‘Boss’ Season 1 Finale Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 12:34 pm,

Kelsey Grammer as Tom Kane Boss Starz Boss Season 1 Finale Review

As political thrillers go, Boss is an interesting case, mostly because it nearly abstains from entering into any sort of political discussion. Instead, over the course of its first season, the series – starring Kelsey Grammer as fictional Chicago Mayor, Tom Kane – took to the notion of corruptibility amongst public officials – perhaps as a condemnation of the antiquated political machine the series and its characters have attempted to portray.

Boss is intensely bleak; the program relishes its cynicism and piles on the misdeeds of its characters so much so that each and every one of them feels beyond salvation. However, in a gross miscalculation of how much cynicism can be tolerated, and ultimately believed, Boss oversteps its boundaries and sometimes finds itself wallowing in its own preposterousness.

That is unfortunate, because with a modicum of restraint, Boss might actually be a great show. If the moments of sheer lunacy were tempered with more of the well-staged political malfeasance peppered throughout this first season, Boss could be looking at some real accolades. Sadly, the political thriller concerns itself too frequently with subject matter that appears too unwieldy in the hands of a freshman series. And for a show on Starz, home of sex and violence king Spartacus, it’s surprising to find the unwieldy aspects weren’t political in nature. Instead, it was the rather inexperienced way the program handled the network staple of sex and violence that felt off-kilter.

Too often, Boss would break from what it did best (deftly-written and acted depictions of political officials maneuvering for more power) to stage some hackneyed bit of nudity or violence and constantly remind the audience that the mind of Tom Kane was no longer reliable. These beats felt largely unnecessary, and tacked on for the purpose of justifying its place on a pay-cable network.

Thankfully, while much of season 1 dealt with Kane’s degenerative neurological disorder –attempting to play with the viewers’ perception of what the mayor was or was not actually seeing – it was in the later episodes, where the mayor’s quest to retain his power seemed to negate his illness, that created some real intrigue.

REVIEW

After ostensibly handing the governorship of Illinois to up-and-coming politician Ben Zajac (Jeff Hephner), Kane learns that the youngster has delusions of his own, and with the help of a cabal of various aldermen and ward bosses, Zajac would seek to unseat the seemingly entrenched mayor.

Kelsey Grammer Kathleen Robertson Boss Starz Boss Season 1 Finale Review

At the same time, Kane is embroiled in a toxic waste dumping scandal brought about by a leak in the mayor’s office that puts the notion of impeachment on the table. As it becomes more and more clear that a coup in the city’s government is taking place, Kane comes to the realization that, in order to preserve his power, he must be willing to sacrifice anyone.

Most surprisingly, after it is revealed that his assistant Kitty (Kathleen Robertson) and his wife Meredith (Connie Nielsen) have both conspired against him, Kane offers up his estranged daughter Emma (Hannah Ware), possibly the only person still on his side, in exchange for a little political breathing room.

Kane manages to take what little leverage he has against the gathering forces and not only quell the public animosity against him, but also wrest control of Zajac back from the rogue alderman and ward bosses. By the end, Chicago’s all-powerful mayor is back on top, but not before learning his closest advisor, Ezra Stone (Martin Donovan), was the one who originated the leak that nearly toppled him.

Stone justifies his deceit by revealing himself to be the only player in Chicago’s machine who wants to unseat Kane, not for his own political advancement, but for the “overall good.” Sadly, this means Donovan – whose quiet, determined performance often leveled out Grammer’s more boisterous one – likely won’t be around for season 2.

Though he regularly chews the scenery, it is the performance of Grammer that drives the series. The power that Kane wields is impressive, and serves as the most entertaining aspect of Boss. It also provides an interesting conundrum for whatever lifespan the series has, because losing the plot of Kane’s illness becomes very inviting. Unfortunately, the inevitability of his disorder also serves to make the show more captivating. To watch as a man, so used to being in control, has that control taken from him not by an individual or group, but by his own body’s betrayal, plays well into Boss’ overall theme of corruption.

