‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 2 Finale Review

Published 3 years ago by

Michael Pitt Steve Buscemi Boardwalk Empire season 2 HBO Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Finale Review

1921 has been a rough year for the characters of HBO’s period drama Boardwalk Empire. After ending season 1 on a bit of a high, season 2 has been something of a downward spiral for Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and by association, all the other factions vying for control of Atlantic City and a piece of the black market booze trade.

The ensemble drama has taken some surprising steps during the course of its second season, the most important of which has been the apparent usurping of Nucky’s power by upstart Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), through the puppet mastering of his father, Commodore Louis Kaestner (Dabney Coleman). Whether it is the lure of money and power, or the wish to see Nucky no longer seated at the head of the table, Jimmy and the Commodore have managed to assemble an impressive cadre of criminal types – many of whom, like Sheriff Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham), have come directly from Nucky’s own camp.

This betrayal by Nucky’s brother (Eli) and the young man he helped raise (Jimmy), has left Nucky against the ropes, with numerous legal charges pending against him that even the collective might of all his various contacts and favors cannot stop. So, showing he is, indeed, smarter and more dangerous than Jimmy and the Commodore give him credit for, Nucky relinquishes his role of Atlantic City treasurer and begins to flood the booze market in and around the area through his new Irish contacts – courtesy of right-hand man, Owen Slater (Charlie Cox).

While Nucky is fighting back, and refuses to take this downturn of events lightly, the confluence of circumstances has not affected him alone. As season 1 featured the building of the various characters in the world of Boardwalk Empire, season 2 has largely been about tearing them down, exploring the notion of consequence for the various acts of malfeasance and lack of contrition enacted by nearly every major player in the series.

This notion was made abundantly clear in the penultimate episode of season 2: ‘Under God’s Power She Flourishes’. Following the death of his wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino) at the hands of Manny Horvitz (William Forsythe), Jimmy recalls the succession of events that led to the couple’s son, Tommy, and the disturbing incestuous turn that led him to give up the promise of a Princeton education to join the war. Despite the horrors he witnessed overseas, Jimmy’s Oedipal transgression remained unfinished — that is, until Jimmy killed his father after nearly strangling his mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol).

While those events were no doubt meant to shock, they also served to explore just how far Boardwalk Empire would go to seek punishment for its major characters. And no one is more cognizant of this than Margaret (Kelly Macdonald), who is convinced that her relationship with Nucky and tryst with Owen has led god to send punishment by way of Polio – leaving her daughter Emily without the use of her legs.

Micheal Cumpsty Kelly Macdonald Boardwalk Empire season 2 HBO Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Finale Review

Now, with the threat of Nucky’s trial looming, Jimmy finds himself in the precarious position of seeking to make amends with the man he betrayed. Meanwhile, Margaret, in search of penance, is asked to weigh an offer from prosecutor Esther Randolph (Julianne Nicholson, The Amazing Spider-Man), which could spell doom for Nucky. Given the events of the last two episodes, the finale ‘To the Lost’ had a lot to live up to, and it dutifully and eloquently delivered the end to what has been a masterful season.


Coming full circle, the finale opens with Jimmy and Richard rounding up the Klansmen responsible for shooting up the warehouse run by Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams). Utilizing Chalky’s relationship with Nucky to arrange a meeting, Jimmy offers to pull Nucky out of the proverbial noose he put him in – basically admitting he no longer wants, or was never fit, to lead.

Later, as Nucky tends to Margaret’s sympathetic nature, asking that she help save his life by marrying him (so she cannot be compelled to testify), Jimmy and Richard secure a confession from the newly appointed treasurer of Atlantic City, shortly before making his death look like a suicide.

Perhaps putting the well-being of her children first, Margaret agrees to the marriage. That, coupled with the forced confession/suicide note effectively forces a mistrial in the case against Nucky – which also sets Eli free, but sends traitorous Deputy Halloran to prison for murder.

