It was an ending that shocked the world when it aired on June 10, 2007. The Sopranos had been lauded for years as the greatest series to have ever graced our TV screens. But when the revered mob-centric show came to a close, the sudden finish left audiences confused for more than a decade. What did it mean? Did Tony Soprano die? Was it all just a dream? These questions, and more besides, cluttered fanboy forums as people desperately searched for answers. Then, in the summer of 2020, the show’s creator accidentally ended the debate. Yes, David Chase has let slip what the last scene actually meant.
This will be a relief to the diehard viewers who’d been left scratching their heads at The Sopranos’ final moments. The infamous scene came at the close of “Made in America” – and ended with the screen abruptly going black. It was so sudden that some viewers even assumed they’d lost power or cable connectivity. They simply couldn’t believe that this was how The Sopranos had finished its long-running story! So David Chase had a lot to answer for.
But ever since the series ended in 2007, the people involved with creating and guiding the show had no desire to explain their intentions. This is especially true for Chase. The series creator has been particularly tight-lipped, even while the meaning of that last black screen inspired passionate debate among The Sopranos fans. But all of that changed in summer 2020.
That’s when Chase gave an interview for a book called The Sopranos Sessions. The tome from co-authors Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz was just meant to celebrate the iconic series. But the writers got far more than they bargained for when they asked Chase about that pivotal final scene.
Specifically, Sepinwall quizzed Chase about his original vision for the end of the series. This is because Chase had once said that he had more stories to tell about the mob circle created in The Sopranos. In his response, though, the show’s creator made a slip-up that finally explained that puzzling ending to the world. Finally, we had the answer we’d all been waiting for!
And we’d been waiting a very long time indeed. The Sopranos first aired in 1999, after all, and was widely credited as being a game-changer for television dramas. As Time magazine put it – in its list of the 100 greatest-ever TV shows, no less – “This mafia saga showed just how complex and involving TV storytelling could be.” So, it’s not surprising that the show’s ending was complicated as well.
Yet the roots of that ending are actually in the very first opening scene of The Sopranos. Think about it: Tony Soprano – played by James Gandolfini – sits in a waiting room to see a therapist named Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Then it turns out that the head of a crime family is looking for the reasons behind his debilitating anxiety attacks. Similar sequences feature throughout the series, too.
This introduction to Tony is a humanizing one, as the character doesn’t have the tough-guy persona that typically comes with an on-screen mob boss. And this was just the first of the many ways in which The Sopranos paved new ground. As Esquire’s Sam Parker put it in 2019, “Before Tony Soprano, leading male characters on the small screen were fantasies: brave policemen, perfect fathers, men whose actions and morals fit neatly into cozy story arcs.” Tony was different – so his ending had to be different as well.
After all, Tony’s life would never fit into the idyllic mold of TV dramas past. This wasn’t a show for easy, straight-forward storylines. For example, Tony starts out poised to take the very top spot of his crime family. But when the reigning boss dies, Tony quickly enters into a power struggle with his Uncle Junior. And so this constant battle between work versus family begins. It’s a theme that also crops up during the show’s finale.
How so? Well, Tony’s not just a man in the mafia who suffers panic attacks. He’s also a husband to his wife, Carmela, and father to his children, Meadow and Anthony Jr. And those relationships become strained when the capo deals with marital troubles and his daughter realizes that her father’s career isn’t actually in waste management.
But as time goes by, Tony has more to contend with than just his closest relatives. In season two, for instance, he loses trust in one of his best friends, Sal Bonpensiero. That’s because he discovers Bonpensiero has become an FBI informant, and this means Tony and the rest of his associates have no choice but to silence him permanently. It’s no wonder Tony’s in therapy, right?
And according to Esquire’s Parker, the end of Bonpensiero also taught a lesson to The Sopranos’ audience. He wrote, “[Bonpensiero]’s death reverberated throughout the rest of the show and made the important point that on [series creator David] Chase’s watch, no character was safe.” So, is that significant for the series’ ending?
Possibly… But the drama on The Sopranos stems from more than just FBI informants lurking within the DiMeo family’s ranks. As we’ve already discovered, it’s the never-ending conflict between family and work commitments that defines Tony’s journey. And there’s rarely an easy way out – even at the end. Just take a look at how he diffused the situation with his Uncle Junior.
Tony side-steps conflict by working out a deal with the rest of the family. So they decide that Tony will be the de facto boss, while Junior will be given the official mob-ruling title. That way, his uncle can feel like he’s in charge – and the FBI will be distracted by someone who’s a leader in name only. Perfect, right? Wrong!
