Boardwalk Empire season 2 episode 12 review: To The Lost

The season finale of Boardwalk Empire season 2 isn't the show at its best, but it's still compelling telly...


Warning: this review contains spoilers.

2.12 To The Lost

“Let me make things right” says Jimmy Darmody during the seaso two finale of Boardwalk Empire, “or as right as they can be”. The latter is all he can really hope for, everything seems to have slipped from his grasp, and he knows better than anyone else that he is now in his own personal denouement. Time to clean things up.

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Appropriate then, that the second season ends as it started, with a bloody shootout involving the Ku Klux Klan. However, unlike the assault on Chalky White’s warehouse that opened the season, this time the KKK are the ones facing the masked men with guns. In picking up the three men responsible, Jimmy and Richard dispense with the niceties of threatening and get straight on with the shooting. It’s a nicely taken opportunity, setting up a group of mopes no viewer could have sympathy for against two characters with very little to lose. An exciting and thrilling opening to a solid, but functional final episode.

It has been, as I noted before, a steadily paced season, adding new characters and plotlines alongside the overarching arc of Jimmy’s rebellion against Nucky, and although the last couple of episodes have seen several strands approach their climax there is a nagging sense of a rush to the finish line. Much of this is, however, supported by the storyline, Jimmy is using his last days on earth to make up for all the days that preceded them, and is genuinely contrite, at least as far as his morality allows him to be. A certain settling of scores, righting wrongs and heartfelt apologies comes entirely naturally to proceedings.

As does his death. In a beautifully noir-ish scene by the war memorial in the pouring rain, Jimmy finally meets his end at the hands of Nucky. It’s a moment filled with obvious sadness, but not without poise. At the very end, it’s Jimmy who seems more in control, arriving unarmed and in total acceptance of his fate. As far as he’s concerned he died years ago in the trenches. This isn’t anything for him to get worked up about. It’s also appropriate that Nucky himself is the triggerman. So much of the fracturing of Jimmy’s group has happened without Nucky’s involvment, it was like they were barely at war at times. The failure of the Commodore, of Eli, of Jimmy himself, they all stand to benefit Nucky, it’s only right that he gets his hands dirty.

I won’t be too sorry to see the last of Michael Pitt, who was always a little too leaden in his performances, but I am sorry to say goodbye to Jimmy. The real pity about the performance was that he was such a gift of a character, ambitious, intelligent, troubled, and a linchpin of the show’s narrative. However, taking the longer view, this brings a major two-season arc to a close. We might call it The Tragedy of Jimmy Darmody, the story of his attempt to make something of himself in the post-war world.

His loss does mean a changing of the order. The junior squad of gangsters, Capone, Luciano and Lansky, were led by Jimmy’s brains, but without him are at least smart enough to realise this, pulling Rothstein and his brain into their heroin trafficking scheme. It’s a smart move, re-establishing Rothstein in the narrative, and by boosting the narcotics plotline, giving the show another opportunity to show the unintended consequences of prohibition in the rise of the drug trade.

Talking of unitended consequences, Nucky and Margaret are now married, for that most romantic of reasons, the prevention of the bride from testifying against her husband. The spousal privilege is a somewhat disappointing device. It’s been done before, often, and given Nucky’s talent for scheming, was facile. What it does do, however, is provide Boardwalk Empire with a powerful dramatic faultline for the next season.

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Margaret’s doubts over Nucky have been largely the driver of her storyline such as her quest to find her old family and her religious crises. By this final episode her wavering has become the weak link in Nucky’s dodgy defence, by the end, it’s led to a new twist that sees Margaret employ some of the double-dealing that has previously been Nucky’s province. He’s up to his usual lying ways, telling Jimmy that he’s never heard of Manny, for example, but it’s his blatant lying to Margaret about Jimmy’s whereabouts that carries the most. She’s had her doubts, now she has a total absence of trust, and Nucky’s next war will have a domestic front.

In the main, however, with the closing of the main arc the decks have been cleared for season three. The chapter on Jimmy may be closed, but some very interesting avenues have been opened. The burgeoning partnership between Chalky and Pernsley leaves plenty of scope for an expansion into their world, and the opportunity to give more screen time to both Michael Kenneth Williams and Erik LaRay Harvey who have both been underused so far. The charming, duplicitous and mysterious Owen Sleater is a fitting successor to Jimmy’s role, and brings with him several tonnes of political baggage that should keep things running anything but smoothly.

Most of all, I want to see more from Manny Horvitz, a character who has done quite a lot to advance the plot this season, but who surely has more to offer. The enigmatic and menacing William Forsythe has been brilliant and it would be a shame to lose him from the cast now that his little business with Jimmy has concluded.

All in all, a good sophomore season for Boardwalk Empire. It has managed to escape some the hype that greeted its arrival and establish itself as a show with something to say. There are almost certainly historical inaccuracies, but the attention to detail on balance is exquisite. It is beautifully shot and directed, (Jeremy Podeswa’s work in particular stood out this season), and some of the performances have been superb. It has matured well, and is rightly among the flagship shows of HBO’s current roster. Roll on season three.

Read our review of the last episode, here.

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