HBO’s The Sopranos heavily utilizes dream sequences and symbolism to reveal, explain, and foreshadow events and information to characters and viewers–and here’s how Tony’s season 6 coma sets up the series finale. At the end of season 6, episode 1, “Members Only,” Uncle Junior’s dementia finally becomes so bad that he mistakenly shoots Tony (James Gandolfini). In the next two episodes, as the show’s main character teeters back and forth on the brink of death in the hospital, he has a surreal, classically-Sopranos coma dream where he partially takes on a new identity.
Within his subconscious, he finds himself on a west coast business trip. And though he’s still Tony (he’s registered under his own name at a conference and Carmella refers to him by his real name on the phone), he accidentally switches his wallet and briefcase with those of a mysterious man–who looks remarkably similar to him–named Kevin Finnerty. Thus, Tony’s lengthy dream takes on a sense of dual identity as he has to navigate the symbolic events of his “trip” and think about who he truly is.
As many fans have deduced since the episode’s premiere, Tony’s time stuck in his dream–where he’s mostly in a hotel bar, back in his room, or outside a reunion party at a secluded inn–is clearly a sort of Purgatory. While fighting for his life, he’s facing his own mortality, how things could’ve been different, who he really is at his core and the reality of finally answering for all of his sins. Though purposely ambiguous, the show’s controversial series finale builds on all of this later in the season, cutting to black at a crucial moment. It imparts viewers with a sense that, whether Tony dies then or later in life, a violent, “live by the sword, die by the sword” type of Sopranos-style gruesome death is inevitable for him. This concept is originally seen in his coma when he eventually arrives at the Finnerty family reunion (which he found a flyer for in the other man’s briefcase). The bustling party inside the inn is clearly the afterlife, most likely a sort of Hell where Tony will atone for his past.
His deceased cousin, Tony Blundetto, is the butler who greets him outside. Right away, Tony is faced with a relative, who he was close to, that he’s killed. A manifestation of a past wrong, his cousin tells him that his family is waiting inside. Of course, this is a reference to his mafia family and everyone who’s been wrapped up in it and passed on before him. In a typical, stubborn Tony Soprano moment, he refuses to hand over his briefcase and go in to join the party. Figuratively, he can’t put his work “down,” despite how much it weighs on him (which the dream version of his cousin also acknowledges). Additionally, he’s not done with his life in general, and Meadow’s distant voice blowing in the wind and begging him to stay alive pulls him back from his coma and overall near-death experience.
But Tony’s “family reunion” is still waiting for him, as is a reckoning for the life he’s led. Though he often wishes things had been different, being a gangster is an integral part of who he is. He can’t let it go, in his dream, or back in the real world–even with the new lease of life that his brush with death gives him for a bit. Tony pities himself a great deal over the course of The Sopranos‘ six seasons, but he’s never truly willing to look at who he is and what he’s done. But his past actions and his untimely demise are inescapable, and that sentiment finally catches up with him–whether he really dies or not–in the show’s finale, after being set up episodes earlier in his coma dream.