Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Review & Discussion

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Boardwalk Empire season 1 finale review and discussion Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Review & Discussion

Much in the same way as the death-focused drama series Six Feet Under, HBO greenlit Boardwalk Empire season 2 pretty much straight away – a no-brainer considering the premiere drew 4.8 million viewers, the highest number for an HBO pilot since Deadwood back in 2004.

Boardwalk Empirelike most of the shows HBO churns out – is aimed at a patient audience… those who want to spend time engrossed in the world the show offers and don’t necessarily need “crash bang wallop” moments to be entertained (although that’s not to say Empire doesn’t have plenty of those as well).

The season one finale of Empire, entitled “A Return To Normalcy,” certainly delivered more of the excellence the show has been putting on display all season, wrapping up most of the threads left dangling throughout – while still leaving doors opened and questions unanswered for the second season to come.

“A Return To Normalcy” Review (Contains SPOILERS)

Boardwalk Empire finale review Jimmy and Nucky Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Review & Discussion

It is always the hope that the culminating episode of a TV series’ season will be one that gives you everything the show’s got – putting everything important on the table, and perhaps¬† providing those shocking moments that make for excitement-fueled “did you see that?!” discussions around the water cooler the next day. However, this finale was not the season’s best episode – that honor would have to go to the penultimate episode, “Paris Green.”

Having said that, “A Return To Normalcy” was still a very solid episode that managed to tie up a lot of stuff that’s littered the first season plot. Arguably the biggest of these was the seemingly impending war between Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). Some fans of the show may have been disappointed that a full-scale war was ultimately avoided because of a deal struck between Nucky and Rothstein, particularly those fans who came to the show with a passion for The Sopranos, HBO’s most successful (not to mention one of the its most violent) shows. Empire has certainly had its fair share of violence over this past season, and maybe to some that has been a promise of more bloodshed to come in the finale. But alas business won out over violence (see, the two don’t always have to go hand-in-hand!), as Nucky and Rothstein reached an agreement that, “this war ends here,” although nothing’s to say that more… disagreements won’t occur in the future.

Boardwalk Empire finale review Nucky and Rothstein deal Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Review & Discussion

As part of the the Nucky-Rothstein deal, Nucky agreed to use his political powers (read: contacts) to stop an impending indictment of Rothstein over his “fixing” of the 1919 World Series. In return, Nucky demanded $1 million in cash (that’s over $12 million in today’s money!) and the location of the remaining D’Alessio brothers, whom he subsequently blamed for the robbery of Rothstein’s shipment (as seen in the first episode of the season) – while at the same time having them killed: Jimmy, Al Capone and Richard Harrow stepped in get rid of each of the brothers.

Although introduced quite late in the season, the awkward relationship between Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) and his father has been very fascinating to watch and one of the better character/plot points brought into the show. I’m very curious to see where that relationship goes in the future, that is if Jimmy’s father doesn’t die after being poisoned by his maid.

Speaking of which, we discovered only in this last episode of the season that it was the maid who was poisoning Jimmy’s father after all. And I can’t be the only one who was actually relieved considering that Jimmy’s suspicion seemed to turn dangerously to his mother last episode. Of course Jimmy’s father demanded the maid be arrested, but Nucky stepped in to save her day by not only letting her go but giving her money with which to make her disappearance. “He’s got an odd sense of justice,” Jimmy casually remarked to his father about good ‘ol Nucky not long before Nucky’s brother, the newly re-appointed Sheriff Eli Thompson, walked in to discuss something with Jimmy and his father.¬†That “something” (as we can presume from the remark Jimmy’s father made to him) was for Jimmy to, “take back the city,” from Nucky. “How is that supposed to work?” inquired Jimmy – but I guess we’ll have to wait until next season to find that out exactly.

