Now this posting’s going to get a bit deeper than the previous few but its starting point is yet another musical reference. What do you know about a guy called John Cooper Clark? I had some knowledge of his name deep in my memory banks but up until I’d watched the final series of American tv’s greatest export , I’d never come across his work. As it happens he was a leading light in the punk movement of the 70’s; an angry northern performance poet with a shock of Dylan-like hair sometimes referred to as the Salford Bard:
Now poetry’s not something I’m particularly into but there’s one piece he wrote called ‘Evidently Chickentown’ which, first time I heard it, shook me with its relentless swearing (I know, sounds unlikely) and the sense of sheer futility in the lyrics. Backed by a haunting soundtrack it’s a very bleak piece. And I came across it during the final scenes to the Sopranos episode entitled Stage 5, which for me is the defining 60 minutes in the whole saga because it has the storyline which signals the final outcome. But more of that later; for now, even if you’ve never seen a moment of the New Joisey crime family story, just appreciate the bitter regret in the words of character Phil Leotardo as he swears revenge against Tony for his brother’s killing, and all this made more intense by the brutality of Clark’s ode to Chickentown:
Gritty eh. There’s one thing about those final scenes which resonates with me; the references to the film The Godfather, a distinct theme throughout the whole series. Leotardo is like the counter point to Vito Corleone who when explaining his early life in America said he’d never apologise for defending his family’s interests and refusing to act as a puppet, whereas Leotardo is eaten up by the compromises he and his family accepted in their life in the new world. Then there’s the christening scene which is a straight lift from the brutal end scenes of Godfather I. So what? Well I’m not alone in thinking that this episode is full of symbolism. It begins with Christopher premiering his schlock horror move ‘Cleaver’ which as Carmella points out to an unsuspecting Tony is a revenge fantasy slaying of the gangland boss evidently based on Tony himself. The bulk of the rest of the episode is taken up with the death of Tony’s New York alter ego Johnny Sack from a perniciously aggressive cancer whilst undertaking a long jail sentence (which Tony only narrowed avoided). When told about the cancer’s stage of development (Stage 4), Sack realised his illness was imminently terminal as, in his words, ‘There is no Stage 5’. He died whilst incarcerated.
The only other scene of significance is where Tony’s consigliere Sil is having dinner with Gerry Torciano, an aspiring boss of the NY family to replace the ailing Johnny Sack, which is another reference back to The Godfather’s in-restaurant slaying of Salozzo and the corrupt cop. So what does all this signify? Well the writer of the series when asked about the ambiguous and rather loose endings to the final episode said look to ‘Stage 5’ f0r the answers. Well it seems to me that the writer is suggesting one of two possible endings for Tony a) he gets killed in the restaurant during the family meal by either a member of the Leotardo family as a vendetta killing or by a member of his own crime family as his relationship with everyone including the beloved Christopher was slowly breaking down, as witnessed by the awkward clutch scenes at the christening or b) he ends up banged up like Johnny Sack in prison and dying a forgotten death.
There is I feel another layer of interpretation which is that the cancer which features so prevalently in the episode is symbolic of Tony’s influence on all that he touches (and I guess that means organised crime generally). All his relationships are faulted; his immediate family all have issues with him, his crime associates are killed off by him or becoming increasingly distrustful if not actively hateful of him, he has robbed all of his friends of their wealth and dignity, his lovers and girlfriends are despised, gone or dead. His mother who plotted against him is gone and his sisters despatched. Uncle Ju who tried to kill him lies rotting away in a care home. He lays waste to every relationship because he is a taker. He is the malignancy and for him the outcome will always be prematurely terminal. There is no Stage 5 for someone like Tony.
Ooh I said it’d be deep. Sorry it’s taken me so long to come to a conclusion about a truly great TV series. Of course if you’ve got a different viewpoint do please comment.