Sci Fi Friday: Blink and You’re Dead, But What About Tony Soprano?

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Today’s edition of SciFi Friday will look further at the finale to The Sopranos, as well as other shows but first, don’t turn around, don’t look away, and don’t blink. Blaink and you’re dead. That is unless you haven’t watched last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who and plan to watch in the future. In that case, close your eyes and turn away. This one was just too good to risk seeing these spoilers.

Blink, like the excellent two episodes before it, was based upon a written Doctor Who story which is available on line here. I really didn’t have high hopes for this episode, coming after two such excellent ones and knowing that it was both a Doctor-lite episode and one which was being billed as being behind-your-couch scary. With The Doctor only playing a small part, Carey Mulligan did a superb job as Sally Sparrow. There’s already talk among fans that she should be the next companion.

The show opens with Sally Sparrow investigating an old house and finding a warning addressed to her on the wall to duck, saving her from getting hit. The clues increase as the show goes on until we ultimately learn that the weeping angel statues are actually aliens which have the ultimate protective device. They are “quantum locked, meaning they turn to stone and connot be harmed if anyone is looking at them. If you just blink they can move at incredible speeds. They live off the potential energy of the lives they take away, but they have a humane way of “killing” their victims. They are sent back into the past, leaving their future lives for the weeping angels to live off of. Instead of the typical chases, we have tension created as the statues approach should anyone take their eyes off of them, wondering how long they can go without blinking. Unfortunately nobody thought of alternating closing one eye at a time to give them a rest.

Having characters sent to the past leads to Sally receiving information, such as a letter from a friend who accompanied Sally in a return to the house. The letter was sent down through the generations and was delivered to Sally by the friend who recalled exactly when she would be there. Other clues pop up as easter eggs on DVD’s, which turn out to be messages from The Doctor, who was himself sent back in time by the weeping angels without his Tardis.

Any description of the show doesn’t do it justice as it was the execution of the story which made it work so well. Generally the Tardis is a simply a gimmick to get The Doctor involved in stories which can take place at any time and place. It was a welcome change to see time travel actually play a significant part in the story, despite the paradox. Next week we see the end of the universe, Utopia, and the return of Captain Jack.

Blink left us wondering about the fates of characters, as The Sopranos did at the end. I’ve previously discussed the finale here, and quote information from an interview with David Chase here. Chase accomplished the goal of keeping everyone talking, but I continue to feel he made a mistake in the abrupt ending. Too many of us first questioned whether our DVR was working correctly when we should have been wondering if Tony was dead or alive.

We were left to talk not only about how the show ended, but whether there really was any definite ending at all. Some people are convinced that the screen turned black as things turned black for Tony, noting how Tony had previously told Bobby, “At the end, you probably don’t hear anything, everything just goes black” if you are whacked. Some interviews witih David Chase, as well as HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer, suggest that Chase did intend to leve clues to a definitive ending. James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, isn’t so sure. He says he has “no idea” as to how it ended, and said, “I thought it was a great ending. You decide.” Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio, also suported the idea of an ambiguous ending, saying “Life doesn’t have tidy little endings.” Personally I prefer to think that the guy going into the bathroom was just a guy who had too much coffee in his bladder, and that after a good dinner Tony took Meadow out to teach her how to parallel park.

I have mixed feelings as to the ambiguity of the ending. While life doesn’t have tidy little endings, the death of Tony would provide such an ending if that was what was intended. Otherwise the series, like many novels, could end with one aspect of Tony’s life ending, with the future beyond that remaining unknown.

The finale has been compared to The Princess or the Tiger but I don’t find that comparison to be accurate. In The Princess or The Tiger there is a reason for not revealing whether the protagonist lives or dies as we are left to wonder about the motivations of the princess who lost him. There is no such reason for ambiguity in The Sopranos. We’ve seen many gang killings and there was no question that there are people who would kill Tony. This was just a cliff hanger for the sake of a cliff hanger, and reminds me more of the final episode of Dallas. We wereleft to wonder whether J.R. Ewing was dead or alive until the television movie was done. While David Chase denies any such plans, he certainly has left open the door to another story involving Tony Soprano.

Heroes also ended the season with ambiguity as to the fate of Sylar, who appeared to escape after earlier looking like he had been killed. Zachary Quinto, who played Sylar has now signed on as a regular for the second season, answering that question.

The show with the most questions currently on television must be Lost. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof promise that Lost “will not be ending with a blackout.”

“Obviously, we can’t wait to the 48th hour to say, ‘Here are all the mysteries of the show,”‘ Lindelof said. But Cuse also noted the reality of the sometimes vociferous and heavily engaged viewership of the show, which uses the Web to advance theories and post explanations and even freeze-frames to parse further meaning.

