If You’re Not Watching The Final Season Of ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ Catch Up Now

Senior Pop Culture Editor
10.16.14 30 Comments
boardwalk empire

HBO

Look, I understand, there are 73 different shows to watch on Sunday nights. There’s The Walking Dead and The Simpsons and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Homeland and Mulaney and Bob’s Burgers and The Good Wife and Sunday Night Football and…you get the idea. Point is, because it’s such a crowded night for good TV, and also Once Upon a Time, it can be hard to keep up with everything (I have about nine episodes of Manhattan sitting on my DVR). But if one of those shows is Boardwalk Empire, you should start watching now, because things are getting GREAT.

Since season two, Boardwalk has followed the same formula: a bunch of seemingly disparate plots for the first few episodes, then everyone and everything starts to come together in the middle before culminating in a killer (often literally) conclusion. We’re at the “killer” part of the equation now, with only a pair of episodes left in the series. Here are some reasons why you should catch up, broken down by common criticisms critics have lobbed at Boardwalk over the years (and why they’re wrong).

There are too many characters

The nice thing about a show ending is that the writers no longer have to worry about keeping actors around because they signed a five-season contract. If they want to off arguably the two most recognizable, non-Buscemi leads on the show, they can (and unlike Sons of Anarchy, the action won’t feel like it’s stretched out to an excessive degree; eight episodes, instead of 13, really helps). Like the season five poster says, “No one goes quietly,” not when guns are firing.

There aren’t enough female characters

On the plus side, at least Paz de la Huerta’s gone? Anyway, I’ll circle back to this point later, but while this critique might be true, Boardwalk has made the few female characters there are a critical component of the show. Drunk Margaret was a delight, and she’s picked up some crucial life lessons from Nucky, while Sally was as strong and brash and could toss ’em down as well as any fella. As for Gillian…

What’s the deal with the flashbacks?

I was not a fan of the flashbacks for most of this season, and I’m still not sure if they’re necessary to illustrate the story I think Boardwalk is trying to tell. But at least they’re finally more than an excuse to stare at Marc Pickering’s chompers. Let me explain, as briefly as possible, what’s going on: in the present, Gillian is stuck in a teeth-pulling mental asylum where all she can do to keep the shred of sanity she still possesses is write letters to, I think, Nucky (remember, earlier in the season, he received a letter from “Nellie Bly”), who in the past, when she was a thieving monkey, gave her up to the Commodore, the awful man who did awful things to her. Meanwhile, some young whippersnapper has been cozying up to Nucky, and many, including myself, believe that he’s a grown-up Tommy Darmody out to get revenge on the man who killed his father, Jimmy, and turned his grandmother, Gillian, into an old man’s sex slave. Even if that theory’s wrong, it’s clear Gillian will play a major role in the finale.

We already know what’s going to happen

That’s true of Capone, Luciano, and Lansky, among others, but not for the characters BASED on real people, like Nucky and Dr. Narcisse, as well as entirely fictional creations, such as Gillian and Eli. I realize “it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey” is a trite saying, but I think it applies here. I’ve seen many movies about Capone, but few have rivaled the character exploration Boardwalk has given him, and no actor has embedded the hothead with as much passion as Stephen Graham. It’s been, simply put, fun to watch excellent actors like Vincent Piazza, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Anatol Yusef play these fascinating historical figures, even if their real-life fates are only a Google search away.

Nothing ever happens; it’s just a bunch of guys in suits talking about nothing

In the last episode, a religious zealot Prohibition agent-turned-cuckolded family man sort-of working for Untouchables leader Eliot Ness tried to choke and murder the most famous gangster of all-time, then got shot in the head, but yeah, technically they were wearing suits at the time.

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HBO

Boardwalk Empire didn’t have to be “THE NEXT SOPRANOS. It’s damn good on its own.

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