Boardwalk Empire Series Finale: Predictions & Reflections

 (Spoiler Warning! Is this really needed with that title?)

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   The end of Nucky Thompson’s saga is almost upon us. It’s a bittersweet feeling, really. This is a show that has reached new heights even for cable drama, and yet never reaching its true potential.  Longevity-wise, this is especially true in two ways: First, the show’s last season is only eight episodes instead of the usual twelve. Second, the show never fully recovered from the infamous events of Season 2. People have called it everything from historical fan-fiction to underrated classic. But as we head back to Atlantic City one last time, one can’t help but feel that creator and showrunner Terence Winter has something clever up his sleeve. I’ll list my predictions of what could go down in the last episode.

Loose threads and history

  1. Let’s start with the easiest one, shall we? Capone is going down.

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As tempting as it is to fantasize about a Capone that survives the threat of Ness and grows old with his empire, the narrative of Capone’s rise and fall is too embedded in the American psyche. Anything less would seem like paltry historical fan-fiction. I’m not saying it’s impossible but it is definitely a hard concept to execute. Besides, why would Winter and co. set the last season in 1931 JUST in time for Al Capone to be defeated? If they didn’t want to adapt Capone’s takedown, they could’ve easily set the fifth season in the 1920s or even further in the 1930s of the Great Depression.

 2. Luciano, Lansky, and Siegel are going to “win”

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There’s a reason the name Enoch Johnson doesn’t ring a bell among most gangster enthusiasts. This show has been building towards this moment from day one. Ever since they set foot on-screen, these three historical figures like to remind the audience that they are autonomous gangsters and are not beholden to the whims of old guard Arnold Rothstein and Joe Masseria. After all, these three gentlemen are the most famous members of the National Crime Syndicate in the US. I seriously doubt Empire’s finale will deprive them of that stature.

I predict that:

A.)   Luciano, Lansky, and Siegel will develop the national crime syndicate successfully

B.)    Luciano becomes the head of the Genovese family

 3.       Joe Harper = Tommy Darmody

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Just look at the kid! He resembles Michael Pitt (Jimmy Darmody) for crying out loud. People have pondered it before thanks to the time-jump and considerable screentime given to Joe Harper.  This is basically JGL’s character from The Dark Knight Rises all over again. However, thanks to the ever-reliable AV Club comments section (and I sincerely mean that), Joe Harper’s age doesn’t seem to add up with Tommy’s likely one. Then again, this show has been known to play with character age and facts so long as they’re fictional or only partially historical. I’m sticking to this one.

If he isn't Tommy, then this guy isn't Robin

If he isn’t Tommy, then this guy isn’t Robin

4. Gillian will NOT escape from the mental health facility

Terence Winter hates me

Terence Winter hates me

Now, this could go either way really. There was a scene in the previous episode that hinted at a possible escape plan by Gillian by though. Still, considering the final sequence in the previous episode, I think Nucky will bail her out as a final piece of atonement for his sins towards her before he retires one way or another.

5. Enoch “Nucky” Thompson will NOT die

   Heck, I’ll even go out on a limb and say Willie Thompson will live.

The opposite of my prediction is normally everyone else’s when it comes to prestige cable dramas about white guys becoming too powerful and falling from grace. It implies a full circle and sense of narrative justice.  However, the slave-driver that is history makes this trickier. Yes, the real Enoch Johnson lived beyond 1931. Yes, partially historical characters like the Commodore have died on this show before their historical counterpart. Still, I can’t help but feel that the marketing material and foreshadowing throughout the last season implies a simple bait-and-switch. After all, this IS a Terence Winter series finale we’re talking about.

This is related to the previous three predictions of course. How? First, LLS are going to win this gang war and enjoy the spoils of Atlantic City but I think their attempt on Nucky’s life will fail. Second, Harper will be revealed to be Tommy but won’t (successfully) kill Nucky as revenge for his fallen father. Lastly, despite everything he’s done against her, Gillian will forgive Nucky if she confronts him about you-know-what.

There’s also the recurring themes and plotlines of Nucky’s legacy and his attempts to become a legitimate businessman to consider. The former can be seen in his willingness to leave bootlegging behind and surrender everything to the persistent New Yorkers. The latter manifests itself in his attempts to short the stock of the Mayflower Grain Corporation with Margaret Thompson. These two variables affect my prediction that he can survive this ordeal and live a desirable life afterwards, with Prohibition’s repeal on the horizon.

Looking back:

Executive Problems

Why didn’t Executive Producers Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg get more involved? I’m sure Scorsese directing more episodes would have been nice. What did Wahlberg ever do? His stamp can be clearly seen all over Entourage but, for the life of me, I can’t seem to find his signature on BE.

Never the bridesmaid

                One of the things that makes this show so underrated is the lack of nominations for its stellar supporting cast members. Sure, Bobby Canavale won. But even though his flashy and over-the-top character was entertaining, it was nothing compared to the more nuanced characters on this show. Where were the nominations for Stephen Graham (Al Capone), Michael Stuhlbarg (Arnold Rothstein), Jack Huston (Richard Harrow), Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky White), Michael Shannon (Nelson Van Alden), Gretchen Mol (Gillian Darmody), Shea Whigham (Elias Thompson), Vincent Piazza (Lucky Luciano), Jeffrey Wright (Dr. Narcisse), and so many others? Considering Michael Pitt’s behind-the-scenes attitude, any of these more deserving actors should’ve been given the nom instead.

Missed opportunities

                This has been touched upon before but the time-jump for the last season really hurt part of the show’s appeal i.e. creative and clever reconstructions of gangland history’s significant events. The Atlantic City Conference, Valentine’s Day massacre, Arnold Rothstein’s death, the crash of ’29, the early parts of the Castellammarese War, and even appearances by other historical figure were nowhere in sight for history geeks such as myself.

Post-Sopranos Series Wars

                  Going beyond the show’s construct, this finale is significant from a wider industry lens. Between 2014 and 2015, we’ll get to see 2 series finales from 2 successful Sopranos alumni by the names of Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner. Can Winter make one last gambit at TV greatness with Empire? If not, will Weiner cement his status as the better one if we get a perfect end to Mad Men next year?

Home Box Struggles

                It’s no secret that industry watchers such as myself have seen HBO’s struggles of late with producing acclaimed shows that aren’t called Game of Thrones. If you ask me, the current king of prestige TV is AMC but the changing landscape thanks to Netflix and co. is encroaching on that. With both the Newsroom and Boardwalk Empire ending this year, will HBO be able to recover its lost glory in the next awards cycle?  Will they be able to keep up with the next batch of freshman shows next year?

Only time can answer all these questions.

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