Tony’s Blackout

“Anybody who wants to watch it,” Mr. Chase told Mr. Sepinwall in The Star-Ledger, “it’s all there.”

The Sopranos could have made it in the Clinton years, but it could only have become the deeply troubling comedy it was in the Bush era. Not because of the White House so much, but because of the viewer’s complicity in the dirty brew of power that flowed from this White House. Not because of the war, but because of the public sense of responsibility for this war.

“Oh,” says Carmela when she’s trying to talk A.J. out of joining the army, “you want to get your legs blown off?”

“Always with the dramatics,” he says.

But not really.

Earlier, at Bobby Bacala’s funeral, A.J., who truly did seem to relax and inhabit his own body once more after his yellow S.U.V. exploded, had a peroration for the commercial landscape the show inhabited: “America,” he said, “is still where people come to make it. It’s a beautiful idea. And then what do they get? Bling and come-ons for shit they don’t need and can’t afford?” Paulie mocked him and descended into a Norm Crosby routine.

But David Chase fought for and won a strange moment of pure insight into the American process. It was romantic, bleary, filthy, piercing. It was as much a comedy of American sobering up after 9/11 as Dallas was a comedy of America getting drunk on the Reagan years. But Mr. Chase fought a battle and won: He created a last shot on television that was one of the best close-ups in movie history, the snapshot of Tony taking in American ambiguity: the Boy Scouts, the killers, the gangstas and the one person toward whom he had little ambiguity. Like the final image of Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows, he captured all the intimate uncertainty of his age, in a room that could have been heaven or hell, but with good onion rings.

It was, so far, the best last episode in TV history—better than The Mary Tyler Moore Show or All in the Family or Seinfeld, despite all the screaming about it from plotmongers who wouldn’t have been happy with anything short of the conflagration from the end of Scarface or Tony whacking Dr. Elliot Kupferberg before he entered witness protection. Paradox, moral relativism, internality. All the stuff that network television has battled and ejected in the past 60 years—except in a very few instances—is the essence that David Chase brought to his 86 hours. David Chase’s enduring triumph in American television is that he embraced ambiguity and looked for poetry in the Bush administration.

Paulie Walnuts thought he had seen the Virgin Mary, and Tony mocked him; but in fact, Tony had seen the other side of mortality as well, and almost was cajoled by Cousin Tony—a spectral Steve Buscemi—into entering that big, well-lit house in his coma dream, after Junior shot him. But he didn’t, he re-entered the living and went on. That was, he knew somewhere, his task, and it’s why the cozy, dark ordinariness of Holsten’s restaurant in Bloomfield, N.J., was a terrifying but immensely moving way station.

Orson Welles once said that “Every story essentially has an unhappy ending. If you want a happy ending it all depends on where you stop telling it.” David Chase’s triumph was that he had the balls to stop telling it right h