The season premiere of the final season of Boardwalk Empire is framed by two acts of attempted reinvention, two stories about the same person in two different time periods. We have young Nucky and present-day Nucky, the former getting into the business and the latter attempting to change the business, and through flashbacks, we see just how our main character’s roots developed and why he’s at where he’s at right now.
Choosing to center on Nucky certainly takes away screen time from the other, arguably more compelling, characters, but it also provides a nice backdrop for the time period that’s being explored: the Great Depression. During the flashbacks, we see Nucky decide to return a hat with $50 in it–a huge amount back then–and we see him learn a lesson about money with regards to morality. Essentially, he realizes that money is money and that even a dishonest acquisition of money should be swallowed. Eventually, his honesty is rewarded by the Commodore–and we all know how that relationship turns out–but the point is that trying to get cute won’t get you ahead in that world.
Jump forward to Nucky in Havana, and we see that things really don’t change in this environment. He’s trying to reinvent himself here as well, but again, it comes down to getting ahead of the game. It comes down to pleasing a Senator and organizing a Bacardi Rum deal and anticipating a legislative movement before it happens, and we see that Nucky will always be Nucky. And, when you’re Nucky, an assassination attempt is a harsh reminder of the precarious situation you’re in, even if it’s a powerful one.
Director Tim van Patten (one of the best in the business) contrasts the bright, vibrant colors of Havana with the dreary gray of the Depression-era United States, and in one scene, the episode expertly captures the pervasive depression of the time and the general hopelessness that many felt. I’m talking, of course, about the scene in which Mr. Bennett shoots himself in the head in front of his entire company.
Elsewhere in dreary locations, we see Chalky on his own in a chain gang; we don’t know exactly how he got to that position, but Michael Kenneth Williams’s brilliant performance says all that needs to be said. Chalky is silent throughout most of the episode, and the way he carries himself seems to be the way a man who’s given up would carry himself; however, we know that he is and always will be a survivor. Even without his supporters, he’ll find a way to keep pushing forward in a world that’s constantly brought him down. So, he escapes.
We also see people like Lucky Luciano escape from under the influence of Joe Masseria and people like Margaret hide a filing cabinet key from her boss’s wary eye. These are people who are out for themselves, who’ll continue to soldier on and sever the ties they have if they must. And yet, the episode also emphasizes the idea of power not in the hands of one individual, but rather power in the hands of multiple. Luciano joins up with Salvator Maranzano, for example, Nucky joins up with the Commodore in flashback, and Nucky and Sally are going well because they’re both willing to participate in the business. To build an empire, you must put yourself at the top, but it’s important to have friends.
Whether they’ll become your enemies later is another question.
-No Arnold Rothstein, sadly, as he was murdered in 1928. We won’t be seeing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, either. There are some big events that the time jump skips over, and I wonder what kind of show we would get had we not skipped over those events; however, considering it’s the final season, it makes sense why we’d jump to the repeal of Prohibition.
-The whole situation’s very reminiscent of The Godfather, Part II, isn’t it?
-The scene we get with young Nucky and young Ethan Thompson helps to shade in some of the things we’ve heard about Nucky’s father over the years. There’s something more menacing about this guy than normal abusive fathers on TV; he shifts between demeanors so quickly throughout that scene, like he has it all planned out how he’s going to teach his son a lesson.
-I’m still sad about Richard Harrow. I already saw his death once, HBO, and then you have to go and show it again in the “previously” segment. 😦
-I’ll try and cover most of the episodes this season. It’s a shorter one–usually, the show takes a bit to get going, so I wonder how this season will be handled–so I’ll probably be able to do it.
Photo credit: HBO, Boardwalk Empire