TV Review: “Boardwalk Empire” Season 5 – Last Call

Written by Brian Wilcox October 28, 2014

boardwalk empire

Note: This article contains spoilers of “Boardwalk Empire” Season 5. Read at your own risk. 

It’s no secret that series finales are one of the most important episodes of a television show’s legacy. It’s what most viewers will remember and sometimes what they end up judging the show by, always to one extreme or the other. HBO is no stranger to this as they’ve seen both sides of the coin; the critically acclaimed finale of “Six Feet under”, and the shocking finale of “The Sopranos” come to mind as examples. While it might not be as hated or shocking as the latter, “Boardwalk Empire’s” fifth and final season is sure to leave a bittersweet taste in the audience’s mouth.

When “Boardwalk Empire’s” fifth season began it almost felt like a different show, as it picked up 7 years later. The fourth season left off entering the Great Depression. For the first four seasons, the show had been about Nucky Thompson’s (Steve Buscemi) rise to power in Atlantic City throughout the Prohibition Era to become one of the most successful bootleggers of his time. Audiences have long wondered how this man got to where he is, but few expected this shortened season (only 8 episodes?!) to go back and show as much about young Nucky as they did through flashbacks. These flashbacks, however, slowly walk the line between excessive and just enough to provide the viewer with the information they need while foreshadowing what’s to come.

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Before getting into the negatives of this ambitious storytelling, it should first be said that the casting of the younger characters on “Boarwalk Empire” is impeccable. Marc Pickering looked exactly how one would imagine a young Nucky to look, teeth and all. It certainly helped sell the flashback a bit more, and at least gave the viewer something interesting to watch for the few flashbacks that seemed to drag a bit. To cut away from 1931 and all the juicy stuff that’s happening with Nucky, Al Capone, Chalky or even Mickey Doyle (more on them later) to show what life was like for Nucky all those many years ago is a ballsy move, something the writers must have felt was very important.  To show all the struggles Nucky had to get through to make it to the man he became is fascinating, sure, but did it have to take so much time? 8 episodes is short enough as it is, and when the main narrative suffers because of flashbacks it’s hard to forgive. There’s so much story to tell, and it came off as rushed because of the copious flashbacks.

“I want to leave something behind.”

Besides Nucky’s storyline, other major “Boardwalk Empire” characters also got their final hours as well this year, in many different ways. The tag line of the show for this season was “No One Goes Quietly” and for the most part that certainly was the case, except for one character. Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) went quietly. Easily one of the more surprising moments of the season was at the end of “Boardwalk Empire” episode 6, called “Devil You Know”, when Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) is discovered holding Chalky’s mistress Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) in his brothel, and in order to save her and her child, Chalky is taken out back and shot in the street. Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) dies with his hands around Capone’s (Stephen Graham) throat; Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) gets the somewhat happy ending with her money; and everyone’s favourite cockroach Mikey Doyle (Paul Sparks) doesn’t make it to the end like many thought he would, by ironically getting shot in the throat.  While some might have been shocking, all were perfectly satisfying ends to many beloved characters and there shouldn’t be much disappointment here.

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Finally, the “Boardwalk Empire” series finale, called “Eldorado”, must be discussed. There was a lot of talk before the episode aired about how the final few loose ends would be closed within the last 60 minutes, and for the most part many correctly guessed what was going to happen. It seemed like the obvious choice, bringing the show full circle by having Tommy Darmody (Brady Noon) be the one to end Nucky Thompson, yet once it finally played out on screen it felt underwhelming. It didn’t seem to be as satisfying as it sounded in theory (he did destroy 3 generations of the Darmody family), but it wasn’t overtly bad either. It just kind of sat in the middle. Maybe that’s because it was to be expected or maybe because it was the right thing to do narratively; this reviewer cannot say. While this season may not have been the closer audiences were expecting – aside from the season finale – it certainly doesn’t hamper the memory of “Boardwalk Empire” as a whole. Hopefully won’t tarnish its legacy in the pantheon of HBO’s stellar programming in the years to come.

Farewell to “Boardwalk Empire”

Overall, “Boardwalk Empire’s” final season was a rocky one, focusing a little too heavily on justifying it’s lead characters motivations instead of the more tantalizing narrative of the people his actions have affected.  Between all the major storylines the characters had, and the 7-year time jump most of the season felt rushed and underwhelming, 8 episode wasn’t enough for this story. Unfortunately it resulted in an end that didn’t come to the satisfying conclusion many fans were expecting.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Brian Wilcox

Brian can usually be found watching movies, talking about his vinyl collection or eating Ring a Wing chicken wings. Sometimes all three at once. Follow him on twitter (@mcchub) for his ramblings and comedic genius.

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