Having tied up nearly every loose end, Nucky confronts Eli about his role in the assassination attempt that left a hole in Nucky’s right hand. The two agree that Eli’s confession and subsequent jail time for the murder Nucky had been charged with, will be penance enough for the betrayal of his brother.

Michael Pitt William Forsythe Boardwalk Empire season 2 HBO Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Finale Review

Later, Jimmy meets with Nucky, Owen and a seemingly captive Manny Horvitz to apparently seek vengeance for Angela’s murder. Despite the duplicity, Jimmy is not caught unaware (having come unarmed and excusing Richard from joining him), and stares down the barrel of Nucky’s gun while explaining his death means nothing – he died years ago in trenches.

Nucky responds with a bullet, saying, “You don’t know me, James. You never did. I am not seeking forgiveness.” 

After the season premiere, it was obvious that the characters would be in for a tumultuous period. And as Boardwalk Empire brings its second season to a close with such a dark exploration of guilt and consequence, it is Nucky’s refusal to repent, while others wallow in attrition, that oddly steadies the series’ aim at the future.

Michael Pitt’s Jimmy was not only a major character in the show, but also, largely because of the talent in Pitt’s performance, proved to be one of, if not the most, interesting character in season 2. To do away with him is not only a bold and shocking way to end the season, it also points to the strengths of Terence Winter and his writers, and their belief in the material that no change is too big for them to handle.

Boardwalk Empire returns to HBO with season 3 in the fall of 2012.

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  1. I do agree jimmy’s death was a true shock even though the thought occurred to me over and over as i watched it but at least Nucky got screwed over in the end with the land deed going to the church.

    hope i can enjoy it without jimmy

  2. still can’t believed they killed jimmy. i’m curious as to how season 3 will play out without him.

    • It won’t be playing out in my house :)

      • haha!

  3. Just wow and the finale I don’t even have eloquent words to describe how shocking it was that it ended in the way that it did.

    Jimmy was a very interesting character this season and I actually really started liking him almost more than Nucky. It’s a shame to see what happens to him, but will lead to a very interesting third season.

    While I’m disappointed to lose and interesting character that I truly enjoyed it also leaves me more excited for next season to see how they handle it.

  4. Bummer. I was pretty much drawn by seeing what psycho stuff Jimmy D. would do every week. I wanted Manny Horowitz to get it…bad.

    • Ditto!

    • The psycho stuff made me suspect this was coming and I have been so worried, saying outloud, “If you kill him, I’m gonna have to stop watching, so you’d better not.”

      • That’s exactly what I was thinking! I’m still not sure if I’m gonna watch the next season cause after he died I kinda didn’t want to even finish the episode.

  5. Fabulous scene cut between Esther Randolph getting dressed in front of the mirror and reciting her charges against Nucky and Nucky and Margaret taking their marriage vows.

    Not clear as to Nucky’s motivation in offing Jimmy. Jimmy had taken himself out of contention, had saved Nucky’s bacon, and apologized. Nucky knew it was Eli who had ordered the shooting, and Jimmy certainly wasn’t the only person to double cross Nucky. Any thoughts on this appreciated.

    Also out of character for Nucky to do it with four witnesses!

    • Nucky’s motivation was to show two things to everyone that worked with him. One is to never double-cross him, two is to show that he trusts them. By killing Jimmy in front of them, he basically told them that “we are all in this together.”.

    • Not only was it a brilliant sequence with Nucky but channels the epic climax of the Godfather, when Michael was at the church as the Godfather of Connie’s baby while the heads of the five families were murdered. It’s a nice subtle tribute to that masterpiece of a film.

      Also by not bringing Richard along on his vendetta, and not saying a word to his mother or son as he left like he had normally done Jimmy himself knew he was walking to his own end. Why else would he not have brought a weapon, he was at peace with everything now. He made the biggest mistake of his life and now he was ready to atone for it. The only thing he wanted in return was Nucky’s forgiveness which was not gonna happen.

