‘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. All this raw emotion from all the viewers, positive or negative just adds to the brilliant idea of offing jimmy. I loved that character and really hated to see him go but at the same time had no purpose moving forward, in relation to the main plot. By far best actor in the show… and i could not see any other actor do a better job at portraying such an original kind of ‘take’ on being a gangster.

    • The rating for this show were already falling. What do you really yhink is going to happen now?

      • Stravu the ratings are not falling. The ratings fell once and have stayed steady since. The season 2 premiere was bellow the season 1 premier but the entire second season has stayed near that mark with the second to last episode of season two being the highest rated episode of the season. Falling implies that the show is still dropping in ratings. It is not.

        What do I suspect will happen now? Honestly that the ratings will remain the same and 99% of the people crying swearing off the show will tune back in. The ending of the season was brilliant and shocking. It caught people of guard and they are upset but eventually they will get over it. Most of them at least.

        Besides not every viewer is actually counted you watching the show only matters if you are a part of the nielson family. If not than we won’t miss you.

        • 100% will tune back in

          • I think you are delusional. You underestimate a pissed off fanbase. People are dropping HBO by the dozens. You simply do not piss off at least a 3rd of your fan base if you hope to survive. BTW, my household is a nielson household. And I won’t miss looking at Steve Buschemi’s face once a week either, by then Jon Hamm will be back! :P

            • Oh so your a superficial person good to know

          • I will not, after killing jimmy and his wife I have no characters left to root for so I will not be watching any longer. As a previous fan of this show I was so disappointed, but this is what martin Scorsese movies are about departed ring a bell. However in a recurring episodic program fully developed characters are required if you keep killing them off we just have to learn a whole new set of characters but not me.

            • I agree with this reviewer. I can no longer care about Nucky when he kills his own “son” after that son has tried to make peace. Jimmy was my favorite character. No Season 3 for me.

              • I loved Jimmy. Really wanted him to take it all. And with Nucky killing him after attempts at peace, I just can’t wish anything good on him.

                • I think that it was a perfect way to make Nucky a bad guy. Through the whole show he does bad things but you still want him to get out of it and succeed. By killing Jimmy and really showing no thoughts of change, you can now transition Nucky into the role of the bad guy. My favorite character is Richard. I am pretty interested to see what they do with him now.

    • I agree, as much as i loved Jimmy, I felt if he didnt die then the entire season would have seemed flawed.
      Nucky be all “yeah I know you tried to have me killed, but ya didnt, so all is well ya little scallywag”
      God dam Capone and his second rate hitman, still though looking forward to the rise of capone, time to shine some light on the bigger players.

      Now if that poor we me Margaret would die……..

      • By all means, kill off every attractive person on the show, let’s just have a bunch of ugly , old guys! You seem to like the concept.

        • If eye candy is your big hang up then by all means…Got to the usual prime time line up where every woman is hot and every guy is a no nonsense stud…..Or as it should be called…..”Welcome to Fantasy Island.” If you’re so hung up on looks, then you must miss the point of many series and movies. Boardwalk was an intense drama with an exellent cast, crew, and director……If you fail to see the beauty in that……Then….You’ll really never get it no matter what they do…So you’re right to never check it out again…..I guess that makes it 99.99% that will check it out when it returns…..

      • I foresee margrett gettin offed or the god preacher will find hells wrath when nucky comes for the land deed

  2. If they followed the book as written this would be an interesting, but not very exciting story. The book really deals far more with the crooked politics than the bootlegging. The book also follows Alantic City through the decades. Perhaps this ended the way it did so they can move on to another decade….There’s still a lot of corruption all the way around. Maybe the goal is to have a series that follows the corruption up to today by say season seven or so…..Hell…With such short seasons it could go on for a long time

  3. Jimmy was deteriorating weekly; suicide by drips and drabs. His character was interesting, but doomed. What really changed in the last show was the characterization of Nucky — cold blooded killer. One of the great things about Nucky’s character was that the viewer could root for him while not wanting Jimmy to come to harm but knowing that something had to give–this is not a Hollywood story which has to have a happy ending. Nucky’s character is still complex, but hard to find much of redeeming quality.

