Sopranos – Cut to Black

June 13, 2007

In truly dramatic fashion, HBO’s long-running series, The Sopranos, has finally come to an end.

A lot of people are upset about the ending–the now famous cut to black as Tony looks up at the restaurant’s opening door. I’ve watched the episode twice now and while I was just as caught off guard as everyone else watching on Sunday night, with a little bit of time to let the episode sink in–plus the advantage of one additional viewing–I think the ending is perfect.

However, not wanting to add to the growing mass of Sopranos critiques, the point I really want to make here is about the use and power of the black screen.

The Sopranos was a very visually appealing show. Great sets, lush environments, hair, makeup and outfits to feast your eyes upon. Visuals weren’t wasted. So, when David Chase decided to end the episode and the entire series with a quick cut to black, you know he was taking the move seriously. I don’t believe for a second, as some have suggested, that this decision shows he doesn’t care about the audience. Rather, I think it suggests he gives his audience a little more credit.

There were countless ways Chase could have wrapped things up, but by moving to blackness we’re left with quite possibly the most enduring image of the entire series. Think about it: after six seasons of watching Tony and his crew inflict all sorts of harm, after watching them linger in the Bing while strippers sway in the background, after they traveled to famous locations like Italy, after all this, what people are most talking about and what people will likely remember most poignantly is a black screen. A black screen.

The black screen has power. Not only in the context of the expectations heaped upon this final episode, but in that by presenting viewers with nothing their focus becomes very sharp. The clutter is taken out of the equation. People stop and take notice. Everything that they’ve carried with them up to that moment is suddenly condensed to a pinpoint. And, sometimes, they may even hold their breath.