This season of Boardwalk Empire has been a strange, but overall good, one. Then came the finale. Boardwalk‘s fourth season has been really reflexive, bringing up old grudges, old characters, and old sins like never before. “Farewell Daddy Blues” incorporated a lot of that, including a kind of final resting for Jimmy. However, last week I noted that this might be the first time (especially after such a relatively quiet penultimate episode) that things are not all answered in the finale — some of these “season-long villains” might actually last a little longer. That was partially right, and partially wrong. Some things were sewn up, but did they need to be? Or did it all happen too fast? Hit the jump for more.
Boardwalk Empire‘s moral universe is very akin to Breaking Bad‘s — sin are debts to be paid, and they will be, usually much higher than their initial cost. Last week, and all season really, the characters on Boardwalk have been looking for escape. But once in the game, there’s no easy out, and much of that payback was had in both expected and unexpected ways.
Here’s where things went right: Eli and Nucky’s confrontation was a beautiful thing. It was necessary, and as sure as I was that Nucky would kill Eli (because how many times can this cycle of betrayal go on?) this time was different. It was so reminiscent of Jimmy’s final moments with Nucky, but when Jimmy 2.0 (Willie) entered the scene, he changed the game. Eli lives, hard truths were dealt with, and Eli commits an act of insanity and loyalty by killing Knox, which Nucky rewards him for with safe passage to Chicago via Van Alden (which was a nice little moment at the end there). It was a great confrontation that also secured the Thompson bond, while once again putting Willie in charge of the family. Some things don’t change, and sometimes that’s ok.
There are quite a few things though that felt off in the finale. The Capone retaliation on Torrio felt shoehorned. It wasn’t a story we could get heavily invested in, because it just happened last week, and the implications are unclear. J Edgar sitting down with Narcisse was another open-ended moment that, like the Capone story, wasn’t given enough time (in the end), and looks to hold over to next year. Margaret being shown her new apartment was another moment that felt shoved in, almost like, “hey, remember when we said this was happening to a character that has barely been in this season?”
Narcisse seems to have survived, maybe, as more than a season-long villain, and his standoff with Chalky seems to live, perhaps, another day. Chalky has become like his mentor, living in pain in exile. Maybelle’s death was a sudden shocker, but it was part of a long chain reaction that started at the beginning of the season. Again, the theme of wanting to get out is at play. Richard is almost free, but has to do this favor for Nucky to get the whereabouts of Jimmy’s body. It’s a sacrifice he knows may not pan out for him, as he sends his family off to be with his sister. It’s a life he has tried to get away from all year. That struggle against Nucky and against the criminal life only ever ends in death, just like Jimmy. Just like Owen.
But I also can’t help but notice this troubling trend that I mentioned last year after Owen’s demise. Every year a young, handsome, compelling character is killed to end the season — why? Is it because they are more popular and more interesting than Nucky ever has been? I warned you all at the start of this season that Richard better be careful, given that pattern and his ever-growing popularity. But if it had to happen, it happened as right as it could. He had a season-long swan song, from his trip to Wisconsin, to his marriage, to custody of Tommy, to selling all of that to put a killer in her place and his friend to final rest. But Boardwalk, please stop killing off your best characters.
At least Richard Harrow died in a way that made sense this season, because so many other things felt too fast and forced in its finale hour. For a show that loves taking its time, the pacing fell apart in these final scenes. But moving forward, think about it, seriously: Richard is essentially the soul of the show at this point — certainly its emotional core. With him gone, why continue? What is there left (who is there left) to really care about on this show? Nucky might not be the only one who wants out.
Episode Rating: B-
Season Rating: A-/B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— R.I.P., Harrow. R.I.P., Maybelle.
— “I don’t have friends, I have business partners” – Nucky
— Nucky, like everyone else, attempts to escape in the end, but is pulled back into the muck and mire that he mostly created, and certainly stirs. He tells Eli to drown in the mess he made, but no — Nucky, you drown in it. Everyone else can handle things from here on out just fine.
— The show did build up some of Knox’s instability and workplace issues in the way that Van Alden also smoldered with his for a long time before lashing out, but his quick-ish death (after a scene just like the one very similar between Chalky and Purnsley — lots of reflexivity this year) felt too neat.
— “You are just a peddler and a pimp” – J. Edgar to Narcisse
— “A man in an empty hotel, pointing a gun at his brother? Nothing will fix that hole you’ve got inside. Don’t you know that yet?” – Eli to Nucky
— I like the little note in there that Richard’s sister Emma did marry that sweet but dorky guy back home. Poor Tommy though … parents both dead, Grandma in jail, adoptive father dead … the kid can’t catch a break!
— It was really nice how Jimmy’s corpse came back into play in this episode, destroying both Richard (which was not nice) and Gillian (which was just). Her denial has to be over now that there is that body. The reality is on her now. She has dark days ahead.
— How the hell did Torrio survive being shot about 8 times??
— Richard’s sinful debt, one he worried over for several seasons, was paid with his own life. He saw that coming for a long time, but it was still so sad. The last thing he envisioned was a reality he could never afford. I hate you, Boardwalk Empire! I almost ignored this season, but Richard’s compelling story brought me back. I really don’t know if I’ll go through another season with it …
— Anyway, thanks everyone who read these reviews! See you next year … maybe …