And yet, it is when the show focuses most on the political aspect – specifically the crisis in Kane’s office – that its narrative becomes the strongest. While Kane’s deterioration is a clever hook, after a while it becomes hard to fathom an audience eagerly tuning in to witness the inescapable frailty of life.

Martin Donovan as Ezra Stone Boss Starz Boss Season 1 Finale Review

Martin Donovan as Ezra Stone in 'Boss'

It’s as though Boss lacks confidence enough in its basic premise to avoid stringing viewers along with the telltale signs of a TV-MA rating. Eschewing over-the-top violence and extra-marital affairs would go a long way in making, what is in essence a very smart show, actually look smart in the process. There is an audience that delights in the idea of political strategy, and will come to a program that is reliable at producing such notions. Just look at Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing and CBS’ The Good Wife, as examples of this.

In addition there is Troy Garity’s role as journalist Sam Miller, which remained largely hidden behind the wall of Grammer’s big performance. Miller’s dogged pursuit of corruption and scandal in Mayor Kane’s regime, which was made all the more enticing by the journalist’s willingness to undercut his editor and play the political game, is yet another example of what Boss does right, but shows too little of. Here’s hoping Garity – and the symbiotic relationship between journalism and politics – finds an expanded role in this series’ continuation.

Given that the groundwork is already there, it shouldn’t be too hard for Boss to shift its focus to what it actually does best. As season 2 looms on the horizon, it will be up to series creator Farhad Safinia and executive producer/star Kelsey Grammer to see that the story of Tom Kane’s political legacy is worth carrying over to season 3.

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Boss will return to Starz in October 2012.

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  1. I think you’re missing the point that the sex and violence is so much the essence of these corrupt politicians anymore. To say it just exists to justify its place on paid-cable is missing that point.

    • I would add that sex is a necessary key to explain some characters and seems to be used almost exclusively for that reason: Ben Zajac’s personality couldn’t be understood without his sex scenes, all of them showing not just lack of passion and warmth, but mechanical, almost unavoidable actions. It’s the same with Kane’s daughter, Emma: sex explains her, shows us who she is, how fragile, unstable she is.

  2. This show is one of the best series in cable tv. It accurately portrays the political machine,albeit corrupt, in any major metropolitan city, as of late. What it shows best is the fact that power can often corrupt the best intentioned.

    • I agree with you. This is one of the best shows on TV right now, besides Homeland. Questions: Did Ezra arrange for the nurse to get beaten up to throw suspicion off of him? Why did Ezra give himself up like that? He had to know that Kane would have him killed. I don’t get that. LOVE the show.

      • Near the end of the episode, when more of Stone’s admission is being played, Kane is shown saying “Stony…” to an empty room. I believe this suggests that Stone never actually admitted anything, that the conversation was just in Kane’s imagination.

        • I agree with you on this point. Throughout the “confession” I couldn’t help but think Kane was imagining it. I think Kane’s disease and paranoia led him to make a critical mistake.
          While Boss has moments of total ridiculousness occasionally there are moments that prove that this can be a great show. I hope in season 2 the writers can find a balance that works.

          • You make a brilliant point but I’m going to disagree. The plotting doesn’t fit a scenario that has Cain imagining Stone’s conversation and admission. Factually, the plot follows that Stone took the offending documents, had access to said documents, knowledge of the documents, had the ability to get the documents delivered to the reporter Miller and the resources to then scare the nurse/healthcare worker. IMHO.

            • and remember he was packing his stuff to get away. He knew what was coming.

              • Remember that he may have ONLY been packing because he saw the guy in the window…

                There is a good chance he didn’t actually confess (they said the nurse couldn’t even speak), and only was packing because the assassin made himself visible.

                The bigger question I have is who was controlling the assassin? I had always thought it was Ezra… (a la getting the doctor to move and the pictures of the one ward guys plotting against him).

                Either way, this show is awesome.

          • I wish you were right about the “confession” being imagined since Ezra had such a great part – who can take his place, but remember that he is murdered and I don’t think THAT was imagination. I think this show is great, esp when you can’t tell what is going to happen next – like Kane sacrificing his own daughter! I was shocked! Shouldn’t have been but was.

