“Be honest and true, boys, whatever you do, boys.”
Boardwalk Empire is the most frustratingly great show on television right now. That’s both an insult and compliment, and an observation that’s particularly true of “Golden Days for Boys and Girls,” the premiere for the series fifth and final season. The episode begins not in the 1920s, but the 1880s, where a young Nucky Thompson is looking to provide extra income for his caring mother, abusive father, sickly sister, and brother Eli, last seen being shipped to Chicago to get hissed at by Michael Shannon. The actor who plays Young Nucky does a great job of impersonating Buscemi’s mannerisms, despite not looking nearly as bug-eyed, but it’s here where Boardwalk runs into its first issue of the season: who cares?
Only eight episodes of this show remain, seven if you don’t include last night’s, and there are literally dozens of plots both well established and interesting that are fighting for screen time. What happened to Dr. Narcisse? How many people has Capone shot and killed? Is Mickey Doyle laughing or snickering? We got none of that; instead, we’re treated to flashbacks that don’t really provide anything we didn’t already know about Nucky Thompson. I suppose they’re there to make us feel empathy for our central character, to help us understand why he’s willing to sacrifice everything to make a quick buck, and that’s fine. But placing it in an abbreviated final season, when there are so many other stories worth telling, is frustrating (although it was nice to see Lt. Marimow from The Wire, Boris McGiver, as the sheriff). It’s finally reading the prologue when you’re already on page 600.
All that being said, I liked the episode! I liked Nucky in Cuba! I liked Nucky running into Meyer in Cuba (even if the audience figured out who sent the hit man long before Nucky did)! I even liked seeing Margaret, who I’m guessing will reconnect with Nucky sometime later in the season, not emotionally but financially! I also enjoyed Chalky’s quiet fuming face, and Luciano and the boys making AIDS a thing in the Italian community, and the look of 1880s Atlantic City and 1930s Cuba. It’s a gorgeous show with fantastic actors and actresses playing endlessly entertaining characters, and even though I didn’t love the premiere, I haven’t loved any Boardwalk premiere since the pilot. It’s a series that gradually picks up momentum before delivering an unexpected knockout blow (the death of Kessler last year, for instance). This was the occasionally frustrating set up; the greatness will come. Hopefully without Young Nucky.
And now, for my favorite random extra of the episode:
Spend the next seven episodes on Beard Guy. Thank you. Also:
I’ll miss not being able to understand a damn thing he’s saying. And I’ll just straight-up miss Arnold Rothstein, who died during the time jump (his is the funeral Meyer and Nucky referred to).