The deal works for a while. After all, Uncle Junior is the DiMeos’ honorary leader – leaving Tony as acting boss – until the start of the sixth and final season of the series. At that point, though, things begin to unravel. And it’s then that everyone is forced to finally face the consequences of their various misdeeds – right down to that layered denouement.
But true to form, the series finale doesn’t just cover the tensions that arise within Tony’s crime family. No, his domestic dealings are also a centerpiece of The Sopranos. In season three, for instance, Tony meets a woman named Gloria in the waiting room of his therapist’s office. And soon enough, the two of them embark on a tumultuous affair.
Naturally, the infidelity creates a schism in his marriage to Carmela. Tony’s dalliances with other women – as well as the other secrets he has kept – drive a massive wedge between them. As Parker put it for Esquire, “The unraveling of the Sopranos marriage, the end of their decades of uneasy truce, is in many ways the most dramatic ‘death’ in the show.”
Yet although The Sopranos often portrays Tony as having a soft spot for his family – especially his children – they often butt heads. Meadow, for one, finds her dad to be too controlling and protective. The mob boss is also tough on his son, Anthony Jr., who doesn’t show the same drive as his father. All of these storylines snake their way into the final chapter of The Sopranos’ story.
Yep, it all comes to a head in season six. As we’ve made clear by laying out all of the domestic drama, the slaying of a beloved informant and the inquisitions from the FBI, the walls begin to close in on Tony and the rest of his crew. And it’s all proving too much for a mob boss already inclined to anxiety attacks.
So several gory episodes give way to the series finale, in which life returns to some semblance of normal for Tony and his loved ones. What happens? Well, the family have been in a safe house, and the boss has spoken with the FBI. But Tony’s under pressure knowing that a major rival still lingers – and may want the DiMeo leader dead. Ultimately, then, the DiMeos do what they do best: they kill the rival.
From here, life returns to normal for the Sopranos – almost. They move back into their New Jersey estate, at least. But Tony soon finds out that one of his associates has flipped, and he’s likely to name the boss in his testimony to the authorities. So, Tony makes arrangements for the DiMeo family in his impending absence.
First off, Tony installs a new leader. Then he takes his family out to dinner at a diner, where he informs Carmela that his one-time associate will testify against him. Meadow and Anthony Jr. join their parents for the meal, too. These last few minutes of the series prove incredibly tense for viewers.
We watch as the Sopranos trickle into the diner. Along with them are a handful of questionable guests – including a guy in a Members Only jacket with whom Tony locks eyes. Is Tony’s end near? Someone who calls for a hit on a major rival will always be in danger of retribution, after all.
And considering the amount of time that series creator Chase focuses on the mundane details in the final scene – namely, Meadow’s inability to parallel-park her car – it seemed that fireworks were coming. As Matt Zoller Seitz wrote for Slant Magazine in 2007, that was the show’s tried-and-true formula.
Zoller Seitz explained, “So often on The Sopranos, when a character or characters spend a lot of screen time shooting the breeze or fixating on some mundane bit of business, the non-drama is followed by a beat-down or a bullet in the brain.” But the series wouldn’t end by using such a familiar trope.
Instead, Meadow parks her car without incident. She enters the diner to meet with her family. As she enters, a bell dings on the eatery’s door. The sound makes Tony look up toward the entrance. And when he does, the screen goes black. That’s how The Sopranos ends after six seasons of detailed storytelling.
This conclusion left many viewers perplexed, as they didn’t know what the black screen meant. In fact, some people were so confused by that very final scene that they thought their power or cable had been cut out. As Carrie Wittmer wrote for Business Insider in 2017, “Seemingly everyone has a story about the first time they saw the screen go black.”
And once people knew that the black screen was deliberate, they began to debate its significance. Many theorized that it meant that Tony had perished at the diner. Emily Todd VanDerWerff wrote for The AV Club in 2012, “Maybe he dies at the end… when the Members Only jacket guy puts a bullet in the back of his head (something we don’t see, because we cut to black from his point-of-view).”
But other signs pointed to Tony’s survival. For one thing, he had put a song on the jukebox before his family got to the diner: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Perhaps the song’s lyrics were a hint to the viewer that they shouldn’t give up on the show’s imperfect protagonist?
Plus, given The Sopranos’ wider influence on the face of modern TV drama, would the show’s creator end it in a way that viewers would expect? Would he really have the mob boss die as a conclusion to the ups and downs chronicled on such a revered series? It seemed for the longest time that we would never know.
For his part, you see, Chase kept mum about the ending he had written for The Sopranos. In June 2007 he gave an interview to New Jersey newspaper The Star-Ledger but refused to be drawn on the silent, black-screen end to his show. He said, “I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting or adding to what is there.”
