I’m upset that Boardwalk Empire, that gritty gangster drama that boasted some of the most brilliant production design, cinematography, directing and ensemble acting during its five-season HBO run, came to an end last night. But it ended with a bang, and throughout a season of flashbacks all of the pieces fell into place — and we saw where the moral downward spiral of lead character Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) began.
I’m glad that the series run ended well, unlike the final season of Homeland which has become utterly painful to watch with a storyline that has crashed and burned and characters we no longer care about. Boardwalk didn’t just contrive an ending to round out its contract, but the season was all about the story arc coming full circle, from Nelson Van Alden recapturing his inner lawman in the final moments of his life to cocky Al Capone believing there has to be a way out of his tax-evasion charges while admitting to his deaf son that he’ll be going away for a while.
As Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins, who has provided the best show reviews of the season, puts it: “More than any other finished series in television’s New Golden Age, Boardwalk Empire used its series finale to strip its antihero protagonist bare. Whether or not he was ever fully comfortable inhabiting the role, Nucky Thompson was a crime lord. The show’s final sequence depicted his first, and worst, crime. And as any actor from Hollywood’s hyper-regulated Golden Age could tell you, crime does not pay.”
And as Collins points out, Thompson’s assailant in the final scenes had plenty of opportunities to kill him before. What sent him over the edge was Nucky’s final, brusque lack of empathy — and trying to throw some money from his omnipresent wad of cash at the problem in hopes of making it go away.
Here are a few of the best scenes over the show’s run. Fans can think of many more.
Richard Harrow’s Shot
Yes, the facially incomplete hero, played impeccably by Jack Huston, was a crack shot over the series run thanks to his sharpshooter skills honed in World War I. In this case, though, he wasn’t a hired gun in a gang war but an adoptive father trying to save a young boy, Tommy Darmody, from Gyp Rosetti’s goons. The final floor-to-eye-level shot is amazing, saving the boy who would grow into the man who would fire the last, pivotal shots of the series.
Al Capone’s Bar Mitzvah
Trailing along as Johnny Torrio pays respects to an associate by attending a bar mitzvah, young Capone has his own coming-of-age moment that would put him on the road from small-time hood to big-shot gangster. As he sports his favorite newsboy cap, an older man says to him, “You’re a man, yet you wear the cap of a boy.” This sinks in as Capone watches the ceremony. From that point on he not only trades the cap for a fedora, but tries to act like a leader instead of one of the goofs in the gang. Once he’s No. 1, he feels free to unleash that goof side to terrorize subordinates. The only question we’re left with is why British actor Stephen Graham has not won awards for his phenomenal portrayal of the infamous gangster.
Chalky White’s KKK Interrogation
Chalky White, played by the awesome Michael Kenneth Williams, is the top black bootlegger in Atlantic City, and one day the Ku Klux Klan attacks his warehouse. The season progresses, and eventually the KKK leader, hood and all, is delivered to Chalky. It sounds like the conversation will start with carpentry, but that’s not how it ends — and the white supremacist gets what’s coming to him.
Nucky and Margaret’s First Kiss
OK, they weren’t always so tragic. And they weren’t always so annoying. The last dance shared in the finale between on-again, off-again Nucky and Margaret echoed for a few fleeting moments the first kiss shared by the pair. Sure, they didn’t get together under the most ideal of circumstances. But that kiss was about as pure as it got for the Boardwalk, with the exception of Richard Harrow and Julia Sagorsky’s first dance and kiss.
Nelson Van Alden’s Workplace Violence
By the time we meet up with George Mueller, iron salesman, all of the fire of his true identity, Agent Nelson Van Alden, seems to have drowned along with his murder victim, poor Agent Sebso. First of all, this scene makes one grateful that guys like this aren’t going door-to-door hawking irons anymore. But this was also a scene in which we saw you can only push the repressed Prohibition agent-on-the-run so far before he’d push back with a vengeance. Going full gangster wasn’t far behind.