Boardwalk Empire finale review Jimmy Darmody Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Review & Discussion

As has become a trademark of Empire over this season, the finale had many-a-memorable moment – but probably the best to be found in this particular episode was the conversation between Nucky and Margaret Schroeder (Kelly McDonald), who were together until a heated argument caused their split last episode. Nucky has displayed a more sensitive side than a lot of the men he chooses to surround himself with, but it his revelation of what happened to his wife and son some years prior that truly made him a character with whom we could empathize. We found out that Nucky’s son only lived a few days before passing away and yet his wife refused to accept it, even continuing to look after him after he had died. Nucky’s son was buried but his wife still couldn’t handle it, so she slit her wrists with Nucky’s own razor a few days weeks later. Although hurt by the way Nucky has treated her, this revelation has obviously warmed her to him once again and by episode’s end she decided to stay with him.

One of the show’s most interesting characters has been that of Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). After providing us with a few of the show’s most memorable moments so far (the self-flagellation, the killing of his Jewish partner after trying to baptize him, that sex scene), there was a threat of him leaving Atlantic City as, according to him, there was nothing left for him there. However, like an anchor thrown into the water, he is presumably going to be weighed down to Atlantic City with the fact that the woman he had an affair with, Lucy Danziger (formerly a “lady friend” of Nucky’s), is pregnant with his child. With him being a man of faith I am curious to see his reaction to this news not just because the woman bearing his child is not his wife but also (as we learned earlier in the season) his wife is not able to have children. That’ll be that sign from God Van Alden demanded lest he leave the city, eh?

Boardwalk Empire finale review Agent Van Alden Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Review & Discussion

Although it was arguably the “safe” option to end Empire‘s first season with the election results (of both the Atlantic City Mayor and the next U.S. President) it certainly allowed for a definitive ending stamp to be put on the season as a whole. Edward Bader was, after all, elected the new Mayor of the city and Warren G. Harding was elected the 29th President of the United States. The title of the episode. “A Return To Normalcy,” refers to Harding’s campaign promise but is that really an apt description for most of Empire’s characters? As we have left them at the end of this initial season, many characters are certainly trying to return to some sort of normalcy – whether that be Jimmy and his wife trying to get back to the happier times they had before Jimmy went off to war, or Nucky and Margaret reconciling. But as a whole things certainly aren’t perfect for any of the characters, and I thoroughly look forward to what’s in store for them and us in season 2.

As a whole Boardwalk Empire is not only one of the best new shows to appear on TV in 2010, but also one of the best things on TV right now in general. When that peculiar and alluring opening title sequence comes on every week I have the same sort of feeling I had with The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire and most of those other phenomenal shows HBO has put out over the last decade or so. With only one season come and gone it’s probably a bit early to tell if Empire will have the same classic status as those TV shows, but as it stands, with its cast of well written characters, compelling and complex storylines and attention-grabbing aesthetics, I see no reason to doubt the show.

Boardwalk Empire season finale review and discussion Boardwalk Empire Season Finale Review & Discussion

Did the season finale of Boardwalk Empire tie up enough loose ends for you while still keeping you interested in what’s to come? What about the first season as a whole?

You can expect season 2 of Boardwalk Empire to air in the Fall of 2011.

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  1. Can’t wait for next season. The arch between the commador and Bucky is going to be sweet. Buchemi’s performance in this episode was great, one a seasoned actor could only pull off. Loved it and can’t wait.

  2. If you are looking a good Criminal Justice degree I strongly recommend “United Forensic College” there you can get the best training to solve crimes.

  3. I also find Van Alder to be a very interesting character, that death by baptism was just crazy (also reminded me of O’ Brother Where Art Thou). Was glad to see margret and Bucky reconcile (sort of).

    Did Harrow get fired?

    • Yes that was indeed a crazy moment with the baptism. As far as Harrow goes, why would he get fired? I’m pretty sure he’s proven himself an asset to Nucky, although I’m not sure if Harrow would choose to stick with Jimmy when it comes down to it.

      • I’ll have to watch the episode again, but I swear when Jimmy was calling out Nucky on his mom and Bucky at the end Bucky said” I’m sorry Harrow didn’t work out.” Though Margaret started to warm up to him, and now that she’s back with Nick I hope they don’t just leave him out. He’s a really neat character. The episode where the kids find him sleeping with the mask off and started crying was just an emotional scene. You could just feel his pain.