    • Exactly! I just can’t stand it that Jimmy was killed off. My enthusiasm for this show just dwindled. sigh

    • I agree he saved him only to be killed made no sense to me, they lost me as a viewer.. wha ta crock…

      • For Nucky it all came down to who to believe that ordered the hit on him, after he confronted his brother about it and how he could use this situation to his advantage.

  6. When you have a “golden” character as well as actor like MIchael Pitt as jimmy it is the height of hubris to rationalize your courage to kill him off! Lots of luck with that! Can steve fill that description? Can you find and develop another actor of Pitt’s compelling presence? I know you can’t What idiots they needed to praise themselves at the expense of such raw talent.

    I think they will regret their choice, Pitt will go on to light up the screen somewhere else BE will be a second clas show.

    • I applaud your comment! Why take out Jimmy? Idiots, indeed.

  7. I always thought Jimmy would be a character above getting killed off. So I’m pretty surprised.
    I think the true surprise though is Margret signing Nucky’s land over to the church. Great Season and Finale.

    • What this shows is no character whether they be on of the starring secondary characters or part of the main cast is safe from death. This opens up the story for better or worse to alot more tension and great plotting, like the Sopranos or they’ll just kill everybody off but Nucky and that will effectively end the show, like some other show *cough* Supernatural *cough*. Unlike the networks HBO’s programming has yet to ferature a series that suffered from bad writing, or plotting. The Wire, Oz, Sopranos, Deadwood, Carnivale, Entourage (well the first two or three seasons anyway), Curb your Enthusiasm, Rome, Game of Thrones, and even True Blood has some amazing writing. So there’s hope for Boardwalk Empire.

      • Good, then they should have killed off Nucky. He is so homely I sometimes have to look away from the screen!

  8. That really stinks that Jimmy D got killed my Nucky. I really liked him as the underdog. I don’t know if I will continue to watch the show next season without Jimmy

    • I love the entire show, but I watch faithfully to see Jimmy. Will not watch faithfully any longer. I will watch if I have nothing better to see.

      • If Jimmy is the only reason you watch Boardwalk, then you shouldn’t have been watching in the first place. As terrible as it is to see him go, he had to. The show loses credibility otherwise. Also, Nucky truly is the central character who isn’t expendable. Enjoy not watching one of the best shows on TV.

    • Same here.

  9. I’m very disappointed with the season 2 finale – especially after the penultimate episode where so much more about Jimmy was revealed. He was the most complex character in the series by far. What an anticlimax… Killing off Angela was already a big enough loss (also an interesting, “new type of a woman” character…), though it could be somehow justified for the story’s sake. But Jimmy’s death was completely uncalled for. Does Michael Pitt simply have other plans or the producers have no plans for him? Shame. Both seasons were very good until this point. I suddently feel I have no heart to watch the next season… but then I probably will. All the same, not a way to end or rather suspend things…

  10. I’m really disappointed that Jimmy was offed. Michael Pitt’s amazing performance as the troubled and uneasy gangster was one of the main reasons I watched the show. Margaret has become so annoying !! Maybe I just don’t buy religion as a motivator, for her acting against her own interests like that. She married Nucky… why would she suddenly doom her relationship with him by being so stupid about the deed? It’s not that she doesn’t know who he is or what he’s capable of doing.

    • I agree completely. In season 1 Margaret was shown as an intelligent outspoken woman, perhaps even with a political (feminist?) potential. Now she’s suddenly irrational – and I don’t think her daughter’s illness alone justifies this sudden change. Also, on the one hand she makes a calcuted decision to marry Nucky – and on the other hand she sabotages her children’s future like this? To punish whom exactly? The more I think of it the more mechanical the resolutions in this season’s finale seem to me. As if the writer(s) did not base them on the protagonists’ characters at all…

      • All three stepped out of character in the finale, makes you think you never knew them at all which is probably the intent.

    • Mimi, I think Margaret signed over the deed because she knows Nucky was lying to her about Jimmy, that she knows he killed James.

