In the end, there was no end.
After weeks of desperate speculation about how one of television's greatest dramas was going to conclude its six-season run, it turns out "The Sopranos" was neither going out with a bang or a whimper. It's just going out like thin air.
But the finale broadcast Sunday night on HBO will have fans talking for weeks. The tumultuous life of New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) has involved countless Mafia killings, back-stabbings, political maneuvering and unsuspected family deaths.
Would he get whacked? Would one of his children be gunned down? Would he go into the federal witness protection program? Or would he simply go to jail?
As if a gag leveled at the viewers, creator David Chase finally answered Sunday night: "All of them." Or, "None of them."
What he gave viewers was an almost existential, yet anxiety-drenched, last scene that surely had "Sopranos" fans collectively blurting out at the end, "What the (insert favorite expletive here)!"
In the last several episodes, a war had been brewing between Tony's New Jersey crew and the New York mob run by Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent). Leotardoís gangsters already gunned down longtime Soprano captain Bobby (who also was Tony's brother-in-law) and put Tony's consigliere, Silvio, in a coma from another shooting.
In return, Tony's men finally tracked down Leotardo and shot and killed him for revenge.
Now, as viewers would fear, comes Tony's retribution. In the last scene, he arrives at a diner where he's supposed to meet his family. Then Carmela (Edie Falco) arrives. Then son A.J. (Robert Iler).
The camera cuts to several suspicious men walking into the diner. Are they Leotardo hit men? FBI agents waiting to arrest Tony? The strains of Steve Perry's voice are heard on the jukebox singing Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
Focus on Tony's face. "Don't stop!" echoes on the soundtrack.
Then cut to black. The end credits roll.
The ending was so abrupt and anti-climactic, many Internet posters thought their cable went out. So did I.
"This was the Andy Kaufman of series finales," wrote one poster on the Television Without Pity forums. "We [the audience] were just played for David Chase's amusement."
Many will see it as nothing but Chase's cruel and self-indulgent joke on the fans' expectations. But it's not just that.
It's a final scene that also says Tony's future will always be about looking over his shoulder.
We're all thinking those men in the diner were hitmen out to kill Tony. But remember, gangsters always say when they are about to get whacked, they'll never know it's coming.
And to creator David Chase's credit, this certainly was an ending we never saw coming.