HBO’s Boardwalk Empire is one of the most sprawling and involved shows on TV, with a cast the size of an extra large beer barrel (or at least equal to The Wire). So this season, the show’s fourth, we’ll be breaking down the eight most bloody and boozy moments from every episode, including last night’s “Farewell Daddy Blues.” Except not. In honor of the season finale, let’s rank the deaths, from least to most shocking.
#5. Johnny’s Driver
OH NO. Not…this guy. He was too beautiful for this world, whatever his name was.
4. Agent Knox
Or whatever the f*ck his name is. His fight with Eli was one of the best I’ve ever seen staged on TV. It was ugly, realistic, and angry, but filmed beautifully, making us feel like the third participant. I suppose I should feel bad for Agent Knox, considering he WAS trying to stop a criminal enterprise, but whatever, he was a weasel, someone who the writers never bothered trying to make us feel compassion for. That could be misconstrued as laziness, but I don’t think that’s quite it. Knox preyed on the weak, on guys like Eddie Kessler, rather than going for those who caused the most damage. Maybe that’s the only way to get things accomplished, but when Eli choked the FBI agent to death before bashing his skull in with a vase, I didn’t feel bad for either of those men; I felt horrible for June and the kids upstairs, who finally heard their father, their real father, for the first time. Now he’s Capone’s problem.
3. Maybelle White
If any daughter were to be gunned down, Daughter was the better bet, not Chalky’s lowercase daughter, Maybelle. But a split moment of shaky indecision from Richard led to the accidental assassination of a young girl at the Onyx Club, and another death soon to come. I’m not ready to talk about that one yet. I’ll never be ready.
2. Dr. Narcisse
Or, more accurately, I’m surprised that both he and Chalky lived, if you can call being forced to call a white man “sir” living, which a sneering Dr. Narcisse most certainly does not. In hindsight, though, it makes sense that he survived while Gyp Rosetti died. Gyp was too big to go out in anything other than a blaze of glory, while Narcisse prefers to linger in the shadows, silently plotting his next move rather than shouting it for everyone to hear. I’m curious how the writers will handle this character next season: do his dealings with Hoover mean that he’ll be a non-factor, or will his gathering information on Marcus Garvey somehow tie into the show’s overall arc? It’s too early to tell, but I’m hoping he sticks around, if only to get more wisdom like, “The exiled does not choose his Babylon.” The Dr. Narcisse payoff wasn’t what I expected it to be, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did.
1. Richard Harrow
When Boardwalk Empire killed Jimmy Darmody back in season two, I was ecstatic. He was one of the best characters on the show, if not THE best, one of the few worth having sympathy for, but his death raised the dramatic stakes; at that point, Boardwalk was struggling to prove it belonged on HBO, but when Nucky put a bullet in Jimmy, I wanted to watch what happened next for the first time since the pilot. No one was safe.
When Boardwalk Empire killed Richard Harrow last night, I wanted to scream and cry at the same time. Instead, I settled on quiet shock: Richard was dead. Is dead. No more killing sprees, no more half-masks, no more weddings. I’m still trying to make sense of everything that happened, because I don’t want to admit that it made perfect sense. He was physically and emotionally incapable of doing what he does best, being an assassin for hire, but couldn’t he have, um, opened a bed and breakfast instead? Or maybe start a band with his family and tour the country? No, he couldn’t have, because as creator Terence Winter told Rolling Stone, “You don’t make those choices and pull the trigger that many times and get to walk away and die in bed.” We, the viewers, loved Richard, but we fell in love with a killer, someone who was ultimately a piece in the much larger stories of Nucky and Gillian’s lives. The writers have given us a lot of fan service over the seasons (Chalky’s a badass? SURE!), but that can only be satisfying for so long. There was nothing left to say with Richard: to have him resort back to GREATEST KILLER EVER mode would have come in direct opposition to everything that happened to him this season. It would have been a cop-out. He wanted to be a family man for Emma, Julia, and Tommy, someone with a happy life, but this isn’t a happy show, and for the second time, Boardwalk Empire has killed its best character.
Except this time it hurts like a motherf*cker (and doesn’t involve a mother f*cking).