As ‘The Sopranos’ Finale Turns 10, Controversy Won’t Sleep With Fishes

The most controversial series finale ever continues to inspire anger, respect, and pure confusion.

June 9, 2017 5:00 am
(L-R) Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore of 'The Sopranos.' (Anthony Neste/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
(L-R) Tony Sirico, Steven Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore of 'The Sopranos.' (Anthony Neste/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

On June 10, 2007, Tony Soprano said good-bye forever.

And yet, fans of The Sopranos still can’t agree on exactly how he went.

Depending on how one feels about that notorious blackout, it either proved Tony had been killed or that Tony would have to look over his shoulder forever. Or maybe it meant nothing at all. Still, the final episode of The Sopranos connected with viewers in a way no series has before or since. This is by no means to suggest that it was loved by all — it most decidedly was not —  but surely no concluding episode has inspired more discussion, anger, and even respect.

Here are facts you may not have known about a bit of TV history. (You can first refresh your memory with a look back at the show’s notorious final moments.)


David Chase created his own real-life blackout. The show’s creator was in France when the finale premiered. He not only refused all calls on the subject, but insisted his writers and producers also close off all communication with the media. The result was that as the world tried to figure out what the conclusion meant, there were literally no answers forthcoming from official sources.

The Sopranos finale inspired many concerns about technical difficulties. Soon after the finale, Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof described the ending as “letter-perfect,” but also noted he checked his TiVo machine to make sure it was running correctly. Likewise, to this day, countless people cannot discuss the end of the series without bringing up calling the cable company to complain the feed was out.

The finale also inspired a great deal of outrage. Among the most indignant of critics: Bill O’Reilly insisted that, as part of a quest to “abuse the regular folks,” Chase had “tanked the final episode on purpose.”

Chase soon provided a glimmer of light to a New Jersey writer. On June 11, Alan Sepinwall (then of Newark’s Star-Ledger) published an interview with Chase. Aware of the backlash, Chase declared: “No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God. We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people’s minds, or thinking, ‘Wow, this’ll (tick) them off.’ People get the impression that you’re trying to (mess) with them and it’s not true. You’re trying to entertain them.”

Chase then resumed mostly not talking about the ending. Until…

Chase managed to trigger a new outrage eight years after the fact. During a 2015 interview with Director’s Guild Quarterly, Chase at last discussed the finale at length, but still refused to definitively define the finale. He mused, “Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that (happened), but obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.”

This led to new critiques and a batch of entire articles denouncing his answers, notably The Atlantic‘s “David Chase Just Ruined the Finale of ‘The Sopranos.’”

With The Sopranos‘ blackout, HBO entered a dark age. Sex and the City was already off the air. New powerhouse Game of Thrones wouldn’t arrive until 2011. Quite simply, suddenly the cabinet was bare. And it wasn’t helped by the fact…

The Sopranos‘ finale was arguably the worst lead-in ever for a series premiere. One show HBO believed could become a new sensation was John From Cincinnati, which debuted immediately after The Sopranos. Created by Deadwood‘s David Milch, in hindsight it was a leap of faith for HBO to believe people would eagerly tune in to see how the “lives of three generations of a dysfunctional surfing family residing near the California-Mexico border are impacted by the arrival of a mysterious (and ambiguously supernatural) stranger.” Even so, it wasn’t helpful to follow a finale that left viewers confused and indignant before the premiere of a show even its champions acknowledge requires tremendous patience. John From Cincinnati faded out pretty quickly, lasting just one season.

Tony’s “killer” had good reason to be hanging around a restaurant. Paolo Colandrea is the owner of a Bucks County, Pennsylvania pizzeria. When a casting director randomly spotted his headshot hanging on the pizzeria wall, he wound up being called in for an interview and got what might (or might not) have been a crucial role in series history. Incidentally, Colandrea was billed in the credits as “Man in the Members Only Jacket.” Don’t expect a spinoff.

Journey fully approved of the finale (but almost didn’t give permission for their song’s use). The band’s former lead singer Steve Perry told People that he wouldn’t have approved of the use of “Don’t Stop Believin’” in a “blood-bath” but was delighted to have been so key to the show’s final moments. “What bigger honor is that?,” he crooned.

James Gandolfini may have provided the perfect summary of the series finale. Gandolfini tragically died in 2013 at just 51 years of age. Before his passing, he contributed to a 2012 Vanity Fair oral history of The Sopranos: “When I first saw the ending, I said, ‘What the f—?” I mean, after all I went through, all this death, and then it’s over like that? But after I had a day to sleep, I just sat there and said, ‘That’s perfect.’”

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.