‘Boardwalk Empire’ Season 4 Finale Review

Published 10 months ago by

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Episode 12 Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Finale Review

[This is a review of the Boardwalk Empire season 4 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]

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The penultimate episode of Boardwalk Empire essentially boiled down to Nucky’s line to Sally Wheet, telling her that he wanted out, that he’d reached a breaking point, and, as we learn early on in ‘Farewell Daddy Blues,’ he was leaving behind his endeavors to join her in Cuba. After years of battling those who wanted a piece of his lucrative business – a list that includes everyone from fellow underworld entrepreneurs to his friends and family – it’s not hard to wonder why he’d be implementing an exit strategy at this point.

But there was another layer to the story of season 4; one that, despite coming from a fairly muted storyline was – in comparison to the often-cartoonish violence, and equally cartoonish presence of Gyp Rosetti, anyway – primarily focused on the idea of legacy, and to examine what, if anything, these characters had actually built – and how or to whom it would pass when the time came to move on. Much of this had to do with the burgeoning relationship between Nucky and his nephew Willie, who managed to get himself in a tight spot after dealing with a class bully in a rather extreme and unnecessary fashion, only to wind up head of his household and under his uncle’s tutelage. But there were hints of legacy all around; many of the season’s subplots hinted at the transition of power, of characters getting old – and especially of children or proxies for children. It was no mistake that Dr. Narcisse’s companion was named Daughter – who will perhaps one day inherit all the good and the bad that these characters have done.

The transition of power didn’t come without some bloodshed, though, as Al Capone was granted Johnny Torrio’s territory and business – especially now that Dean O’ Banion is out of the picture – after Torrio nearly met his end in a violent (and suspicious) assassination attempt. Meanwhile Chalky White found himself in a battle with Dr. Narcisse over territory and the Onyx Club, but what it really came down to was a battle over two daughters. And finally there’s Tolliver, who with his baby face and his petulant attitude, was a fairly distinct representation of the next generation staking its claim on one that wasn’t quite ready to go out. He’d parlayed himself into a role in the understated death of Nucky’s manservant Eddie, who took his own life after a fateful run-in with Agent Tolliver dredged up old wounds and left the disgraced man with what he felt was the only option: It was time to move on.

Jeffrey Wright and Michael K. Williams in Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Episode 12 Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Finale Review

More importantly, however, Tolliver had also sunk his claws into Eli Thompson, nearly gaining access to all of the top organized crime figures on the East Coast. Ever the upstart, though, Tolliver wasn’t quite prepared for the humiliating fallout when Nucky sniffed out the conspiracy and confronted his brother with yet another betrayal. It began to look like all the goodwill Eli had built up over the last two seasons was about to be washed away with a bullet between the eyes, but the arrival of Willie stayed his uncle’s hand and perhaps saved his father’s life – though Nucky would latter proclaim he could never kill his own brother.

Eli’s betrayal was more than just a retread of past unfaithfulness, though; it was a reminder of events that had been buried and forcibly forgotten. It was an aspect that bled into the literal excavation of the past, as Richard Harrow requested the location of Jimmy Darmody’s final resting place, so that Gillian would forever be removed from Tommy’s life, and the young boy could grow up in Wisconsin on Harrow’s family farm with the Sagorskys and what was left of his clan. While it looked to be the definitive end of Gillian Darmody, one more child would factor in to Richard Harrow’s artfully presented demise.

Hired to eliminate Dr. Narcisse, Richard’s bullet instead wound up striking Chalky’s daughter Maybelle dead in front of her father. Narcisse would be arrested and fall into the hands of J. Edgar Hoover, Chalky would escape in grief to Ocar’s home in South Carolina, and Richard Harrow, the show’s tragic, forever-wounded character would at last find peace beneath the Atlantic City Boardwalk – although he was really hundreds of miles away, home and whole at last.

Michael K. Williams in Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Episode 12 Boardwalk Empire Season 4 Finale Review

Of all the criticisms that befall Boardwalk Empire, the idea that it is written with little in the way of clarity toward connecting the sometimes-disparate plotlines, and that it is too interested in fan service at the expense of dramatic integrity, generally feels like the two most prominent negative assessments of the show. For its part, ‘Farewell Daddy Blues’ managed to dispel that notion in fairly convincing fashion. Yes, there were bits of clunkiness and heavy-handedness here and there, but by and large, the episode handled itself with such deliberate precision and with a much more distinct throughline that it delivered a more affecting story and finale that went beyond merely tallying up the body count; it changed the perception of the season as a whole.

Generally, in shows like this, nothing good can come for the characters when the past hovers like a vengeful specter, issuing a constant threat of reprisal and the vague feeling of unease.” Jimmy’s murder has been hanging around the show for two seasons now, and it was finally time to put him and those still mourning him (or his wife) to rest. Nucky is, for all intents and purposes, immune to such things; there’s the future to think of and he’s got a bright, shining new protégé and surrogate son in his nephew Willie. With Eli making his way to the Midwest, Nucky finally has the family he never managed to build on his own. It’s the last piece of his empire, and, perhaps, the one person who may carry on Nucky’s legacy.

