Welcome, my friends, to the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire.” I really haven’t a clue how many of you there actually are, but given how few comments I’ve been getting, I have to figure that it isn’t a huge number. Still, I’ve been trudging ever onward, mostly because HBO has been kind enough to provide me with the episodes far enough in advance that I generally haven’t had to stay awake into the wee hours of Sunday evenings to finish up my blogs. Tonight, however, all of America’s TV critic stand on even footing, watching the finale at the same time as everyone else…or, in my case, slightly later. I was away on a brief vacation – except not really, since it was a trip that I’m going to end up writing about for Bullz-Eye, thereby making it a work-related excursion – and literally walked in the door just as the finale was kicking off, and it’s taken me ’til now (10:50 PM EST) to finally get myself wound down from my flight, grab a snack and a drink, and settle in to write.
When we first see Agent Van Alden this evening, he’s quoting St. Augustine. Moments later, he’s smacking the living shit out of a potential new recruit and lying about Agent Sepso’s cause of death, claiming it was a heart attack rather than, y’know, at Van Alden’s own hand. Clearly, he’s losing it…oh, who are we kidding? He lost it long ago. One presumes, however, that a certain part of him knows he’s losing it, as he’s decided to depart the bureau. I can’t see him getting away with having murdered Sepso, however. Not with all of those witnesses.
Nucky’s pretty pissed off about the current state of affairs in the mayoral race of Atlantic City, with the democratic candidate, Fletcher, poised to take home the victory. In asking his team – which includes Chalky White – to hunt up as many potential voters as possible for his candidate, Bader, Nucky’s seething with anger over the goings-on his personal life is palpable, and it doesn’t help that he’s being constantly told that his decision to remove Eli was a wrong one. Chalky admits, however, that Fletcher’s people have approached him in an attempt to get him to use his sway with his “people” and get them to vote for him. In truth, however, he says he’s only doing it for the money, that he’s really doing it for Nucky…particularly if he can get a little bit more money out of the deal. In addition to the money, Chalky wants a new car and an invitation to the new mayor’s victory party. Nucky said it’s tough to promise the latter, but Chalky calmly suggests it’s probably in both their best interests if he comes through.
Although she’s evacuated from the love nest provided to her by Nucky, Margaret and her kids are still in the general area, hanging out with Nan, mother of Warren Harding’s love child. Nan’s still quite naive, the poor thing, expecting to hear from Harding any day now. (Yeah, right…) As such, she can only offer Margaret a place to stay for a few more days, focusing on her future as a resident of the White House. In the meantime, Margaret keeps her chin up as best she can, baking a barn brack but clearly worrying a bit about her new friend’s state of mind.
Wow, so the person trying to kill the Commodore via arsenic poisoning was his maid? Not that I can’t see why she’d do such a thing, given how he treated her, but in addition to feeling really predictable – shades of “the butler did it” – it was a real moment of deflation when it felt like we were going to be getting some fantastic payoff for this unexpected storyline. Instead, Nucky just paid her off (in fairness, it was kind of funny when he sympathized with her decision) and, for his trouble, got a Bible with a particular passage noted. Oh, okay, I do want to know what passage, so I guess they still managed to get me…
Cut to NYC, where Rothstein is giving his boys their final instructions before he hops a boat and heads for the UK. Personally, I thought the idea of visiting distilleries and learning to play the bagpipes sounded like a pretty good plan, but they weren’t having it, instead offering to “get their hands dirty” and try someone between New York and Chicago who might be able to assist in keeping Rothstein on American soil. He seems resigned to his departure, but I’m thinking otherwise. They wouldn’t have spent all damned season setting up this Black Sox storyline to have Edelstein just say, “Well, that’s it, boys, I’m out of here!”
Jimmy comes home, and it’s clear that he and Angela are still on frosty terms…which, frankly, is to be expected, given that she’d taken their son and hit the road, only to have to come back with her tail between her legs. As it turns out, she’s scared for a different reason than we’d expect: apparently, he’s been having war flashbacks while he’s been asleep, screaming and grabbing Angela. It’s scaring Tommy, and…well, given that she shares a bed with him, you can imagine Angela’s a little worried, too. But why is this the first we’re hearing of these sleepytime flashbacks? Seems pretty ham-handed to have them pop up in the season finale when they’ve never been mentioned before now, as it does for Jimmy and Angela to suddenly reconcile. Then again, Angela’s expression gives us a pretty good idea that she’s not entirely sure about Jimmy’s interest to simply let bygones be bygones. Later, when she receives the postcard from Paris from the disappearing Mrs. Dietrich, her sadness is palpable. It’s been a rough couple of days for poor Angela…
Into the graveyard we go, where Margaret finally learns that she and Nucky have something in common: the loss of a child. Once again, we’re presented with a woman whose expression speaks volumes about her thoughts, and Margaret’s reveals that she’s taking this new information and wondering if she’s been wrong about Nucky.
Speaking of the Nuckmeister, he’s on the phone with Torrio, who’s hopping the overnight train from Chicago to New York in order to meet with Rothstein, even if Nucky isn’t exactly aware of this. (I laughed at Nucky’s comment about already having bought the Brooklyn Bridge.) As he’s preparing for the costume ball, Margaret appears at the door. The conversation between the two of them proves to be a dramatic highlight of the episode, if not the season, as Nucky finally breaks down and tells Margaret…and us…everything about his wife and son. It’s a horrific tale, one which would inspire tears in anyone, but the telling is a watershed moment in the relationship between Nucky and Margaret, if not necessarily in the way we might have expected. No, she doesn’t go back to him, but she does acknowledge that, for the first time ever, she’s finally seen the real Nucky Thompson. She may not understand him, but at least she’s seen him.