      She is too smart to have thought Nucky would have some great transformation because of the marriage. But killing Jimmy emphasizes that aspect of the marriage that is practical and useful to Nucky rather than his adoration of her and the family. By marrying him and not testifying she is partially responsible for the murder. Signing over the deed is atonement.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that. They ruined her character, killed of Jimmy and kept a ruthless immigrant (Manny) and loser Eli.
      what were they thinking?

    • I think it’s because she does know exactly who he is. Maybe, signing the deed over to the church, is her way of trying to change him. Removing temptation and all that. However, if she were to have been at the memorial when Nucky kills Jimmy she would have known… there is NO changing Nucks. I knew she was going to do it but I was so happy when she did. I really hate Nucky now for, if not just killing Jimmy, not forgiving him in the end even if he would have still killed him.

  11. Jimmy was the most complex character in Boardwalk Empire, and Michael Pitt is certainly one of the finest actors on the show. At this point, I’m not sure if there will be any fallout from Jimmy’s death. His wife is gone. His mother isn’t the leader type. What other stories can be told of Jimmy’s mother and son? Not much it seems. Will Richard Harrow finally step up and take over Jimmy’s place? That doesn’t seem likely. I’m waiting for the newly married Margaret Thompson to make her own power play, but she keeps screwing that up by send the church all of her money and power! It would be a waste to see her character simply offed by Nucky in the next season. I hope they don’t go down that route.

  12. What happens to Richard? I think he was the one of the most, if not the most interesting character on the show. I hope he continues to be there and at least kills Manny Horowitz.

    • Richard can’t function on his own in this show. He needed Jimmy. I’d like to see Richard kill Nucky, maybe scalp him? After all, this shows they can kill off anyone, right?

    • I hope Rich gets manny too. I believe he will because Richard was close to Angela as the only female who would talk to him, and he shed a tear when he saw the bloodstains where she died. He knew Jimmy was going to meet Manny, and with Jimmy dead, Harrow is coming to get revenge for his only friends.

  13. I was pretty upset after seeing what happened to Jimmy and had to rewatch a couple of times to actually come up with reasons for his death. Truth is, his character was very broken after what happened with Angela, the Commodore, and even his mother and it would have taken a lot of time to fix that. Not to say I wouldn’t want to see more of him, he was my favorite on the show. The writers easily had his arc planned out in advance and really couldn’t go back on it.

    I rationalize what happened by realizing that it leaves room for my other two favorite characters Richard Harrow and Owen Slater to grow. Owen is still messing around with Margaret it would seem, which won’t be a fun reveal for Nucky. Especially with Margaret and him being at odds next season. As for Richard, it was sort of teased near Season 2’s start that something would happen between Owen and Richard and despite Jimmy asking Richard, “To come back home.” there may be a bit of a quarrel.

  14. Killing Jimmy took the heart out of the story for me and rendered Nucky dark and ugly. Two characters died in that rainy scene. What is the point after this. It’s only fiction and I have to have a reason to turn the page. Well, now Nucky is a Pyscho, James and Angela are dead, Margaret is trying to buy her way into heaven, so what. Payment for big end of season shock; one very good, complex and non-standard story. What’s left? Someone will have to tell me because I don’t like being manipulated. Anyway, I thought Nucky was smart!

    • I agree, he choose killing Jimmy over a slimeball that killed two defensless women. Before you had to kind of root for Nucky, but now that is all gone, doubt I will beven watch next season. Maybe I would have been ok if Manny had die first, but now…they lost me.

      • You are right. Nucky is now irredeemable. Ugly through and through.

  15. The death of Jimmy was a jaw-dropping moment to say the least.
    I so wanted Manny to get whacked and it looked like Jimmy
    was prepared to do just after Nucky set the meeting.

    It looked that way with one telling exception.
    Jimmy arrives unarmed. Why? He knew what it
    was about despite pretenses and felt it inevitable.

    Jimmy felt it was justice for all he had done and
    his death just an epilogue to a life already dead.