            • So was Stone killed or was it Kane’s imagination? How about a combination of what Barb and Justin said above: Kane imagined Stone’s confession, and then had Stone killed (based on a “confession” that never actually happened). I think that’s what the show’s director is telling us when Kane is speaking to an empty chair where Stone had supposedly made his confession minutes earlier. When Kane is sitting there alone in his office saying “Stony,” Kane is wearing the same suit as when Stone was “confessing” to him. Maybe in the first episode of Season 2, we’ll learn that Kane still had those secret cameras running and he’ll look back at the recording and see that Stone was never actually there, and Kane then will realize he had his friend/top advisor killed by mistake.

          • Kane only asked stone to find the girl. When he was notified at the station that she was found at a hotel beaten within in an inch of her life he knew it was stone…. The conversation took place!

  3. I love this show and have to disagree with you a little bit. I don’t think it’s too bleak at all. I think to many people want all their shows to be the same in certain ways. Some shows are overly positive and some are very doom and gloom same with movies. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize it for being too dark or too gloomy. That’s simply what the show is suppose to be. If that’s not your kind of thing fine but not fair to say they show SHOULD do it your way. They are not trying to appeal to you they are trying to make a good show and just hope it appeals to enough people. If you don’t like bleak and gloomy things and would prefer rainbows and sunrises than you are not the target demographic. It’s hardly a fault of the show.

    I do agree with you on the sex. I thought it would be nice for Starz to make a show on a premium network that didn’t go out of it’s way to throw it in your face that it’s on a premium network. HBO, and Showtime have some truly great shows, but they push the “We are premium cabal” thing a little to much. Most of the shows feel like they try to hard to shove the nudity in your face. Now that Starz finally has a good show I had hoped they wouldn’t do the same.

    • Yes, the writing is incredible and almost rhythmic. It kind of reminds me of Shakespeare, oh, no, wait, it’s a lot like Shakespeare. In fact, it’s a lot like King Lear. OH,GEEE! It is a parody of King Lear including the violence of King Lear. The tension among characters, the cleaver deceit, the duplicity of the King (Tom Cain), all these aspects are King Lear.

  4. Does anyone know the real name of the older man who had sex with Tom Kane’s wife in the finale. Was he suppose to be Tom Kane’s dad?

    • No, the older character with Meredith in the scene near the end was the father of the prosecutor. Meredith went to him so he would use his influence with his son to allow a settlement rather than a trial. It is gratifying to see the actor Daniel Travanti thirty years later even if it is only for a few episodes. He did a great job with his character in Hill Street Blues back then.

    • A bit of trivia – the older man (father of the prosecutor) is played by Daniel J. Travanti. People aged 40 and up may remember him from Hill Street Blues (as Capt. Frank Furillo), a groundbreaking show at the time.

  5. I have enjoyed the first season of this new series and rather than ‘bleak’ found it intelligible, believably realistic without all the over the top violence, sex and blatant injections of extra profanity and other shockers just for shock and ratings sake. I found all the nuances and the fast moving, often subtle plot absorbing and worth my time to watch. The cinematography, especially the startling camera angles and double-exposures, are very artistic. And, may shows I can watch and follow while doing something else but with ‘Boss’, I have to put down the laptop, the paper and pay attention to each detail. Very few movies and series do I take the time to re-watch and rewind to catch almost every well crafted word, let alone Google for comments and post comments.

    However, two key points I found very close to if not implausible in the season finale.

    Firstly, the fact that Mayor Kane gave up his relationship daughter so easily for just a temporary sway of public opinion. He had worked hard to regain her trust and as he had no one else who cared for him and as he realized he was “a bad man who has done many horrible things” (showing he has some conscience), in addition to his impending decline in health – well, just did not seem plausible. Despite the comment at the beginning, “Everyone who has plotted against me will feel the force of my wrath” might have been an attempt to explain, still, since she is his only child, no matter what she did, not believable.

