Most morning-after critiques of The Sopranos' finale have rightfully focused on the abrupt and ambiguously maddening ending. But quite a few moments, pop-culture references and images beg to be deconstructed - or, at least, questioned as to whether they really have any deeper meaning.
A stray cat takes up residence in the backroom of the Bada Bing strip club. Tony (James Gandolfini) mentions that it had killed a mouse in the safe house he had holed up in - as if that earned it a home for life. But then, Tony (James Gandolfini), who stared his nephew Christopher in the eye as he murdered him, always was a sucker for animals: Think of the ducks in Season 1 or the racehorse Pie-O-My in Season 4.
Paulie "Walnuts" (Tony Sirico), meanwhile, hates the cat, which stares at a picture of Christopher - both before and after Paulie moves the image.
Is it Tony's nephew back to haunt Tony and the Bing? Or is it Adriana, whom Christopher loved and Tony had killed, back like a ghost in Macbeth?
For Tony, it's a cat. For Paulie, it's a visitor from another realm - just like the vision of the Blessed Mary that he once saw late at night.
Either way, the image of the cat lying down next to Paulie's table outside Satriale's butcher shop is one the hour's funnier moments.
The Twilight Zone
Creator David Chase has been dropping mentions of the anthology TV series The Twilight Zone throughout the run of the show. The finale featured yet another homage to the 1959-1964 CBS series created by screenwriter Rod Serling.
As an ancient black-and-white episode plays on a TV in the background, viewers clearly hear one character saying: "The television industry today is looking for talent. They're looking for quality. They're preoccupied with talent and quality, and the writer is a major commodity."
The bitter Hollywood irony is fairly obvious given the industry's preoccupation with reality TV - a genre that minimizes the writer out of existence.
Little Miss Sunshine
The episode explores more grim irony with the resolutely upbeat feature film Little Miss Sunshine playing on the TV SopranosSopranos[From Page 1C]
screen in Silvio Dante's hospital room as the gangster lay in a coma. Tony would rather look at the screen than the face of his fallen comrade.
Chase also offered a final nod to "The Second Coming," a poem the Irish writer William Butler Yeats composed in 1919.
In Season 5, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) quoted a line from the poem to Tony: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold." In the finale, Tony's son, A.J. (Robert Iler), speaks of a "rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem."
Lines and images from the poem have become part of the vocabulary used by pundits and politicians to discuss the war in Iraq - a connection A.J. himself makes in the finale even as he mispronounces the author's name Yeets instead of Yates.
Give him a break - he was only auditing that English course at Rutgers.
The blogosphere fairly groans under the weight of all the analyses of the Journey song that was so inharmoniously interrupted as the screen went to black at just after 10 p.m. Sunday.
For my money, all that matters is the title, "Don't Stop Believing," and the fact that the last lyrics heard were "don't stop" just as everything did, indeed, stop.
A richer musical commentary is found in the opening chords from "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (as performed by Vanilla Fudge) being played in several early scenes.
At least Chase warned us how it would end.