“Eldorado,” like most of Boardwalk Empire‘s final season, is an example of what it looks like when a TV show knows when it will end. The whole season has been a long goodbye, but one that also took a side journey through Nucky’s past. A with legacy was a major theme throughout “Eldorado,” not only for Nucky, but for Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel. Hit the jump; “what you leave behind is all that anyone’s ever going to know about you.”
Planned series finales can be judged on two general areas: were they successful (narratively speaking) in closing out the story that the show has been telling for however many years, and were they wrapped up in a way to satisfy viewers. One can happen without the other, and still make for a decent ending, but both happening makes for the best kind of finish. Boardwalk had a little of both.
Boardwalk Empire has transformed many times over the years, but its most defining moment was Nucky killing Jimmy Darmody. It set his character, and the entire show, on a completely different course. The Darmody family was never far from Nucky, though, and of all of the characters who came and went in Boardwalk, none were more directly affected by his greed and hubris. As this final season has spent all of its time exploring, Nucky’s first great sin started when he sold Gillian to the Commodore in order to be given the position of Sheriff by the Commodore. The fallout from that act has continued to haunt him in various ways until his demise.
“Eldorado” closed out the gangster stories in iconic style (like the recreation of the famous photo of Al Capone, in his white suit, on the courthouse steps just before his arrest for tax evasion), and even had Narcisse (the final loose end) make some very on-the-nose quotations about the old generation passing away, and the new generation coming before he was gunned down. The stage has been set for the future, not just when it comes to organized crime in America, but also how the next wave of regulation will start to hit the stock markets, all of which will come on the heels of repeal. Not to mention: moving pictures! (with sound, no less).
But those stories were, and always have been, ancillary to Boardwalk‘s main Nucky-centric narrative. The focus on Nucky has occasionally been problematic (and boring), but the show also suffered when it shifted too far away from him. “Eldorado” wanted to make clear that the entire series has had meaning through the lens of Darmodys, who really defined Nucky (as not being a good person at all, not matter how much he wanted to be). And yet, when considering the show as a whole, I’m not completely sure that’s earned.
Though there were some seeds planted in episodes this season that Joel Harper was really Tommy Darmody, his about-face in “Eldorado” felt out of joint. He had bowed and scraped to get into Nucky’s employ, but had shown no real signs of being a challenge to him (except for his morbid question — that also served as foreshadowing — about what it was like to kill somebody). Boardwalk Empire would end with Nucky dying, of course, and to have it reflect back to the Darmodys was a nice touch, but Tommy’s aggressive and violent descent in “Eldorado” felt rushed when it didn’t need to be.
The rest of the episode had Nucky securing what was left of his legacy. With Mabel was long gone, and his hopes of children also long dashed, he left his money to his brother Eli, for his family. Margaret was given the option of making her own money instead of getting a hand out, which she wouldn’t accept, and she did so with modest gains (and also discovered her own very savvy business nature). Gillian, too — Nucky’s albatross — received a token of generosity from him, but her revenge was already planted.
The real Enoch Thompson died of natural causes in a convalescent home at the age of 85, but Boardwalk Empire‘s Nucky, and his story, long ago split from his namesake. As to where Nucky was headed, or what kind of life he might have had, it doesn’t really matter. His life began and ended on the boardwalk. It created in him a hunger he could never satiate, and it was the stage of both his rise and his fall. It was meant for him to die there as well — the site of his undoing. It was a carefully-crafted poetry that felt forced in its final moments, but does give the entire series a great overarching story now about the consequences of greed.
Boardwalk Empire was a gorgeously filmed, lavishly decorated, wonderfully scored, and strikingly acted piece of work that for whatever reason, couldn’t quite elevate itself beyond a niche audience. Maybe it’s because it never fully satisfied viewers who wanted gangster violence (for which I would recommend Sons of Anarchy), nor did it fully realize its potential as a visually metaphoric reverie (Rectify is a good example of that going very right). It created some wonderful characters (like Richard Harrow) and wasted the incredible potential of others (Margaret). It was always a mixed bag.
Its variance extended to its actual viewing experience, too. Those at the highest echelon maybe knew the Volstead Act inside and out, and caught every historical reference (with or without context), while others were caught up in the narrative and stories of individual characters. Some just liked the costumes and the music. All are acceptable, and there’s no argument: that all were grandly presented. The bottom line is that for whatever flaws it had throughout its run, Boardwalk Empire has certainly earned its right to be missed. It was a spectacle, and a true end to an era. R.I.P., Nucky.
Episode Rating: A-
Season Rating: B+
Series Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I do like the idea that Nucky was always so focused on legacy, and the only one he left was a murderous seed of revenge.
— Gillian in the Greek gown on the day of the parade now explains her fascination with that styling for her entire life (because her life essentially paused on that day).
— So, so happy that Nucky and Eli were able to hug it out in the end. I hope June opens the door (she might for $2 million).
— “We do what we do what we have the nerve for, or we disappear” – nasty old Commodore.
— “There’s what a know, what I suspect, and what I don’t think I should ever hear” and “All you ever did was offer. I was the one who took” – Margaret. I felt like we really had their final scene together several episodes ago, but them dancing in the now-empty Eldorado room was a nice callback to the height of Nucky’s power and prestige.
— I would be interested to rewatch the series now with the knowledge of who Nucky was growing up, as well as what he owed to Darmodys. I think it would add a lot of dimension to those early seasons (it would also make Gillian a lot more interesting).
— “Do you think Marlene Dietrich is a dyke?” – Capone. And just when you thought the show couldn’t really surprise you, we saw Capone tell his wife everything is going to be fine, then goes upstairs and tells his son the truth. It also looked like he finally learned some sign language, and stopped being ashamed of him. In fact, this son’s deafness might have saved him from being part of Capone’s criminal operations. His comments about legacy also fit in really nicely to the episode’s (and the show’s) overall theme.
— “The future is ours” – Lucky, curator of the 5 families of New York, as well as one from Buffalo and one from Chicago.
— “I’m what I need to be” – Nucky.