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Boardwalk Empire will continue with season 5 in the fall of 2014 on HBO.

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  1. It was good enough, but the problems persist throughout each season. You get two kinds of slow. One catering to focus of the overall narrative in a manner that promotes a convincing through line. One catering to the opposite. ‘Boardwalk Empire’ falls firmly into the latter category. Finesse may be evident in the writing and the storytelling, but the attempts to tell multiple stories at the same time have consistently left it looking desperately for a commonality. You end up interested initially only to find yourself wondering what exactly the point of such a broad range is.

    What this episode did then is offer the point better than at any other time in the show. Indeed, I am a stickler for continuation and it left me with the impression for once that this current collection of stories was designed as a two season plan. A long game has been needed for quite some time and it appears we now have one. For once then, I find myself looking more forward to the show coming back than at any other moment.

    As for Mr Harrow… sigh. The moment he smiled at his wife you knew he was doomed (memory suggests it was the only time in four seasons he ever actually smiled). The whole scene with Chalky and Dr. Narcisse was a little contrived and throughout it simply did not paint the disillusion about Mr Harrow’s role in the world with either enough screen time or purpose of narrative. But… sigh. If anyone deserved a happy ending it was him. I guess he got one.

  2. Good episode but I just felt a little disappointed with the Harrow character. I had high hopes this season that we were going to see the Harrow character of the Jimmy days but instead I saw a character that had issues pulling the trigger this season and eventually lead to his death. Huge disappointment in that regard. Then I had hopes in the Capone storyline in which we would finally see him start moving things forward in how he starts becoming a feared character to everyone and that has felt a little slow this season. The Dr., who was given to use as a “more calculating enemy” this season also felt like it fell short. Overall a good episode but not the best. This show hasn’t felt the same since Season 2 and now that Harrow is gone, I hope we start getting a lot more of the Capone storyline next season because the Nucky storyline, although interesting, isn’t as interesting to me as the Capone storyline, but that’s just me

    • Except this series isn’t about Capone. It’s about Nuchy & Atlantic City.

      • Understood but with them incorporating other storylines with the Nucky storyline, it’s something they should look at it being a 50/50 split between his story and Capone. Also did Eli get picked up by Nelson? I didn’t really see it was. If he joins with Capone that will make things interesting and should give a nice plot in the Nucky storyline.

  3. This episode felt more like a bridge between a two part season like TWD or Breaking Bad has done more than a finale.
    I’m not complaining. I actually prefer this to having everything wrapped up and then starting from scratch next year. Ending the season this way will lead to a faster beginning to next season IMO. Instead of having to spend 2 or 3 episodes setting the table next season can start off with a quicker pace.
    Also…
    After years and years of TV watching I’ve seen countless characters die but I have to say that the deaths of Jimmy and now Richard have been the most jarring to me. The way they have been written and acted have been so great that when they happen I feel a real sense of remorse. Jimmy and Richard weren’t given lengthy monologues or last stands. They both died alone essentially, having lost everything with death being the only real reprieve from the life’s they lived.
    Seeing Richards dying dream, walking home, a whole man again was both heartbreaking and proper.

  4. Great review.

    The show started to look like a two season or more plan since a few episodes back and I’m thinking that’s a good thing (though it may be hard to remember all the story lines come next season) this will allow for more ambitious stories to be told and it threw predictability out of the window.

    It’s very sad to see Richard Harrow go but he had served as a weapon all along and he came to fail horribly at it at last. It’s too bad he now had people to leave behind but duty came first. He was one of my favorite characters and his exit was handled nicely.

    Meanwhile agent Tolliver I would have liked to see more of; he seemed like he could have been part of the longer plan and Brian Geraghty was doing a great job with the character.

    Looking forward to next season, a long wait from now.

  5. So Winter says that Gillian’s story is continuing next season…still…yet in the same breath he said that Richard’s had run it’s course. I think it’s more likely that Gretchen Mol is BEYOND favored by Terrence Winter because her story has been dead several times over and if you’re sitting in prison looking at life or the chair…I don’t know what other storyline there is for her that ANYONE could give a crap about. Now Richard Harrow…that was a plain waste of talent. Best character on the show and they threw him away.

  6. I agree 100% with you Joel. The whole season I’m just sitting here wondering what she is still doing on the show. After the uncomfortable relationship with Jimmy, his death, the events surrounding the cover-up and Tommy being taken away, there was very little need for her to be on at all this season. And I can’t help but get the feeling that way more time than should be given is going to be wasted next season with some drawn out prison story line.

    • I agree. I think there were other storylines they could have explored or moved other stories forward. I just have this fear now with Harrow gone there will be a strong focus on the Gillian/Tommy story. I feel Gillian has served her purpose in the show and would rather them move away from the storyline.

  7. I’m bummed that Richard died, but I’m angry with the way he died. It just seems like his hand cramping up at that particular moment was used in convenience. From what I remember, this is the first time he had that sort of issue; he never mentions having any other illnesses nor has it been alluded and he’s always calm when shooting people. The show is inconsistent at times and this seems to be an example.

