The following is a bit self-indulgent on my part…
While talking about the fact that anime stories end, I mentioned my disappointment with the Sopranos. I have no idea how the show will turn out. (Maybe it has already ended, I don’t know.) But, as a way of ending the show for myself I hammered out a few possible endings. If I were writing the show, I would have had one of these in mind from episode one, and would have plotted a clear arc from beginning to end. It’s clear the real writers of the show aren’t following any sort of coherant plan, which is why I quit watching the show. Allmost all of these would require changes to the entire series: You couldn’t tack one of these endings onto the show as it stands now. View these more as series concept ideas.
This story would focus on the fall of Tony and the redemption of AJ. Throughout the show, we see distinct paralells between AJ’s behavior and his father’s. He looks like he may be destined to follow in Tony’s footsteps. On one side he does seem to have a decent career ahead of him, but he seems more inclined to leave that path and embrace crime. The series would follow him and the audience would always be wondering which way he will go in the end.
In the final season, Tony is at last arrested and is put away, probably for good. The last few episodes follow his trial. His organization unravels as the police round up his crew and shut down his operations forever. Tony must endure repeated betrayal as each of his friends sell him out, testifying against him to gain their own freedom. In the end the only ones left – the only people who remain true to him – are his family. They are the only ones present at his sentencing, where he is given to 20 to life. As he is led away he pretends not to care, but once his back is turned he breaks down.
Carmella and Meadow cry, but AJ is stoic. Carmella is sickened by his lack of emotion.
“You’re just like your father”, she tells him.
“No”, AJ says as his father is led away in chains, “I’ll never be like him.”
The Tony Soprano we’ve come to know at the end of season 4 is probably beyond the hope of real redemption. But, if the character had been a bit different: a little meaner on the outside and a little softer on the inside, then I think a redemption story arc would have been great to see. Let’s re-mix some personalities and see how that would look:
Tony rises to power and becomes the Jersey crime boss. Outside he is rutheless and cold, although inside he’s tormented by what he’s done and what sort of life he’s living. Eventually he begins to make bad decisions. He shows mercy when he shouldn’t. He hesitates when he needs to act. The only time he truly unleashes his anger is against his own men when he thinks they’ve gone too far.
Tony becomes attached Tracee, one of the strippers at the Bing. He thinks of her as a daughter, and secretly uses his influence to try and help her out of her difficult life. Tony meets her two-year old son. This little boy becomes a surrogate son to him, and Tony is filled with a desire to make sure the little guy doesn’t follow in AJ’s footsteps, which increasingly resemble his own. He provides her with money and with another – more respectable – job. But she doesn’t hold onto the job. She lacks confidence and can’t see herself as anything more than a stripper. She ends up back at the Bing. Worse, she misunderstands his help and develops a romantic interest in him.
Ralph is ignorant of all of this, and treats the girl like any of the other strippers – like a whore. At the beginning of the fifth (and final) season, Ralph is very rough with her and abuses her badly. Tony becomes enraged and kills Ralph without any justifyable (to the other mobsters) reason. His empire begins to unravel as his men turn on him. They sense his indecision and weakness. He’s been trying to straddle the line for too long – to be both the Crime Boss Tony and the Human Tony. His wife is lost to him, driven away by his past infidelity. His children have been alienated by his years of neglect. In any case, they are part of the life of Crime Boss Tony. Tracee and her son are all that he has left. He must at last choose which man he will be. He can survive this and stay in power, but he would have to sacrifice Tracee to do so.
Some of the guys approach one of the other bosses: Johnny Sack. In their view, Tony has lost it and they want to jump ship. They figure out that Tony cares for this girl. Moving on his wife and kids is Taboo, but as far as they are concerned, Tracee and her son are fair game. Maybe knocking her out will bring Tony back. Maybe it won’t. In any case, it would be a fitting punishment for killing Ralph.
“What, we gonna kill the little kid, too?”, Silvio asks. Out of all the men, he’s been the most uncomfortable with betraying Tony.
Jonny shrugs, “The f***in’ kid is gonna be an orphan. Are you gonna adopt him?”
Silvio is silent.
Finally Pauly nods, “Ralph was a friend to all of us, including you. And Tony killed him over this broad. Against the rules. Are you gonna side with him?”
In the end, Tony realizes that the only way to save Tracee is to tear down and destroy the organization he’s been working for and building all of his adult life. He expends all of his power, all of his strength, and all of his influence to fend off his former crew and finally, Jonny Sack himself. Some of the men go off to prison, some die. Some scatter and run off. Christopher stands by Tony and dies in the fighting.
Eventually it comes to a last showdown at (of course) the docks, where Tony sacrifices himself to rescue Tracee and her son. Tracee and her son escape with their lives and what is left of Tony’s once-great fortune. He gave his life to save them. Knowing this and finally understanding the fatherly love he had for her – a love she has never known until now – she resolves to clean up her life for good. She and her son leave behind the warehouse where the entire leadership of the east coast mob is now lying dead. Her enemies are gone, and she heads out into a much brighter future.
How about a more lighthearted approach? I’m not sure if the mobster code as outlined in the show allows for retirement, but let’s imagine it does:
The panic attacks really start to bother Tony. The stress of being boss is hard on him. One day Dr. Melfie points out that he has enough money to live the good life (he’s told her as much) from now on. She talks him into quitting.
Partway through season 4 he announces his retirement. He get a house near the ocean and one of the other guys (maybe Silvio?) becomes the new boss. But it isn’t working. His old business ties and old relationships keep dragging him back into the thick of things. The panic attacks keep coming.
He is forced to extricate himself from the old business by moving away. Far away. He ends up in California. He buys a bar, just to “keep himself busy” and “earn a little extra income”. He actually believes this at first. Pretty soon the place starts looking a lot like the Bada Bing. Pretty soon he meets some like-minded guys who – while not Itallian – seem to understand him. As the show ends he’s working with his new friends, setting up some minor scam. He thinks this is no big deal, but we can see he’s on his way to re-creating his Jersey life all over again. The show ends with an “old habits die hard” and a “waddayagonna do?” vibe to it.
The show could have had a dark ending.
Tony supplants Junior, then displaces Jonny Sack, and finally takes Carmine’s place. As he rises, he loses his family one by one. His wife gets sick of the other women and divorces him. Meadow moves to the other side of the country and disowns her father. AJ ends up in juvenile prison. As he comes to power, many of his friends are picked off and (unlike in the original show) they are not replaced. Tony slowly becomes an island.
By the end of the show he has everything and nothing. His family is gone. Many of his “friends” are dead, either by his hand or that of his enemies. The few people he has left are emotionally distant and avoid him. He lives more or less alone in a massive house, most of which is empty and unfurnished. At the end we find him on the balcony behind his house, looking down on “his” world. He has everything he’s ever wanted, and he is perfectly miserable. He’s incapable of knowing what it is that he really needs.
His face is cold and unsmiling. We know that he will probably never again know happiness. The camera retreats, back throught the empty house as the credits roll. With nothing more to gain, he has nothing more to hope for.
Even darker variant: Once the camera comes to rest we hear a gunshot, and know that Tony has taken his own life.
I don’t pretend to be a professional writer, but any of these would be better than just running the thing into the ground the way they did. I like the “Early Retirement” ending best. As a bonus, it could easily lead to another series later on, so it would have been low-risk for HBO.
A shame, really. I had high hopes.