    Secondly, the tears of his wife upon coming home at the end of the episode. I need to watch the episode again, maybe I missed something but I took her tears to mean she was devastated at having to sleep with Kane’s rich benefactor(sorry, does not list his name on imdb or anywhere else – and to Jen H – I know it sounds like the wife says that, but no, he is the lawyer’s dad) to squelch a lawsuit against Kane and as an act to reestablish her ‘loyalty’ to Kane. If that was what the tears were about – does not fit into her ‘ice queen’ persona. She seeming has done things far worse, this being only one more deceptive, unpleasant thing.

    One more thing, goes without saying that Kelsey Grammer’s performance is deep, rich, compelling and brilliant but, also Hannah Ware’s performance as the daughter Emma is elegant and beautiful on a new level.

    • You bring up important points here as, though I might not agree with you, I don’t think these scenes were executed the best they could. Each scenario is representing interesting character choices. We know that Kane is explosive and unpredictable -more so that he is ill – and the phone conversation he has with his daughter prior to his press conference shows us his internal, almost schizophrenic struggle with the looming decision he has to make. He knows it’s the only move he can make to turn it all around in such a short time frame and his breakdown on the phone makes it clear, at least to me, that Tom Kane doesn’t want to use his daughter, Mayor Tom Kane does. I don’t feel that she is “feeling his wrath” – I very much think that he truly feels love and forgiveness for his daughter but is over ruled by his psychotic ego, his obsessiveness with retaining power.

      The final scene with Meredith was also interesting. I see the shows universe as one that is populated by characters that have acquired, acquiring or have expired power and the struggle within the human condition to sustain human values within their own constructs. So it didn’t surprise me the way Meredith behaved when she returned home to Kane that night – a sharp woman of brilliant power and integrity brought down to the bowel depths of character by having to ‘whore’ herself for the continuation of Kane’s existence. I almost heard Kane’s monologue to Kitty repeating in my head as she was walking up the stairs to his bedroom door – “You don’t matter.”

    • Cindy, I personally found it shocking that Kane gave up his daughter also and it was premeditated – he knew when he called her and told her he loved her and shed real tears because he knew he was going to do what he did. He knew he had nothing else REAL to give the people to win them back. She was his sacrifice – it hurt but he felt he had to do it to survive – that’s what it was all about – survival.

  6. The actor’s name that was swooning over Meredith is Daniel J. Travanti. He played the captain in “Hillstreet Blues” many years ago. He sure looks a lot older but still can act. The finale was very tense and well acted.

    • Thanks for the info regarding Daniel J. travanti. I kept trying to recall the face. However, I think you missed a key point about Tom Kane’s wife. Yes. She has done many unpleasant and compromising things for political loyalties but the scene with Mr. travanti simply reduced her to the lowest common denominator. And the coup de grace was she was not orchestrating from the sidelines but a mere puppet to satisfy the benefactor and cement her husband’s future as Mayo of Chicago. She was crying because she was merely a pawn.

  7. There’s one point that I am still confused about – Who actually ordered the attack on the nurse? Was it Kane? Was Ezra at all other thana trying to track her down? While visiting the nurse in the hospital, Kane asked who had done this to her and seemed not to know anything about it. I thought she mouthed “You did”. Can anyone enlighten me on what actually happened?

  8. I actually hadn’t watched this show beyond the pilot episode,but I intend to now after this superb recap.

  9. I never even thought of the fact that he could have just imagined Stoney’s confession. That makes the ending that much better.

  10. Boss is one of my fav shows on TV.
    It does however have one major shortcoming,..

    NO ONE ON THE SHOW SOUNDS LIKE THEY ARE FROM CHICAGO!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Love the show , don’t get me wrong, but besides Boston-ese, Chicago dialect is the most distinct manner of speaking in the nation.

    One other minor nitpick is that the south side aldermen on the show are shown as a sort of poor, manipulated lot. South Side aldermen and their wards are the most morally bankrupt and crimianlly corrupt politicians in the country.. There is nothing noble about any of them and the way they behave and speak in real life is cringeworty with respect to nasty stereotypes.