  16. It was a great episode and i believe this was the best show of the fall season…Jimmy was probably my favorite character so it will be hard to adjust but i don’t agree with people who think the show won’t get over the loss of the character. There is still the matter of how richard (a similarly crazy character) will handle the loss of his friend, the fallout of margaret’s decision with the land grant,agent van alden’s life on the run, and of course the gradual rise of power for al capone in chicago and how that affects nucky.

  17. you could tell jimmy knew it was his time when he asked harrow to stay, and the fact that he didn’t even have so much as his trench knife which he always carries around. Jimmy was my favorite character on the show and it’s gonna be hard to watch the third season unless harrow gets a larger role

  18. As surprising as Jimmy’s death was, no death was as shocking as Russell “Stringer” Bell, played by Idris Elba on HBO’s The Wire.

  19. Will not watch anymore. Pitt was the best actor in the show.

    • me too.


  21. I am done with this show. The writers destroyed all that was good about the show. Jimmy was a complex and interesting character, what a waste to end him so soon. But what the writers did to Nucky was even worse…the made Nucky into a person without any worth. I don’t want to watch a stoy about a character completely evil…a person capable of killing someone who was practically their child. The writers miscalculated…..this show is as dead as Jimmy.

    • I completely agree. Why would anyone watch a show about a man like Nucky?

      • Because he’s interesting and complicated.

        • No, he is unattractive and soulless and I hope to see him die a slow ad agonizing death very soon at Richards hands.

          I’ll tell you something else, Nucky is an adulterer because his wife is alive in an asylum! He is the most horrible person on tv. I include Sean Hannity!

          • Yes because a man who would throw someone of a balcony, because they annoyed him, was too cowardly to stand up to the men who wanted to kill the only man who has ever truly cared for him. And abandoned his ‘fiance’ and unborn child, is such a model citizen.

            While i’m sad Jimmy is dead, i’m not going to throw the baby out with the bath water and proclaim that the show is dead because they’ve killed of a character. Most of the people here saying they won’t watch the show anymore, where watching it before Jimmy became a central part of the plot and they’ll likely watch it after.

            Me. I’m watching this show because of the fantastic writing and compelling acting especially by Steve Buscemi and Michael Williams. Which is why i’m eagerly awaiting season 3.

      • Um, Tony Soprano?

  22. Great finale! was a shocker to see Jimmy get offed – but if you watch ot again, when he gets the call from Nucky, he seems like he knows what may happen to him. he glances at his son playing with his mother then quickly makes an exit. he also tell Richard that he needs to do this on his own.

    also, i can’t wait to see what happens when Richard Harrow finds out what happen to Jimmy.

  23. Last night I came to believe that Scorsese always has his hand in projects that twist an every man into someone I can relate to and also hate. And it’s even more true in this show, despite him not being the biggest piece of it.

    Imagine if Al Pacino was just a little bit more vindictive and cold than he was in Casino. That’s Nucky Thompson. Imagine if Ray Liotta made a few different decisions for the worse in Good Fellas. That’s Nucky Thompson. I could go on, but you see the point. He has no humanity like those characters; probably because television is a little more cut loose of an environment.

    I again liked Michael Pitt, but I can’t see why everyone would stop watching the show just because he’s not in it anymore. It’s going to be great to see season 3 be a complete 180 for the show. This season was all about the cast reconciling with themselves and even with Nucky after they decided they liked him. Now that everyone’s has no real reason to like him anymore, he’s out of cuffs, and the creators have made us hate him just like the rest of the cast they can basically do what they want to everybody on the show for better or worse. It’s going to be great.

    • I agree with your comment 100%.

      I loved Pitt and I loved his character and hated to see him go. But the no-holds barred environment that the death of this character affords the next season should make for some exciting viewing. Anyone who misses it, deserves to :)

      • Enjoy it, you won’t get a 4th season.Ratings were already down. You think losing the Jimmy fanbase will improve them?

    • I also agree. Honestly myself I really couldn’t see Jimmy lasting much longer on the show anyway he alienated himself from all the other characters, he tried to kill Nucky, pushed away his wife, suffered from the rape by his own mother, plus hekilled his own father, to me there’s nothing left for Jimmy to keep him interesting. If Nucky had chosen to forgive him and he was welcomed back with open arms that would have been lazy writing, and out of character for Nucky.