Van Alden tells his wife how he’d been offered a full-time assignment in Atlantic City but has declined it in favor of joining the family feed business in Schenectady. She’s less than thrilled, but when she dares to suggest that she enjoys being the wife of a federal agent, he accuses her of undue vanity. She says he’s doing God’s work, he says that, if that’s the case, God needs to send him a sign. I expect we’ll be seeing that sign by episode’s end.
The meeting between Nucky, Torrio, and Rothstein starts off tense, but Nucky begins to see reason, no doubt considering the possible benefits of a relationship with Rothstein. Jimmy, however, is less than thrilled at the prospect, though he’s shut down the instant he dares to offer a dissenting opinion. Within moments, Nucky has made his offer, and after tacking on the information that he’s pals with the state’s attorney in Chicago, Rothstein decides it’s a deal worth doing, even with the high pricetag. What Nucky does with the information he receives from Rothstein is a masterstroke of revenge: his boys, including Richard Harrow, take down the remaining D’Alessio brothers, and – neatly tying up a bow from earlier in the season – he holds a press conference to say that they were involved with Hans Schroeder in the massacre but, now that they’ve been identified, are being “sought for questioning.” Boy, that barbershop scene was rough. Clearly, Jimmy’s the most bloodthirsty “questioner” of the bunch. Imagine how much worse he’d be with Angela if he wasn’t able to get some of his stress out via the occasional murder, eh? There’s a lot of blood on Nucky’s hands. I don’t know how much more sin the man can stand…
The look on Jimmy’s face when he sees Angela’s newly-cut hair is one of betrayal, though I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because he no longer feels that she’s even trying to put on a facade that she’s still the woman he once fell in love with. But it doesn’t matter: the Commodore has called and requested his presence, so out the door he goes…but not to see the Commodore.
Instead, he heads to Nucky’s place, where the win looks to be in, both for the Atlantic City elections and for Rothstein in Chicago. Nucky’s on cloud nine, but he’s the only Thompson brother who is. Even getting a share of Rothstein’s million-dollar payoff hasn’t done anything to make Eli less pissed at Nucky for dumping him as the chief of police. Nucky tells Eli that he has to trust that blood is thicker than water, resulting in Eli’s pointed response: “Yeah, well, why’d it have to be my blood?” Ouch. But Nucky comes through for him: moments after Bader’s election is confirmed, the new mayor kicks Halloran to the curb and gives Eli back his old position. Eli’s expression is one of befuddlement, but he doesn’t turn down the assignment. Shame about Halloran, but, hey, he stepped on Eli’s head to get the gig, so it’s only fair that he should get a kick in the balls on his way back down.
Jimmy’s drunk off his ass and talking out of turn, leading to a confrontation between him and Nucky over the circumstances that led Nucky to help raise him. Interesting how Nucky sees no immediate difference between guilt and duty. Meanwhile, Eli’s watching from the sidelines, seemingly bemused at the way his brother is being forced to deal with this awkward situation. In the end, Jimmy bolts, this time to visit the Commodore, closing by telling Nucky to stop pretending that he gives a shit.
Time for a bit of barn brack. Silly superstition though it may be, it nonetheless gives Margaret pause when she gets the rag and Nan, with her ridiculous belief that President Harding is going to invite her to live in the White House, gets the ring. We know from the historical record that Nan needn’t start packing now nor ever, but we don’t know what the future holds for Margaret…nor, obviously, does Margaret. Will her concern over this “silly superstition” worry her enough to send her back to Nucky?
Van Alden and Lucy are reunited, but as soon as Lucy said she was pregnant, the expression on Van Alden’s face made me think there was a very good chance that she wouldn’t be long for this world. I mean, he’s killed once. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t kill again, especially if he convinces himself that she’s a dirty whore who deserves to suffer God’s wrath via his hands…and, given his feelings on matters of religion (not to mention the way he looks at his Bible), that’s not likely to be hard to do. And yet when you consider that his wife isn’t happy with his change in job and she’s unable to bear him a child, the fact that this gorgeous sex machine is able to do what his wife couldn’t…well, you know, maybe this is the sign he was asking for.
Given how much alcohol Jimmy’s tossed back tonight, there’s really nothing good that can come of him continuing to drink…or, I’m guessing, of the Commodore sharing a snort with him. I was expecting him to drop dead before the end of the scene, but, no, there’s something about the possibility of revenge that proves to be a highly rejuvenating tonic. It’s pretty sad to realize that this is the first time this father and son have ever shared a drink together, but their bond grows as the Commodore spins a story which reveals a heretofore-unrealized bond between the two of them: a mutual festering anger toward Nucky Thompson. Moments later, we learn that Eli makes three. Yikes. Talk about setting up a storyline for Season 2…
The post-election celebration is underway, with entertainment provided by Eddie Cantor, he of the big ears and rather googly eyes. I got a good laugh out of the sight of Baxter walking into the festivities with Annabelle on his arm. While looking around for Chalky White and his boys, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see Margaret walk in. I half expected Annabelle to swoop in and embarrass him before Margaret could make her way over to him, but, no, they successfully reunite…in more ways than one, it appears. Guess the superstition was enough to bring her back. Will there be a happy ending for her? Maybe, maybe not…which is ultimately the most you can say for Nucky, too, given all of the glimpses we get of the goings-on happening behind his back, the repercussions of which we won’t see ’til next season.
So there you have it, folks: the conclusion of Season 1 of “Boardwalk Empire.” What did you think?