What Chase did say, though, was that his Emmy-winning show didn’t purposefully intend to create a furor. He said, “No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God. We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people’s minds, or thinking, ‘Wow, this’ll [tick] them off.’”
The only detail Chase would discuss was his choice of song in the final scene. That’s because it stirred up some on-set controversy – foreshadowing how audiences would react to the ending. He said, “It didn’t take much time at all to pick it, but there was a lot of conversation after the fact… When I said, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’,’ people went, ‘What? Oh my God!’ I said, ‘I know, I know, just give a listen,’ and little by little, people started coming around.”
But this information wasn’t enough to explain the ending. That wouldn’t come until 2020 – when Chase accidentally shed some much-needed light on the show’s conclusion in an interview. As already mentioned, Zoller Seitz, along with Alan Sepinwall, wrote a book called The Sopranos Sessions in which they highlighted the show’s best moments.
So Sepinwall and Zoller Seitz couldn’t chat with Chase without asking about the finale. Specifically, the authors homed in on a comment that the series creator had made about knowing how the saga would finally come to a close. Chase revealed that he’d come up with the ending two years before it hit TV screens, in fact.
He said, “Yes, I think I had that death scene around two years before the end.” The conclusion went down slightly differently in his head than it did on The Sopranos’ actual finale, though. But all of the details he shared about his initial vision couldn’t distract Sepinwall and Zoller Seitz from what Chase had just revealed.
So Zoller Seitz repeated to Chase what he had given away. He inquired, “You realize, of course, that you just referred to that as a death scene.” After a long pause, the series creator retorted with an expletive. This makes it seem as though Chase did inadvertently divulge his long-held secret.
But Chase’s interview in The Sopranos Sessions ends with him stating that the black screen shouldn’t just be interpreted as signifying the mob boss’ death. He said, “[The point was] that he could have been whacked in the diner. We all could be whacked in a diner. That was the point of the scene.”
It just goes to show that all good things come to those who wait. Don’t believe us? Well, in his 2007 Star-Ledger interview, Chase also seemed to have no intention of making any movie based on his series. As he put it, “If something appeared that really made a good Sopranos movie and you could invest in it and everybody else wanted to do it, I would do it. But I think we’ve kind of said it and done it.”
Since then, however, Chase has completed work on a film called The Many Saints of Newark, which is meant to serve as a prequel to the iconic TV show. The flick should hit theaters in March 2021. And although the series’ revered star, James Gandolfini, passed away in 2013, a piece of him will live on. His son, Michael, will play a younger version of Tony Soprano in the upcoming movie.
The Sopranos isn’t the only slice of pop culture to leave viewers scratching their heads over the ending, though. With an all-star cast and ties to every other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie from the so-called “Infinity Saga,” Avengers: Endgame was arguably the franchise’s most ambitious project ever. But the unidentified character in the film’s tear-jerking close left many movie-goers baffled.
So if you somehow haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet, be warned: spoilers are ahead. For those of you who have already watched the movie, read on. And with that formality aside, grab your tissues too – because we’re going to revisit the flick’s most emotional sequences.
We knew, of course, that there’d be consequences when the heroes failed to defeat the supervillain Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. After all, actors’ contracts were coming to an end, character arcs were closing and the baddie – also known as The Mad Titan – was still at large. So Endgame sees the superhero team regroup one last time to finally put a stop to Thanos. But this heroic act results in the losses of some of the franchise’s key characters.
Among those losses are MCU original Avengers Black Widow and Tony Stark. Yet even after the on-screen deaths of these characters, some fans refused to believe that they were truly gone. After all, these are two beloved heroes that audiences are significantly invested in. Scarlett Johansson had played Natasha Romanoff for nine years, in fact, and Robert Downey Jr. was Stark for 11.
So perhaps their deaths put distraught fans on the back foot when Stark’s funeral came around at the close of Avengers: Endgame. Yet there’s a lot to take in during the emotional scene, including a clip that pans across all of the mourners. And it’s in this shot when teared-up viewers noticed an unnamed character standing among the recurring heroes. This then raised understandable questions about the young man’s identity.
But perhaps a look at the long history of Thanos and Stark will help shed some light. You see, the prune-chinned galactic conqueror actually debuted in the February 1973 edition of The Invincible Iron Man comic book. And since then, he’s grown as both a character and a threat before ultimately appearing as the MCU’s supervillain.
