Category Archives: Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire – The Complete Series

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

Was there ever a moment in Boardwalk Empire when Nucky was as successful or powerful as he was in the pilot?  At that time he had wealth, political power, respect, admirers, and an entire city under his command.  At his convenience he could summon leaders both legitimate and criminal, and he lived a life of luxury.

Boardwalk Empire is a story about decay – moral, physical, and economic.  In the end, the only characters who are in a better position than they were in the pilot episode are Margaret and Luciano.

Margaret only prospers after she breaks away from Nucky.  This is why his attempts at reconciliation during the final season rang hollow.  What, after all, did she need him for?  She made out well in the Mayflower deal, and gained the trust of the powerful, and more importantly legitimate, businessman Joseph Kennedy all on her own.  The fact that Nucky probably left her the lion’s share of his fortune upon his death is just gravy – here is a character who has broken free of her dependance on anyone.

Luciano is a different animal.  From their very first meeting in the pilot episode, Luciano despised Nucky.  We never really got to know Charlie as intimately as we got to know some of his historical counterparts, Al Capone in particular. We did, however, learn that his defining characteristics were patience and a hatred of the old authorities.  He was always one step ahead of his enemies, chose his friends wisely, and in the end became the force that undid everything those old authorities built.  His empire won’t last forever, but we won’t get to see his later imprisonment, deportation, and death.

Nucky mostly stopped caring long before Luciano made his final move, and cares about nothing afterwards.  His brother tried to kill him two or three times, but he goes to see him.  Gillian is in a mental hospital, and has always been dangerous and unpredictable, but he goes to see her.  He even needlessly gathers his effects from Atlantic City – how could he trust Luciano not to finish him off?  He has his Mayflower money – but it might as well be worthless newspaper.  It feels like a relief when Tommy takes care of him.

The saddest part about Nucky’s life is that one decision could have changed everything.  What if had quit the Commodore forever, and he and Mabel had taken Gillian in?  They might have left Atlantic City and found a peaceful, happy existence somewhere.

This other option, so clear to the audience, was shrouded to Nucky.  He was forever reacting to moves made by more skillful players, and never really in control.  He was incapable of taking, or even seeing, a different path.

At the end, Nucky Thompson was a soulless chimera.  He began to die the moment he gave Gillian to the Commodore, and no amount of wealth or power could stop the inner decay.

This fate wasn’t unique to Nucky.  Jimmy, Chalky, Capone, Gyp Rossetti, Rothstein, and Narcisse built  empires themselves, which are ground into dust by end of the series.  As powerful as Luciano’s empire seemed in 1931, it was ultimately doomed as well.  Even Richard Harrow – who lost everything trying to save Tommy, ultimately failed in the end.

So what does one make of Boardwalk Empire?  It was an uneven series at times.  At its best, it played like high tragedy, at its worst, it played like a dull historical reenactment.  But perhaps no show on television has so viscerally dealt with the consequences of empires built by crime, violence, and moral decay.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Boardwalk Empire, Season Five, Episode 6

And so it comes to this. The end usually comes for gangsters in two fashions – death or prison. Boardwalk Empire features a number of historical characters, and therefore we know the fates of Luciano, Lansky, and Capone. But what of Nucky Thompson? His namesake, Nucky Johnson, alluded authorities until the 1940’s and lived into his eighties.

There are vast differences between Thompson and Johnson, so many that it’s safe to say that Thompson’s fate will likely have little to do with his historical counterpart. We’ll find out in two weeks what happens to him, but it’s not looking good. After all, how many times can a man survive a gang war?

I would venture to say that Nucky is about to be served a one way ticket to a lake of fire somewhere. For possible foreshadowing, this week’s episode went out of its way to remind us that the show has a history of raising the stakes by eliminating its fictional characters. I for one wish we hadn’t been forced to spend so much time with Nelson van Alden just to see him be unceremoniously whacked. It was a fate he richly deserved but one delivered in a manner that was a bit unsatisfying.

Chalky on the other hand had long been a dead man walking. Narcisse is one lucky bastard – had Daughter arrived a day, an hour later, Chalky’s suicide mission would have been successful. I love Jeffrey Wright as an actor, and I think if Narcisse had been introduced in season three, instead of the one-dimensional Gyp, we would have had a far richer series.

Overall this is the main problem with Boardwalk Empire. Its hodgepodge of historical and fictional characters means that we know what is going to happen half the time, and assume the worst the other half. It’s always lacked for dramatic balance in this regard. And with two weeks left, we’re fast running out of fictional characters for the show to eliminate.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Boardwalk Empire, Season 5, Episodes 4-5

I didn’t write a recap last week for two reasons.  First, I watched the episode on my DVR around mid-week, so I missed the window for a write-up.  Second, nothing much happened in episode 4 except for the death of a tertiary character.

This entire season of Boardwalk Empire has been about as exciting as twenty minutes of Game of Thrones.  The slow build doesn’t feel like a series finale – it feels like this show has four more seasons left to tell its story.  That being said, a few things actually happened this week that could change things.

The flashbacks of young-adult Nucky are already far more interesting than the flashbacks of the child Nucky (did we need creepy child-Nucky? not really).  His father in law pegged him perfectly as a smooth silverfish – and failed to consider that silverfish are exceptionally well equipped survivors.

Nucky has always been at his best when he’s in a dark corner, fighting for his survival.  The same can be said for Margaret, although not so much for Eli or Chaulky.  The reckoning appears to be coming for both of them, as well as Nelson Van Alden.

