to frustrate viewers who were hoping the show would conclude with a several big bangs and plenty of blood. But as the Barbie analogy implies, it can also be read as shockingly out of character, an unexpected nod to the user-centric culture that has taken over the entertainment industry during the course of The Sopranos’ run. The ending is an invitation for infinite speculative blog posts and YouTube parodies; it’s an opportunity for fans to finally have it their way.
But was this magnanimity on Chase’s part, or just a brilliant gesture of contempt? As odious as Chase made Tony, as clearly as he depicted his brutal, narcissistic, spectacularly unredeemable nature, we still rooted for him, and still hoped for his redemption. But now that he’s in our hands? Typically, Barbie starts off cherished and ends up microwaved, beheaded and subjected to the sorts of sadistic tribulations only an author in full charge of his creation can dream up. Expect no different for the now-damned capo.