Nucky Thompson starts the penultimate episode of Boardwalk Empire fighting a gang war that he has no chance of winning. It’s hard being a fictional gangster up against real world criminals who live long and prosper. Nucky’s empire once looked sold and substantial, but it’s being swept away like sand by someone much more ruthless than he’s ever been: Charlie Lucky Luciano.
The final season of Boardwalk Empire has been about the redemption of Nucky Thompson as a human being. He loses everything as a gangster but regains some long lost inner decency. In the end, Nucky is a politician who wants to make a deal and stick to it but there’s no honor among either thieves or bootleggers.
Eli’s Coming: Willie Thompson’s dad shows up in New York and wants to see his oldest son. Willie very nearly became a member of the gang but was scared straight after the lethal prank he pulled in college. He’s not entirely happy with his job: the US Attorney doesn’t trust the nephew of Nucky Thompson so he’s doing grunt work on the Luciano investigation.
Willie is also about to become a central figure in the gang war as a hostage. Eli is pictured below just before his son was snatched by Luciano’s gunsels in broad daylight. It’s the American way, y’all.
The Screwball Comedy Hostage Crisis: Willie was snatched in retaliation for Uncle Nuck’s grabbing Benny Bugsy in a desperate attempt to set up a sit down with Charlie Lucky. Benny is, of course, a loud and obnoxious hostage who is gagged after singing an obscene ditty about lady parts. Unlike Eddie Cantor, Benny was no, uh, Cantor. He could not sing to save his life but he’s the funniest hostage in teevee and movie history since Rupert Pupkin snatched Jerry Lewis in The King Of Comedy.
Nucky and Eli are reunited and it doesn’t feel so good. They do, however, once again have a common cause: to free Willie. This has squat to do with that movie about the whale that had to be re-titled in the UK for obvious reasons…
The meeting is set and things get screwy right away. Mickey Doyle seizes on the situation to cut a deal with Nucky for the club and a slice of the pie that’s about to be eaten by Charlie Lucky. The hostage exchange goes awry when Benny punches Willie and the latter is re-kidnapped. Charlie Lucky has his cake and eats it too. Pie? Cake? I seem to have dessert on my mind.
Once Charlie Lucky has the upper hand, Doyle tries to cut a deal with him but so annoys Luciano that he puts Doyle down. Pow. Mickey Doyle has laughed his last annoying laugh.
Realizing that he’s a dead man if he doesn’t surrender, Nucky gives up his Boardwalk Empire as well as his interests in Cuba. His neck is still in the garrot until he offers to whack Maranzano in exchange for safe passage and Willie’s return. Charlie Lucky agrees. He can eliminate Nucky later. Betrayal is the American way.
The attack on Marazano’s office is, along with Benny Bugsy’s abduction, one of two great action set pieces in the episode. Benny’s kidnapping is played for sick laughs but the Maranzano scene is deadly serious. Nucky’s ear-cutting Cubano is hoist by his own petard as it were: stabbed by one of Marazano’s boys. Charlie Lucky is now boss of bosses and sends Johnny Torrio away like an office boy. Torrio didn’t even get a gold watch but his life was spared. For now.
The gangster scenes in Friendless Child evoke memories of the great Cagney film, The Roaring Twenties. Cagney’s character Eddie loses everything but one cab, which is the crumb tossed him by his former partner in bootlegging crime, played by Bogart. Eddie had an old friend and former mouthpiece (Jeffrey Lynn,) who went to work as a prosecutor, and was kidnapped by Bogie’s lackeys He, too, came out alive but didn’t have an alcoholic gangster former lawman father to embarrass him. Score one for Jeffrey Lynn. If you’re going to evoke a classic crime flick, The Roaring Twenties is as good as it gets.
Gillian’s Origin Story: I mentioned Nucky’s redemption at the start of the post. That came into play in the flashback sequences. We see Enoch and Mabel squabble over the urchin on their hands. Mabel wants to help Gillian but Nucky is reluctant. He’s a corrupt copper, after all, and helping orphans is not his thing.
Mabel plays dress up with Gillian, giving her a frock and a new hairstyle, which makes her look like (you guessed it) a young Gretchen Mol. The actress cast as Gillian, Madeline Rose Yen, not only looks like her, she sounds like her. Good job, y’all.
Gillian slips off into the night when Nucky is asked to do a job that’s too dirty even for Sheriff Lindsey. The Commodore likes underage girls, and Nucky assumes the distasteful task of taking one of the perv’s chickadees home. His primary job is to buy her parents’ silence about the true nature of the Commodore’s “charitable work.” The Commodore is one skeezy rich dude.
The episode closes with Nucky sending Joe Harper, boy of mystery, on his way, and then reading a letter from Gillian. Her 7 years in the loony bin has nearly driven our Gillian bonkers. That laughing academy is no laughing matter. Gillian reminds “Sheriff Enoch” of how he helped her back in the day and pleads for help. Nucky no longer has any strings to pull but I suspect he’ll visit her and do what he can. It’s what Mabel would have wanted.
As for Joe, I still believe that he may be Gillian’s long lost grandson, Tommy Darmody. I think *he* may be the instrument of Nucky’s inevitable demise. Charlie Lucky will clearly put out on a contract on Nucky but Joe may get there first. You heard it here, sports fans. If I’m wrong, hire Willie Thompson and sue me.
One thing I’m certain of is that Nucky, like Cagney’s characters in The Roaring Twenties, White Heat and Angels With Dirty Faces, is a doomed gangster. He’s lost it all so far. Everything, that is, but his life unless producer Terry Winter wants to screw with us and spare him. He’s a disciple of David Chase, after all. I still don’t see Nucky retiring to Boca, playing shuffleboard and living to be 90.