TV REVIEW: Chase took the easy way out with 'The Sopranos'

Somewhere, David Chase is cackling with glee. At least that's my theory.

After all, the "Sopranos" finale worked out perfectly for the creator of the HBO show. We're still talking about the final minutes of the last episode and speculating about what happened _ or didn't _ to Tony Soprano and his family after the screen suddenly went black midway through the last scene.

I'm coming around to the view that maybe we shouldn't be surprised by that shocking "Sopranos" series finale.

After all, the characters on the show _ given the choice between doing the difficult thing that should be done and the easy thing that can be done (often for personal gain) _ usually take the easy way out. The same goes for Chase, the creator of this morally ambiguous world.

Given the choice between actually making a choice about how the series would end and abdicating that responsibility, he chose not to choose. It was easier that way. And when a movie studio begs to give him millions to make a "Sopranos" feature, he'll be good to go.

But that's what the show is about, in a way _ characters going with the flow, ignoring the reality in front of them, and using any number of self-justifications to make their behavior look better, or inevitable.

As the show's final season came to a close, A.J. Soprano was stuck in a serious depression, one that forced him to rethink his coddled, responsibility-free life. But rather than work his way through the difficult moral thicket of his existence, he took the easy way out. Mom and dad lined up a cushy job and gave him a new BMW. Problem solved.

Staunch moral positions exist on "The Sopranos" only to be eroded by selfishness and willful ignorance. Meadow says she's going into the law to fight for people whose legal rights are trampled _ yet she's flirting with a six-figure job that'll have her, like her boyfriend, defending corrupt people who are no different from her dad. But the money and the power will probably anesthetize her to the reality of what she's doing.

Like A.J., Christopher and Carmela, she'd rather be "Comfortably Numb" _ the song that was playing when a drugged-up Christopher ran his car off the road.

Sure, Chase could indict our materialism using indelible characters, criticize our inability to focus on what matters, but what mattered, in the end, to Chase? Was it using his uncanny powers as a storyteller to finish his epic tale with something like a real ending? Nah.

Let me make one thing clear: I have no problem with an ambiguous ending. In fact, I expected very little actual resolution from the finale.

A reader named Tom on Newark Star-Ledger critic Alan Sepinwall's Web site put it best: "I think the main problem I had with the ending wasn't the abrupt stop or the dangling plot points. It was the black screen before the credits rolled. The sudden stop, I get. But those five seconds of dead air felt like Chase was mocking the viewers for wanting more. He was rubbing our face in what he had done."

That's what bugged me. Chase got me totally wound up, then ripped me away from that world. I was really mad at first. And I still think what Chase did was, all due respect, kind of jerky. But minutes after the finale ended, I started laughing.

Yeah, just as I forgave (or forgot) Tony's worst indiscretions, just as I empathized with him like Dr. Melfi did, I find it hard to hang on to any anger about the finale. Chase had 10 million people thinking their TV connections broke all at once. There's something demented about that, and demented humor is one of the hallmarks of a great "Sopranos" episode.

The main thing that allows me to forgive Chase for toying with me like that is the Journey song that was playing in the final moments. "Don't Stop Believin'" is such an uplifting song, so hopeful.

I have to think that the use of "Don't Stop Believin'" was a signal that Tony's life didn't stop. He'd be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life, he'd be worrying about his family and his famiglia until the end of his days, but his life would go on. (Of course, Chase being Chase, he could have used the song ironically, but I'm trying to ignore that idea.)