When The Sopranos Blacked Out

HBO
HBO

The late James Gandolfini, the imposing and formidable character actor who became famous virtually overnight for his portrayal of a mobster who submitted to psychoanalysis for six seasons on HBO’s The Sopranos, told Vanity Fair in 2012 that he had a plain and simple reaction after viewing the show’s finale:

“What the f*ck?”

That brief review would be echoed by critics and fans in the days and months following the episode’s broadcast on June 10, 2007. Titled “Made in America,” The Sopranos's series finale featured one last supper with Tony Soprano (Gandolfini), his wife Carmela (Edie Falco), and children Meadow and A.J. (Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler). Converging at Holsten’s Ice Cream Parlor, the family appears at least temporarily free of the stress Tony’s life of crime has brought into their world. Tony orders onion rings, selects Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” from the tabletop jukebox, and seems relieved his domestic life is intact.

Moments later, the screen goes black. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is cut off so abruptly that many viewers believed they were experiencing a cable outage. It remained that way for 11 seconds before the credits rolled, a curious void of content that quickly became one of the most infamous endings to a series in the history of television. As far as fans were concerned, creator David Chase may or may not have whacked Tony, but he definitely whacked them.

James Gandolfini and David Chase on the set of "The Sopranos"
Getty Images

When Chase was growing up in Clifton, New Jersey, in the 1950s, his father owned a hardware store, and his business partner had a son. The son’s cousins had an unusual family name—Soprano—that stuck with Chase for decades. After duties on episodic television like The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure, Chase stumbled onto an idea about a mobster who was in therapy. After Fox and other networks passed, The Sopranos landed at HBO in 1999.

Although the channel’s prison drama Oz, which had premiered two years earlier, signaled the network's newfound commitment to hour-long dramas, The Sopranos was cut from an entirely different mold. Novelistic and ruminative, the show seemed to delight in taking the tropes of mob fiction and turning them on their head. When Doctor Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) is sexually assaulted, it seemed assured that she’d eventually turn to her patient, Tony, in order to exact vengeance. (She doesn’t.) When Tony’s wife has an affair with one of his lieutenants, viewers braced for an inevitable face-to-face showdown that never occurred. Given near-total autonomy over the tone and direction of the series, Chase was able to embrace his preference for ambiguity.

While it ran for eight years, there were just six seasons; Chase didn’t produce material for air in either 2003 or 2005, nor did he have any desire to overstay his welcome. In 2006, the network aired the first 12 episodes of a planned 21-episode final season. Although it was a long march to the finish line, speculation ran rampant over how Tony's story would conclude.

In later interviews, Chase explained he had the idea for the finale early on. Tony’s unethical conduct seemed to point to only two inevitable outcomes: jail or death. But Chase inserted a third option that most critics and fans hadn’t counted on—that previously expressed love of ambiguity.

Chase would later admit he shot an alternate, as-yet-unexplained ending as a red herring to throw off people trying to find leaks of plot details. The ending he was committed to, however, took place at Holsten’s, a real restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey. After disposing of yet another mob rival, Tony greets each member of his family as they walk into the restaurant, a bell chiming overhead. As his son comes in, a man in a Members Only jacket ambles into the location and later enters the restroom.

What happens next is left open to interpretation. Echoing a comment made by Soprano associate Bobby Bacala earlier in the season that you never hear “it” (read: a gunman) coming, it’s possible Chase meant for viewers to experience the suddenness of being clipped from behind, perhaps by the man who had entered the restroom. The abrupt end of “Don’t Stop Believin’” hints at that.

Viewers, however, didn’t want to choose their own climax. As soon as the episode aired, a national outcry bemoaned the lack of any answers. Some thought their cable had been disconnected. Others figured it out once the credits rolled and became so incensed that they bombarded HBO’s official website with complaints. (HBO shut its website down that Sunday night.) According to a Yahoo! spokesperson, searches for “Sopranos ending sucked” poured into the search engine. Wikipedia had to lock pages related to the show because users kept editing entries to reflect the “fact” that Chase had ruined the series.

Chase, who had timed a holiday in France to avoid most of the feedback, granted an interview days later. While he refused to answer the question of whether Tony was dead, he insisted that all the information a viewer needed was in the scene. “Anyone who wants to watch it, it’s all there,” Chase said.

An exterior shot of Holsten's in Bloomfield, New Jersey
Getty Images

When Chase pops up in media to discuss current projects, talk still usually turns to the furor caused by the blackout. While he has always demurred on the question of whether Tony survived his plate of onion rings at Holsten’s, he did elaborate on some of the decisions made in the scene during a 2015 Directors Guild of America interview.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” was selected, he said, because the lyrics seem to be a close match for the personal journey of Tony and his wife. The “midnight train” referenced in the song was a parallel to the fateful decisions made by the couple years ago—“the dark train,” as Chase put it. The man in the Members Only jacket entered with A.J. so the audience’s attention would be focused more on the face they knew than the suspicious man they didn’t.

