HomeTelevisionTV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, 'Eldorado' (Series Finale)

TV Recap: Boardwalk Empire, ‘Eldorado’ (Series Finale)

Written by Bill Bodkin and Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs


Plot: The series comes to an end as Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) no longer runs Atlantic City…

BB: Tonight, the end of era comes – as Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s Atlantic City-based, Prohibition Era crime drama comes to a close. For Pop-Break.com, this was one of the first television shows we’ve ever reviewed and for Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs and I – this had been a show we’ve been writing about for the past three years.

Kimberlee, we’re writing this seconds after the final scene of the series – tell me how you feel right now.

KRF: I’m stunned by the ending. I had a hunch the show might end with Nucky’s death, since the character was only loosely based on a real person and not anchored in history like a Capone or Arnold Rothstein, but it was shocking to see the protagonist go nonetheless. Nucky’s death was so fitting though – so deserved (highlighted by the fact that the moment he made a deal with the devil and sold his soul by handing innocent young Gillian to her rapist was shown immediately before his death) and so full circle, right down to the Moe Green special-ness of getting shot through the cheek like Jimmy Darmondy.


BB: I’m absolutely stunned by the ending. At first, I hated it. I called bullshit – because Nucky Thompson lives to be close to 100! However, like you said, when you realize this is loosely based on Nucky Thompson, his death makes absolute sense. There’s no way, he can just skate by, like he always has. He deserves to be killed for all the terrible, terrible things he’s done. And if you think about, he’s done more wrong to the Darmody family than anyone else. Because of his actions – Tommy’s mother and father are brutally murdered, he was raised in a brothel by his damaged “mee-ma” Gillian (who Nucky was complicit in damaging) and his best friend, Richard Harrow, was killed while trying to sort out of a mess Nucky was a part of. I’m also kinda stoked that my theory (or shared theory) that this “kid” was in fact Jimmy’s son all along was awesome.

KRF: I’m glad you mentioned Richard Harrow because I was just about to point to him as an example of how this is a show where people pay for their sins. When Harrow accidentally murdered an innocent by shooting Chalky’s daughter, we knew he wasn’t going to have his happy ever after. And, like Harrow – and Jimmy, too – Nucky’s death is given a little coda that serves to sum up his whole life’s trajectory. Jimmy had that little flash to stillness in the middle of the chaotic, bloody trenches of WWI, Harrow was whole again and surrounded by the family he always wanted, and Nucky was just a poor boy, snatching up a coin. Even Chalky was sent off with a moment of connection to someone else – hearing Daughter’s beautiful voice as he closed his eyes, but for Nucky, there’s no warmth, no peacefulness, just another coin to snatch.

BB: This is also one of the first shots we saw in the beginning of this season. Nucky constantly trying to grab the next coin, but keeps failing. It’s the perfect ending to the season – it’s all about money and money has lead to nothing but disappointment and emptiness for Nucky.


However, I don’t think this was the best coda of the series. That, as it always has, goes to Al Capone. Stephen Graham has consistently stolen the show with his portrayal of Scarface himself. We’ve seen him rise from a driver for Johnny Torio, to a violent thug who helps Jimmy and Nucky to the most notorious gangster of all time. However, tonight, might have been his finest moment, when he talks with his teenage son.

KRF: I was so glad they brought back Capone’s son because the scene between the two a few seasons back, where Capone tries to toughen him up, was one of the most wrenching things I’ve ever seen on TV. The dichotomy between the violent gangster and the tender father is always effective (Tony Soprano and his ducks, anyone?) but Graham brought so much to his portrayal of the larger-than-life Capone that he often stole the show and throughout the series run, I anxiously awaited his scenes.

Again though, during his talk with his son (Side Bar: I’m not surprised Capone was so adept at sign language. Talking with our hands is second nature for Italians) Capone mentions that everything he’s done has been for his family. That notion of being motivated by the ones you love and the legacy you want to leave behind has come up again and again this season. Joe Kennedy also states something similar tonight and we know that Margaret and Eli have been driven to succeed by their desire to make a better life for their families. Nucky, on the other hand, is all about the coin grab, the endless climb up the ladder. Even as the episode wraps up, we see he hasn’t changed – he bids a cool farewell to his brother and leaves him with a bag full of cash. He refused to help Gillian, but sets up a trust in her name in case she can ever get released. Nothing’s been learned, no insight gained. Just business as usual for Mr. Thompson.

