What’s Real

I’m playing tag team with Jean, who just wrote about reality tv. Reality and tv have been on my mind lately.

As I’ve been painting, I’ve carted my laptop around to stream The Sopranos. It started innocently enough. With my new HBO subscription, I could watch the last season on tv. I firmly believe that Tony was not shot in the final scene of the series. The screen went black and we were shut out. The characters went to a restaurant we’d never heard of and they went on to live their lives. Without us. (Just as Sherlock Holmes fans know that Holmes is retired and tending to his bees in Sussex.)

Seriously, a colleague of mine–who didn’t even watch the whole series–argued in the mailroom a few years ago that Tony died, and I got a little hot under the collar. I can’t reasonably disagree with someone on this. I was ticked at his mansplaining, but I had a nugget of doubt that maybe I just wished that Tony was alive. In rewatching the last few episodes, I feel vindicated. The therapist, who had been a stand-in for us, disabuses herself of her fondness for Tony and acknowledges him as a sociopath. If that didn’t persuade us, then Anthony, Jr., becomes the show’s oracle, quoting Yeats and urging us to recognize that the real world is all around us. The show’s makers were letting us go, urging us to let go on our terms, and if that didn’t work, they shut us out.

As I painted, I just started the whole series over, from episode 1. That theme ran throughout the whole series. They kept reminding us that this was not real. Italian-Americans who felt out of place in Italy, mobsters who built their identity on The Godfather. There’s one plot turn involving a stolen haul of flat screen tv’s. As the series continues, you see that every mobster and his mother has that tv. Nice consistency to the show, but also a message–this is tv. Resume your critical faculties. This is not real.

Funny, though, how warm and fuzzy it felt to rewatch the series. The opening credits, with  the NJ Turnpike, put me right back onto the scratchy rug in the back of the station wagon, where the littlest kids in the family sat, peering at the smokestacks and the HESS building. When I started my job, we were so broke and couldn’t afford cable, but one of the other stay-at-home dads would loyally slip my husband a videotape of the episode on Monday or Tuesday, so we were always caught up. We were even in NJ for the last episode. We watched it with my brother and left right afterward. I was so stunned by the ending that I sat in silence through all of Pennsylvania. The Sopranos is so embedded in my past, and it evokes so much Jersey and so much of my happy early years of parenting, that it’s like a warm embrace.

There is a lot of real experience that I’ve blocked and that I’m still recovering, bit by bit. This unreal experience feels more familiar, and much safer (even with the violence and sexism and rotten characters). Maybe I’m crazy, avoiding what’s real and embracing what’s constructed. But the academic in me knows that when an Italian-American can pronounce every deli meat with an Italian accent but can’t follow a conversation, well that right there is a culture. If a tv show is woven into the experience of my lie, both reflecting it and constructing it, then that’s experience. And part of recovering from trauma is having to reread your life as a text, and realizing that you were an unreliable narrator, and the beloved main character wasn’t who you thought he was, and not being able to fix that, and getting the story right doesn’t make the story any better.  Vindication is no solace, or even a factor. You just to accept those facts, and this life.

The academic in me also knows that there are multiple interpretations of texts, so you can believe that Tony was shot. To which I will reply, “Get outa town!”

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6 thoughts on “What’s Real

  1. Now that I have on-demand TV I really should watch that series. People sure got caught up in the Sopranos. Maybe when the summer reruns fills the airwaves. If my Italian ancestors don’t roll over in their graves. I remember them all to be so gentle and fun loving.

    It seems to me that the writers of the show wanted each viewer to be able to create their own ending therefore no one can possibly be wrong. We create the reality that we can live with the best which, of course, through denial we also do in our own, real lives. We see what we want to see because the alternative is painful and/or takes action we are afraid to take.

  2. I just finished watching the Sopranos for the THIRD time – it’s was my daughter’s first and she loved it. The restaurant they ate in at the end, Holsten’s, is an ice cream parlor, and in is in walking distance from my house ;o) I live close to where the show was filmed – in fact, Tony’s therapist works in Montclair, where my house is.

    Here’s my theory: In the restaurant, we see that guy at the counter, the shady one, who walks into the bathroom, which is directly opposite the booth Tony’s sitting in (which is the way the Holsten’s is set up, for real). Carmela and Anthony are sitting next to each other, Tony’s on the other side, where Meadow will sit when she gets there. There’s tension building as the show flashes from Meadow having trouble parking her car, to the restaurant, and back and forth a few times. When Meadow finally bursts into Holsten’s, the screen goes black.

    I think the reason for all that is that without Meadow sitting next to Tony, the guy came out of the bathroom and had a clear shot at Tony. I think he died, and the screen went blank because it was as if we were looking through Tony’s now-dead eyes.

    The booth Tony sat in is the only one that has a jukebox; when James Gandolfini died, Hosten’s took reservations for people who wanted to eat in that booth.

    Now, I do hope I haven’t made you mad ;o( The director refuses to say what happened, and really – nothing happened, since it’s a show…but if you’re a fan, you HAVE to tie it up one way or another, no?

  3. Oh – I forgot to add that I’m Italian, was raised in a big, Italian family, lived in a neighborhood where some famous mobster lived until he died/disappeared, and never once did I take offense at the show. ;o)

  4. Ha, ha, because it’s you, Denise, I will not get mad! 🙂 I see your theory and it doesn’t hold up. Who’s this guy who kills him? Johnny Sac is gone. They killed Phil Leotardo and tied up loose ends. Even Christopher isn’t around to make a move and enact his simmering revenge about Adriana. The last two seasons were full of NY-NJ tensions, and they were all wrapped up.

    You know in those last few episodes, when he’s pressing Paulie about whether he told Johnny Sac about the Ginny joke, and he’s so annoyed by Paulie’s annoying laugh and his repeating of jokes? And there’s all this tension between him and Paulie? In their final scene at Satriale’s Tony looks sideways at Paulie and realizes that this is what he’s left with. Paulie is loyal to Tony, and as annoying as he is, he’s with him to stay.

    And the Meadow parallel parking? She was a terrible driver consistently throughout the series. That scene was just a shoutout. The tension was a red herring.

    Do you see? I can’t concede! I can’t give up. Tony’s fine. It’s us that have to make our way.

    That’s great you’re from around there. I grew up on the north Jersey Shore and still get back there once in a while.

    Sadly, we may know a young fencer in common. I’m pretty sure they live in Montclair, too.

    • Okay – I see what you’re saying. I think in my fourth watch (since I own the series, you know that’s coming sooner or later ;o), I’ll be thinking of all you said.

      I’m one of those New Jerseyites who feel compelled to tell people I’m really from NYC. (Forgive me, again ;o).

      Anyway, it was good to have a laugh with you. As I’ve been saying, in a few weeks it’ll be two years since Philip died, and whether or not I “think” about it, I’m always carrying it. But between you and the snow (am I the only one who isn’t sick of this??), I’m feeling okay right now.

      Thank you.

  5. And, look, Denise, I was able to have a civil exchange about the last Sopranos scene. You’ve humanized me! I’m glad you’re feeling some lightness in your heart. Let us buoy you. You are held.

    (And despite my rigid stance, I totally see your point, because that guy in the diner certainly was fishy.)

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