Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter is a protege of David Chase and was one of the mainstays of the Sopranos writing staff and production team. To call The Sopranos series finale cryptic is an understatement. Winter chose another path to conclude 5 seasons of his series. Here’s a link to an interview he gave Alan Sepinwall about the rise and fall of Nucky Thompson. Warning: it contains spoilers up the wazoo so you should only read it if you’ve seen El Dorado.
Nucky Thompson knows that his old life is over. He’s become a relic of a bygone age. The present and the future belong to the quasi-corporate gangsterism of Charlie Lucky Luciano. Nucky hopes to survive being on the losing side of the big gang war of 1931 but he’s resigned to his fate whatever it may be. Nucky is tired and burned out even after an invigorating cold weather swim in Atlantic City. That scene replaces, and pays tribute to, the traditional Nucky in a suit on the beach opening sequence.
We spend much of the episode watching Nucky see important people in his life one last time. We also view the pivot point of Nucky’s life: when he turned young Gillian over to the not so “charitable” ministrations of the pervy Commodore.
Speaking of openings, it’s time to open my mouth and spray a few last random and discursive comments at youse:
Malone?A Fucking Irishman. That’s What Hurts The Most: That was Al Capone’s best line in the finale. He was referring to the federal mole he thought was a paisan named D’Angelo.
Capone comes to realize that the feds have him cold since they have the outfit’s ledgers courtesy of Van Weirdo and Eli. There’s a very touching scene with his deaf son wherein he informs the boy that he’s going away. When he arrives at the courthouse, the customary Capone bravado returns until he sees the Malone who, uh, bugged him. Even then, Capone tipped his hat to the man who nailed him. Malone did save him from being strangled by Van Weirdo, after all.
A few words in praise of Stephen Graham as Capone. His performance was ofttimes breathtaking as he depicted the first celebrity gangster as a complex character who was alternately charming and frightening. Not bad for an undersized Brit. Well played, sir.
The She-Wolf Of Wall Street: Margaret has become a consummate stock manipulator. The nobs with whom Joe Kennedy has been partnering in his booze venture are convinced that prohibition will not be repealed and that Herbert Hoover will be re-elected. I kid you not. Kennedy thinks they’re nuts but urges them not to panic. It’s how he survived the crash: he kept his cool when everyone else lost theirs. Instead, they start dumping their stock.
Joe is no fool and confronts Margaret over her “short-selling” of his stock. She, in turn, convinces him to join the scheme by dumping his shares and then buying them back when the stock has lost 90% of its value. Joe, Nucky, and Margaret make a packet from something that would be illegal a few years later. Ironically, Joe Kennedy was the man in charge of enforcing Glass-Steagall as the first chairman of the SEC.
Kennedy tries once more to hit on Margaret but she tells him she’ll see him during office hours. It’s a far cry from the mousy battered wife we met in Season-1.
Margaret and Nucky meet one last time in a swanky flat at the El Dorado apartment building in Manhattan. They dance, talk about moolah, but part after Nucky asks her if she likes the joint. I stole her response for the post title: “it’s 13 stops closer to downtown.” Since Terence Winter’s finale wasn’t cryptic, I figured I should be. Why, I’ll never know.
Margaret is about to be a very rich woman because Nucky’s end of the stock fraud was a cool $2.3 million simoleons, and Nucky, well, you know the rest. I’ll get to that later.
Seeing the transformation in Margaret reminded me of the time in The Sopranos when Tony told his mother Livia, “you were the real gangster in the family.” It certainly wasn’t Nucky’s hapless kid brother Eli.
Eli is staying in a dump near the beach. Nucky stops by, gives him a bag-o-cash, and tells him that they shouldn’t see one another again. I hope Eli gives it to his wife June before he drinks, gambles, or whores the cash away. Eli is a pitiful man whose lack of judgement, character and independence was his undoing. He blew with the wind and it blew him into the gutter.
Misdirection: Terry Winter and company cleverly convince us that Nucky will be whacked by Charlie Lucky’s minions. It appears that a hit has been placed on Nucky when Luciano discusses score settling, Sicilian style. It’s always bloody.