Thanos therefore ranks among Marvel’s most powerful bad guys – but he’s not alone. In the MCU, in fact, the Mad Titan has got dedicated generals, an army of aliens and, since Avengers: Infinity War, the Infinity Stones to help him. And these made him almost unbeatable – as some of the galaxy’s most powerful defenders found out the hard way.
Yes, in Infinity War, Thanos assembled the Infinity Stones into a gauntlet, clicked his fingers and turned half the universe’s lifeforms to dust. And with that, the majority of the MCU cast – including Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) – vanished. Fans commonly refer to the event as “The Snap,” and it seemingly left the Avengers short-handed for their inevitable rematch in Endgame.
Yet in Avengers: Endgame, the remaining Avengers manage to pull off a time heist and restore the gauntlet. To do this, however, Black Widow pays the ultimate price to retrieve one of the missing Infinity Stones. But thanks to her sacrifice, Banner-Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) manages to bring those dusted back to life – culminating in a clash with an angry version of Thanos from the past.
As a result, the Avengers live up to their name when they meet Thanos’ forces on the battlefield. And although the Mad Titan pursues a recombined Infinity Gauntlet tenaciously, the heroes don’t make it easy for him. In fact, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and a Mjolnir-wielding Captain America (Chris Evans) intercept his progress.
Nevertheless, at one point it looks as if history is doomed to repeat itself when Thanos claims the gauntlet once again. And after a clash with Stark, the would-be conqueror clicks his fingers once more – but nothing happens. That’s because Stark pulls a sleight-of-hand, taking the stones for himself. According to Dr. Strange, you see, this was the only chance of victory in over 14 million possible timelines.
So, with the words “I am Iron Man,” Stark initiates his own Snap – and dusts Thanos and all of his army. But Stark’s Iron Man suit can’t contain the consequential power. His life is therefore forfeited, and he dies as a hero. He leaves behind daughter Morgan and wife Pepper Potts.
Stark’s subsequent heart-wrenching funeral scene naturally features many familiar faces from MCU movies past and present. The camera in fact pans slowly across the mourners – revealing their somber reactions to the fallen legend that was Iron Man. Actually, there’s so much to take in here that you might not have noticed some attendees in the crowd.
Founding MCU Avengers such as Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Hulk are there, of course. And they are joined by relative newcomers including Black Panther, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), along with Captain Marvel, Dr. Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong). Peter Parker, Stark’s surrogate son of sorts, also stands alongside his aunt May (Marisa Tomei) to pay his respects.
Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes, is there too, despite the fact that he was previously revealed to have killed Stark’s parents. Several military personnel are also in the crowd – some with a more personal connection to Stark than others. For example, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are unsurprisingly present, standing with the slightly less obvious Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt).
But it was none of these characters who got MCU fans talking. Instead, their attention was on a figure standing alone slightly away from all of the Avengers and supporting characters. No one speaks or interacts with that person, and the camera only focuses on them briefly. But they are important enough to warrant an appearance, apparently.
The character in question is a young teenage male, and it’s unclear who he really is. And after Avengers: Endgame hit the cinemas, social media was awash with people asking for the boy’s identity. One Reddit user even started a thread about the issue on the website in April 2019, asking, “Can somebody tell me who the new age kid standing by himself at the funeral was?”
“I was so goddamn confused, and they kept the camera on him way too long for him to not be relevant,” the poster elaborated. Another Reddit user added, “I had no clue and was wondering who… he was supposed to be.” However, some dedicated MCU fans recognized him from a previous movie.
It turns out that part of the reason the teenager is hard to recognize is because a few years have passed since his last appearance. So imagine the young man six years younger, and you might remember him… If not, cast your mind back to 2013 when Iron Man 3 first hit cinemas. Does his face bring back any memories now?
Well, the youth is none other than Ty Simpkins, who played Harley Keener in the third Iron Man instalment. Keener is instrumental in helping Stark locate that film’s antagonist, the Mandarin, and the characters share several emotional scenes together.
You see, after Stark’s near-death experience in space during 2012’s The Avengers, the character is understandably left with debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So in Iron Man 3 Keener brings his ally out the other side of an anxiety attack by giving him another focus. The boy in fact tells Stark to follow his mechanic’s instincts and build something to overcome his problems.
And with Keener’s help, Stark manages his PTSD and confronts the movie’s true enemy, Aldrich Killian. Stark then bequeaths his young sidekick with a memento of their time together: a plethora of high-tech equipment. In addition, Stark leaves a note from “The Mechanic,” confirming himself as Keener’s generous benefactor.
