TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Farewell Daddy Blues’ (Season 4 Finale)

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

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Warning: Spoilers Ahead…Seriously, We Discuss a Lot of What Happened in This Episode…You’ve Been Warned

The Low Down: Everything is going to come to a head — Gillian’s (Gretchen Mol) trial, The Capone Gang (Stephen Graham, Michael Shannon, Domenick Lombardozzi) figuring out who’s been attacking them, Eli’s (Shea Whigham) arranged meeting for Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and the NY/Tampa connection and a final confrontation between Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright).

The Body Count: Quite a few including at least three major characters.

Favorite Performance: Jack Huston, in what turned out to be his final performance, went out as strongly as he came in. As Richard Harrow, Huston has been the most intriguing character on Boardwalk Empire. He’s a killer, a stone cold killer, but he’s also one of the most sympathetic, sweet and lovable characters in the series’ run. Tonight, he didn’t say much, but when he did, it was powerful. Saying I love you to Tommy, kissing his wife, the look of shock on his face when he shoots Chalky’s daughter by accident and the look of his full face in his dying moments…all wonderful and brilliantly acted by a talent who is going on to a long career filled undoubtedly with amazing performances yet to be seen. –BB

I have to go with the sentimental favorite Richard Harrow, as Jack Huston’s final performance in this riveting role was once again outstanding. Over the course of the season, Harrow had lost his killer’s instinct as he reunited with his estranged sister, married Julia, and gained custody of Tommy. Whereas the despair and isolation brought on by his horrific injuries had previous rendered him an emotionless – yet remarkably effective – killing machine, through his rediscovered ability to connect with other people, Harrow finally found something to live for and was thus increasingly unwilling to take a life. Yet in order to protect Tommy from Gillian’s clutches, Harrow agrees to take one last assignment in exchange for the whereabouts of Jimmy’s body and unfortunately, his nerves and a very bad case of timing, result in both the collateral damage death of Chalky’s daughter, Maybelle, and his own demise. Richard’s death was foreshadowed by his emotional farewell to Julia and Tommy at the train station – his jitters and reticence about the hit on Narcisse, causing him to linger a little longer as though it might be the last time he sees his new family – and yet, the loss of what was likely the show’s most compelling character still stung all the same. While Huston’s Harrow will certainly be missed, the decision to kill him off was absolutely the right one for the show. Had Harrow been successful in his hit on Narcisse, his character would have yet again functioned as a magic wand for Nucky (much like in his stunning massacre at the brothel last season), a tool of almost supernatural efficiency that Nucky has at his disposal to make all of his troubles vanish. Also, once the hit was botched and Maybelle was dead, it would have felt undeserved for Harrow to escape and live happily ever after. Despite his high body count, Harrow was a man of principle and honor and having the blood of an innocent on his hands is something he wouldn’t be able to live with. Rather than have the fan-favorite continue as some deadly super-hero, surviving and thriving in increasingly convoluted scenarios ala Dexter Morgan, the writers chose to follow the story line to its logical conclusion and bring Harrow to a sad, yet perfectly, fitting end. Huston’s sympathetic performance throughout his run on the series ensures that Harrow will be greatly missed. –KRF

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The Supporting Scene Stealer: Shea Whigham punctuated one of his best seasons with a vicious expression of a father’s love. His fight sequence with Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty) was off the charts intense and you thought, at any moment, Eli would bite the big one (this show has no reservations about killing off major characters). The ferocity that Whigham showed is almost uncharacteristic of the slow-talking Eli. However, we can’t forget his great scene with Nucky at the Albatross. It’s a crazy scene where he challenges Nucky to kill him, protects his brother’s reputation in front of Willie and then, in the end, condemns his brother for being a soulless, cold-hearted man who’ll never have the family he has and he can’t take it. Eli has taken a backseat many a time to more charismatic figures like Nucky, Jimmy, Owen Slater, The Commodore, Chalky, the list goes on. Sure, he’s had a few dramatic outbursts (remember his drunken escapades on St. Patty’s Day in Season 1), but we’ve never seen the show really give Shea Whigham the ball to run with. They did this year and he turned in a ballsy and emotional body of work. I hope the trend continues. –BB

I have to go with Shea Whigham once again, who brought resignation, bitterness, and hurt to his riveting scene with Nucky and also great physicality to the brutal and creatively choreographed fight with Agent Tolliver. –KRF

The Best Part of The Episode: There were a lot of intense sequences…Harrow shooting Chalky’s daughter, Eli killing Knox, Nucky confronting Eli. However, the best scene was the jailhouse confrontation between Narcisse and J. Edgar Hoover (Eric Ladin). For the entire scene you’re thinking that the unflappable Narcisse would hold true to his beliefs amidst Hoover’s threats. Yet at the same time you have this sneaking feeling that he’ll sell his soul to Hoover in order to save his own ass. Ladin, in the scene, was great. He was authoritative without going over the top and the lines he was given were top notch. He calls Narcisse out on all his shit…and he does it with the truth. Then, when he delivers his final threat, we get the great moment of Narcisse bowing down to Hoover with a gravelly “Yes…Sir.” I really hope this means both Narcisse and Hoover will be returning to the show in Season 5. –BB

