TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Golden Days for Boys and Girls’ (Season 5 Premiere)

Written by Bill Bodkin & Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

Boardwalk-Empire-Season-5-Poster

Plot: Set seven years after Season 4’s finale, we find Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) in Havana, Cuba with Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette) setting up their post-Prohibition plans including securing rights for Bacardi. Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) is in prison, for reasons yet known, and is working on the chain gang. Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Lanksy (Anton Yusef) are still trying to make moves in the New York crime world and Margaret (Kelly MacDonald) is neck deep in the financial crash.

BB: So, we begin the final season of Boardwalk Empire with a flashback to 1884 with young Nucky Thompson trying to grab piece of gold being tossed into the ocean by The Commodore, while narration about truth and honesty score the scene. Not the way I thought Boardwalk would start their fifth season.

KRF: The fact that they were jumping forward had been well-publicized, but I wasn’t expecting a flashback to Nucky’s youth. “Libations await!” People spoke so much fancier back then.

boardwalk-empireck then.

BB: I wish we all spoke fancy and that top hats were still cool. Now, from a final season perspective, while it’s interesting to see the evolution of Nucky — do you think it’s really necessary or is this one of those classic Boardwalk Empire waste-of-time plot devices?

KRF: I’m intrigued because Nucky’s always been a bit of a cypher. Even though he’s ostensibly the star of the show, we really know very little about him, his backstory and motivations are often somewhat of a mystery.

BB: Would it be weird if I said I loved those puffy shirts the trumpet players are wearing?

KRF: Would it be weirder if I said I was wearing one right now?

BB: No, it actually would not. I also hope your son picked it out for you. By the way who’s your least favorite female on this show Patricia Arquette’s Sally or Kelly MacDonald’s Margaret?

KRF: As irritating as I find Ms. Schroeder/Mrs. Thompson/Ms. Rowan, Sally is a much more problematic character for me. Who is this broad? And why does she get to sit at the big boys table when she doesn’t come across as particularly intelligent or cunning? Margaret at least is clever, ballsy, and knows how to get what she wants. Also, is Sally a madam? Her main role in the discussion with the Senator seems to be pimping out that cute Cuban girl.

BB: Patricia Arquette is my least favorite Arquette. And honestly, she has to be bankrolling that Cuban girl something huge because that Senator is the definition of “old balls and loose skin.”

KRF: I kinda have a soft spot for Mrs. Alabama Worley. That senator is also the whitest human I’ve ever seen. How did he not immediately burst into flames in the Cuban sun?

BB: One of the most over-the-top and unnecessary scenes of the premiere episode was the scene in the financial firm where Margaret’s boss rants about Mickey Mouse and then punches a bullet through his skull. He literally jammed the gun in his temple and pulled the trigger. It was very jarring and hammy. It’s “a grand time to make some money” and fuck it, I’m going to kill myself? I know this happened a lot during the crash but this was just crappily written.

KRF: A bit telegraphed, too. Once he started talking about Mickey sailing away on a turtle, I had a feeling he was about to do the same. Very melodramatic, but to be fair, after the market crash, a good number of those working in finance committed suicide by jumping out of their office windows. Workplace suicide was apparently a trend of the day, like doing the Charleston on top of a flagpole.

KRF: Unwritten rule of fiction – any time a child coughs on screen, you know he or she’s a goner.

BB: Also another unwritten rule – any father who wears suspenders over his thermal shirt is going to be drunk and smack around the kids.

KRF: Sooo true! I wonder why suspenders never got a colorful sobriquet like undershirts and “wife beater.” Oh no, dad’s got his “Kid Smackers” on. Hide!” Also, you know young Nucky had a hard life because he started out as a fresh-faced Irish moppet and grew into Steve Buscemi.

Photo Credit: HBO/Macall B. Polay
Photo Credit: HBO/Macall B. Polay

BB: Steve Buscemi has the face of an angel. I thought Nucky’s relationship with his dad was better addressed in Season 2 when he took Teddy to see his childhood home and then burned it to the ground.