    Terrific show though, I hope Kelsey gets an emmy and some new poon to replace that golddigger b**** ex wife of his

    • Kelsey did get some new “poon”. He was on TV with his new girlfriend and he’s deeply in love.

  11. Think the writers and producers allowed themselves as many interpretations and possible scenarios as possible for the next season. Series are more ‘interactive’ these days, they seem more open to adjusting to what the viewer wants.

    MAYBE…but I took it to mean he was imagining how Stony would have advised him like he imagined other things and that he felt regret and conflict over having him killed like he did over giving up his daughter because he had been a close advisor and confidant for 8 years. Regret but not enough to give up his office and power.

    Re: Accents – maybe the reason is because they want the masses to view it more universally, and identify with it as to say this is the way big city politics probably would be anywhere. Sorry, but the accents (more than one or two sterotypes like in Sopranos) for those of us who do not identify with Chicago or who live somewhere else would be distracting.

  12. About 20 minutes of this show is all I could take. The only reason I tuned in is because of Kelsey. But I found I don’t like him in a serious role; especially not this one. I don’t have much time for TV and with all the depressing news thrown at me every day, I want to escape all that. I want to feel good and laugh…a lot. So this is not the show for me. The lighting was horrible but I guess that was on purpose. I wish Kelsey well but I do think someone is choking on their decision to renew before the show even aired. It will be interesting to see if there actually is a second season.

    • I don’t have time to watch TV, only time to post comments on shows I didn’t watch.

    • you sound depressed

  13. I like this show alot, it makes the audience to feel the power of a corrupt political network that only the Boss manages in its wide extension. A thing that I don’t understand is why the producers/writer kill Ezra Stone. I thing that is a great carachter in the show, an Boss confident for 30 years that is an integral part of the political machine, providing an important part to the dialog of the show. How are they going to replace this role in the show? I am looking forward to session 2 to see how they do this.

  14. Yep, producers, if your listening (reading), we liked “Stony” he was a great character, a great counter point to the mayor’s character and very well played- bring him back!!

  15. If they bring Ezra Stone back, he won’t be in Kane’s entourage (it’ll be hard to imagine that the mayor will ever take him back). That means that he’ll be on the side of Kane’s rivals/plotters, which would make him a villain with the likes of Ross & Co.

    The real concerns for season 2 are; Who will be Stone’s replacement, or Kane’s right-hand man? Kane’s health (would it get worse), his relationship with his daughter going forward, Kitty’s future (assuming that she’d quit City Hall)and her relationship w/Gov-elect Zajac, since she’s carrying his baby.

    I truly love the show but like many, I was dismayed by kane’s betrayal of his daughter; (like Cindy on top put it correctly) it seemed implausible (even for a momentary political gain) to do it to the only person on your side. I liked the cinematography and I was surprised to see that Mario Van Peebles was the director. He deserved some recognition, a reward of some sort for this truly artistic work.

    I don’t believe Kane knew the nurse’s attacker, the same way he didn’t know of the person behind the leak, even though he might have suspected the nurse. But the most intriguing of all (in my mind) is Kane’s doctor in earlier episodes who frantically called the journalist at the end. Wasn’t she abducted with the understanding that she kept quiet? Now, she’s putting herself in Kane’s line of fire. Well, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in season 2.

  16. Kane had the nurse beaten, it was done by the same man that killed stony. Second season will be about the paper and the baby mostly.

  17. Forgot to add that Kitty makes me sweat.

  18. I can’t wait, when will episode 9 be on?

  19. Regarding the main review of the final episode and the whole season, it reminds me of critiques of other great shows I’ve read. Like a review I remember reading a while ago that said “The fifth season of Seinfeld wasn’t that great.” Yeah, maybe compared to other seasons of Seinfeld it wasn’t, but compared to every other comedy on TV, even season 5 of Seinfeld was off-the-charts great. Critics need to remember it isn’t “How does this show rank relative to my view of the perfect show?” It’s “How good is this show relative to everything else on TV?” In my view, what the reviewer should have made abundantly clear is HOW FREAKING GOOD THIS SHOW IS RELATIVE TO JUST ABOUT EVERY OTHER SHOW!!!!! Yes, Kane selling out his daughter, Meredith crying at the end, and the sadism with which that construction company guy killed Matta all might be questionable. But if I was a non-viewer who stumbled across this review, I would have no idea that this show is incredibly well-written, and beautifully acted and photographed. It is so much better than 99% of the shows out there today. That should be the main message of the review before diving into some possible shortcomings of the show.