    • That’s my biggest issue. I love the show but I think the way they wrote the Harrow scene seemed like it was just something they installed at the last minute. Harrow since he was introduced in the show with Jimmy was said to be an expert marksman. “He’s the guy that was sent in when you want someone removed”. Up until this episode I’ve never seen him have cramping issues or sight issues. They tried to make it like he was struggling with his moral but it was an epic fail on that part because up until this episode, his struggle was with people who had children. For myself, this season has lead up to some potential storylines in which the show has said they wanted to explore but yet again they had half a season of filler episodes with an alright finale filled with inconsistencies

  8. this season came up short. last 2 weeks were so bad. and richard miss a shot from 20 feet? come on now! next season will be the last if the writers keep falling asleep

    • Right. I can understand if it was one of Nucky’s guy that has no marksman experience but with Harrow it’s a little hard to believe. I mostly stuck around with this series because of the Harrow and Nelson character. I will still watch but considering Nelson is with Capone, they will have to move the Capone storyline a lot further in order for me to continue past season 5.

  9. I think Havre de Grace is in Maryland not SC

  10. I found through death of Richard was a rather poor attempt to shock us. The fact that the death of my fav character on the show didn’t make me cry goes to show you how disconnected and lame it was. It felt so pointless and undeserving. With Jimmy there was a reason. Richard had none. With the death of Maybell, I could see Richard sanity and levelheadedness completely break apart. Just when he is about to get it all… He screws up and has to live and struggle with that nightmare. That sounds much more appealing then just killing him off.

    Also, shows like these really need to be careful about killing off to many of the likeable characters. If we are left with No one to like and root for, then why keep watching? To watch the ones we dislike always getting to somehow make it out OK and the rest just suffer and die? Who wants to watch a show where the bad guys always win? We want a sense of satisfaction when we watch these shows. Watching our much loved characters die season after season begin to leave a bitter taste in ones mouth. The death of Richard has greatly effected te fact that I don’t even know if I care enough to keep watching. What’s the point if I No longer like anyone That’s left? Capone and that part of the story is the only reason I might tune in next season. But That’s all. The whole main plot with Nucky, and the other leads just aren’t compelling or interesting anymore.

  11. Some people arent understanding harrow as a character. After his near death experience at his sisters harrow seemed uneasy with killing and uncomfortable with a gun. Which was perfectly translated into his last time using a cramp. It wasnt the cramped hand it was an uneasy feeling along with his innability to want to pull the trigger. Harrow was progressing into a normal life with a wife and a son he didnt want to me a gun. It upsets me however that the show now lacks a character with redeeming qualities, i dont feel for anyone who is left.

  12. However im extremely interested in eli’s arch. I was completely hating his consistant back stabbing of nucky until he killed tolliver and was put into exile. It could be good. I hope next season brings more arnold rothstein along with meyer lansky and luciano

  13. Killing off Richard Harrow was the ultimate contrivance. The writers seem to believe shocking the audience by offing the most compelling characters gives the show novelty and dimension. It doesn’t. It comes across as little more than a cheap cliche when it isn’t handled by better storytellers like George R. R. Martin. I’m officially done with this show.

  14. It sucked! used t be one of my fav shows now not so much so

  15. Boardwalk Empire has become more and more of a disappointment.

    All of season 4 relied on silly misunderstandings, nonsensical lack of communication between major characters, and unrealistic behavior. It was like watching Three’s Company.

    Given his talent for relationships, his eidetic memory for names, and the necessity to be careful about who he hires, it makes no sense that Nucky would know nothing of Eddie’s past and his family. It makes no sense for Eddie to kill himself when he could have simply gone to Nucky and told him what happened. Even if he was determined to kill himself, it’s totally out of character for him to do so without first putting all his affairs in order and warning Nucky about the feds.

    It made no sense for Nucky and Chalky to have ever been at odds with one another. All Chalky had to do was tell Nucky that Narcisse was killing people and dealing heroin and Narcisse’s murder should have been enthusiastically green lit.

    Similarly, all Eli had to do was tell Nucky about agent Tolliver and the season could have ended four episodes early.

    Was Daughter completely insane? If not, it makes no sense for her to first kill for Chalky, then betray his location to Narcisse.

    The character of Roy Phillips was preposterous. Whitlock is going to pay him thousands of dollars to spends months on end helping Gillian kick heroin just so she’d confess to murdering some random dude? WHY? He already knew the truth. If he wanted her locked up, he could have simply paid a couple guys to lie about her.

    Why in the world was Willie so bent out of shape about being caught making out with a pretty girl? He could have just laughed it off!

    All of a sudden Harrow goes from being a wildly talented badass killer to not being able to shoot straight? I didn’t buy it, and it was a terrible way for such a fantastic character to go out. I would have rather he got hit by a tin lizzie crossing the boulevard to buy a hot dog.

    Terrible.

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