Boardwalk Empire
Series Review

What Up Yo.
Boardwalk Empire.
I've been re-watching season 1.
A few things strike me as I watch.
- Michael Shannon as Agent Nelson Van Alden.

It's an bold, hysterical, driven and focused performance by Shannon...who always brings it.

From the dead-pan & assertive delivery of his dialogue, in which his infuses his character with the fire of a holy roller, bible-thumping, "wild-eyed" preacher…
Crossed with a by-the-book FBI agent who lacks anything that could remotely be considered a sense of humor...

I find him intelligent, well spoken, in complete command of the material at hand... and (maybe it's just me) utterly hysterical.

I fucking love Michael Shannon.

I'm currently at episode 12 season one, he just baptized Agent Sepso "Driving the wickedness from his soul"

Now, and this is saying a lot considering the company he's in, but I find him to be the finest actor in the series.

Then there's Dabney Coleman.

Wow what a welcome return from such a great actor.

An actor I grew up watching, who simply vanished with the 80's, and returned to this series as "The Commodore", Jimmy's father (I love Michael Pitt) and the mythical "Creator" of Atlantic city.

When I first watched the series week to week as it aired in 2010... It was not until episode 11 that I recognized Coleman.
Where has he been?

He pulled the Debra Winger.

Turned his back on the crumbling Empire of Hollywood like so many fine actors we simply don't see anymore.

It's our loss.

So while watching the first seven or eight episodes, I found myself filled...
Compelled...
To create a video highlight reel showcasing one of the great story lines of season one.

I've called it;
"The Greek town Incident"
It features Jack Houston as Richard Harrow, Michael Pitt as James Darmody and Stephen Graham as Al Capone

The storyline:
- Jimmy Darmody has left Atlantic City and moved to Chicago where his transition to full time gangster takes place.
Friends with Al Capone, they both now work for Johnny Torrios crew there.
Capone, also a budding criminal, has been given the task of trying to expand Torrio's territory in Chicago. A big test of responsibility for him as he has strictly been a driver & enforcer up to this point.
As the video opens, we are with Al and Jimmy as Al muscles in on a section of what is known as "Greektown".

I've been loyal to this series from the moment I read of it's inception.

I'm loyal to HBO anyway, they can do no wrong in my book and are party and greatly responsible for this era we live in now...
This renaissance of visual storytelling we are living in right now.

When Boardwalk came along,
"The Sopranos" had just ended and HBO was now offering up a new crime drama from Sopranos writer, the brilliant Terence Winter, and the greatest American film director who has ever lived...
The legend who is Martin Scorsese.

Upon hearing this news, I had been anxiously waiting an image, footage, anything from the new series that Scorsese was producing and directing the pilot episode for, an episode that would cost $18 million.

The pilot.

1 episode.

$18 mill.

Then, after watching an episode of "Big Love"...I saw the first teaser, and it blew my mind:

I watched it closely .

Then I watched it again.
And again,
And again.

I sent it to everyone in my email contact list.

The song alone had me.

The visuals, the scope...the glorious eruptions of cinematic violence...

The costumes, the cast, the writing:

"All I want...is an opportunity."

"This is America ain't it? Who the fuck's stopping you?!"

It was March, the show would première in September.

I couldn't wait to devour it.

Then the first season aired.

It was a "slow-burn", we watched the rise of the American Gangster in prohibition era Atlantic City and Chicago.

We met the cast of characters;
Jimmy Darmody
Margret Schroeder
Chalky White
Agent Nelson Van Alden
Al Capone
Richard Harrow
Gillian Darmody
Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg...fucking brilliant)
Charlie Luciano
Meyer Lansky
The Commodore
&
Nucky Thompson

Expertly written and executed, taking its cues from The sopranos and Rome and Band Of Brothers ...

HBO was throwing caution to the wind to give us a series that moved, felt and looked like a 12 hour version of The Godfather.

It was my cup of gasoline.

It was overflowing with promise for the future.

Michael Pitt, Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon and Michael K. Williams were all just so solid.

But during the course of the season, I started to realize that there were 2 characters I couldn't take my eyes off of.

Every once in a while in a great series, you'll see an actor or actress get a role that he or she seems to be born to play.

You become completely invested in their journeys over the course of their characters life span.

