Boardwalk Empire - Season 2 finale brings brilliance and tragedy
Review by Rob Carnevale
BOARDWALK Empire‘s second season came to an end on Sky Atlantic on Christmas Eve with an episode that underlined just why this show now deserves to sit among the all-time greats of TV.
Violent, emotionally compelling and deeply tragic, this was a shocking episode in many ways that truly demonstrated how epic this series has become.
The main crux of proceedings centred around two unresolved storylines: the trial of Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and the attempts by his former second-in-command and ‘surrogate son’ Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) to atone for his past sins and get back into his mentor’s good books.
It says much for the slow-burning, complex nature of this latter story that the resolution was able to provide such an overwhelmingly poignant finale – not to mention a deeply shocking one at that and a further insight into the main man of Atlantic City.
Jimmy has long been a tortured soul… a reluctant soldier struggling to live in the present. As a World War I veteran, he remained haunted by the experiences of the trenches, while as a solder for Thompson he was a continually exploited button man, whose own attempts to rise to power and replace Nucky were always destined to end in failure.
Yet few could have predicted the true cost of that failure, for having seen his wife killed by a rival (William Forsythe’s Manny Horvitz) two episodes earlier, and having played a pivotal hand in securing Nucky’s mis-trial by staging the suicide of a key witness, Jimmy found himself at the wrong end of Nucky’s gun barrel.
In a rain-swept finale, it was Nucky who slayed Jimmy, having lured him to his end by pretending to deliver Horvitz. That Jimmy suspected and arrived unarmed only underlined the tragedy. He was a spent force… a walking ghost who, by his own admission, had never returned from the trenches.
And yet while his death brought Jimmy a peace of sorts, the manner in which it was delivered sent a shiver down viewers’ spines. Nucky finally unveiled himself to be a monster of his own – a heartless head honcho who wasn’t looking for any kind of forgiveness for past sins.
The moment he uttered those words and pulled the trigger a second time was jarring, especially since only 30 minutes or so earler he had appeared to lay his heart on the line to Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) in a bid to prevent her from testifying against him.
Having secured her hand in marriage, however, Nucky then proceeded to lie repeatedly to her as he set about further securing his freedom from the authorities. If ever we had doubted just how Nucky had survived at the top for so long, this was it.
But given that it was Jimmy who paid the ultimate price, the drama was all the more memorable and poignant. You wanted to shed a tear, even though Jimmy had been responsible for some pretty heinous acts himself during the course of this second series.
There was, of course, much more to this final episode than what I’ve just written about but the final acts (not to mention Margaret’s own final betrayal of sorts with the signing over of Nucky’s priceless land deeds to the church) were the undisputed highlights of an absolutely classic second series.
We’ll miss Jimmy deeply, which is a measure of how sympatheic and tragic Pitt made him. But we’ll take further fiendish delight in seeing how Nucky rolls on from this.
Needless to say, the third season of this masterful series can’t come quickly enough…