“Farewell Daddy Blues” packed in several moments that could easily qualify for the finest part of the episode – Nucky and Eli’s standoff, Eli’s brutal, drawn-out, and surprisingly resourceful (the handsaw!) fight to the death with Agent Tolliver, the tragic melee at the Onyx Club – but it’s hard to top the final, silent coda in which a whole again Richard Harrow finally lives his dream of being part of a perfect, scrapbook family and then stops breathing under the boardwalk, his mask lying in the sand as the waves crash in. Harrow’s send off was even more lovely than the haunting vision of the battle trenches that accompanied Jimmy’s death back in season two and served make the beloved character’s death more palatable by first giving him his happily-ever-after ending. –KRF

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The Part We Could’ve Done Without: Seeing Chalky’s daughter, with a bullet in her head, smoke coming out of the wound and her eyes and mouth still moving, was kinda gross…could’ve done without it. I also felt the little phone flirting Nucky and Sally (Patricia Arquette) was pretty lame. –BB

In my opinion, this was the series’ strongest season finale to date and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. –KRF

The Little Thing We Loved: Eli using a damn handsaw on Agent Knox. Holy shit, talk about taking it to the extreme, Eli wrecked Knox. It was nearly comical in its nature, but it was still completely intense, insane and induced a completely audible “WHAAAAAT!!!” reaction from me. –BB

In a show that often skews towards the dark side, I always appreciate a little comic relief and Nucky and Narcisse kicking the powerless Mayor Bader out of his own office was pretty hilarious. I also loved the choice to have Margot Bingham’s singing close out the season and “Farewell Daddy Blues” was a perfect song choice. –KRF

Final Thoughts: I’m torn on this season finale. On the positive side of things, I thought it was really well done and the stories ended (or were extended) in a logical and well-crafted way. The action sequences were vintage Boardwalk, with blood and bullets spewing everywhere. I really thought the ending sequence, scored by Daughter Maitland singing, was a really, really cool way to close the chapter on the season.

However, on the other hand, I felt a few of the storyline conclusions fell flat or just hit me hard. I felt that the Narcisse/Chalky storyline wasn’t given a resolution it was just left with a big, bloody question mark that may or may not be addressed in Season 5. The Harrow storyline made a lot of sense…he lost his taste for killing and his mistake cost an innocent girl her life, so he has to die. He isn’t allowed to be in a peaceful world because of the grievous sins he’s committed. His send-off, something no character has ever received, was a heartwarming and heart-wrenching sequence but damn it, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Yes, it was beautifully done, but this was one of my all-time favorite characters — not just on the show, but in my television viewing life. This character is so fascinating, so wonderfully rich and genuine, that I wanted him to live and live a happy life. But, I guess that’s the mark of great writing when you can be that attached to a character.

In the end, I’m ambivalent about the ending of Season 4 of Boardwalk Empire. As a season itself, I felt this made up for a very disorganized and lackluster Season 3, yet it still does not hold a candle to those first two magical seasons. –BB

“Farewell Daddy Blues” was a heavy, dark, yet extremely satisfying ending for Boardwalk Empire’s fourth season. The finale served to wrap up many of the season’s storylines – and even the entire character arc of one of the show’s greatest creations – without tying them up in overly neat bows. It would be easy for the writers to fall into the formulaic routine of bring in a villain each season only to see them killed off in the season finale and have all of Nucky’s problems temporarily disappear until the start of the next season. Instead, a now FBI-flipped Narcisse gets to live another day (I’m certainly thankful for the possibility of more Jeffrey Wright next season, an absolutely fantastic edition to the show), Chalky gets to keep his life, but loses everything else, and the fan-beloved Richard Harrow makes an uncharacteristic and fatal mistake. We also saw Van Alden come into his own as a criminal, finally shaking off the last vestiges of his former life, Capone finally taking the reins from the wounded, quitting Torrio, an imprisoned Gillian weeping over the discovery of her son’s body and likely her last shot at freedom, and got a glimpse of Margaret’s posh new digs courtesy of her budding friendship with Arnold Rothstein. The FBI’s pursuit of Nucky – first via Eddie, then Eli – seems to have cooled off thanks to Tolliver’s death and Hoover’s focusing in on Marcus Garvey – and Narcisse – instead and with Eli headed to Chicago, Willie once again comes under the yoke of Uncle Nucky, who may be grooming him as another potential successor. Even though “Farewell Daddy Blues,” closed the season in a satisfying way, it wasn’t easy viewing and the overall tone was somber and bleak. While it certainly doesn’t make for feel-good TV, I wouldn’t have wanted the season to end any other way. –KRF

photos credit: hbo

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