The closing shot, a jarring end to what looked to be a peaceful dinner, wasn’t intended to frustrate viewers. “I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure,” Chase said. “But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don't stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That's what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don't stop believing.”

And the theories regarding Bobby Bacala’s comments foreshadowing Tony’s death? “When it’s over, I think you’re probably always blindsided by it," Chase offered. “That’s all I can say.”

It’s hard to know, once the initial shock of the closing moments wore off, whether viewers ever softened their stance on the finale. (At the time, newspapers were filled with quotes by fans calling it “unbelievably cruel” and accusing Chase of some kind of conspiracy to annoy them.) For at least one viewer, it took just one night of introspection to come to an entirely different opinion.

“After I had a day to sleep,” Gandolfini said in 2012, “I just sat there and said, ‘That’s perfect.’”

9 Surprising Facts About James McAvoy

Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Whether you know James McAvoy from the X-Men movies or have been a fan since his early gigs on British television, there's no denying that 2019 has already been a very good year for the Scottish actor. In addition to his starring role in M. Night Shyamalan's Glass, McAvoy is set to star in June's Dark Phoenix, will be taking on the role of an adult Bill Denbrough in It: Chapter 2 in October, and will appear in the upcoming TV version of His Dark Materials later this year. And to top it all off, he’s turning 40 on April 21.

In celebration of McAvoy's big day—and even bigger year—here are some things you might not know about the Golden Globe-nominated actor.

1. He was raised by his grandparents.

James McAvoy was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to a psychiatric nurse and a builder. However, his parents split when he was seven, and because his mother was in poor health, McAvoy and his sister went to live with their maternal grandparents. While his mother lived with them on and off throughout his childhood, McAvoy hasn’t spoken to his father since he was a kid.

2. He considered becoming a priest.

McAvoy was brought up in the Roman Catholic church, but that wasn’t the reason he considered becoming a priest. Long before he decided to go the drama school route, he considered entering the priesthood because he thought it would give him an excuse to travel the world.

"I wanted to be a missionary, but it was only because I wanted a free ticket to go and explore the world," McAvoy told The Telegraph in 2006. "I realized I was using God and religion to get my kicks so I knocked that on the head."

3. He married his on-screen love interest.

Anne-Marie Duff and James McAvoy attends the Suffragette Premiere during the Opening Night Gala during the BFI London Film Festival at Leicester Square on October 7, 2015 in London, England
John Phillips, Getty Images for BFI

While working on the UK version of Shameless in the early 2000s, McAvoy met his on-screen love interest and future wife, Anne-Marie Duff. The pair started a relationship that they kept very private, and married in 2006. They went on to also star in 2009’s The Last Station together, but McAvoy later announced he would no longer be working with his then-wife.

"You have to weigh it up against how much of a headache it would be. It exposes you to a lot of questions," he told USA Today in 2011. "I'm very big in saying that I don't agree that if you put yourself in the spotlight, you have to accept it. I do think that if you work together as husband and wife, you're kind of asking for it." Ultimately, the couple split in 2016.

4. Acting was never his plan.

In addition to the priesthood, McAvoy considered a few others careers before he settled on acting. In fact, acting kind of happened by accident. While speaking to The Guardian in 2006, McAvoy explained that it wasn’t until director David Hayman came to his school to speak about the entertainment business that he knew he wanted to give it a go. He was so sure, in fact, that he reportedly approached Hayman after the talk and asked him for some work. (McAvoy's first credited role was in 1995's The Near Room, which Hayman directed.)

“I always believed that I never wanted to be an actor; I only did it because I was allowed to do it and I had to do something,” McAvoy explained. “I felt as if my career just happened to me. I hadn't actually engaged in it. I suppose I felt totally disempowered, just by this fate thing.”

5. Band of Brothers was his big break.

McAvoy’s big break came in HBO’s 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The actor played character James W. Miller in just one episode, but that’s all it took for his phone to start ringing; shortly thereafter, McAvoy scored notable roles on BBC’s Shameless (2004), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), and The Last King of Scotland (2006). He wasn't the only up-and-comer who made a name for himself with Band of Brothers: Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, and Dominic Cooper were among his co-stars.

