“Eldorado” is about the world moving on, about the world continuing to spin as former powerhouses like Nucky Thompson and Al Capone are left in the dust and newcomers like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky rise to take control. This changing of the guard is encapsulated by Nucky’s encounter with a “woman from the future” and a primitive television, and it’s a David Lynch-ian scene that represents how the past is becoming the future, how the world is perpetually changing and bringing new generations, how the earth remains forever, but the people don’t.
Before the series finale closes off Nucky Thompson’s storyline and moves on, it essentially takes us on a tour of all the wrongs he’s committed. Considering what we saw at the end of the penultimate episode, this seems like a tour of redemption at first, but it slowly reveals itself as a tour of acceptance, as something that traces a line all the way back to this man’s Original Sin: him accepting the Sheriff’s silver piece and reaching out to take Gillian’s hand. This despicable act was his true death, the point of no return, and the fate that befalls him at the end of the episode is his literal death.
So, this aforementioned tour takes us to Margaret and Eli and Gillian, and at each instance, we realize that Nucky Thompson realizes he’s done for; he possibly has a chance to start over, but he fails when he gets that chance. We also see what we’ve known all along about him: like the opening credits suggest, he’s the kind of man who will walk up to the edge of the water, but ultimately will decide to turn back and walk toward the sand. He’ll try and admit his wrongs to Eli and Gillian and Margaret, but in the end, all he can do is hand out a bag of cash or create a trust fund or stand idly by as a young couple excitedly chatters about the future. The tentative hug and dance and talk all represent a need for reconciliation or connection, but they also represent Nucky’s unwillingness to take full responsibility, his inability to empathize.
It’s interesting to think that if Nucky took the money he found in the hat for himself rather than taking it to the Commodore, his life would’ve been extremely different. If he’d obtained the coin at the beginning of his journey, he wouldn’t have drowned. Now, though, he’s past the point of no return, and through some slick stylistic touches at the beginning of the episode, Van Patten and Winter essentially create a new opening credits sequence, this time with a Nucky–sans clothes–jumping into the water rather than walking away from it. Nucky Thompson’s been stripped down the more he has swum.
In the end, the series comes full circle, and what catapulted Nucky to a position of power is also what marks his downfall. Gillian will remain in the mental hospital, scarred for life by Dr. Cotton and Nucky Thompson, and young Nucky’s decision to turn a young Gillian over to the Commodore is a decision that can never be undone. By weaving together the flashbacks and the present day in that final sequence, the show evokes the images of Jimmy Darmody in the trenches, indicating that Nucky Thompson already died on the Boardwalk that day.
When the life actually leaves his body at the end of “Eldorado”, it is at the hands of Tommy Darmody, someone whose life is now pretty much over, someone who descended into the cycles of violence and destruction that plagued so many of the characters we saw in the series. Even in death, Nucky Thompson has destroyed the Darmody family, and he’s shot in the same exact place he shot Jimmy back in season two. There’s a poetic quality to this final sequence that’s laced with a sense of inevitability, and as Nucky sits slumped against the wall with the life draining out of his eyes, we are taken to the ocean. We are taken to Nucky Thompson, the man raised and brought down by money, the boy who grabs hold of a gold coin, and we wonder: what exactly did he leave behind?
“What are you in the end, anyway?”
“I’m who I need to be.”
“How’s that make you anything at all?”
To the lost, folks. What a show.
SEASON GRADE: B+
SERIES GRADE: B+
-Tommy’s fate makes me sad about Richard Harrow all over again. He would be crushed if he saw what happened. As a result, I’m kind of ambivalent about what the show does with Tommy here, even if it’s fitting in with the inherent tragedy of the series.
-I didn’t talk much about Al Capone in the main review, but man, what a powerful ending this is to his storyline. That’s largely in part due to Stephen Graham’s performance, which has been stellar throughout the years, and in “Eldorado”, he shines. His scene with Sonny is absolutely heartbreaking, and the final image of him in his white suit, walking up the steps toward the end of his crime reign, is extremely moving. Kudos, Mr. Graham.
-Those drunk college kids at the end are from Princeton. Jimmy dropped out of Princeton. Also, here’s the poem they recite:
I wanted the gold and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy–I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it–
Came out with a fortune last fall–
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.
-Spell of the Yukon
-Gretchen Mol is brilliant in Gillian’s scene with Nucky. Also, one more round of applause for the casting department and their choices for the flashback actors.
-One of the pitfalls to a shorter season is an inability to see the Luciano/Lansky rule play out for a while. Also, I will forever be disappointed about Arnold Rothstein’s death being skipped over.
-RIP, Narcisse. I wish Chalky could’ve seen this.
-Margaret comes out of all this pretty nicely. Good for her, and I like that she acknowledges her own actions in her scene with Nucky.
-This show is a scathing indictment of the American Dream/power structures/immorality, isn’t it?
-Favorite episode of the series? “Two Imposters”.
-That does it for me. It’s been a pleasure covering this show, and while the series has had its ups and downs, it’s been an incredibly enjoyable experience. Each season took a while to get going, but the show brought everything together as beautifully as any show will ever do. Thank you to the cast, crew, and HBO for making this series possible.
Photo credit: HBO, Boardwalk Empire