Boardwalk Empire: Season 5 created by Terence Winter (Home Box Office, Leverage Management, Closest to the Hole Productions)
Starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth Williams, Shea Whigham, Stephen Graham, Michael Shannon, Jeffrey Wright, Gretchen Mol, Vincent Piazza, Anatol Yusef, and Kelly Macdonald.
*Spoiler Alert for Previous Seasons*
What would it take to desensitize your soul? How many times must the dice roll the wrong way before you feel somnambulant, checked out, indifferent to anything? I’ve always felt like there’s a precipitous cliff involved with sporting interests. When your favorite team is really good, you care extensively. As the team gets worse, you care even more, as if your rooting energy and support can somehow will the team into a better position. But at a certain point, the team’s poor play forces you to a place of casual indifference. Who needs to watch a game? We suck anyway. Whatever.
This indifference emerges in strange ways in people. Some people laugh at their misfortune. Others stumble around as if they are drunk. Some give everything away because nothing matters anymore.
This numbed demeanor permeated the final season of Boardwalk Empire.
Characters Stumbling to Conclusion
We see our central character, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), desperately trying to get ahead of the swaying tides of liquor legislation. If he can get his business interests in order, he stands to make a lot of money (above the table) when prohibition repeals.
Perhaps, though, before we go any further, we should step back. An interesting note about this final season surrounds a time jump. Boardwalk Empire’s universe now details the beginning of the Great Depression.
Much has changed in the background. Arnold Rothstein has died. Al Capone (Stephen Graham) has risen to power.
Most of this final season attempts to tie together all of these long running narratives in Atlantic City, New York, and Chicago.
Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) are making power plays in New York and nobody is safe, including Nucky.
Al Capone’s prominence in Chicago means movie scripts and an army of yes men, including Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham). Van Alden hates his life and his obnoxious harridan, while Eli finds solace in booze as his entire family and the life he built in Atlantic City has crumbled into a fine dust.
Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) hopes to keep her head above water in an institution. She’s traded a jail cell for an insane asylum, all though most days it still feels like jail.
And Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) has escaped a penitentiary with revenge on his mind. He blames Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) for his misfortunes and wants nothing else other than safe passage to Harlem for final retribution against Narcisse, his nemesis.
While all of these narratives unfold, perhaps the most important aspect of the season, and the centering point intending to land the airplane that is Boardwalk Empire is a series of flashbacks highlighting the rise of Nucky Thompson in Atlantic City—from a lowly boy sweeping the steps of the Commodore’s hotel, to a young man doing everything he can to get ahead and become sheriff.
In these flashbacks, we see a man with a decent heart; we also discover the sins that set in motion the flawed protagonist we see in the series.
Disorienting Time Jump
While Boardwalk Empire’s final season mixes surprise and sentiment exceedingly well, I mourn the time jump. I must admit—from what I read—the time jump was a necessity; HBO gave winter one shortened season to finish everything. It appears as if Winter had more ideas up his sleeve that we’ll never see. I really wanted to follow Capone’s bloody rise to fame. I miss Rothstein and the dramatic death the small screen could have given him. But alas, the gears of Capitalism grind and Boardwalk Empire was never the smash hit it needed to be to continue running.
And so Season 5 feels like a daydream, with characters moving slowly and steadily toward inevitable ends.
I’ll remember Boardwalk Empire for its slow boil; its impeccable casting; its attention to period detail. It was a good show, if sometimes great. Like many of its characters, it died too soon.
Verdict: 4 out of 5