6. He’s a Golden Globe nominee.

In 2007, McAvoy played Keira Knightley's love interest in Joe Wright’s period drama Atonement, based on the Ian McEwan novel. The role was one of the actor’s most moving performances to date, and scored him a Golden Globe nomination. Although he has wowed audiences in numerous parts since, such as the man with 23 different personalities in 2016’s Split (and 2019’s Glass), his role in Atonement has earned him the most critical acclaim. McAvoy, too, is a fan.

"[T]o find a film that was so epic, sweeping and romantic, yet be intelligent, was nice to me," McAvoy said. "Also the fact that it’s a very classic story, but it’s told in a very contemporary and modern way."

7. He was slightly tipsy the first time he met M. Night Shyamalan.

M. Night Shyamalan and James McAvoy attend the “Glass” Paris Gala Screening at la Cinematheque Francaise on January 07, 2019 in Paris, France
Kristy Sparow, Getty Images for Disney Studios

Speaking of Split and Glass: McAvoy was definitely in the right place at the right time—and in the right frame of mind—when he first met director M. Night Shyamalan. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, McAvoy shared how he and Shyamalan just happened to cross paths at San Diego Comic-Con in 2015. "There was a big party, you couldn’t turn around without bumping into somebody off the telly," he said. "My mate Jesse was playing miniature golf in the middle of it. We were getting particularly drunk, and then I saw M. Night Shyamalan. He goes: ‘You’re James McAvoy!’ And I said: ‘You’re M Night Shyamalan! What do I call you?’ I was very drunk.”

Inebriated or not, Shyamalan saw something he liked. One month later, he was on the set of Split (in a role that Joaquin Phoenix was originally set to play, but dropped out of at the last minute).

8. He admires Samuel L. Jackson's no-nonsense attitude.

While promoting Glass, McAvoy participated in a lot of press events with Samuel L. Jackson, and was impressed by what he saw. "I saw examples of what I might be able to do when I got the balls he’s got,” McAvoy said. "That guy does not suffer fools, which is a positive quality. If he gets any kind of question that is in any way not thought out properly, he just drops the F-bomb and is like, ‘What are you talking about? What? What?’ He calls out [the journalist] so hard, and it’s the funniest thing."

9. He credits his success to a lot of luck.

When asked about the secret to his success, McAvoy doesn't mince words: "I got lucky," he told The Talks. "I got so f***ing lucky that I fell into the lap of a director when I was 16 and he gave me a part in a film and my horizons immediately exploded wide with all the weird people in it and all these crazy f***ing actors and directors and artistic people who were from all over the world. Through that one job I met people from England, I met people from America, and I met people from all over the place with challenging points of view and sympathetic points of view to mine. And then I went to a youth theater for six months as well, and that expanded my mind massively. It gave me so much more confidence to find out who I was and not be afraid of who I was simply because I’m in a scenario that I don’t understand ... I got really lucky. I got really, really lucky. It’s been a good ride for me."

Game of Thrones Star Sophie Turner Opened Up About Her Struggles With Depression

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

Playing one of the main characters on the most popular show currently on television isn't always as glamorous as it seems. Sometimes, the pressures of fame can be too much. Sophie Turner realized this while playing Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, and has recently revealed how being in the public eye took a toll on her mental health.

Turner took on the role of Sansa Stark in 2011, when she was just a teenager, and she quickly became a household name. Now, at 23, she's come forward to Dr. Phil on his podcast Phil in the Blanks to explain how negative comments on social media affected her self-image and mental health.

"I would just believe it. I would say, ‘Yeah, I am spotty. I am fat. I am a bad actress.' I would just believe it," Turned explained. "I would get [the costume department] to tighten my corset a lot. I just got very, very self-conscious."

Later on, these feelings led to major depression. Turner developed a sense of isolation after she realized that all of her friends and family were going off to colleege while she was pursuing a sometimes-lonely acting career.

"I had no motivation to do anything or go out. Even with my best friends, I wouldn't want to see them, I wouldn't want to go out and eat with them," Turner explained. "I just would cry and cry and cry over just getting changed and putting on clothes and be like, 'I can't do this. I can't go outside. I have nothing that I want to do.'"

The feelings of depression stayed with Turner for most of the time she was filming Game of Thrones, and it's a battle she's still fighting. "I've suffered with my depression for five or six years now. The biggest challenge for me is getting out of bed and getting out of the house. Learning to love yourself is the biggest challenge," she continued.

The actress shared that she goes to a therapist and takes medication for her depression—two things that have helped her feel better.

Between Game of Thrones ending and planning her wedding to fiancé Joe Jonas, Turner may not have the time to take on many new acting roles in the near future. However, we'll continue to see her as Sansa Stark in the final season of Game of Thrones, and as Jean Grey in Dark Phoenix, which hits theaters on June 7.

[h/t: E! News]

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