The role was the opportunity of a lifetime for Simpkins, as he told the comic book website The White Space in 2013. The young actor said, “I was so excited to have an Iron Man audition. I had been asking my agent to get me in on a super hero movie because I just really love comic books and action sci-fi stuff…”
Simpkins continued, “So when Iron Man 3 came up I was so excited.” Yet he revealed it wasn’t an experience he could share with just anyone at first. He added, “It was all top secret, and we couldn’t see the audition lines until just before we auditioned. But I went in and thought I did pretty good.”
In retrospect, Simpkins evidently did a good job at the audition; he got cast as Keener, after all. First, though, he had to get through another hurdle of the casting process. Specifically, the actor had to test his on-screen connection with Robert Downey Jr. And he wasn’t alone: there were three other young applicants vying for the part, too.
But the prospect of meeting a star of Downey Jr.’s stature excited Simpkins immensely. He explained in his interview with The White Space, “I was just really confident and knew I was going to get it. At that audition, I was so excited to meet Robert.”
So did Iron Man himself live up to Simpkins’ expectations? When he was asked what Downey Jr. was like, the actor responded, “Robert is more than awesome. He is my favorite person in the world. He just let me try different stuff, in different ways, and made being on set really, really fun.”
Simpkins elaborated, “He helped me a lot. We got really close, and he actually shared with me a secret that I won’t tell. But it just makes everything so easy!” So it seems like the connection that Keener and Stark had in the movie was partly a product of the bond the actors shared.
In fact, in 2013 Downey Jr. conducted an interview with Comingsoon.net, and there the star confirmed his fondness for Simpkins. He said, “Ty Simpkins is great, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of him.” The actor also attributed some of the humanizing elements of Iron Man 3 to his scenes with Simpkins. Furthermore, he explained that the film’s director cooked up the concept.
“[Director] Shane Black had this idea of this kind of Capra-esque departure,” Downey Jr. described. “I think we all knew we were taking risks [with a lot of things in Iron Man 3]. And we were kind of out of what would have been the familiar territory.” So Simpkins played a big role in this cinematic vision.
Downey Jr. continued, “And [Black’s] idea of a superhero running into a little kid in the heartland of America, I think wound up being a wise choice and kind of a calculated risk.” Indeed, many critics applauded the scenes that the actor shared with Simpkins as some of the movie’s most memorable moments.
Newsday’s Rafer Guzman, for instance, referred to Stark in Iron Man 3 as “the anti-Batman, all zip and zingers. Some of the movie’s best moments are shared by Stark and latchkey kid [Keener], who mock their budding father-son relationship while acting it out.” So what happened to Simpkins’ character, Keener, after the movie came out?
Well, we haven’t seen Keener return in any movies after Iron Man 3 – but considering that he’s standing alongside Stark’s other allies in Avengers: Endgame, perhaps the pair kept in touch. Fans have even speculated that his presence hints that there’s more to come from Keener in the future.
Yes, many on social media believe that Keener’s character may be due a comeback in the MCU franchise. One Reddit user posted in May 2019, “Now, why he showed up to the funeral and they spent a moment showing him is the real question. This kid is gonna be more important than we know right now.”
And perhaps they’re right. According to his Wikipedia bio page, for instance, Simpkins has a three-movie contract with MCU. And assuming his cameo in Avengers: Endgame counts as movie number two, there’s still one more appearance from Keener to come. But whether the MCU has bigger plans for the young character or not remains to be seen.
In the meantime, some fans on social media have questioned the time gap between Keener’s appearances in Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Endgame. One Reddit user asked, “That’s weird that he spent like, one weekend with [Stark] ten years prior but is still invited to the very small and private funeral.” Another posited, “Oh. Well that’s a reach… Why include him?”
Mind you, you may also recognize Simpkins from another movie series that he starred in prior to his performance in Iron Man 3. He also appeared in the Insidious movies, you see. There, he played Dalton, the son of the Lambert family, whose nightmare begins after they move into a haunted house.
Simpkins also reprised the role of Dalton Lambert in the 2013 sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2. And the actor has another claim to fame that you might not be suspecting: he starred in 2015’s Jurassic World.
Jurassic World was the second-highest grossing film of 2015 and the most financially successful instalment of the franchise. Additionally, it broke box-office records as the first flick to earn over $500 million in its debut weekend. For his part in the film, Simpkins starred alongside fellow MCU star Chris Pratt as young Gray Mitchell – nephew to Jurassic World’s operations manager Claire Dearing.
Yet the last movie that Simpkins starred in before Avengers: Endgame was 2016’s The Nice Guys, with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Hopefully, then, this will not be the last we’ll see of the budding actor. And perhaps Avengers: Endgame isn’t even the final appearance of his MCU character, Keener – but only time will tell.