        Either way I am hooked on this show like crack, and I can’t wait for what they havwplanned for season two.

        • Meant Nucky not bucky. Darn typos!

        • Like you I will have to watch the episode again. I rally hope they don’t push him to the sidelines either, he is such a great character. I had forgotten about that scene but you’re right – when the kids find him and are terrified it just hits you hard. He barely does anything but you can see how hurt he is.

          Perhaps Harrow’s loyalty will lie with Jimmy and he will be instrumental, so to speak, in helping Jimmy “take back the city” from Nucky(?)

          • Yeah I’m very curious as to how Jimmy and Nuck’s brother plan on doing that. Nucky is extremely smart and well spoken (in that I will condescending, seasoned way). But this episode really showed his soft side. But on the other hand if he has Chalky on his back then there might be some real blood shed in seasons to come.

            Anyone else notice that Margret, Nucky and Rothstein are all played by actors/actress that have been in Best Picture Nominated and one won Coen Brothers Films (my personal favorite film makers)?

        • I just rewatched that scene where Nucky and Jimmy talk – he didn’t say Harrow he said Halloran – “Halloran wasn’t working out,” in reference to replacing him as Sheriff with Eli. So I GUESS Harrow still works for Nucky although, as I said, his loyalty may ultimately lie with Jimmy.

    • I’m not sure when it’s going to air over here in the UK and on which channel. Something tells me FX might buy it, they have Dexter and True Blood after all.

  4. This show has been moved into my favorites list. I didn’t miss an episode and was really impressed by a lot of the show. The number one thing that stands out is Buchemi. That man is awesome in any role he is placed in. The supporting cast was just a bonus as far as I am concerned. Except Van Alden. That man took creepy to a whole new level. Awesome show. I can’t wait until next season.

  5. Boardwalk Empire & The Walking Dead are definitely the two BEST shows on TV right now. Both finales for each show proved that. They both had phenomenal 1st Seasons. Cant wait till Seasons 2!

  6. What I found extremely compelling at the end were the expressions on the faces of Margaret and Nucky as they stood together on the Boardwalk. At first they seemed happy to be back together (although we know that Margaret is back for less than altruistic reasons), but then they look away from each other and Nucky seems to be wondering what he is getting into (which goes back to the conversation he had with Eli) and Margaret looks almost morose. Of all the comments I have read about this series, most seem to assume Margaret’s innocence and its decline as her relationship with Nucky progresses. I do not think that she is quite as innocent and idealistic as everyone assumes. Her past would be interesting to discover. It has only been hinted at.

    • That’s interesting what you said about Margaret’s past possibly stillto be delved into a lot more, I have a feeling that we’ll find out some perhaps very unattractive things about her past next season. Kelly McDonald gives SUCH an amazing performance as Margaret, she gets across so much to the audience in a way that seems effortless.

  7. Jim, your commentary was right on and hilarious. I tried to like this show, but it sucks. I watched eight episodes which was eight episodes too many. Today, I erased the final four episodes from my DVR. This show wasted too much of my time.

    • De gustibus non disputandum est

  8. This show is AWESOME. Slowly but surely over the season I realized my favorite character has to be Van Alden. Seeing him all season promote and exude hardcore by the book christian morals and then give in to sin drinking whiskey. You could easily see the defeated man crumbling! And then in the fettle position after sex! I had a feeling around episode 4 or so that Van Alden was the dark horse favorite character and I was right.

  9. You are all forgetting the best part. Nucky is getting Rothstein out of the deal with the world series, but Rothstein just again made money off of Nucky…he took like insurance policies out on the brothers from New Jersey!

  10. i love boardwalk empire, but i cant believe i have to wait nearly a year for season 2 to go out.

  11. Two thumbs up!! Boardwalk Empire is phenominal! Could not have been casted better! Just wish season two started sooner!! My favorite, by far!

