LOS ANGELES: There was the Journey song, then silence. Then my upstairs neighbor started slamming things.
This was a scene repeated in homes across the nation Sunday night, as the final episode of The Sopranos came abruptly to a close. But as even those who have never once seen the series have heard by now, the close was one without closure, instead relying on that most irritating, non-committal, and (in hindsight, perhaps) appropriate of media trends: It left the fate of New Jersey mob boss/family man Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) to YOU, the viewer, to decide for yourself.
When the show cut to black -- as if the cable had gone on the fritz, just as Tony dug into a basket of onion rings he had ordered "for the table" -- viewers first reacted by pounding their TVs and cursing their cable providers. Then the truth became clear: This was Sopranos creator David Chase's way of ending the eight-year-old, 86-episode series without actually ending it, allowing viewers to determine what would happen in next moments ... and possibly leaving the program open for feature-film continuation. It was a nontraditional conclusion to a nontraditional show.
Some found this brilliant. Others, not so much. (Hence, the upstairs neighbor slamming things.)
Either way, The Sopranos finale generated reaction - intense reaction - from fans and media alike. It began weeks before the episode aired, when fan blogs and publications from The New Yorker to the LA Times began speculating as to Tony's demise: Would he be brutally whacked by a rival crime family, be sent to prison or witness protection, or watch his wife and kids die violently in front of his eyes? The series' pending finale even bolstered business for several lucky establishments: Pizzaland, for example, the North Arlington, NJ pizzeria featured for about a second in the show's opening montage, reported recent orders for hundreds of pies nationwide.
Now that the show is over, "everyone is theorizing about The Sopranos, and what David [Chase] intended," says Quentin Schaffer, SVP of corporate communications for HBO. "It's taken on a life of its own, everybody's talking about it. It's fascinating."
After the final episode first aired, the HBO Web site crashed due to the volume of people posting and reading Sopranos messages, Schaffer says. "Response was 10 times the normal volume ... it just shut down."
Ratings, too, were among the highest for a Sopranos episode. Preliminary Nielsen numbers for the series finale had The Sopranos drawing around 12 million viewers, up 40 percent from the season's usual 8 million. In New York, the overnight local ratings had The Sopranos at an 18 rating, more than double the 8.2 that CBS drew for the "The 61st Annual Tony Awards," and almost three times the NBA Finals on ABC. (Cleveland Cav LeBron James said he was sorry he had to miss The Sopranos. He had his girlfriend TiVo it.)
Even more telling, according to Yahoo's Buzz-o-meter: There were more searches for "Sopranos" on Monday than for "Paris Hilton."
Still, viewers' mixed emotions regarding the episode's untidy conclusion will not go away quietly.
"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there," Chase told the Newark Star-Ledger in a Monday morning interview from France, where he was a) on vacation or b) avoiding the distant possibility of awakening with a horse head in his bed.
"You're never going to please everybody," Schaffer acknowledges. In time, though, and with contemplation, he believes even the most devoted fans will be able to see The Sopranos finale in a different light.
Plus, Schaffer says, fans can always revisit The Sopranos with HBO on Demand, and on DVD. (This season will be released on DVD in October.) In addition, the complete series is currently re-airing on A&E.
"You hate to lose The Sopranos, but they can go on," Schaffer says, likely referring to both the permanence of the show's legacy and Chase's "Never say never" attitude. "I think we feel pretty good."