They usually aren't in the starring roles, these actors occupy supporting roles, and when they are on screen they illuminate and steal every scene they're in.

It's a quality that can't be taught... but this nameless quality, this "it" factor, is present in each of them.

It's why we were so drawn to Bruce Willis as David Addison in "Moonlighting".

It's why we fell in love with Michael K. Williams as Omar in HBO's "The Wire".

It's why we were rooting so hard for Ryan Hurst as Opie in "Sons Of Anarchy".

It's how James Purefoy made Mark Antony look and feel like a rock star in the HBO series "Rome".

It's why Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister cannot be touched on that series.

And one of my favorites of all time, Rick Hoffman as Louis Litt in "Suits".

(He simply owns every fucking scene he is in)

You get it?

Well, In "Boardwalk Empire", I found that magic watching two of the series actors:

Jack Huston as Richard Harrow:

Stephen Graham as Al Capone.

I can only speak for myself, but each slowly became the main reasons I watched week to week.

They're both give incredible, layered performances. Dynamic, charismatic and magnetic.

Now I watch season 2, Religiously.
This one moves better than the first.
It's confident, as often happens with a show in its second season.
Once they make it to season two, they let loose a bit.
I season one, we saw Jimmy rise from war veteran to full fledged gangster under the tutelage of Nucky.

By season two, he learned his father used to run Atlantic City and they team up against Nucky to take it back.
With the help of his friends Al Capone and Richard Harrow, and the backing of his father and his connections...they begin to dominate, but once power seeps into young Jimmy, his decision making alters and he begins to unravel.
Then, like a domino effect, things begin to go wrong. He becomes toxic...and the only way to survive and care for his wife and son is to make peace with Nucky.

But times are changing. Nucky, once a sheriff then county treasurer has had an easy run of things in the beginning,

Prohibition changed the game. He couldn't afford to look weak. And he must kill Jimmy to send a message to all other gangs.
By the the season had ended, And I realized they had just killed off Michael Pitts character...I was devastated.

Devastated.

We moved on to season 3:
New competition emerges in the form of New York mobster Gyp Rossetti, an unbelievably strong, nuanced and brace performance by Bobby Cannavale,
Challenging Nucky's control of Atlantic City by setting camp on the one road in and out of town with his gang...he is a ruthless, temperamental and violent man who craves control he cannot have in New York City.
Now, I'll be honest with you troops... I don't slam visual storytelling on this site... but I was a bit let down.
But this is partially from the storytelling decisions made at the end of season 2...
I couldn't let Jimmy go.
You know what that means?
That means I was invested.

Rosetti comes and goes by the end in a mind numbing tactically glorious finale to the season where war veteran with half his face missing from World War One storms the cat house Rosetti is staying at (owned by Jimmy's mother, who is seeking vengeance against Nucky for Jimmy and harbors his enemies)

Now personally, I didn't feel it moved as well as the previous 2 seasons had.
But again. I'm biased and hold grudges.

I got a little bit skeptical about the future of "Boardwalk". Solid ending, Jimmy's son was saved by Harrow, saved from Gillian's whore house.
Nucky linked up with Al Capone and all was well, but just not as tight as 1 & 2.

That was until season 4.

When you're watching a series for 3 seasons, then the 4th kicks in and each episode provides significant forward momentum for the characters and storytelling,

Each episode keeps you invested in the storyline,

Each episode manages to get you interested in the new characters...

And each episode surprises you at every turn...

Where you simply don't know what's going to happen one moment to the next at any moment...
That's hard to pull off.
Extremely hard.

"Breaking Bad" mastered it.
"Sons Of Anarchy" mastered it.
"Battlestar galactic" (the new series) mastered it...
And in it's 4th season, "Boardwalk Empire" took control of its destiny.

To stay fresh, vital, and reinvigorate the story like that... you've accomplished something very special.

That is exactly what Boardwalk did in season 4.

It came back stronger than ever. The culmination of the 4 years we had spent getting to know these characters paid off massively.

Again, many characters had come and gone over the years, but it was the brilliant decision to cast the phenomenal, prolific and versatile actor Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Valentin Narcisse as the series villain that pulled this season together and allowed it to function like the well oiled machine it is now as we enter into it's 5th and final season.