KRF: Ah, Teddy. I wonder where that little pyro is now?

BB: Wow, nice recall of one of the many irrelevant storylines from Season 3. That and Gyp Rossetti’s penis.

KRF: If Gyp Rosetti’s sexual masochism somehow factors into the finale, I will be mightily impressed. That is some full-circle shit.

BB: Best line of the series, “You got guns. We got guns. Everybody got guns!” He won an Emmy for that shit.

KRF: He should have worn his tricorn hat while accepting it.

KRF: I’m a big fan of Anton Yusef as Meyer Lansky. I could listen to him talk that old-timey gangster speak for days. Killer line delivery, always.

BB: Everytime we cut to Chalky, I’m just waiting for him to kill someone and when he doesn’t, I get disappointed.

KRF: I’m so intrigued as to what happened to land Chalky in the prison chain gang. I like that they didn’t shoehorn in some clumsy exposition and it’s a bit of a mystery. Also, why did we get away from the classic striped uniform for inmates? I think we should bring that back. It’s a good look.

BB: Now, we have the painfully awkward scene between Margaret and what we presume is the big boss of her company. I wish they had actually Jeffrey Tambor in this role instead of his twin brother.

KRF: Ha! That’s who he reminds me of!

BB: CALL A LOCKSMITH! Reminds me of Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

KRF: Now back to “Jailhouse Rock.”

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

BB: “Let’s go stripey” – is that racist?

KRF: Everything was racist back then, but I think he’s just referring to his Hamburglar-esque ensemble.

BB: And just like in The Wire Michael Kenneth Williams blows someone’s head off with a shotgun. Also, can we talk about how stupid it was to have so few guards and so many convicts with pick-axes.

KRF: Not a well thought-out strategy, by any means. At least Chalky got to do some murderin’ though.

BB: The one part of Boardwalk Empire I always get a kick out of — when they bring in actual history and apply it to the plot. I’m such a nerd.

KRF: This feels a bit like product placement, too. Bacardi is to Boardwalk as Avion is to Entourage. Please don’t let Turtle show up.

BB: Well, Mark Wahlberg is the producer. Speaking of people we don’t want to show up…one of my least favorite characters on the show is Joe Maseria. He speaks like Peter Griffin when he grew a moustache and just said “Boppity Boopity” to the deli owner. I also feel he’s been an anchor of a character — one that really drags the shows to a complete stop.

KRF: As soon as Luciano took that trip to the bathroom, I had a feeling Maseria was about to go face down in his onion rings ala that other HBO mob boss (whatever, David Chase – I know the truth).

BB: He’s still alive Kimberlee. Unlike Joe Maseria.

KRF: RIP Joe the Boss. We hardly knew ye. Or cared, really.

BB: Despite my ambivalence about the flashbacks, I actually think they did a really good job casting a younger version of Dabney Coleman’s Commodore.

KRF: Take the money, Lil’ Nuck! $50 could keep your dad in suspenders and cheap hooch for weeks! I agree in regards to the Commodore. That is an excellent casting choice.

BB: I think the attempted assassination of Nucky was a great scene. It showed Nucky wasn’t afraid to fight. But it also showed how bad-ass his new bodyguard (Paul Calederon) is. That man has come a long way from tending bar in Pulp Fiction!

KRF: His bodyguard is money. I love a man who can not only wield a machete, but can also go all Mr. Blonde on a would-be assassin while getting nary a drop of blood on his natty white suit. I think I have a crush on him.

KRF: My name’s Paul, and this is between ya’ll.

BB: And now Augustus Glump takes the collection!

BB: Ugh, we replace Joe Maseria with another thick-accented jabroni. Also, have you noticed Luciano’s one eye is really wonky?

KRF: YES! I was just going to say that? Is it an homage to wonk-eyed Johnny Torrio??

BB: Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Luciano also have an STD from having the sex with Gillian? So, by doing this blood oath, don’t all these Dons now have the clap?

