Ambiguity Is Dead: ‘Say Anything,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ and Pop Culture’s New Closure Obsession

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I was 14 years old when I first saw Say Anything…, and when the ending arrived, I didn’t get it. At all. I mean, there they are on the plane, having been through so much stuff: virginity loss, painful break-up, parental imprisonment, even learning to drive a stick shift. (From my current vantage point, as someone who’s never made it past an automatic, that last one sounds the most traumatic to me.) But there they were, heading overseas and trying to make a go of it, but then there’s this business with the ding and a cut to black, and that’s it? What happens after that? Well, 14-year-old me would be relieved to know that NBC is finally setting out to answer that question, via a TV spin-off/sequel that sounds like the stupidest fucking idea since Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?

This is the premise, according to Deadline:

Set in present day, the Say Anything series picks up ten years later. Lloyd has long since been dumped by Diane and life hasn’t exactly turned out like he thought. But when Diane surprisingly returns home, Lloyd is inspired to “dare to be great” once again, get Diane back and reboot his life.

Ah, “reboot his life,” see what they did there? Because we’re not just talking about a TV adaptation or a ten-years-later sequel; we’ve got an hideous, unwieldy process — hilariously dubbed “reborqueling” by Pajiba — by which they’re essentially just going to give us the show all over again, on a weekly basis, revisiting the same basic premise and challenge of the original (hence the “once again”). The only twist would be the “ten years later” angle — and speaking of that, would the show take place in 1999?

But the real offense here isn’t just the exploitation of a beloved ‘80s artifact; if we got worked up every time that happened, we’d never get any other work done. (Hell, we’d never eat or sleep.) It’s that the ambiguity of that ending is a major component in Say Anything’s greatness, and here’s a program that would like to crassly piss all over it. Speculating about if Diane and Lloyd could actually make it work has become something of a parlor game among lovers of the film, but everyone’s opinion on the matter is just that: an opinion, their own specific take, informed by their life and loves and experiences and outcomes. Aside from the sheer poetry of its closing dialogue and images, Say Anything’s final scene allows us to draw those conclusions ourselves.

But if we’ve seen one consistent trend in our discussions of pop culture in recent years, it’s that ambiguity simply will not do. A couple of months back, Vox gathered considerable attention for a piece headlined “Did Tony die at the end of The Sopranos?: David Chase finally answers the question he wants fans to stop asking.” The answer, Vox insisted, was “no.” Or maybe not; within hours of the Vox article’s publication, Chase backed off: “There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true. As David Chase has said numerous times on the record, ‘Whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point.’ To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of The Sopranos raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer.”

Their headline was certainly correct; it is the question Chase wants the fans to stop asking. “I wish this question didn’t keep getting asked, because I think it’s the wrong thing to ask about The Sopranos,” Matt Zoller Seitz wrote, in the midst of the kerfuffle. “It may, in fact, be the last question anyone should ask about The Sopranos. The fact that a great many people keep asking it is depressing.” Seitz is right — and the fact that the ambiguity of that ending dominated the news cycle nearly a decade after the show’s conclusion speaks to how, in the current entertainment landscape, ambiguity simply will not do. No beloved work of pop art can stand as its own, self-contained thing; we must have prequels and origin stories and sequels and tidy endings. Preserving and monetizing brands, via endless “world-building” and maintenance, is more important than maintaining any degree of mystery or originality; for Chrissakes, at this point I know more about Batman’s childhood, young adult years, and hometown than I do about my own.

The good news — for now — is that the people who actually created and realized these characters are apparently just as aware that Say Anything: The TV Show is a full-on lousy idea. Cameron Crowe has made clear that he, John Cusack, and Ione Skye “have no involvement” in this hot mess, “except in trying to stop it.” Deadline notes that while 20th Century Fox can make the show without Crowe and his cast’s involvement, that move “appears unlikely.” Crisis averted? Maybe. But rest assured that as long as Hollywood is populated by unimaginative execs and hack creatives, they’ll continue to pitch their “reborquels” at an audience of dumbass 14-year-olds who cannot abide by anything less than full, unambiguous “closure.”