Boardwalk Empire’s Sad Limp to the Finish Line

When Boardwalk Empire debuted with a captivating Martin Scorsese directed episode, it seemed the show was destined to become one of the truly great cable dramas, inhabiting the same rarefied air of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. During football season, no matter who was playing on Sunday night football, I would always switch over to Boardwalk Empire for an hour. I had a PVR but there was no way I could wait a day to watch the show. The show ruled my fall Sunday evening viewing habits for two years. Then they killed off Jimmy Darmody.

Jimmy Darmody’s death was the disappointing character departure of any show I have ever cared about. It wasn’t that I was so emotionally attached to the character, but rather that the first two years had been built around then relationship between Jimmy and Nucky. When Michael Pitt’s character was written out of the show I found myself wondering “What is this show going to be about now?” Sadly, it seems the writers were probably asking themselves the same question.

In season 3, we were introduced to a cartoonish villain named Gyp Rossetti. Though Bobby Cannavale did a marvelous job portraying the character, it was clear from the beginning that he was destined to fail in his battle against Nucky and would be killed off at the end of the season. This was in stark contrast to the Jimmy Darmody character whose entire life had been intertwined with Nucky. The two decade background with Nucky and Jimmy allowed the writers to give much more depth and complexity to their relationship. The Gyp Rosetti character, though entertaining, was purely superficial. With the Jimmy plot line, there was a sense that the show was building towards something; when Gyp Rosetti came on the scene the show began simply treading water. To be fair, this season did deliver the best line in the show’s history when Van Alden/Mueller’s wife says to him “I’ll hold his legs. Husband!”

Nelson Van Alden/George Mueller is perhaps my favourite character in the show, but while I always craved more scenes with him, his moving to Chicago helped exacerbate an overly sprawling story line and gave the impression that the writers had perhaps bitten off more than they could chew. By the fourth season, Nucky seemed to have been reduced to a supporting character as much of the storyline was focused on the rivalry between Chaulky and Narcisse.

There may well have been some grand plan to neatly tie all of these unwieldy story-lines together, but the show’s appeal had declined so much in seasons 3 and 4 that it appears as if HBO simply gave up on the show and told the writers to simply clue things up. Such as their apparent displeasure with the show that they were only willing to grant 8 episodes to tie all of these loose ends together. Bizarrely, even with such little time left, the writers have decided to waste almost half of the final season with flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood. These flashbacks do absolutely nothing to advance the plot and have somehow failed to provide any meaningful insight into Nucky’s character. Thus far, they have simply served to waste valuable time and confirm what we already knew; Nucky was poor, his father was a jerk, and the Dabney Coleman took him under his wing.

With only 4 episodes left, it is difficult to see how the writers can bring this series to anything remotely resembling a satisfying conclusion. When you step back, there aren’t really any big questions left to be answered in the show. Most of the characters are historical figures, so we know what will happen to them; the only question is whether Chaulky White manages to exact some sort of revenge on Narcisse. All of the other fictional characters seem to have been killed off by this point. This is a sad end to what could have been an all-time great show.