‘Boardwalk Empire’ Series Finale Discussion: ‘Eldorado’

“The honorable Enoch Thompson.” That’s how Nucky is introduced in the very first episode of Boardwalk Empire. If five full seasons of murdering, cheating the law, and cheating on his wife have taught us anything, it’s that he’s anything but: he’s the immoral Enoch Thompson, ruled by not so much a code as an endless pursuit for a nickel. Then a dime. Then a quarter. Then $2,364,120. Nucky’s been tainted ever since the day he tried to catch a sinking coin in the ocean.

Cut to black. While The Sopranos went with the ambiguous ending, Boardwalk Empire left with a definitive message: money and revenge and power, they rot the soul. Nucky lost his the day he gave Gillian to the Commodore, and it came back to kill him decades later in the form of Tommy Darmody, a boy who Richard tried so hard to keep pure. But Tommy was consumed by what Nucky did to his grandma, his father. Nucky wanted to leave, to travel to the future, where exotic women sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on blinking boxes, but he couldn’t, not when his past caught up to his present. Tommy’s final bullet even goes through Nucky in the same place where Jimmy was shot in season two.

(The “future” scene felt like it was from a different show, or maybe a David Lynch movie, but it worked as a meta commentary on how people are temporary, but TV is forever.)

Did Nucky deserve to make it through the show alive? No, probably not, and even he seemed to realize he wasn’t beginning a new life, he was ending an old one. Plus, if he hadn’t been shot, he was about to be arrested by a pair of IRS agents. His goodbye to his brother (again mistaking compensation for compassion), his last dance with Margaret (a tender moment that ends when there’s business to be done), his trip to see Gillian, reminiscent of when Tony Soprano visited Uncle Junior, a once-proud man decaying, in the hospital — Nucky’s beyond the surf line and pretty sure he’s not coming back.

The big difference between the two scenes is that it’s not Tony’s fault Junior’s there, at least not directly. But Gillian, who’s robbed of an organ the way Junior was stripped of his dignity? That’s on Nucky. Maybe he was never the most interesting character, and he certainly wasn’t the most charismatic, but what’s interesting abut the honorable Enoch Thompson, especially in “Eldorado,” was that he didn’t expect redemption. He hated himself too much to hope for forgiveness; he never felt like anything more than the son of a drunk who lived and died on the boardwalk when he could have been so much more.

At least his suits looked good. Let’s go through some of the other characters in this episode.

-Goddamn did Capone’s farewell to his deaf son get to me. It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in on his home life, but it was a wonderful scene and Stephen Graham, who found an emotional honesty in a character who could’ve been a caricature, is a fantastic actor.

-While spewing some Biblical BS to his sheep-like followers, who don’t realize they’re being played by a man working for Hoover, Dr. Narcisse is shot and killed.

Alan Sepinwall spoke to creator Terence Winter about the finale. The whole thing’s a must-read, but here’s probably my favorite passage:

Who do you think Nucky is?

I think he’s a man who, like most of us, is desperate to make something of himself, leave a legacy behind, get ahead, and define himself. Have a legacy. It’s terrifying to me, certainly, one of the great things about being a writer in this business for me, is you can leave your work behind and people can see it. The idea of being erased from history is scary to me. This idea came to me from visiting Atlantic City in the early days of the series, before we shot anything, we just stopped people randomly who were natives and asked if they knew who Nucky Johnson was, and not one of them did. Once the series aired, they all say they knew, but before the series was on, no one knew this guy. I thought, “God, what a horrible — he was the most important guy in that city, between the years around 1912 and 1940, he ran that city, and here we are and no one knows who he is.” It made me uncomfortable and gave me a chill. “God, if you had told him that in less than 100 years, no one will know your name. There’s not a plaque, not a statue, there’s nothing.” That started the idea of “Who are you? What do you want to be? What do you want to leave behind?” That’s basically who Nucky is at his core. (Via)

-Joe Kennedy <3 Margaret Thompson. I <3 Margaret Thompson.

-No opening credits this episode. Instead of a clothed Nucky Thompson staring at the ocean, we see the outline of a naked swimming Nucky, thankfully sans any Buscemi butt closeups.

-For all the hubub over the necessity of the flashbacks (I’m still undecided — I liked them as the season progressed, and I understand they were heartbreakingly necessary, but it’s still somewhat disappointing that so much of the final season was spent showing us something we’ve been already been told), you must admit that the actors who played Young Nucky, Young Gillian, and Young Commodore were stellar.

-In case you were wondering, here’s what happened to some of the real-life characters on Boardwalk Empire after the show ended (Enoch Johnson, for instance, lived until 1968):

Al Capone: Scarface was sent to prison in 1932, and his physical and mental well-being quickly deteriorated. He suffered from syphilis and gonorrhea, as well as neurosyphilis, which robbed him of his ability to think coherently. He still received special attention, however, and was eventually transferred to Alcatraz. Capone was finally released in 1939. Once out, he checked in at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore until he was shuffled to Palm Island, Florida, where he lived until 1947. Cause of death: cardiac arrest.

Ralph Capone: Meanwhile, Al’s brother, who never really held that much power, was also thrown in prison for tax evasion. He served three years, beginning in 1932. When he was released, Ralph moved to Mercer, Wisconsin, and purchased a hotel there. He died in Hurley, WI, in 1974 of natural causes.

Lucky Luciano: The most powerful crime boss in America at the time was arrested in, of all places, Hot Springs, Arkansas, on April 1, 1936. He was accused of leading a massive prostitution ring, and in June, he was charged with 62 counts of compulsory prostitution and sentenced to prison for 30-50 years. Luciano was still a big deal, though, so much so that the United States Navy made him a deal during World War II: his dockworkers would provide intelligence, and he’d be moved to a prison much closer to New York City. Eventually, Luciano was released under one condition: he’d be deported back to Italy. His ship sailed on February 10, 1946; he secretly fled to Cuba, but once he was caught, he finally made it to Italy, where he had a heart attack and died in 1962.

Meyer Lansky: Lansky owned numerous casinos in Florida, New Orleans, and Cuba, which was fine and dandy…until Fidel Castro outlawed gambling during the Cuban Revolution. Lansky lost millions; plus, he didn’t pay his taxes, so he fled to Israel, where he, a Jew, hoped the Law of Return would protect him. Thing is, it doesn’t apply to criminals, so he was eventually sent back to the U.S.. He was acquitted in 1974 and retired to Miami Beach, Florida, where he kicked the proverbial bucket in 1982.

Johnny Torrio: If you guessed Torrio was arrested for tax evasion, have a cookie. He served two years, beginning in 1939, and lived a crime-free life when he got out. He died in Brooklyn in 1957 of a heart attack. The press didn’t pick up on his passing until three weeks after his burial.

Bugsy Siegel: Oh, Bugsy. He and some fellow gangsters gained control of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1946, billing it “The West’s Greatest Resort Hotel.” It was a disaster. Nothing worked and the place was literally falling apart, so the Flamingo was closed and reopened again in 1947. The casino eventually started turning a profit, but apparently, it wasn’t soon enough for someone, probably a higher-up crime boss, who ordered a hit on Bugsy. He was murdered on June 20th.

Join me, if you will, for one last toast to Boardwalk Empire.

It was a helluva ride.