Understanding The Sopranos Finale
The Sopranos was the signature show of cable network HBO. Created by David Chase, the Soprano ran for six seasons and gave viewers an intimate look at the life of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. This series often showed the violence that is associated with organized crime activities but it also showed the family life and personal troubles of Soprano and his associates. The final season of the Sopranos is about survival as New York and New Jersey factions of the mob are warring with each other. In the final episode, Soprano and his crew finally seem to get an edge over their New York rivals, but the controversial final episode "Made In America" has been the source of much debate.
As the episode begins, Tony's crew is in tatters as a result of the war with New York mob boss Phil Leotardo. Tony gets a call from one of his FBI connections telling him that multiple calls have been made from a pay phone in Oyster Bay, Long Island. That piece of information tells Soprano that Leotardo has been using a pay phone in that city to direct his operation. That allows Tony to make his move on Leotardo and end the violence. Tony gets the blessing of Leotardo's crew before the New York boss is shot in the back of the head. After he falls to the ground following the shooting, Leotardo's skull is crushed when he is run over by his own car.
That allows Tony to attempt to rebuild his business and attend to his family needs. In addition to straightening out his son A.J., who has said he wants to enlist in the army, Tony visits his enfeebled Uncle Junior who has been living in a retirement home. The elder Soprano does not remember his nephew nor the business they were involved in because he's been hit hard by senility.
The final scene of the series involves Soprano, his wife Carmela and their two children going out for a celebratory dinner at a New Jersey diner following the end of the war with New York. Tony arrives at Holsten's Diner first and is looking at a menu and surveying the other patrons until his wife arrives. Some of the patrons of the diner seem to catch Tony's attention, but more out of curiosity than fear. As Tony's son A.J. arrives and takes his seat in the booth, a restaurant customer in a Member's Only jacket is paying some attention to the Soprano family. Soprano's daughter Meadow has just arrived and she is struggling to parallel park her car as the man in the Member's Only jacket goes to the bathroom.
Just as Meadow enters the restaurant, the man in the jacket walks past Soprano as he returns to his seat. The screen fades to black at that moment, and that angered many of the longtime fans of the show. Instead of a final conclusion to the series in which Tony was murdered or somehow defended himself and his family, credits rolled.
In an interview following the final episode, Chase offered no apologies and said that everything was there for the astute viewer to understand what happened. The most logical conclusion is that the man in the Member's Only jacket shot Soprano and killed him as he went by. He had a clear view of the back of Tony's head and his family members—with the exception of Meadow—were all looking down at their menus. It would have been easy to shoot Soprano at that moment.
That would also validate a theme that had run consistently throughout "The Sopranos" six seasons—that you never see the end when it comes. Tony didn't see it and that's how it all ended. That's why Chase chose to end the show in such an abrupt manner.