  20. Stone had the nurse beaten; that’s what he was telling Kane at the end. He was also the person behind the leak and he explained why to Kane. That’s why Kane had to kill him. No surprise there. As for the man who killed Stone, he worked for both. He was the same man who abducted the doctor and her son after her son’s football game (kane’s order) and the one who provided Stone with pictures from a meeting between Ross and Matta (in a car) that proved to Kane that Matta was betraying him.

    Indeed, I found this show to be the best on TV along with Boardwalk Empire.

  21. I think the show needs more redeemable characters because all the players in this show are greedy and looking out for self interest it seems. ‘Boss’ also reminds me of the unexpected elements that the show ’24′ threw at its audience with its surprise endings and surprise killing of characters. While I don’t think we need another Jack Bauer in ‘Boss’, I do think we need a character that the good guy can relate to.

    On a final note, I think it is unfortunate that we will have to wait until October of 2012 for the season 2!

  22. I can’t imagine being able to keep fans of the show if it’s really going to be 10 months between season 1 and season 2. Only 8 episodes per year? Good luck with that one.

  23. Yeah! Me neither, can’t imagine waiting ten months for season 2. But I guess the executives weren’t sure whether the show would work or not, so they ordered only a handful of episodes at first, and if it works, order more episodes and eventually move the show to their spring or fall lineups.

  24. The show is excellent. The only concern I have is why do we have to wait until October 2012 for the second season to begin.

  25. Great show. Reminds me of The Shield. Always wondering what comes next. Many of you seem to be confused. Kane was looking for the nurse because he is trying to find out who leaked the documents and she had access, however Stony had her beat up and she was suppose to die. Remember the scene where Kane goes to the hospital and asks her who did this, that is when he discovers its Stony. He says to Stony She didn’t die.. basically your busted fool. Also everyone seems upset he set up Emma. Okay people you all didn’t get he is just that selfish… he disowned her initially for his career. It was perfect. It always you to see completely who he really is and what he is capable of. I love everyone is playing an angle yet somehow Mayor Kane is always one step ahead… well almost. I will watch Season 2 even though we have to wait so long. Well worth the wait considering the options. Like Glee or The Kardashians… lol

  26. were is the rest of boss my cable co only has 1-4

  27. I just discovered Boss, watched the entire season over the weekend, and found your site while looking for info about the second season. Very interesting article and discussion. Just one minor quibble, re:

    “…in a gross miscalculation of how much cynicism can be tolerated, and ultimately believed”

    Speaking as a former City employee, it would be about impossible to overestimate the level of corruption in Chicago politics. The only thing that pushed the limits of credibility for me was the notion that Stone was working to unseat for Kane for the “overall good”–that would NEVER happen.

  28. I discovered the show recently. I agree with the review. Boss has a lot of qualities but it lacks one major quality: the main character (Tom Kane) is not likable, you root against him instead of rooting for him. And that is a huge flaw. Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Nucky Thompson,…are all horrible human beings but their characters are written in a way that you feel something for them, you don’t want them to fail.

    Another flaw is how the citizens of Chicago are depicted in this show. People don’t forgive kids with cancer just because you have arrested your own drug addict daughter. The Chicago Latino community is not standing behind one man like Nazi Germany and letting him cut off ears here and there. Boss should really learn a few lessons from The Wire and The West Wing on how to depict corruption, opinion polls and political games without going over-the-top.

  29. I love this show and cannot wait for season 2. I’m also excited for some of the new people coming to the show like Sanaa Lathan. Just wish we didn’t have to wait until October.

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