KRF: Probably, but despite the implications of transmitted cooties, I find it impossible to watch any scene of mafioso dining and not suddenly be hit by an irresistible craving for pizza. It’s Pavlovian.

Photo Credit: HBO/Macall B. Polay
Photo Credit: HBO/Macall B. Polay

BB: My wife had an interesting thought…if they keep with these flashbacks are we going to see Nucky get Gillian for the Commodore? Because if so, I’ll barf.

KRF: Ooh, they might. Though I’m pretty sure HBO will stop short of an actual sex scene because, gross. Was Gretchen Mol narrating the poem that opened the episode? Gillian’s always been a central figure in the show, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her tie in heavily this season.

BB: I thought the same thing, but I actually think it’s Nucky’s mother.

KRF: I like Sally’s Cuban vacation wear and would like to own that hat. Not as much as I covet Alabama Worley’s classic tacky hooker wardrobe, but I’d still take it. Speaking of hookers, that Meyer Lansky is so wily! “I’m here with my wife.” Nucky’s on to your shit, kid!

BB: Hey, Lansky could do a lot worse!  By the way, was not a fan of the abrupt end to this episode. I felt like they could’ve ended it at the realization of Lansky’s lie and not Nucky reading his copy of Boy’s Life or whatever it was.

KRF: The flashbacks factored very heavily in this episode. So much so that I’m thinking the entire season might be split between 1884 and 1931. I wonder how much of this has to do with HBO perhaps putting the screws to Terrence Winter and co. to wrap things up. I was very surprised when I heard this would be the final season because it seemed like there was a lot more story to tell. Perhaps they’re now forced to tie up the show much earlier than anticipated and thus have to cram all of this in over the course of the final eight episodes.

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BB: So…two things….first, what’d you think of the episode as a whole and second, what are your thoughts of HBO giving Boardwalk a shortened eight episode final season?

KRF: Well, it was an interesting start for the timeline reasons I mentioned above. As a result of those timing choices, it didn’t really bring us up to date on where everyone left off after the events of last season. There are a lot of gaps to be filled in there and many characters didn’t even appear, though we’ll assuredly see them in the weeks to come. It’s always hard to judge Boardwalk based on a single episode because it’s traditionally a show where the bigger picture doesn’t emerge until later in the season. However, one thing Winter and co. have always excelled at is bringing each season full-circle, so I do expect good things from this final season.

And as I said before, I felt there was so much story left to tell that I was shocked this was the final season. The fact that it’s going to be such a brief season at that makes me wonder just how they’re going to tie this all up.

BB: As a premiere a lot happened, but there seemed to be no real direction as to what the season is going to be about. It definitely lacked the kind of punch and staying power that Boardwalk premieres usually have. The biggest drawback were the flashbacks, which while interesting took time away from developing the throughline for the show’s shortened, final season. I think we’ve addressed Nucky’s life throughout the show, so I’m not sure why we need to see them played out onscreen. I mean it isn’t like Nucky’s going to die and his life flashing before his eyes — the real Nucky Thompson didn’t die until 1968…well unless they decide to mess with the storylines.

In regards to the eight-episode season, it’s disappointing on paper. The show has been one of the best on television (in our opinion) and it deserves to go out with a full season. However, a limited run will hopefully force the show to not waste time with dead-end storylines like it has in Seasons Three and Four.

KRF: There is certainly very little time to waste with things like Margaret’s attempts at philanthropy or Nucky’s schoolgirl crushes on aspiring Broadway stars. As I’ve said, I have faith in Terrence Winter’s ability to bring the series to a meaningful conclusion. He’s adept at delivering satisfying closure and I think he prefers to have a storyline come full circle.  In fact, as an interesting aside, I read that he had intended to answer the infamous question of “What happened to the Russian” from the classic “Pine Barrens” in a later episode of the Sopranos, showing the now brain-damaged Valery working as a janitor in his boss’ office, but David Chase cut it because he preferred the mystery.

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