We know Luciano wins, but does Nucky survive Luciano’s inevitably victory?  Will Chaulky take his revenge?  Will Eli and Van Alden die at Capone’s hand?  Why does Terrance Winter think we still care about Gillian?  Three more episodes to find out.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Boardwalk Empire, Season 5, Episode 3

There’s been a peculiar disconnect in Boardwalk Empire ever since the end of the second season.  The center of the story has gradually shifted so far away from Atlantic City that it might as well be called “Generalized Prohibition Empire.”  With the deaths of Jimmy and the Commodore, Nucky had no threats from within AC, and thus AC itself has become less interesting.

Tonight we saw that AC itself is disintegrating, not just as the focal point of the story, but as a place any of the outside characters would even bother with.  The Depression means fewer vacationers, fewer vacationers mean no jobs, and no jobs mean destitution.  Even the Onyx Club has been turned into a sleazy striptease.

It should come as no surprise that the owner of a strip club in a deteriorating seaside town isn’t taken seriously by a big fish like Joseph Kennedy.  There was a time when Nucky was a kingmaker – the undisputed ruler of a lucrative vacation destination – but he’s gradually abandoned any hard political power in favor of making as much money as possible.

But for what?  What has money done for any of the characters on this show?  Margaret took what she thought was another secure deal, but ends up having to go back to Nucky for help.  Capone has gone mad with power.  Even Chalky has been put in a position where he has to suffer dangerous fools just to get a few dollars.

The first three episodes of this final season have shown a startling amount of decay, especially when shown in contrast with the flashback scenes to AC’s glory days.  The center is rotten, and the various limbs won’t be able to hold out much longer.  With only five episodes left, its going to be one mammoth collapse.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Boardwalk Empire, Season 5, Episode 2

Nucky says he is getting too old for this pile of donkey byproducts.  “Year after year, different dogs, same fucking bone,” he says to Johnny Torrio. I for one think he’s full of crap.  He’s had many, many opportunities to get out of the business that we know about, and probably a few more that presented themselves during the time skip.

You would think that after all of this time, Meyer and Charlie would have learned that its best to just ignore Nucky, and let him go about his business in his deteriorating swamp of a city.  Then again, he has been a thorn in their sides seemingly forever.

Boardwalk Empire gives us a Lansky and Luciano team that is incessantly scheming, always trying to get another piece of the pie.  As of right now, they are far more interesting than the show’s version of Al Capone, who has devolved into a drunken psychopath.

It’s not hard to speculate on what Van Alden did to get demoted so far down the ladder of Capone’s organization.  Last season he seemed on his way to joining Capone’s inner circle, now he seems like a middle-manager.  You would think that Capone’s team would have learned to make better use of Van Alden’s complete lack of empathy for other human beings.

As for Gillian – why is she still on the show again?  She and Margaret are loose threads right now, seemingly still only on the show to honor Gretchen Mol and Kelly MacDonald’s contracts.  I hope that the writers can bring their stories back around to the central story, which is currently a sausage party.

Finally, I’m interested to see if Willie was really lying to that judge about hating Nucky.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Boardwalk Empire – Season Five, Episode One

So that was different, and by different I mean pretty bizarre.  In last night’s chronicle of the continuing adventures of Nucky Thompson, we come across our hero getting “The Godfather: Part II (1974)” treatment.  We see Nucky as a young boy, and as an older man in Cuba trying to set up a business deal.

The scenes in Cuba are great, but I wasn’t a fan of the “young Nucky” sequences.  After four seasons the audience knows enough about the character to avoid such deep-dive flashbacks.  Especially when there is so much ground to cover in an eight episode final season.

There are too many unanswered questions to really enjoy the re-visiting of Nucky’s misguided youth.  Why is Chaulky in jail? What has Margaret been doing since Rothstein died?  Why is she still on the show?  Did anyone catch that Rothstein is dead?

Likewise, we all know Charlie “Lucky” Luciano becomes powerful, and killing Joe the Boss is the last step in his accession to Mafia overlord.  Still, how did he get into position to be able to kill Masseria?

Last night’s episode left us with far more questions than answers – which will keep me tuning in next week.  I’m just concerned that the series’ usual “slow burn” style will be problematic with only seven episodes left.

Random Thoughts:

  • I assume that Gretchen Mol will be doing more than just giving voice overs of old poems from Nucky’s creepy childhood.
  • Oh the Commodore.  Add needlessly teasing poor children to the laundry list of his despicable acts.  At least we know his ultimate, and deserved, fate.
  • Somehow the violence on Boardwalk Empire is still the most brutal on television.  I think it is because on a show like, say Game of Thrones, extreme violence is expected, on Boardwalk Empire it is often surprisingly graphic for a show as slow and stylized as it is.

(c) D.G. McCabe

Actual News! HBO Rollout Info

By D.G. McCabe

So just a quick post today, but it contains actual news about shows that I write about.  First, Game of Thrones returns to HBO on April 6, 2014.  I guess that means it’s unlikely that we’ll get Winds of Winter before Season 4 of the show, since book release dates are usually announced a few months in advance.  Still hoping for it by summer, and George R.R. Martin’s schedule looks kind of clear on his website (http://www.georgerrmartin.com).  I guy can dream I suppose.

Speaking of HBO’s rollout yesterday, it appears that Boardwalk Empire will be wrapping up this fall.  It isn’t surprising considering the story arc this year.  Every season finale except the first one could have doubled for a series finale, but they wrapped up a lot of loose threads at the end of this season.  Hopefully the final season will be focused on a few detailed character/story arcs rather than the hodgepodge we saw this season.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe