Boardwalk Empire Series Post Mortem

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 10.29.10 PMCredit: HBO

To whom much is given, much is expected. That has been the case with Boardwalk Empire since the beginning. Created by Terence Winter, a writer and producer on The Sopranos, with a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese, and with all of HBO’s money and marketing behind it, Boardwalk Empire was going to be the next great series from the premier source of great cable series. Yet Boardwalk Empire only achieved greatness in short spurts, sometimes only in moments. Did we all just expect too much?

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Boardwalk Empire Season Five

BES5 Credit: HBO

After what was probably it’s best season, Boardwalk Empire returns for its fifth and final season. While the verdict on this series will likely always be that it was never as good as it should have been given its resources, it has nonetheless been very good and ending it after five seasons seems like the right decision.

Season Reviews

James Poniewozik, Matt Zoller Seitz, Andy Greenwald and Scott Von Doviak.

Also, Alan Sepinwall previewed the season with series creator Terence Winter.

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Boardwalk Empire Farewell Daddy Blues

 

Unlike previous seasons, season four of Boardwalk Empire was less about Nucky and more about the people around him. Nucky went through an existential crisis in which he felt like he didn’t have any interest in continuing to be a gangster but was at a loss for an alternative. At the start of the season finale, “Farewell Daddy Blues”, Nucky is packing up and getting ready to move to Tampa. Maybe Sally will have answers. He’ll be on his way as soon as he settles some things.

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Boardwalk Empire Havre de Grace

 

“I want out.”

That’s what Nucky said at the end of “Havre de Grace”. It is in contrast to what his brother Eli tells Agent Knox, that Nucky says he wants peace but really doesn’t. I’ve thought for much of this season that Nucky is going through the motions, not really needing or wanting to run his criminal organization. Am I right or is Eli? We’ll find out next week in the season finale.

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Boardwalk Empire White Horse Pike

 

When Dr. Narcisse crawls away from Chalky and his cohorts who are shooting up his storefront, my wife wondered aloud why the leaders are always the ones crawling away. My response is that that is the reason they are the leaders, because they react quickly enough to escape. The ones who are too slow to respond to danger never live long enough to become leaders.

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Boardwalk Empire Marriage and Hunting

 

Boardwalk Empire is not the best series on television now, which is sort of strange. It’s strange because it seems to have an unlimited budget which translates into various large and intricate sets and excellent guest stars. It is on HBO and is the product of Terrance Winters, who worked on The Sopranos before developing Boardwalk Empire. Yet the series, now in its fourth season, has never been seen as the best show on television and is probably no longer the most popular show on HBO. (Game of Thrones has passed it in critical buzz and, possibly, in ratings.) “Marriage and Hunting” is as good an episode as any to try to figure out why this is. Towards the end, I have some tweets from a fellow Brooklynite, the great Emily Nussbaum.

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Boardwalk Empire The Old Ship of Zion

 

The stuff with Chalky in this episode is all the result of the slow build in his story this season and obviously that’s building towards a big Chalky-Narcisse showdown later, but it was so entertaining this week. I always appreciate when the writers treat the characters with respect. Chalky got to where he is because he can feel when something is wrong. When Purnsley shows up at Daughter’s place, it is enough for Chalky to put it all together.

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Boardwalk Empire William Wilson

 

There was nothing in “William Wilson” that was as interesting as what has happened in the last few episodes. “William Wilson” functions more as the type of episode that put the pieces in place for things that are going to happen in the second half of the season. Nothing was really surprising other than Means has been misleading Nucky about finding out about Agent Knox.

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Boardwalk Empire The North Star

 

As you can imagine, I took particular satisfaction this week in Nucky admitting that he doesn’t know why he does what he does. Nucky is compelled to come up with new schemes but neither the power nor the money nor any of the other benefits makes him happy. What does make Nucky happy? One answer is suggested when Margaret agrees to meet Nucky at Penn Station. Could Nucky be happy as a regular schnook, married to Margaret. Probably not. It’s the type of lie we tell ourselves to so we’ll feel better about our failings.

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Boardwalk Empire Erlkönig

 

Agent Knox is correct when he thinks that he can break a link in Nucky’s gang, but his does his job too well and breaks Eddie to the point that Eddie can’t live with his betrayal and jumps out a window to his death. It is a sad end for a character who was usually at the edges of the story and only recently moved to the fore. Eddie’s death started me thinking of how ambition has been the undoing of a number of characters in Boardwalk Empire.

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