Emily Nussbaum on ‘The Sopranos’: How David Chase Is Like Philip Roth

James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in the series finale of The Sopranos.Courtesy of HBO


The Sopranos finale is coming and I have no idea what to expect. Which is good, right? Because while I suppose the most likely outcome of a bunch of mob guys' hiding out from another bunch of mob guys is a Butch Cassidy–esque shootout (or possibly one of those very special episodes on sitcoms, where enemies get trapped in a basement and are forced to really talk), shootouts take fifteen minutes at the most. Don't they?

Besides, The Sopranos is a show founded in plot twists never untwisted and a certain amount of maddening, excellent stasis. So anything could happen, or not happen. Maybe the pizza guy — who orders pizza at a secret hideout, anyway? — will never show up, and the gang will go all Donner Party.

Paulie could shoot Tony, or Carmela could shoot Melfi, or A.J. could give Meadow lip, or Tony could shoot Tony; it certainly looked that way for a moment, as he cuddled in bed with the gun Bobby had given him as a present. Maybe Tony will wake up back in Kansas, surrounded by Big Pussy, Adriana, and a severely pissed-off Mikey Palmice.

So far, the last season has reminded me, perversely, of Philip Roth's latest book, Everyman, which is based on a medieval morality tale about a man approaching death, stripped one by one of each of his "gifts" — wealth, intelligence, family. In each episode, Tony has repelled another of his closest companions: first Bobby, then Hesh, then Paulie, then Chris. Now his family and he are separate. He's alone, with nothing but his gun, facing the end. Historically, any confrontation with mortality has jolted Tony Soprano back to life. But — metaphorically, at least — not this time. —Emily Nussbaum