    Still many interesting and complex people, Nelson Van Alden comes to mind. Did he randomly pick Cicero, IL (eventually Al Capone’s ‘capital’) to move to? The characterizations and actors are wonderful: Chalky White, Evan, Margaret, Richard,and others who will develop further. This is a series to continue watching!

    • Well put. It really was a slow loss of “life” for Jimmy as he was already dead. Jimmy was obviously the best character and my personal favorite too but people who are hating have to realize that he had to die. It was all that was left for him. His wife dead, his MOTHER (god that scene was awful), and then killing his father. It’s not like he could actually be a real father to his son either so nothing left to hold on to. I’m actually kind of relieved for Jimmy as he had hit bottom with no real road to redemption. In the end this will be bigger for Nucky then it ever was for Jimmy. He’ll find out sooner rather then later that he just couldn’t admit that he was looking for forgiveness. With his murder of Jimmy I think he just started his “after-life” and will realize that moment was him dying in the trenches.

    • I’m telling you, one more season.

  4. Great way to end the season. Terrence Winters and his writing crew are daring and talented. They brought a satisfying conclusion to an intense story line developed in seasons 1 and 2, yet they left us wanting to see more. “Boardwalk” is clearly the winner between my two favorites this fall season, with the other being “The Walking Dead.” In TWD, seriously, executive producer Robert Kirkman (and also the author of the best selling comic series upon which the TV series is based) has a very compelling (although unoriginal) premise for a series: survivors trying to make it during the zombie apocalypse. However, I don’t think Kirkman really knows what to do with the story anymore. The story now sucks, nothing is progressing, and because of the lack of talent among the show’s writers, AMC has resorted to the bag of tricks used in the 60′s and 70′s: end every mediocre-at-best episode with some sort of question in order to get viewers to tune in next week.

    Anyway, regarding a good show, some story lines to speculate on for season 3:

    Margaret feeling that she’s trapped in a life of sin with a man whom she knows is a criminal and not sexually attracted to;

    The ascension in to power of Al Capone and Meyer Lansky;

    and will prosecutor Esther Randolph get Nucky on tax evasion charges? (tax evasion, by the way, was the downfall of the real life Nucky Thompson, as well as Al Capone).

    Will Jimmy’s mother and his half face hit man and war brethren still be around in season 3?


  6. I was watching this series because of Jimmy … don’t think anyone else interests me … not tunning in for season 3

  7. Wow This is like watching a bunch of boys cry in the schoolyard because somebody took their toy.

    NEWS FLASH: This is a historical fiction show – certain people have to survive for the pure sake of fulfilling their historical roles (Capone, Luciano, Rothstein, Nucky, etc…)

    Other fictional characters (Jimmy) are expendable. Just how it is.

    If you’re in a funk and want to stop watching – check you later. I’m going to watch and see what the fallout from Nucky’s evil act is going to be.

  8. I haven’t seen the finale yet (Will in a couple days) jimmy’s hot mother is still kicking right? If so then I have the feeling we’ll see her take up the slack and kick some butt….or rather set it up so others will kick butt for her…..I think there’s going to be a lot of hot action to come…

  9. Everybody wants something, Jimmy got what he wanted. I am more interested than ever to see which direction Richards character will go. I think I know whats in that kids future…Cheez. Good Luck Nuck

  10. I wont tune back into the show just because they decided to kill Jimmy, and I am sure there is lots of people that feel the same. Now lets see what happens to the ratings, you underestimate the attachment people developed with the character of Pitt, some people including me watched the show just because of his brilliant performance. There was a bunch of gangster movie in the past but never have i seen a character such as Darmody. Good luck to the producers of the show!!!

    • Oh please, one hot, exciting, trailer for season 3 and this little “rebellion” will be over.

