TV Review: ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ The Final Season

Boardwalk Empire Final Season TV Review

Any past nitpicking about slow starts is obliterated by “Boardwalk Empire’s” opening flurry, as the show attacks its final season with admirable gusto. Looking even more sweeping and cinematic than usual, the early episodes owe a distinctive debt to “The Godfather” saga, using extended flashbacks to provide insight into the character of Nucky Thompson, while jumping among multiple locales. The repeal of Prohibition always felt like a logical end point — indeed, a built-in expiration date — for this splendid HBO series, and if the remainder sustains this level of storytelling, fans should happily hoist a glass to all concerned.

The season jumps ahead several years to open in 1931, and centers on the astute Nucky (Steve Buscemi, never better) recognizing that Prohibition is hanging by a thread (its elimination came two years later), while trying to segue into legitimate businesses that will capitalize on his established bootlegging apparatus. Of course, his reputation precedes him, which makes some queasy about the prospect of collaboration — although a certain wealthy Boston businessman named Joseph Kennedy (Matt Letscher) is clearly intrigued.

Meanwhile, shifting alliances have produced a new mob boss in New York, Salvatore Maranzano (Giampiero Judica), as Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) chart their paths to enhanced power within this changing world. As for the status of African-American mob boss Chalky White (the brilliant Michael Kenneth Williams), the less divulged, the better.

“Boardwalk” has always had considerable fun weaving historical figures into its narrative, and this season is no exception. Moreover, the throes of the Great Depression and recognition about the mob’s evolving rules — one old boss expresses a desire not to be “the richest man in the cemetery” — add considerable weight to the storyline. Nor does it diminish them to note how the flashbacks, a sojourn to Havana and Nucky’s sometimes-uncomfortable attempts to go legit can’t help but evoke memories of “The Godfather,” part II especially.

That said, what really makes the three previewed episodes sizzle — and creates a powerful sense of building toward the culmination of Nucky’s tale — are those flashbacks to his youth, featuring an impressive kid actor (Nolan Lyons) portraying Nucky’s younger self, taking those first furtive steps into a life of graft and corruption. Not only are these scenes beautifully executed, but they bring a different look to the boardwalk with their late-19th-century trappings, both in terms of literal design and general flavor.

Without giving too much away, there’s also a sense that some key characters who have been essentially exiled to roles removed from Nucky’s life will gravitate back toward that orbit, reflecting a desire to bring together loose ends as the show approaches the home stretch.

Of course, as an alum of “The Sopranos,” series creator Terence Winter is unlikely to fret overly much about the ending being completely neat and tidy. But if these first three hours are any guide, “Boardwalk” looks like it’s heading toward a finish worthy of what preceded it — one that might not be black and white, but will at least provide a sense of where all the bodies are buried.

TV Review: 'Boardwalk Empire,' The Final Season

(Series; HBO, Sun. Sept. 7, 9 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in New York by Leverage, Closest to the Hole Prods., Sikelia Prods. and Cold Front Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Terence Winter, Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Tim Van Patten, Howard Korder, Eugene Kelly; producers, Joseph E. Iberti, Rick Yorn, Allen Coulter, Brad Carpenter; director, Van Patten; writer, Korder; camera, Jonathan Freeman; production designer, Bill Groom; editor, Kate Sanford; music supervisor, Randall Poster; casting, Meredith Tucker. 60 MIN.

Cast

Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon, Shea Whigham, Stephen Graham, Vincent Piazza, Paul Sparks, Michael Kenneth Williams, Gretchen Mol, Jeffrey Wright, Anatol Yusef, Ben Rosenfield, Patricia Arquette, Michael Zegen, Jim True-Frost, Matt Letscher, Giampiero Judica, Louis Cancelmi

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  1. Sally G says:

    BOARDWALK has always been a hit-and-miss affair. Sometimes it’s absolutely great, other times it wallows in boredom. With it finally showing signs of true splendor, it’s sad it will end this season. HBO had better hope they have a few new hits in the mix or they’ll wish this EMPIRE wasn’t over.

  2. JoelR says:

    What a downer that HBO wouldn’t renew something as exceptional as BOARDWALK but has instead decided to offer us LEFTOVERS. (The pun is not lost on me.) Or a bit of nepotism in a Mick Jagger-produced series starring…Mick’s son! Unlike, say, TRUE BLOOD (which should have ended years ago), B.E. has far-from-worn-out it’s welcome.

    B.E. was one of the main reason’s I kept HBO (sure as hell wasn’t GIRLS, the waaaay over-rated CANDELABRA…and certainly not the HBO policy of eliminating picture-information from the theatrical films). After the final episode airs, it will be “buh-bye HBO” for me. And before someone screams GAME OF THRONES, I suppose I can always see it at a friends’ or wait for Amazon or disc.

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