  12. I fell in love with this show! Cannot imagine that I have to wait for so long to the next fall to see the season 2…. And the same with the Walking Dead. Now I think I was right having opened The Sopranos for myself only this summer and have watched all 6 seasons after all! I can hardly wait to see the continuance of the struggle between both smart and incredibly charismatic characters – Nucky and Jimmy.

  13. Boardwalk Empire is my all time favorite series.. This caught my attention at the first scene… I am hooked.. Can’t wait for season 2…

  14. It’s Nucky not Bucky. His realy name is Enoch (noch, nuck, nucky). got it?!

  15. Why is HBO waiting until the fall for the next episode. I am so engrossed and have turned many on to this show. I like the old days, when the show played the whole school year and then you watched the reruns in the summer. I am hoping for the next episode to start before fall of 2011. When is it due to start?

  16. im going to get the biggest boner from season 2

  17. Wait for until Fall 2011. It’s too long time

  18. Im really looking forward to the future of this show. i noticed that alot of people are only conversating about the current characters on the show. what im really looking forward to is the new characters that they are going to include in the future seasons to come. there are so many legends of that time that are not yet there. dont forget, luciano, capone, and meyer lansky are right now in there younger stages on the show. those characters in the later years move up in the world and include alot of interesting characters to there arsonal. Im hoping to see characters such as “lepke Buchalter”, “Bugsy siegel”, and “Dutch Shultz” get brought into the equation. If they do include those guys it would definetly mean for an action season with alot of bloodshed due to the times that “murder inc” was around. As for season 1, I was extremely impressed with the character they created in “James Darmody”.

    • You took the words right out of my mouth!I can’t wait to see the new characters in the show because we all know the history of Al Capone in Chicago with Frank Nitty and the crew and we all know about Lucky Luciano being head of the commission in New York.I really didn’t hear about Atlantic City corruption until this HBO show,so im excited to see the outcome.(just a thought to HBO)We all knew that Meyer Lansky wasn’t going to die in that warehouse because he’s one of the only MOBSTERS TO EVER DIE OF OLD AGE!!LOL

  19. I love this season and looking forward to next. This is a great show. Hopefully it doesn’t lose its creativity and this will last a long time to come.


  21. Geek that i am, i can’t help noticing that NO ONE has noticed that Van Alden’s VV-80 Victrola is NOT. My guess is that is a VV-120, a much more expensive model. Both were introduced in 1921, and the VV-80 was the “budget” model selling for $100 at the time.

    I have one of these, and it is a very simple unit – no frills cabinet, no lock, limited finish options. The one used on the show has a locking cabinet, which was available on the VV-100, 110, 120 & 130, ranging in price from $150-350. Keep in mind that $100 was equivalent to about $1000 in today’s dollars.

    Without a picutre of the actual victrola they use in the show, however it is hard to tell which model it actually is, but i can say with certainty it is not a VV-80!

    Considering the attention to detail in this series, I thought this was an interesting error. I couldn’t help but point it out.

    I love this series!

    • I hated the way season 2 ended with Jimmy getting killed. I won’t watch any more of it next season. He was the reason I watched it.

      • I ageee, Jimmy was an integral part of the whole theme and a character that drew you literally to the series. Michael was an effective, intense and convincing. Cannot imagine what the writers where thinking, a huge disappointment

  22. I hope that when the time comes, will fit the Boss Mafioso most powerful of New York, namely Dutch Schultz (the only mob boss Jewish, independent of the Italian mafia), which for 12 years has checkmated the Italian mafia, the to be called “The King of New York.” In 2010 the ‘F.B.I. called the Dutchman as the most ruthless Boss, the richest and most powerful in the history of Mafia Boss. When telling these stories of the Mafia, to the cinema or on television: Do not ever tell the good and 100% true, but only tell the truth to 30%.

  23. I am just now watching Boardwalk Empire for the first time. Who was the source who told Rothstein that Jimmy d. was one of the hijackers. Season 1,Rothstein says “He heard from a reliable source” that Jimmy Darmody was one of the two who gunned down Rothstein’s shipment in the woods, with Rothstein’s sister’s son/relative surviving. Could it have been VanAlden’s assistant?