Instead, the “friend” that Benny Bugsy wants eliminated for “running his mouth all over town” is the oleaginous Dr. Narcisse: preacher, politician, pimp and heroin dealer. The hit takes place in front of his church in Harlem. Jeffrey Wright milks the scene by doing a Cagney death scene move and tottering away from the crowd. All he does is make it easier for the assassin to deliver the head shot that ensures Narcisse won’t run his mouth around town no mo. I nearly applauded this scene because he had our Chalky whacked.
I was still expecting a Luciano hit on Nucky until he went to the Rumpus Room to collect a few things and they let him leave alive. It seems as if humiliating Nucky and taking everything from him was enough for Charlie Lucky. If he had survived, it would have transformed him into a walking cautionary tale.
The doomed gangster’s fate was sealed not by his business dealings, but by the personal damage caused by his relentless ambition.
Darmody Family Values Redux: Nucky visits a pathetic Gillian in the asylum. She barely responds to him, instead staring off into space and contemplating a lady bug. Nucky did help her around the edges but Sheriff Enoch has no more strings to pull.
We’ve heard about the pivot point in Nucky’s life before, but we finally witnessed it. Nucky approaches the Commodore for a promotion to Sheriff. The perv insults and demeans him by demanding his badge. It’s a mirror image of Nucky’s own relationship with Eli, only much worse. The Commodore is a sadist who enjoys humilating and manipulating people whereas with Nucky it was usually thoughtlessness.
The future Junior Soprano Sideburns Dude approaches Nucky with the devil’s deal. He will be appointed Sheriff *if* he pimps out Gillian as the Commodore’s underage sex toy. The deal that will haunt Nucky for the rest of his life was struck. Making matters worse, he sold his soul to an unappreciative devil.
In the flashbacks up to that point, Nucky comes off as fanatically ambitious but a decent and helpful person at his core. The deal changed that and made him into the Nucky we all know and loathe. It’s clear, however, that Nucky always understood that he’d made a deal with Moloch, which was why he tried to help the Darmodys, especially his late protege, Jimmy.
I always thought that the producers killing off one of the show’s main characters at the end of season 2 was a gutsy move. Jimmy was Nucky’s de facto son and heir apparent. He had betrayed Nucky and gangster logic meant that he had to go. It was another pivot point in Nucky’s life; when he became 100% gangster although, as I have said so many times before, he was at heart a political boss and fixer.
Back to the season finale. I felt a bit smug when Nucky’s inevitable end occurred. Here’s what I said last Monday:
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.
I wasn’t wrong and we didn’t see Willie Thompson. Enough with spiking the ball.
I don’t think Tommy wormed his way into Nucky’s orbit intending to kill him. He wanted to see this legendary figure to learn what made him tick. It’s unclear if the world’s hottest Meemaw, or anyone else, told him that Nucky killed his father, but he seemed to be aware that Nucky was a major actor in his family’s tortured history. Tommy mostly kept his mouth shut and watched. It’s what Jimmy would have done. Gillian, on the other hand, was chatty until she went lady bughouse mad.
Tommy’s pivot point came when Nucky again tried to buy him off and send him on his way. It’s the Thompson way. Instead of accepting, Tommy tears the money up and Nucky’s fate was sealed. Nucky’s death was the ruination of a third generation of Darmodys. Tommy should have stayed on the farm with Richard Harrow’s sister.
I thought Boardwalk Empire went out on a high point. It was fitting that Nucky’s personal, not professional, recklessness was the cause of his death. I don’t think Nucky would have been happy living out his life in obscurity after going to jail for tax fraud. Btw, the men following him at the end were IRS agents according to Terence Winter who ought to know.
Boardwalk Empire was a rich and rewarding series full of memorable characters punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire and betrayal. I’m looking forward to Winter’s next HBO project, which will be set in the world of 1970’s rock and roll with Bobby Cannavale in the lead. That’s right, the guy who played my main man, Gyp Fucking Rosetti. Even though he was whacked at the end of season-3, I’ll give the Gypster the last word: