Terence Winter, of “Sopranos” fame, has made it through an entire 12-episode season of “Boardwalk Empire.” Since its premier in September, critics of all walks have been jumping over themselves to praise this Prohibition-era period piece about corruption and mob-run liquor rackets in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It seems only fitting that the one hour finale took place on December 5th, Repeal Day, in celebration of the 1933 ratification of the 21st amendment and the end of Prohibition. Too bad Nucky Thompson and his swill-cronies have thirteen more years of government crackdowns and the psychotic stalking of Agent Van Alden to look forward to.
So what does that mean for all of us living in the land of couches and non-government regulated beer? Well, for this fanatic I found myself surprisingly underwhelmed. Maybe it was the complete lack of naked Steve Buscemi or that the only graphically violent scenes came as a montage to a slanted speech, but I found myself missing the usual firework antics. Winter, instead of leaving the audience with some kitschy, overdone cliffhanger, chose to focus on the intricacies of character relationships and gently build tension toward next season. Perhaps this is the poison of the times. So many shows require flashy stunts and over-the-top flare to keep the attention of the plugged in generation, which ultimately left this “finale” feeling oddly lackluster.
You see, I’d gotten used to the ridiculous peppering of explicit sex scenes, the brain-bursting headshots, and rampant flaunting of liquor in front of corrupt government officials. It was spunky, even endearing at times how raw this show purported itself to be. Instead, I found myself more interested in the two minute “and that’s what you missed” opening sans the Glee gasp. My disappointment aside, there were some powerful scenes that should be recognized and at least one twist that made me laugh with schadenfreude-style giggles. What were they you ask? Let’s go to the run down to find out.
The finale opens with a lot of tension dangling from the previous episode. Nucky and Margaret are falling apart now that she’s finally acknowledged his illegal activities. He also doesn’t believe it should be her choice not to have more children (my feminist brain is writhing, but I’ll hold comment on gender dynamics of the 20’s for another time). Van Alden has drown/baptized his corrupt partner and slept with former mistress Lucy giving into some sort of crazy-person “divine temptation”. Jimmy’s common-law wife, Angela, failed to leave him for her Parisian-bound lover and Rothstein is getting ready to be prosecuted for fixing the World Series. Did I mention that the Commodore is still dying because he’s too stubborn to see a doctor?
What it boils down to is that change is coming for Boardwalk. Jimmy Darmody says it best during his drunken stupor, “You’re like a machine, completely devoid of emotion…you’ll use anyone Nuck: man, woman, thirteen year old girl.” In the background of Nucky’s happy carnival the Commodore, Jimmy, and Eli are plotting what we can only assume is Nucky’s downfall and the potential for Jimmy to take his place. So often the Commodore has scowled from his bed claiming that “the wrong man” is running Atlantic City. We’ll just have a wait until season two to find out just how the right man is.
If the ritualistic scarring, hyper-religious ranting, and psychotic breaks haven’t turned you off Agent Van Alden yet, I’m not sure what will. He is the creepy glue that holds this show together and is slowly becoming just as warped as the city he’s entrenched with. It’s spoiler time: he got Lucy Danzinger, the pouty-lipped moaner pregnant. Congratulations Daddy Van Alden, your sign from God to keep you in Atlantic City is an illegitimate child.
Let’s not forget about the relationships powering this show. Angela and Jimmy are still struggling to find some kind of balance between her loathing of the man he’s become and his holding back on PTSD from the war. Angela’s lover has fled to Paris and she’s left behind with Jimmy. Her passive-aggressiveness knows no bounds. Trying to destroy her marriage from the inside, Angela coddles Jimmy during his painful recounts of the war and his dreams of her sleeping beside him, her hair across his chest. But the next time he sees her, her long locks have been cut short and he can only run a hand through them, confused and hurt. It is a sniping rejection.
The Darmody’s make a lovely foil for Thompson and Schroeder. Like Angela, Margaret is finally given the story of her man’s off-screen past and is given the choice to understand and forgive him, or continue to push him away. Though Margaret is reluctant to become the kept woman she despises, the fear of being destitute sends her running back to Nucky. It’s obvious in the final scene, the pair looking out at their future in the Atlantic City twilight, that their unsure faces mean trouble. Just how much longer can they pretend that Nucky’s choices won’t put the both of them in danger?
So Chalky and Nucky got there revenge on the D’Alesio brothers. Rothstein isn’t going to jail. The Commodore’s downtrodden maid was slowly poisoning him with arsenic and only succeeding in killing his dog. The women have the vote and are using it just as poorly as the men. There’s a new stooge mayor and the philandering Warren G. Harding is president.
Basically, nothing huge or particularly surprising happens. It was a solid episode of human interaction and subtlety but felt more like something that should occur halfway into the season, not the whiz bang at the end. I can only hope that next season’s opener is as riveting as the pilot to keep me trusting Terrence Winter and his latest bloodbath baby.