      • yeah, I’m not burning my bra over this.

  11. So, I just watched the finale again and after another viewing and 4 days to think about it I’m even more supportive of killing Jimmy off. I’m still surprised and bummed because he was such an essential part of the story but after what took place this season there was nowhere left for his character to go. And all of Nucky’s credibility would be lost if he let him live. Who wants to watch a show about a good hearted gangster who forgives everyone? I sure don’t.
    And as far as everyone who says they’re done watching I would suspect they are the same group that has sworn off Game of Thrones for doing something similar. I’m ten times more interested in next season now that there are endles possibilities of where it can go. Remember folks these are the people behind one of the greatest shows of all time (The Sopranos) I think they deserve some credit.

  12. Absolutely amazing show. The last episode was both shocking and moving. I think he knew what would happen – it was the only way he could think of to “find his way home.” What he told his friend just before leaving.

  13. They can’t afford Pitt. Period. You have an overwhelmingly expensive production with countless character actors to pay. Pitt is a rising star and his salary can only go up. Boardwalk Empire is critically acclaimed and watched by HBO subscribers and illegal down-loaders but it’s not generating enough new HBO membership — not in this economy. This decision came after it was announced that Treme would continue on to a third season despite low ratings. One hand washes the other. They can say whatever they want as to why they did it. This was a numbers game.

  14. After getting home and finally seeing what everyone was freaking out about….I’m glad I checked out the spoiler in this case….Even though I knew it was coming…It seemed like it was going to turn out different right up to the end……I wonder what’s next? In the book Nucky goes to jail for a few years and basically retires to the background while new power hungry players try to run things….It’ll be interesting non the less…

  15. Jimmy was like a Shakespeare character, in more ways then one, and he died like one. The way things played out this season showed that Nucky was the only way who ever had his best interest, and Jimmy always found a way to self-destruct (granted he had enough bad influences to help him). Showing how Jimmy ended up leaving Princeton and joining the Army gave a great deal of insight to how far he had fallen, and why.

    He was never supposed to end up in the Army, and lose his mind in the process. And Nucky never wanted him to be a street grunt for him either, but he came back and sank deeper and deeper into that life, and paid for it. In the end Nucky was never going to trust him again, Jimmy had burned every other bridge he had, and the only one he had left was Harrow. His mother had clearly lead him down the road to ruin and the one thing that is really tragic in all of it was that his son ended up with her.

    On a side note I am surprised Lucy survived, since I thought Van Alden was going to end up killing her for sure. And I don’t know if it is intended, but Margret is really starting to get on my nerves. She just seems like a hypocrite and an imbecile at the same time, if that is possible.

  16. All you that need gratuitous pandering and schlocky predictable plots can go TiVO “Everybody Loves Raymond.” (quite possibly the worst show ever written.) I hated seeing Jimmy go, but then what is a drama but the moment when the audience goes deathly silent, shocked, and all their expectations are completely shattered? Overtones of Oedipus anyone? How did that end? Never mind deixis– plenty of room for that as well next season (with Jimmy). Oh you of little imagination. You’re upset because all of you liked Jimmy. Which means the writing is doing its job. Heh- a little ironic, that.

  17. Who said that Michael Pitt was the best actor on the show? I mean . . . he is a very good actor, but the best? I don’t think so.

    You know, I’m surprised that Jimmy had managed to last so long. Ever since the series’ premiere, he has managed to piss off Nucky. In that episode, he allowed his impatience to get the best of him, when he hijacked that booze with Capone. His act forced him to flee Atlantic City and later, have Nucky arrange with Agent Sezbo (or whatever his name was) to kill the only witness to his crime. But when Jimmy conspired with the Commodore and Eli to end Nucky’s status as Atlantic City’s power broker, I guess that was the last straw. No, I take that back. Jimmy’s attempt to get him killed was the last straw. I now realize there was no way Jimmy could have ever make up for that little act. Even Eli ended up paying a price by taking the rap for Hans Schroeder’s murder and spending a year or two in prison. At least Eli tried to make amends with Nucky, several episodes before the finale. Hell, Jimmy didn’t even bother . . . until it was too late. He had crossed the line and really pissed off Nucky.

