Boardwalk Empire Series Finale Review: Eldorado

The Boardwalk Empire series finale goes out leaving you wanting more, or am I just greedy? Here is our review.

Boardwalk Empire fell tonight. Another empire built on sand, it went the way of Greece as Rome was in its ascendancy. But, just as Greece, Egypt and Ethiopia still existed as all roads led to Rome, Atlantic City under the leadership of Pinky and the gang will thrive as the day-trip trains come in from Philly and New York City. It’s alright to build an empire on sand, just so long as you’re near the beach.

Salt water baptism. This is the first time we see Nucky swim since he was diving for silver dollars. It’s the first time we see Steve Buscemi swim and it shows that he could have played a vampire on True Blood. Even Margaret knows, Nucky’s not really the outdoorsy type.

Margaret, oh yeah, duplicitousness becomes her. And I loved the way she routed Joe Kennedy back to office hours. She’s smart, forward thinking and nothing gets by her. When Kennedy goes on about the mystery of a woman’s mind, he doesn’t know that it wasn’t the woman’s mind that was making him sweat, it was the mind of a gambling trader with good gut instincts. She tells him she’s got to be twice as good, in not so many words, just to be considered any good at all. But it’s not the woman in her that flusters him, it’s the gangster in her. She understands “What I know, what I suspect and what I’m afraid to guess.” I love the way she pushes the phone to Kennedy and tells him his call to his broker is on the house.

A round table? Who does Luciano (Vincent Piazza) think he is, King Arthur? This is the mob, it should be a coffee table. There should be espresso with Sambuca and Galliano, maybe some anisette. For a gangster series, there was not nearly enough food on Boardwalk Empire. Gangster movies rise and fall on their food scenes: Michael Corleone shooting that rat cop over his veal parmesan; “Leave the gun, take the cannoli;” Nick Brown and his plates of spaghetti in The Roaring Twenties; Every single episode of The Sopranos, even if it was only ricotta pie. Food is significant in mob shows, think of Bobby Bacala’s wife’s last tin of ziti, waiting in the fridge.

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The Commission was indeed formed in 1931. The five Mafia families of New York had their meeting in Chicago. They got rid of the Mustache Petes and their system of capo di tutti capi. The Commission was made up of seven family bosses: New York’s Luciano, Vincent Mangano, Tommy Gagliano, Joseph Bonanno and Joe Profaci; Al Capone who was the boss of the Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone and Stefano Magaddino, who was in charge of Buffalo, was Bonanno’s cousin and would cause all kinds of trouble for him later.

Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and Ben Siegel (Michael Zegen) were also at that meeting, as was Johnny Torrio, who helped plan the Commission. In spite of what Siegel says, Torrio was never going to be put on the backburner. Or burned from the back bumper on a running board. Siegel has grown into quite the effective hit administrator. Lansky and Luciano should be proud parents. Lansky and Luciano grew on their five years on Boardwalk Empire. Piazza took on a a rough, but light gravitas and Lansky is absolutely assured. Siegel is still showing some growing pains, even as the series winds down. The work done on Dr. Narcisse, which of course was never done to Casper Holstein, is perfectly timed, executed and, as everyone in business from retail to show knows, it’s all location, location, location. Taking out the revered doctor at a funeral sent a message that rang all the way to Enoch to Bumpy Johnson.


Capone wore his hat, that hat, the one that Stephen Graham is wearing, at a jaunty angle. I know it can be hard to pull that off, but it is an iconic image and Boardwalk Empire is usually so good at catching those details that it kind of bugged me that Graham was wearing it properly. Graham has been great at catching the nuances of a deeper character in Capone that are usually skimmed over in most gangster movies. They were certainly glossed over on TV shows like The Untouchables where Capone is not really even a person at all. Though Neville Brand also got to play Capone in The George Raft Story and The Scarface Mob, he was always just a tough guy. Graham cuts his violence with deeply emotional and personal scenes. Al and his brother Ralph “Bottles” Capone (Domenick Lombardozzi) always cut through the rough pranks and tough exteriors with a precise intelligence. Though it is a little embarrassing that they were duped by an Irish cop.

There should have been more scenes between Capone and his deaf son. The Godfather is a family film. The Sopranos was The Sopranos because of the family. Capone comes across as just a gangster without his family. No gangster was just a gangster. They all had families. They did what they did for their families. Sure, there were fringe benefits, but at heart, it was all about the family. Nucky is told not to have a family, that they get in the way. Kennedy warned him, there is strength in numbers. Nucky was denied the chance and then, apparently, chose the commodore’s logic. Not that he had that great of a family experience even without the miscarriage and losing Mabel. Even a bagful of cash isn’t complete with a shaving kit.

Nucky sees the future just as he’s about to be denied it. Television made its first public appearance at the Berlin Radio Show in August 1931, when Manfred von Ardenne played with the cathode ray tube. You’re only as good as what you leave behind, “that’s all anyone remembers of you,” the Commodore tells young Nucky (Nolan Lyons). As the gangster he grows into takes his last walks in Atlantic City before relocating to Manhattan, he is all reflection and loose ends left behind. The biggest loose end that Nucky has to tie up wants only to be untied. Gillian (Gretchen Mol) was Nucky’s ticket into the world of influence and power and she’s also always been the death of him. Nucky lost his soul to political power when he picked that hopeful girl off the parade.

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The Commodore really is a prick, though. All power comes through him. He has to completely destroy Nucky before he gives him the job as Sherriff. It’s not only that the power comes at a price, with the job Sherriff Thompson is first tasked with, it’s that the kid has to know that he is nothing, less than powerless, without the bluster-fuck of a political boss hog. All politicians were like that, still are, but John Elllison Conlee captures it nakedly.  

It’s hard to see Gillian so distractedly withdrawn. Gretchen Mol has always given Gillian equal parts vulnerability and toughness, so to see her as frail as a ladybug is sad. Even Nucky knows that no matter what he gives, it is nothing compared to what he took from her. Nucky is all about potential and he knows the chances he blew for the young kid in the flat cap. Though, I was a little taken aback by why he’d ask whether she expected him to get down on his knees.

It could only have been Tommy. When I saw the trailer last week for this week’s episode and their forced perception made us believe that Luciano was ordering Nucky hit, I thought that can’t be how Nucky goes out. It had to be a more personal killing. Jimmy’s kid. Gillian’s grandson, Tommy Darmody does it justice, street justice that has nothing to do with the ledgers. Nucky even has a second where you can see he’s a little proud of the kid, squeezing destiny’s trigger with his own fingers like that. Nucky’s approach to Gillian reminded me of the devil approaching Harry Angel in the flashback scenes in Angel Heart, very sinister. It was an effective double ending, the two story lines corresponding and playing off each other in parallel goodbyes.

You can tell an HBO finale from the opening scenes. There is a certain amount of extra breath HBO gives its series’ final episodes that set them apart from the full series. This doesn’t apply to one-season series like True Detective, which had an entirely different kind of trajectory, or Rome, which we’re still waiting for a third season, great Caesar’s ghost be damned. This was a great closer, but after the meandering in the last quarter, I wanted a little bit more. Maybe I just want a lot more, like Nucky wanted a quarter when he knew a dime was glorious, I want more than just a nickel of Boardwalk Empire.

“Eldorado” was written by Howard Korder and Terence Winter. It was directed by Tim Van Patten.

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5 out of 5