‘Boardwalk’ Finale Recap: Nucky’s ‘Empire’ Strikes Back

by | December 6, 2010 at 12:50 PM | Boardwalk Empire

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

You might say Nucky Thompson took care of all family business in the season finale of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Sunday night on HBO – in the manner of Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather’ – but you would only be about half right.

Sure, like ‘The Godfather,’ Nucky arranged the termination of his enemies to coincide with an event that would provide him with an airtight alibi. While his minions Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), disfigured World War I vet Richard Harrow and Al Capone (temporarily on loan from Johnny Torrio’s Chicago outfit) eliminated the four remaining D’Alessio brothers, Nucky (Steve Buscemi) was conducting an election-eve news conference. When watching the sequence, you couldn’t help but be reminded of the famous Baptism scene in ‘The Godfather’ and the way it was intercut with scenes of violence.

The extermination of the D’Alessios was part of a peace deal the Atlantic City boss reached with New York gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein and his henchman, Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), with whom Nucky’s organization had been at war. Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) even channeled Vito Corleone when he said, “This war ends here,” practically a word-for-word quotation from the “peace talks” scene in ‘The Godfather.’

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But it would be inaccurate to conclude that the peace agreement solved all of Nucky’s problems. Sunday night’s 12th and final episode of the first season of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ fairly effectively tied up most of the season’s loose ends, while also setting in motion a series of conflicts shrewdly designed to bring viewers back for Season 2 (probably next fall). Family business? Well, the use of the word “family” is just a figure of speech here. The truth is, Nucky’s real “family” – represented by his disgruntled brother Eli – was seen at the episode’s end plotting Nucky’s overthrow. The conspirators: Eli, Jimmy and the city’s former boss, the aged “Commodore” (Dabney Coleman).

In addition, rigid and religious federal agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) appeared poised to renew his commitment to representing the government’s effort to ride herd on the corrupt Atlantic City political machine. In Sunday’s episode, he asked for a sign from God that he should stay in Atlantic City. That sign came in the form of pouty Boardwalk bimbo Lucy Danziger (Paz De La Huerta), who turned up in Van Alden’s office with the surprise news that she was pregnant – and he was the father.

“We have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with,” Nucky told his wayward companion, Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), who returned to him at episode’s end. Margaret had apparently decided she could live with her own “sin”: Living unmarried with Nucky, the man who engineered the murder of her abusive husband, Hans.

Critics agreed that the ‘Boardwalk Empire’ finale was a more energized episode than has been the norm for this series this season. “[The episode worked] well as a way to close off the stories from Season One, but even better as a way to introduce new stories for Season Two,” wrote the L.A. Times.

“So Nucky Thompson gets what he wants in almost every way at the end of this first season,” concluded Time magazine. “But his victories are tempered by the fact that the people around him are increasingly conscious of the fact that their relationships with him are provisional, and the time may come when they decide Nucky is not worth what he asks of them.”

The first season of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ began with the ushering in of Prohibition on Jan. 16, 1920, and concluded this past weekend with the election of Warren G. Harding as president on Nov. 2, 1920. In his campaign, the Republican Harding had famously promised a return to “normalcy,” supplying Sunday’s episode with its title, “A Return to Normalcy.” And with Harding’s election, the Roaring ’20s can really begin.

What did you think of ‘Boardwalk Empire’s’ first season? What about the season finale? On the basis of the finale, are you excited for Season Two?