What kind of a year has it been, Boardwalk Empire? At the start of the year Nucky had just been charged with electoral fraud, Paz de la Huerta was still hanging out with her wang out, the Commodore was recovering from poisoning via trident-workouts, and Margaret was still wearing fur and visiting a French lingerie boutique. In short, how much more fun was the Boardwalk three months ago? Sure, we’re down at the business end of Plotline Alley, but this show used to be about flappers and vaudeville. I miss those flappers.
Anyway, this episode wraps up a helluva lot and sets up a little more. Let’s hit it. THERE ARE SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE.
Manya is chilling in the basement of a synagogue. After a lot of lyricising about Odessa and his current predicament, Manya offers to help Nucky solve his Jimmy problem which would also solve his Waxey problem. Which sounds unhygienic. He decides Nucky would never have made it in Odessa.
Remember Chalky and his strike? That wasn’t something that stopped being a thing! Except it kinda was, because they got part of an episode and a swift brush-off. I’m willing to believe budgetary constraints forced their hand, but the failure to integrate that line into the larger story is one of the season’s bigger losses. Anyway, Jimmy and Harrow do what they do best and raid a klan meeting, guns a-blazing and masks a-wearing.
They deliver the three men responsible for murdering Chalky’s workers last year, who are dealt with accordingly. Back in the car, Harrow reminds Jimmy that no matter how he tries to change things, they’ll never forgive him. It’s not clear who ‘they’ are (Chalky &co, Nucky &co?) but Jimmy’s all ‘whatevs bro let’s get our steak on.’ He arranges a meeting with Nucky to mend their relationship, and offers an act of loyalty in return for trying to kill him. Heartwarming stuff.
Margaret meets with Esther Randolph to discuss her testimony accompanied by Father Brennan, neighbourhood priest and funsponge. After politely asking Brennan to stop speaking for her, Margaret shoos him out and for a brief moment the two strongest women in the show have the stage. It’s pretty great, and easily Randolph’s most exciting scene. She wants to understand Margaret’s position as Nucky’s partner: Hans Schroeder beat her and her children and was unfaithful, Nucky provides and cares for their family… I mean sure he uses sex parties as bribes, has ordered dozens of killings and single-handedly equipped an entire army in the Irish Civil War, but… what were we talking about?
Anyway, Esther appeals to her morality, quite rightly pointing out the disconnect between her vigorous religious life and her life in the household of the state’s biggest monster. It looks like she might actually testify. Minutes later, Nucky pours his heart out about how scared he is, how much he adores his family, and there’s another glorious moment when it seems Margaret might take Esther’s advice and set herself free: in Esther’s words, what can’t you do when you set your mind to it?
Margaret wakes the next day to hear Nucky helping Emily walk in the garden. She tells him she is going to go to church to make a full confession, then marry him, thus ensuring she will not be forced to give her testimony in court. Sigh. Noteworthy that Margaret’s dialogue in this scene has been re-recorded in the final edit: the wishful thinker in me suggests Kelly Macdonald could not deliver those lines believably given the shape of her character arc of late.
Anyway, montage time! Randolph practices her opening statement, Thompson and Thompson tie the knot, and Jimmy and Harrow settle their Nucky-debt by arranging the ‘suicide’ of Alderman Neary, who recants his testimony. Eli will take the rap, plead guilty, and spend a year in jail, tops.
What all this boils down to is a deeply anticlimactic court scene in which Randolph is left to bluster about conspiracy while Fallon, Ace Attorney and Smarm Depository, successfully argues for a mistrial. Nucky strides away a free man. He returns home deep in his cups, and after showing symptoms of the worst case of the guilts I’ve ever seen, decides he feels that God has given him a second chance. Oh, and he’ll need that Highway land deed back from Margaret. No biggie. Why, that practically takes care of itself!
News for next year: Lucky and Lansky are selling Arnold Rothstein this whole heroin thing when Mr Thompson calls regarding whether or not to kill Manya. Arnie helpfully tells him to use gambling to decide, because he is nothing if not consistent. Also, Agent Van Alden and Swedish Nanny have touched down in Cicero, Illinois, aka Caponeville. Hijinks! Also, google ‘Cicero’ for proof that Boardwalk Empire is the symbolismest show on tv.
Anyway, crunch time. At the recently vacated Casa Commodore, Jimmy and Harrow are telling old war stories. Harrow says he feels he belonged there, and Jimmy tells him he has to try to come home. Nucky phones to tell him he has found Manya, and to meet him at the under-construction War Memorial because symbolism. Jimmy decides to leave Harrow with Gillian and Tommy, as ‘this is something he has to do himself.’ Jimmy has given Tommy his dog tags. Uh oh.
Anyway, out in the rain, Nucky, Owen, Eli and Manya have set him up. The scene is the culmination of the whole season, and should really be watched on its own merit. It’s all here, and the video’s title is spoilertastic. Anyway, the key lines are from Jimmy to Nucky. “All you gotta worry about is when you run out of booze, run out of company, and the only one left to judge you is you.” Nucky: “You don’t know me James, you never did. I. Am not. Seeking. Forgiveness.”
Farewell Jimmy, we hardly knew ye. Vulture has some excellent thoughts about how true that really is.
Back home, Nucky is back to his clammed up, sociopathic self in front of their children, and Margaret finally sees her mistakes. She rectifies this by signing the deed to the highway land over to Father Brennan’s church, while Nucky slams back some champagne on-site with the Mayor. See you next time, Boardwalk Empire!
So the tide came in and Nucky survived. We’ve lost Jimmy and Angela, and a number of smaller characters have fallen by the wayside. Frustrating in part because of how well thought-out this show is, and how much it stumbled once the plot started running at full speed. A few key moments, particularly in Jimmy’s final scenes in which he seems to have some awareness of how things are about to pan out, could have done with expansion, as, in fact, could the entire plotline regarding Angela, Gillian and going to war. It all came very late in the game.
All of this, of course, is said on the back of the fact that this is one of the most exciting shows on television. When it gets things right (eg Harrow’s episode), it’s downright electrifying. I’m still optimistic about what they can do with a clean(ish) slate next year. And for heaven’s sake give us back a rebellious, self-sufficient Margaret.
The end! Thanks for taking the ride along the Boardwalk with us. What did you get out of it? How do you see it panning out next year? Let us know in the comments.