BB: Going back to Capone for a second, I thought this episode was going to be about the small moments (obviously wasn’t expecting Nucky’s death) and Capone had the best ones. I mean the son putting up his fists encouraging Capone to fight, Capone covering up his scars with make-up as a sign that he’s not as confident as we all think and then he nods to Mike D’Angelo, admitting defeat. Give this man an Emmy already!


Anyway, I thought the scene between Eli and Nucky played out the way it really should’ve. I thought their embrace was much warmer than you did. These are two men who have done awful things together and to each other. They aren’t the most affectionate men in the world either. So that hug, to me, spoke volumes. Also, the money, Nucky’s calling card in most situations as a quick fix, was the right fix for Eli. Nucky’s taking care of his brother and his family, a family he sacrificed everything for. So he took care of his family one more time. Also the razor and soap was a nice little brotherly jab to Eli and a cap on the whole “Eli’s really, really dirty” storyline.

KRF: I laughed out loud when he pulled out the razor, but yes, I think little Eli is going to be ok in the end.

Gillian, though, I’m not so sure about. Unfortunately, it seems that she was unable to avoid Dr. Cotton’s barbaric, prehistoric surgical approach to mental illness and her time in the mental hospital seems to be costing Gillian her sanity, as well. She has certainly been reprehensible many times throughout the series’ run, but Gillian has become a much more sympathetic figure as we’ve seen just how tragic her story truly was.

BB: Gillian’s an interesting case – on one hand she, like all the other characters who have killed, gets her comeuppance. However, she’s also a victim of circumstance. Had Nucky not handed her over to The Commodore, she would’ve never have gone down the road she went down. Out of all the characters in this series, no one has suffered as much as Gillian.

Speaking of he flashbacks, my God they did an absolutely amazing job with them. I was a little unsure about them at first — but the story they told and the actors they cast in these roles were perfect.


KRF: Oh, absolutely. Young sheriff Nucky and young Gillian in particular were almost eerie in their likenesses to their older counterparts. The flashbacks have been great all season, but I loved the tension in the quick cuts from the flashback to that fateful Neptune parade and to Nucky’s fateful encounter with Tommy. What a brilliant way of showing how all of Nucky’s selfish, unethical choices have led him to that final moment. It reminds me of his quote from earlier in the season – “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” There were only a handful of ways in which Nucky’s life could have played out and his choices led him to the ending he ultimately received.

BB: So, we’ve watched this series from the first moment we saw the Atlantic Ocean wash up onto Nucky’s finely polished shoes. Was this the perfect way to end the series?

KRF: One of the things Boardwalk has been best at is tying up their storylines perfectly and bringing things full-circle (I credit Terrence Winter for that). In that sense, this was an absolutely ideal way to end the saga of Nucky Thompson. Due in part to the time constraints of the shortened final season, there were some storylines that were given short shrift (I would have loved for them to focus more on the maturation of Luciano and Lansky into the fathers of modern-day organized crime, as well as a little more on Margaret’s development into a stock market wizard), but overall I was impressed with the final season. On a scale from 1 to 10 – 1 being the Dexter finale and 10 being the Six Feet Under finale – this was a solid 9.

BB: The previous two seasons of Boardwalk Empire had me worried about how this season would play out. The series really took too many detours in those season, it lacked focus, but it always wrapped things neatly, a little too neatly. However, this season everything that appeared onscreen meant something. And then they double red herring-ed us. First, they got Murder Inc. calling for a public execution with two shooters — we all figured out this was meant for Narcisse. So, in typical Boardwalk fashion we figured that Nucky would skate by, however improbable it seemed, to a new life. Then, bam, Tommy Darmody. We never saw it coming. Like we never saw the death of Angela Darmody, Jimmy Darmody, Nelson Van Alden, Richard Harrow, Manny Horwitz, Mickey Doyle or even Sally Wheet coming. Yet, they’re all tied to the actions of Nucky Thompson that he perpetrated on that fateful summer day decades before. My knee-jerk reaction was one of shock and disappointment, but once I let it sink in, I couldn’t help but love it. A solid 9 for me as well.


Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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