Let me interrupt these old auctions for a little (nearly relevant) commentary.
Many have said, and I agree, that viewing a continuing television series in its collected DVD set is just like reading a Cerebus “phone book” that collects the individual stories into one package.
I watch DVDs this way when I exercise at home, and I just now finished up The Sopranos.
I’ll have my say about the ending of that series in a moment, but first, I want to say why I liked the end of “Cerebus.” First, we knew it was coming, and it had been broadcast long ago. That was okay. What I really liked, though, was how “Cerebus” the character and “Cerebus” the series, the Dave Sim creations, both somehow converged in this ending. In both of my last statements, was I talking about the character… or the series? The answer is a simple “yes.”
I think we know that Cerebus (the character AND the series) was 300 (or is that “were 300”) at the end, and that the phrase “the end of Cerebus” carried simultaneous readings. Focus on one, you lose the other, like particles and waves… foreground and background… it’s hard to see both at the same time, yet when you look for them individually, they are there.
During those times when Dave forced us to be self-aware as readers of the work as a simple work, created by him, controlled by him, these are the times when it was (perhaps) most discomforting to be a reader, when we had to face our role as participants in the play. It’s that old tree-falls-in-the-woods scenario. If a creator creates, and no one is reading or looking, has the creative act been completed? Are we interacting with the Estarcion in our minds, or the Dave in our world. As audience, we revel in the suspension of disbelief as we live for a little while in the world we imagine, individually and collectively, between the pages… on the screen, and so on, based on what the creator serves up. For the most part, we do not want the creator interrupting us.
Cerebus 300, page 20… the biggest player on the stage is us, because for us, and only for us, at that moment, the series ends. And, as Dave would remind us (ad naseum): it is, in fact, the only important ending, because it is the only one that is real.
And that is my take on The Sopranos finale. Artistically, there are all sorts of wonderful homage and allusion moments throughout the final show, and I think it is intentional. And I also believe David Chase when he says that everything that you need is there, and that the words spoken and repeated (“you don't hear it coming and when you die I suppose it just goes black”) have some meaning. It’s just that these are the words of a writer in the mouths of his characters, and what is really ending is “The Sopranos” the series, not “The Sopranos” the characters.
So by the end of the finale, we are fully members of the narrative. We are at least as nervous and suspicious of the world as the character Tony Soprano is, and, in the end, while we’re all concerned about that life that is absorbing us at that moment (disbelief fully suspended), the end (of the series) comes. You do not hear it coming; it all goes back. No pictures; no sound track; no dialog… because there is no “Tony Soprano” or dialog or sound track unless the writer decides to give it to us. The black and silent ending, to me, is that reminder of our own (whaddyacall) mortality as audience. Time is up. The series ends, because there is nothing more written. And the credits roll.
I mean, it was not THAT simple, because they also had the story of their characters to contend with (which, I take, as everything goes on… and on…). So the writers also wrote it up to exactly the moment that would maximize the ambiguity and lead to the resulting discussion. Nicely done. But in that discussion, which I have spent a few hours looking over, so much is made of interpreting the cut to black silence as part of the story of the characters (Tony dies, Tony doesn’t die, the family this, the family that…) or, even somehow, “killing” the audience.
Instead, I think it was exactly the same commentary that Dave tried to make endlessly with Cerebus about the relationship between the writer/creator and the audience.
The lesson (told by writers through the story of the Sopranos, the TV series) is about how things do and do not change, and how people learn and do not, and so on (and on and on and on...).
The series “The Sopranos,” however, simply, ends. And because the writing was so damned clever, at that moment, we (the viewers) forgot where we were (who we were) and we didn’t hear it coming.