    Will “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” survive without Jimmy? Why not? The show wasn’t about him. Nor was he the star. And if anyone claims that Buscemi was never up to the job as the series’ leading man, well . . . you’re entitled to your opinion. But it would be an opinion that I could NEVER share.

  18. Say what you will, my favorite character on the show was Jimmy – the show would be much better were it to focus on him. Also, although Nucky Thompson is supposed to be the main character, he’s not been my favorite character – I began to dislike him more and more and the now Mrs. Thompson (Schroder).

    • Jimmy may have been your favorite character, but he wasn’t mine. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Jimmy, he was a very interesting character and I’ll miss him. But I don’t believe he should have been the show’s main character, because he was young and good-looking. And I don’t think the show will fall apart without him.

      And pardon me for saying this, but you seemed to love Jimmy so much that I cannot help but wonder if it didn’t bother you when he allowed himself to be pushed into putting out a hit on Nucky. It was okay for Jimmy to attempt to kill Nucky, but it wasn’t okay for Nucky to kill him? And all of this, because of favoritism?

  19. “to the lost” must be a reference to the writers, because they have no idea how the fans felt about jimmy.

    • ["“to the lost” must be a reference to the writers, because they have no idea how the fans felt about jimmy."]

      Really? You honestly believe that you’re speaking for all of the fans? I’m a fan of the show. And quite frankly, you’re not speaking on my behalf.

  20. The season finale was horrible. It would have been a fine series finale but getting rid of the main most complete and fleshed out character, and the best actor (by far) was a stupid and ridiculous turn to make. The series will be worse for getting rid of Pitt, and the series will probably not see a 4th season because of it. Buscemi’s acting skill may be on par with Gandolfini’s, but Nucky Thompson isn’t 1/50th as interesting as Tony Soprano. Pitt’s character was the heart and soul of the show. They should have killed the annoying Mrs. Schroeder, not the wonderful Mr. Darmody. i will never watch another episode.

    • Agreed. This POS show needs to die, nucky will NEVER be one millionth the character Tony Soprano was…stick a fork in this show, the writers did.

  21. God, imagine how great the writers must feel right now. They handled the execution of a major character with such utter finesse that they practically started a *riot* among viewers. That’s crazy! Very talented group of people. The finale was brilliant.

  22. I have to say what a superb finale this was.

    It seems that with this 2nd season – the potential of the show’s concept is finally being realized – and certainly with the last few episodes – the show is starting to reach levels of greatness that the 1st season just could never get to.

    The main reason increased improvement was down to putting characters they had never been before. Whereas season 1 – everything was always in control, this year – everything got out of control which makes so much more compelling viewing watching these characters do what they have to do to survive.

    I share the many comments that Jimmy became the embodiment of this and without question the most compelling character (overtaking Van Alden who’s role greatly diminshed this year round)Yes he was violent , erratic, power hungry at times, but we got to see the depths of his character, and as an audience we clearly understood why Jimmy did the the things he did. Much like the way Smallville developed Lex Luthor – as viewers we don’t mind watching dark or evil characters as long as we can see what drives them to be what they are. I still believe there was more mileage in Jimmy’s role, but can appreciate the closure of his story, which was satisfyingly handled – seeing his last thought of finally coming out of the trench into the light was stunning.

    The climatic – rain drenched showdown- encapsulated just how great this show can be. As Jimmy’s role came to an end – Nucky’s status as a character has elevated greatly. I honestly thought he was going to turn around at the last minute and shoot whether Manny or Eli. But the cold, clinical manner in which he killed Jimmy (who in many ways was his protege) showed a new level of darkness not seen before.To actually do it himself was such a big statement. He was always been likeable – but how can you like someone who is clearly in it for himself and clearly cares little for anyone else. Yes he does favours but only to expect them returned. I just hope they cut a lot deeper into his backstory, the same way they did Jimmy’s.

