Boardwalk Empire: Finale

Boardwalk-Empire- A recap

A day trip to Atlantic City at the turn of the Millennium was nothing special; the arcades and casinos had plenty of senior citizens in jogging bottoms staring intently into slot machines where they poured their dimes, while outside the boardwalk was full of seagulls shitting as if they were on a bombing raid. Boardwalk Empire took us back to a time when that strip was a base for a power struggle, adapting the story of the real life sheriff turned political operator who ran the city in the 1920’s, Enoch Johnson, into Steve Buscemi’s Enoch Thompson (Nucky) as the centre piece of the times. And it was the delivery of the fictional characters and their stories amidst some obnoxious narcissistic figures and gratuitous violence, which produced moments of television of the highest quality.

Preceding the fifth, final season, the fourth season ended with double tragedy for two central characters in one climatic event, that had a Hitchcock assassination build-up but a Tales of the Unexpected twist, as mortality and conscious finally weighed so heavy upon one man, his nerve twitched. The classy scene that followed equalled the brilliant near-death sub-conscious moments from Six Feet Under and The Sopranos respectively, wonderful TV, that made the HBO’s decision to commission only a short, eight-part final season, all the more bizarre.

An abrupt ending forced the pace of the producers, with the final season fast forwarding to 1931 and Nucky’s life effectively flashing before his eyes, taking the format of part prequel which showed his early life of taking hard knocks and making harder decisions. It made Nucky calculating, realising every decision had a consequence, every action an effect.

The long opening titles of all the past episodes, where Buscemi’s character looked out at the crashing waves of the Atlantic were missing from the final episode, going straight to Nucky undressing and swimming out to sea, an obvious parallel of a man looking to escape his past and an existence where gangsters and corruption are king. There isn’t even any rough justice as we’ve seen over five seasons; the good bad-guys go first. Brute power rules, crime pays and the morality are a burden only for those who have scruples. As Chalky White noted earlier in the final season, no one was truly free.

Chalky was one of a number of great characters produced by the show over the years. Brilliantly played by Michael Kenneth Williams, who fleshed out a character as strong and memorable as his Omar Little in The Wire, he developed White as a smart and honourable man, who didn’t always have the words to articulate himself, but was a force throughout. Just as powerful was Michael Shannon’s demonic Nelson Van Alden, repressed yet inhibiting a life which gave an outlet for his anger while perpetuating it at the same time.

They weren’t the only characters created by Boardwalk Empire who will live long in the memory after the closing titles of the final episode. Jimmy Darmody was the prominent character in arguably the show’s best season, its second, while Richard Harrow, the ex-marksman of the state, who didn’t want blood on his hands, shone in the show’s best episode, the fourth season finale.

In an environment was misogyny was as rife as corruption, the strong women characters that were ever-present for the five seasons were vital until the end. The final season gave us the back story of Gretchen Moll’s Gillian Darmody, an antidote to the dark acts we’d seen in the previous four seasons, before the she was suckered back in to believing in people, her undoing once again in the bleak outlook of Boardwalk Empire.

With misery and betrayals everywhere, only Kelly McDonald’s ever resourceful and bright Margaret seemed to be a winner who came out on the right side of the line, armed not with ammunition and lackeys like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, but with intelligence and cunning nurtured by Nucky.

Nucky’s luck may have died and his love may have grown cold, but if he left any positive legacy, it was his influence on Margaret. He wanted children to right the wrongs of his own father, and longed to pass on wisdom, even right until the end with his over eager young apprentice; with his own family, he left Eli, who had more lives than a cat, with money and the advice to clean himself up, while the life lessons he learned himself led only to regret, even though for a while, he was king of the empire.

The story of the empire, with a coke fuelled megalomaniac Capone believing he was untouchable while the scarfaced Lucian wielded power and dished out death while largely avoiding eye contact, may have been the overarching Boardwalk Empire timeline, but it was the stories within it that made the programme.

There were some good confrontations, with Season 3’s finale like Christmas cartoon special, with all the villains and anti-heroes taking sides in an escalating battle, but it was the more subtle moments, from Eddie Kessler taking in a stranger to a buoyant German bar to Gillian’s manipulation of Jimmy, that took Boardwalk Empire to a level above being a gangster show.

It was largely tragedy, but as the final closing titles reminded us, there can’t be a rainbow without rain. Boardwalk Empire told a tale of the crossing of lines in the greed for a pot of gold.


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