A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
We’re halfway through the very last season of Boardwalk Empire and the series truly feels like its coming full circle. There are familiar beats with Nucky and Margaret having some decent amount of screen time after about a million years and Al Capone going crazy once again while killing someone with a random object, in this case a miniature version of the Empire State Building. But there were tidbits throughout the episode that bring the opening of the series back in an emotionally satisfying way, even though it takes more flashbacks to get to that point. The final season of the drama is as much about bringing Nucky’s character arc full circle as it is about clearing up loose ends as would be necessary. For Nucky the future four episodes are critical to what his legacy will be. The Bacardi deal is done with Joe Kennedy saying no and Sally meeting a shocking end on a Cuban road certainly signals an end to that enterprise. It’s sad to see her go, especially with the amount of character Patricia Arquette’s imbued into her, but with Nucky and Margaret together at the beginning of the episode, it seemed all to obvious that Sally’s time on the show was coming to an end.
In an episode where Al Capone impales someone and blood splatters all over the wall, the best scenes belonged to Nucky and Margaret. It was a smart decision to give them the majority of the screen time, four seasons’ worth of relationship simmering over a bottle of wine, half of which Margaret consumes without any qualms whatsoever (Drunk Margaret is second only to Conniving Margaret). Nucky’s jealousy over Margaret’s incredibly easy rapport with Joe Kennedy was amusing, as was Joe’s line as he leaves the room: “Remember sport, safety in numbers.” These two can understand each other come hell or high water. At the diner the best moment arrives when Nucky assumes Margaret slept with Rothstein and is immediately jealous. “Why does everyone assume that?” Margaret asks with irritation (that’s something that hasn’t changed since 1931). She reveals how she helped her boss screw over Rothstein financially and Nucky’s expression turns into one of barely concealed admiration. On the boardwalk where they had shared such romantic moments, the two reveal what they had truly thought of the other on the first day they had met. Nucky’s savior complex comes back as he admits to Margaret that he wished to save her the first day he had met her. “I had never seen someone so lost,” he admits, adding that Margaret became a sort of symbol of redemption for him. “I thought that you must be so lonely,” she herself admits, having noted his massive office space the first time she had met him. They embrace and kiss. It’s a sweet episode for the two of them even as they go in different directions at the end. I have a hard time believing that this is it for the two of them, but if it is it’s a good ending to this tumultuous relationship.
The Capone sequences were given the task of moving the gangster related pieces forward, with some of the best expressions ever still coming from Vincent Piazza. He remembers that Van Alden had once arrested him and through sheer bravado and appeals to Capone’s nature he survives. Michael Shannon is extraordinary in the sequence, delivering the comedic highlight of the evening for me: “I may have soiled myself.” Considering Al Capone had a gun poised inside his mouth, that unfortunate reaction is quite understandable. Not that Van Alden is going scot-free anytime soon. D’Angelo finds his murder file. There’s a supreme madness and terror that is imbued within every scene relating to Capone, conveyed brilliantly by Stephen Graham. But it also creates a certain set of expectations and thusly a bit of tension is immediately taken away when Chekhov’s Mini Empire State Building is introduced. When Capone beats someone with it and then uses the building as an impaling weapon, it’s gory but not shocking. His phone call to Eli Thompson, however, is full of promises.
The flashbacks continue this episode and it seems they’ll continue until the end. The episode begins with young Nucky seeing the Commodore. There’s a quick shot of a plethora of photos of young girls lying about on the Commodore’s table before he covers it up with a map. He’s removed from his summer job and the next portion sees him and his brother on the boardwalk. Nucky is angry about the rich folk on the beach, claiming loudly that “They lie in the sand and they don’t have to do anything.” “You’re yelling like pa,” Eli observes sullenly. They decide to go into the sheriff’s house just to see what it is like, with Eli reacting with delight at a functioning, flushing toilet and Nucky taking a bath. The bliss lasts for only a bit as the sheriff catches them. As they await their punishment, Nucky makes a profound observation, for a child at least. They could pay their way out of trouble. “Why?” Eli asks quietly. “Because that’s how it works,” Nucky notes somberly. But the sheriff doesn’t punish them and instead invites them in. If they had cut all of the flashbacks out and only had to save one, this one would be it. It explains so much about Nucky’s character. The sheriff essentially is Nucky at the beginning of the series but with a family. He has a family, a respectable position, and is adored by the women of the Temperance Movement. Young Nucky erupts into tears. It is this dinner that he wants in life. The family, the respect, and the fortune, all while keeping his business completely apart. The sheriff and Joe Kennedy are the two men Nucky wants to be, but slowly the reality of who he was overshadowed his very existence. But for that little boy, that table was everything he ever wanted and everything he would ever pursue. A dark piece of foreshadowing is evidenced in that sequence, where Nucky requests that the sheriff has his father murdered, just like the man who ordered flowers in the hotel room. And the episode ends with this magnificent little gem of a speech from the sheriff:
And the episode ends with this magnificent little gem of a speech from the sheriff:
“You don’t be foolish.
Enough trouble in the world.
Don’t go where you don’t belong.
Don’t take what isn’t yours.
Don’t pass your burdens on to others.
Don’t make me do my job.
Because I will.
Now, we are going in there, the three of us.
I’m gonna tell your father you worked for me today.
If he doesn’t like it, he’s interfering with the law and he will answer for that.
Deputy Sheriff Thompson.”
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Margaret on Nucky: “I thought you were inscrutable. But you are ridiculously easy to figure out.”
+And: “You left a strong impression.”
+Al Capone’s “Public enemy number one” footage reel
+The Cuban guard’s speech about foreigners being what was wrong with Cuba was an interesting historical perspective
+“It’s long distance, but you can afford it.” Rest in peace, Sally.
+Nucky: “I’ll buy you a corn ball.” Eli: “Okay.” These two should never have grown up the way they did.
+Everyone asking Nucky about coffee is one of the funniest running gags this show has ever done.
Written By: Howard Korder & Cristine Chambers & Terence Winter
Directed By: Jake Paltrow
Image Courtesy: Indie Wire