The last episode of the landmark HBO series The Sopranos wrapped on June 10 in a manner calculated to piss off longtime boosters and latecomers alike. The final scene took place in the sort of small restaurant established as a prime whacking locale by The Godfather and uncounted imitators that sprang up in its wake, and as Tony Soprano sat gabbing with wife Carmela and son A.J. (as daughter Meadow rushed to join them), the camera lingered on various backgrounders who resembled either hit men or feds planning a bust. But before anything else could happen, the screen went black so abruptly that millions of viewers likely thought their cable had gone out.
The ending left watchers to make up their own minds about whether Tony and company were perforated, prosecuted or served Prosciutto -- and judging by the reaction, most didn't like being dragged into the creative process. Typical was the Rocky Mountain News' Mike Pearson, who, in his first major assignment since becoming the so-called voice of the tabloid's Spotlight section following the retirements of TV columnist Dusty Saunders and movie critic Robert Denerstein, proved himself to be singularly unequal to the task. Sopranos followers have long understood that series creator David Chase loves ambiguity and upsetting expectations, yet Pearson's analysis bitched, in the most uninteresting way possible, that the windup lacked a "sense of closure." This observation was on par with my then-nine-year-old daughter's negative reaction to Casablanca because Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman didn't get together prior to the credit roll.
As for me, I was initially stunned by Chase's choice, and then impressed by his nerve. But I did have a major objection to one element of the denoument -- and it involved a wretched band called Journey.
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For the most part, Chase has employed popular music in audacious ways throughout The Sopranos' run, using underheard ditties such as the Kinks' "Living on a Thin Line" to underscore the action. At the beginning of the restaurant segment, he proved his ability again by dredging up Little Feat's "All That You Dream," which was undoubtedly intended to freak out folks with the prospect of a dream sequence; even Sopranos aficionados have loathed many of the moments when Tony drifted into surrealistic reverie. Moments later, though, Tony is seen flipping through a tabletop jukebox selector, and he pauses at the tag for the Journey song "Don't Stop Believing." And then he picks it, the bastard.
Granted, I understand why he did. Chase was being impish again. He was tweaking the characters, as well as fans desperate for a happy ending, by telling them not to stop believing, even though they should have realized ages ago that an upbeat resolution wasn't in the cards. But the problem is, Journey sucks. Really sucks. Sucks on a metaphysical level. Of course, pop-historical revisionists who thought Journey sucked back in the day have lately argued that the group was actually good, but they're wrong. Journey sucked then, sucks now, and will suck for all eternity.
The second I saw the song title, I started yelling (yes, yelling) at Tony, "Don't pick it! Don't pick it!" -- fearing/knowing all along that he would pick it anyway. And when he did, I was thrown out of the scene like Big Pussy was tossed off the side of a boat in one of the show's most famous early offings. Now and forever, my memories of this impressive episode will be intertwined with the sound of Steve Perry's soulless voice and inspid lyrics.
Oh, I won't stop believing. I won't stop believing that David Chase has major cojones -- and that Journey is a blight on eardrums everywhere. -- Michael Roberts