The first episode of Boardwalk Empire‘s final season was a dreamy meditation, punctuated by violence. That’s also a pretty good way to describe the series at its best. “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” also set the stage for what Boardwalk‘s final season is going to look like as a whole: acknowledging the pull of the past, but focused on moving forward. Moving forward also means a time jump from Season 4’s 1924 setting all the way to 1931. Hit the jump if you are an honest and true boy (or girl).
Boardwalk Empire‘s sprawling examination of early gangland culture has left it all over the Eastern seaboard, and now, down to Cuba with Nucky. In addition to Havana, “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” also alighted in New York, the Bronx, Coney Island, and wherever Chalky is. Everywhere, that is, except Atlantic City. But, Nucky’s flashbacks and reminiscences tied things back to the boardwalk near where he grew up, and grounded the story back with Nucky and his life-long struggle for more.
Visually, the story was also never about anyone but Nucky. Under Tim Van Patten‘s direction, Nucky’s time in Havana was painted with vibrant colors and lots of light. Every locale was given its own palette: the flashbacks were, naturally, sepia-tinged, while Chalky, Lucky and Margaret were given dull and dark colors and settings. Things in America are indeed anything but rosy; the stock market has crashed, and people are shooting themselves in their offices. But what everyone still wants, according to Nucky, is booze.
The Volstead Act, which has defined the timeline of the series, may be coming to a close once Hoover leaves office (if, if, of course, from their perspective). Nucky is counting on it, not only as a way to make more money, but as a way to reinstate himself in power in the United States. Despite his many years now in Cuba, Sally aptly calls Nucky out for seeing it only as a “vacation.” His heart and mind are still in Atlantic City, as per the flashbacks about his hard-scrabble upbringing.
Those flashbacks showed a young Nucky too slow and too scrawny to benefit from traditional ways that “warf rats” made their change back in 1884. Diving for coins and swarming carriages of the rich always found Nucky one step behind the others. He decided to be crafty instead, ultimately returning the Commodore’s hat and $50, thinking he would be otherwise rewarded. Though not at first, the Commodore did take an interest in him and his tenacity (and we all know how that turned out). The key was that he advised Nucky being honest wouldn’t get him anything.
Nucky’s schemes to bring Bacardi to the U.S. after the fall of Volstead (he hopes) have a kink in them now that Meyer is also in Havana. He lied about why he was there, suggesting that the turf war has come to Nucky. And speaking of that, Boardwalk skimmed over the biggest mafia war in American history: the Castellammarese War, between Maranzano and Masseria. Lucky making sure Masseria was killed helped him establish an Italian crime family that was not about turf wars anymore, but about the Five Families all getting a piece of the pie. And most importantly, before Masseria’s murder, Lucky wanted to hurry away from the table, and Masseria asked where he was headed. “Forward.”
How that will affect Nucky’s interests in New England is unclear, as are the whats and hows of Chalky and Margaret’s plans to move forward in their stories. But Chalky’s escape during the prisoner uprising, and Margaret’s crafty scheme to hide her deceased boss’ filing cabinet key from the big boss, show that both have retained their survivor nature. It is still every man (or woman) for himself on Boardwalk Empire. The sparks from those clashes are what shatter the otherwise dreamy illusion of peace, like when Nucky was almost killed on the street. But, “if America isn’t about starting over, what hope is there for any of us?”
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Steve Buscemi is really looking old.
— Thank goodness for Sally (Patricia Arquette). Without her, Nucky’s dealings would be so snooze-worthy.
— I want to know more about Nucky’s bodyguard, who takes ears as souvenirs …
— “He makes the best of it, and in the end, he sails away on a turtle!” – Margaret’s boss Mr. Bennet, before killing himself.
— Mule-kicked prisoner: “What did you do?” Chalky: “Got myself caught.” MKP: “You sure do weave a tale.”
— The mule-kicked prisoner putting a gun to Chalky’s head to ask him how telephones work was so strange, but so funny (in a show where humor is not easily found).
— Missing Richard Harrow … there were a lot of characters not seen in this episode who are still alive, but that’s fine. It was already so scattered geographically.
— Great casting work on young Nucky, and even his sister, who had a very similar look.
— Whoever does the practical effects of the gunshot wounds on the show must really relish their job, but how many close-ups of that do we need to see in an hour …