It has become a class act.
Stand out work from Shea Whigham as Nucky's brother Eli,
From Michael Kennett Williams as Chalky White

HBO brought it's team of award winning veteran directors to helm and craft the episodes throughout the series, and that will be no different in season 5.

The talent behind the scenes here is a fucking dream.
Tim Van PattenAlan Taylor & Allen Coulter.

Simply put, these 3 Directors alone are much of the reason why we are currently living in the Golden age of Television right now as they are responsible for creating and crafting many of the most integral moments in American television history.

Each has directing seminal episodes from:

  • "The Sopranos"
  • "Game Of Thrones"
  • "Sons Of Anarchy"
  • "Deadwood"
  • "The Wire"
  • "LOST"
  • "Mad Men"
  • "OZ"
  • "Carnivàle"
  • "Big Love"

And my personal favorite...HBO's "Rome".

Alan Taylor is currently making the next Terminator film which will star Emilia "The Mother Of Dragons"Clarke as Sarah Connor.

The reason I write all of this to you... is to give you my humble recommendation:

The show has become a fucking class act.

Recommit yourself.

SEASON 4: REVISITED


Catch up.

Two trailers from the upcoming season are below, and the second trailer for season 5 below unfolds to a song by one of my favorite bands... "The Killers", performing their song "Tranquilize"featuring Lou Reed.

Get Some.


UPDATE: MARCH 2015


It's over.

Boardwalk Empire...has ended.

Five Seasons.
52 Episodes.
Some shows end with mystery and brilliance, like a "The sopranos"
Some end brilliantly, like "Six Feet Under"
Or
"Breaking Bad" or "Battlestar Galactica"
And some end before their time like "Rome" or "Enlightened"

Some try to end well, but miss the mark, "Sons Of Anarchy"
And some, some just fucking quit.
Like "Lost"
Like "Boardwalk"

Does the does the ending damage the legacy?

No.
But yes.

I watched every episode of season 5, each week, glued to the set...

And in the end...

I felt they did it a grave injustice.
Ending many characters lives, the ways they choose to, inexcusable.

Characters we watched develop over the courser of the five years, killed off without any explanation.
One by one.
Not side characters, main characters.
They were on screen one moment, then just gone the next...without any respect for their lifespans, for their impact to the series and to its audience.

I can only image that had the shows writers had the chance, they would have ended it differently, but I just can't be sure...

Because, to be honest with you, episode after episode, I felt like they just fucking abandoned it.

There is a subplot that runs the course of the shortened 8 episode season showing us Nucky as a child, his mother, his abusive father and his scared little brother...

All dirt poor and living in the house he sets ablaze in season 1 or 2.

We see him meet his wife, hate his father, vow to take care of his brother after their mom passes and to become rich...work his way up.

He becomes law enforcement, and begins working for the Commodore.

Then we meet Gillian Darmody. A teenage runaway and thief.

Nucky, now married, has to make a choice when the Commodore decides he wants the young girl and sends Nucky to bring her into his house at the tender age of 13.

Nucky makes the decision to do what the Commodore bids, as he knows in the end, this path will lead him to a life of wealth.

The crossroads appear right there.

As we have come to know, he has all the money and power he could dream of when he gets older, but he is cursed.

He's wonderful loving wife dies.
He does cross the commodore in the end, and know we know why, as the rape of this young girl produces Jimmy.

And by the end...it is that act, his taking the young girl by the hand and leading her to the commodore, to her fate, that is his ultimate undoing.

It's a flash back that re-occurs throughout the 8 episodes of season 5 and that's a shame because had we seen these from the beginning of series, it wouldn't feel like the 11th hour "tacked on" sub plot it becomes.

But it is what it is.

There is justice for Nucky by the end of the series...and for Gillian, kind of, and for someone else.
But the fate of some of the shows other main characters was handled in a way I can only sum up by saying felt disrespectful to the show as a whole.

But again, I don't know that it was Terence Winters wish to end when or how they did.

I had the feeling he had to make the best of what time he was given, and he tried his best.

I'll ask him when I speak to him next week and let you know what the real deal was.

I wish.

Well, we'll always have the first few seasons to re-watch.

Until next time...

To The Lost...

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