    What does this mean for the others? For me Margaret’s character also regressed this season and surely with signing the land over to the Church and the affair with Owen will meet her end. Jimmy seemed indisposable and look what happened.

    Van Alden also can just be phased out now as he no real importance to the core of the story – same with Jimmy’s mother and Richard. Chalky is another top character of the show – and more focus need to be put on him next year for sure.

    Still after Ned’s death in Game of Thrones and Spartacus killing off Baitatus – tv shows are showing more balls in killing off their most appealing and major characters more for natural story progression, rather than simple plot devices or tacked on last minute cliffhangers.

    Looking forward very much to Season 3.

    • Jimmy was some fine eye candy for sure, and he was also a very interesting character. He will be missed for a while. This show has enough momentum derived from the historical sweep of the scripts, the incredible photography, the lush oversized sets, and the fanstastic acting that I suspect there will be an audience for this show for many years to come. I would not be surprised to find Jimmy making some return visits in episodes that incorporate events from the past with the present. Just a hunch, but it would not be the first time a dead character made a posthumous appearance in a long running television series.

    • As far as I can see ;

      Nucky character : 8/10…he’s cold

      Jimmy character : 6/10…why are people crazy about that character ?

      Margaret character : 5/10 the b**** has no passion.

      Chalky character : 9/10 he could use the black things to become Nucky’s hatchet man

      The Face mask man : -10/10 what is he doing there ?

      Scorcese character : 5/10 wait a minute, is he there ?

      WTH !


  23. They just killed my reasons for watching this show. Angela, Jimmy, Richard and Gillian were all my favorites. Bad writing.

  24. What I love is the coming of ages for Capone. What most people missed was the fact that lucky Luciano was the bosses of bosses. Where is his coming of age

  25. Just terrible. First Angela now Jimmy, HBO has been taking this show in the wrong direction all season and it only seems to get worse. I can’t find the strength to watch it anymore, no season 3 for me.

  26. I have to say, I was a slow follower to the show at first, but since I love Buscemi’s work I stuck with it. I was really getting into it, enough that I was really looking forward to it. The Jimmy character balanced out Nucky and mirrored Nucky in a way. I would have liked to see Jimmy’s character grow and mature. Unless a knew a fantastic character is introduced to add to the show, and while I know they wanted to shock people for the finale, I think it was a mistake to drop him. I was a “good” kind of shocked when Angie died (and many other times in the show), but it was a “bad” kind of shocked when they shot jimmy. Foolish of them to remove such a great character. Boardwalk folks, if you are listening: If season 3 ep. 1. is not completely engaging and amazing, I doubt I will bother seeing the rest. Next time you might want to examine what works in a film vs. what works for a series in the long term.

  27. i told you boys- where is the new season you alll got
    answer- r a s – federal reserve depository vault-rebels aid station-
    bring the noise

  28. this season was all talk,talk,then margareth,then talk,talk again and in the end jimmy dies…wake up ppl,u killed the show

  29. To all the “Jimmy was my favourite character etc etc”.. Grow up, get a brain then use it. Life isn’t what you want it to be, it doesn’t give a fudge about you and it never will. You are a passenger and you have no say in what happens. Respect it and enjoy the show.

    If you do not like it watch something else because if they pandered to all your desires and lusts then life (for me and many others) would be absolute s***. Watch the show and if you enjoy it, great, if its now bad, then don’t watch it. If you think you can write better then go do it. However I can only imagine how absolutely rubbish and childish a show would be where the viewer can choose what happens (press the red button to kill jimmy etc).

    My point is learn your place as a viewer, stay the hell away from the writers (people who make life interesting and enjoyable) and come to grips with the fact your being selfish by trying to control something that has nothing to do with you. Let the good times roll ( and bad) and if your still in love with jimmy go watch glee or something else and stop acting like 10year olds.