“I’m not sure there is any ending that will satisfy everyone,” Cuse said. “Our hope is that the ending will be … the logical conclusion of the story.”

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Perhaps the worst type of series finale of all occur when the fate of the show is not known when the season ends as occured with Veronica Mars. Fans of the show were far more concerned as to whether the show would be renewed than how the season-ending cliff hanger would turn out. The offical word came last week that Veronica Mars has been cancelled. It might be for the better. Without a good idea for a mystery good enough to last all season, the third season was weak compared to the first two. The show also lost a lot of its edge when Veronica went from high school to college, and the theme of the class differences in Neptune was no longer an issue.

And finally, here’s a story where we know the ending. Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign is being made in to a Broadway play:

Last week, Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal did a private reading of “Farragut North” (written by playwright and former Dean campaigner Beau Willimon) about the presidential hopes of a charismatic, unorthodox candidate and his staff. The 26-year-old “Brokeback Mountain” star would play the idealistic young communications director sabotaged by old political dogs with dirty tricks, reports the New York Post. If he’s cast, it would be Gyllenhaal’s Broadway debut.

“Jake was a big campaign supporter of mine, so I hope he takes it,” Dean told us yesterday. “But I want him to play me.” The DNC chairman likes the concept — “Hell, I’ll go to it” — even if it includes his famous scream. “I’d like to see him do that.”

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3 Comments

  1. 1
    Paul Levinson says:

    Quick response to The Lady, or the Tiger comparison – yes, of course there are differences in this classic story and The Sopranos. As another example, Stockton gives us only two choices in The Lady, or the Tiger, whereas we have dozens in The Sopranos.

    But I think the ambiguous ending is indeed motivated in The Sopranos. And that comes from the inherent ambiguity of real life. We’ve come to crave clear-cut endings in our fiction. But there is no reason that every story has to end that way. The more I think about it, the more happy I am to think that who knows where Tony is alive or dead at this moment.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Paul,

    On one level any ambiguous ending could be compared to The Lady or the Tiger but I think that makes the comparison fairly meaningless.

    The significance of the ending lf The Lady or the Tiger is that we are left to debate the motivations of the princess who will lose either way. (That would an even more interesting situation if this was at the end of a six year season when we had clues as to how this particular princess would be motivated.)

    In the ending to The Sopranos we have no such choice to consider. There are lots of potential threats in the diner, but to simplify matters I’ll stick to the guy going into the bathroom as that is the one most people think may be Tony’s killer (if they believe Tony was killed.) We know absolutely nothing about him. He may have no mob connection, or he may have a connection to Phil. It isn’t his motivations we are left to guess but who he is.

    The ending would be much more like The Lady or the Tiger if we knew more about him to wonder about his motivations, or if the ending involved a choice Tony had to make which could lead to his death.

    Lets say that they didn’t show all the ominous signs in the diner and that the family just had a regular meal together and it faded out. Tony would still be in the same situation where at any moment someone could come to kill him, or he might go on indefinately.

    Perhaps the best comparison between this ending at The Lady or the Tiger would be in looking at David Chase. While there are no conflicting motivations revealed in Tony or the guy in the bathroom, in this situation perhaps David Chase is in the position of the Princess. Did David Chase intend to kill Tony? We have clues both that he intended this to be an ambiguous ending to be debated or that he had a definitive ending in mind with clues.

    If we go with the theory that David Chase left clues to a definitive ending, then we have to go with the theory that Tony was killed and, like Tony, we didn’t see it coming but everything went black. However, unless we get a clearer statement from Chase that he intended a definite ending, I’m going with the idea that he purposely left it ambiguous. My idea that Tony had dinner and then taught Meadow how to parallel park is just as possible a scenario as Tony being killed as Meadow walked in the door.

  3. 3
    Paul Levinson says:

    Absolutely, Chase as princess is the best level of comparison –

    So David Chase has given us a Sopranos, or the Tiger ending.

    He’s the princess – he knows what’s behind the door of darkness.

    And we’re all the suitors in the arena…

    But unlike the princess, Chase is not clearly pointing to any door…

    And unlike the suitor, we have many more choices than two …

    But like the suitor, our choice of door depends upon what we think Chase wants us to see beyond it … and, even more importantly, what we in our hearts most want to see.

    from my The Sopranos, or the Tiger?

    Further points –

    1. I don’t think we should pay much attention to what Chase or anyone associated with the show says or doesn’t say about the ending – see I. A. Richards and his caution that we should look at the text, not the creators’ intentions – not to mention that we have no way of knowing how truthful Chase or anyone is in what they say to the press.

    2. In fact, I think Chase deliberately left a lot of specific clues, that point in a lot of specific, different directions.

    3. So, yes, Tony could just as easily have gone out to give Meadow parallel parking as Tony getting whacked – and I think that’s the precisely the essence of The Sopranos.

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