      Also I happen to believe with Jimmy gone that leads room for expansion on Gretchen Mol and Jack huston’s characters. Now Gillian can finally be a mother to her grandson, and Jack’s role as Richard can now be expanded upon, there’s so much possibility for the show.

      • As I said, losing the Jimmy fanbase cannot help a shows who’s ratings were already in free-fall.

      • Are we sure Gillian and Richard will even come back in season three? I have a feeling in season three they may not even mention them. Since Jimmy is gone they may feel Gillian and Richard is not important to the story anymore. They may try to make us excited about some new characters and hope we forget about them. I’m giving them one chance and one chance only next season to spark my interest after killing off Jimmy. If it doesn’t happen in the first episode in season three. I’m done with BE.

    • Just a little fun fact that I’m not sure if you’re aware of or not, Al Pacino did not star in Casino nor did he even appear in it. It was in fact Robert De Niro in the lead of Casino.

      • Haha, I’m sorry! I wasn’t paying attention to what I was typing. The Godfather was on while I was responding and I was pretty fully engaged.

    • Pacino wasn’t in Casino. Your remark loses all credibility with me.

  24. I have already cancelled my HBO and told them why.
    Jimmy was the Point of View charcter in this show. The one you rooted for and watched as he learned hard lessons ad only a young man can. Many viewers were invested in him. This isn’t a soap or a ditsy vampire show where they can bring him back. Without the character you were invested in , the show ceases to have relevance, capice?

  25. The same people that are mad about Jimmy dying are the same that said they would stop watching “Game of Thrones” after you know who died. Can’t wait for season 3 of GoT and see people flip at the Red Wedding!

    • I watched 3 episodes of Game of Thrones before I threw it under the bus. Wrong again!

      • That doesn’t make sense.

        If you gave up after episode 3, then that means you didn’t claim to be done with the show because of the death of ‘you know who’ in episode 8 i believe it was. Making your point void, and acslaterson right. So in fact it’s you who are wrong.

  26. Personally I viewed Jimmy as the main character of this show, especially this season. When that bullet entered his skull in my eyes it was as if the show was being shot and killed. Very happy to see karma come back and bite Nucky in the butt though, serves him right. Needless to say I won’t be tuning in for season 3.

    • We have that in common!

  27. Think of it this way – We know Nucky would never forgive Jimmy so do we want to watch a groveling Jimmy for the rest of the series – of course not! Jimmy was a great character but he was one-dimensional. Michael Pitt was great, but Nucky is the person that Boardwalk Empire is about – even if he isn’t the most compelling character week in and week out. The writers of BE are talented enough to pull in another character and work him into that role. They wrote the Sopranos….I think that keeping us off guard is exactly what it’s about. We still have Richard, Capone, Luciano, Lansky, Rothstein, Gillian, Chalky, Margaret, Owen…..this show just shows that nobody is safe in Atlantic City.

    • But Nucky forgives Eli? Jimmy was the most well rounded main character on the show. And, I’m sorry if it’s shallow but I can hardly stand to look at Nucky sometimes. He is ill-cast IMO, because people judge by appearance , and that is one ugly mofo.

  28. This makes me wondering what is going to happen richard. His character is one of my favorites. That 5 seconds where they held the gun to the guys head and then richard put the gun in his mouth and said “a suicide note” was the best of the whole episode to me except the shooting jimmy scene. I dont know how they are planning on keeping this going very strong. Unless they introduce a new local villan. That was the whole thing with jimmy is that he was in Nucky’s town. Its not that it left any big cliffhangers other than who will they bring into the series. I wanted eli to get shot. I personally am annoyed with Manny. He was funny at first but now he is just abit of a drunken blah to me.

  29. So I’m not watching Season 3 and I’m definitely going to stop recommending the show to everyone I meet. So angry.