“Boardwalk Empire” came to an end Sunday, Oct. 26, after five acclaimed seasons on HBO. The eighth and final episode of Season 5, "Eldorado," saw the conclusion of Nucky Thompson’s (Steve Buschemi) story. Unlike creator Terrence Winter's previous HBO series, “The Sopranos,” the fate of “Boardwalk’s” mob boss was not left ambiguous.
Tragic as it was, it came as no surprise that Nucky Thompson did not survive Sunday night’s finale. Though he seemed to be ready to leave his criminal past behind (literally and figuratively washing cleansing himself in the Atlantic Ocean in a direct reference to the show’s iconic title sequence) and leave Atlantic City, Nucky stuck around a day too long. After tying up a bunch of loose ends, including a particularly touching scene with Margaret (Kelly Macdonald), Nucky was shot and killed by Tommy Darmody (Travis Tope) on the boardwalk. In a show that was very much about characters paying for their sins, Nucky paid the ultimate price for his most personal sin (technically sins). Over the course of the show Nucky ruined the lives of everyone in the Darmody family, killing Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) in Season 2 and (as was revealed in the finale) turning Gillian (Gretchen Mol) over to the Commodore (John Ellison Conlee) when he was younger. The mobster’s death on the boardwalk he once controlled, shot in the same way he had shot Jimmy (twice in the chest and once in the cheek), was poetic justice and a fitting end to the melancholic anti-hero’s story.
Gillian Darmody became an even greater focus of the show in the final season of “Boardwalk Empire” and the finale finally revealed the reason. As previously mentioned, Nucky’s betrayal of Gillian to the Commodore was the death of the future mobster’s innocence and his greatest sin. The decision sent her down a path of misfortune that would plague her whole life (and the whole series) and which would not result in a happy ending for the character. Stuck in a mental hospital to avoid prison on a murder charge, Gillian begged Nucky to help her get out, but while finally visiting her he told her there was nothing he could do aside from setting aside money for her if she ever got released. Gillian, who was already a shell of herself after surgery to cure her non-existent insanity, was left the most tragic victim of Nucky’s greed.
Unlike most characters on “Boardwalk Empire,” Luciano (Vincent Piazza) seemed to get everything he wanted in the finale, becoming the boss of a unified organized crime syndicate. However -- very much like most characters in “Boardwalk” -- it did not seem to make him happy. Instead, Luciano took control with a wave of paranoia and brutishness, killing off any would-be rivals or dissenters, including Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright).
Not joining Luciano in his new crime syndicate was Al Capone (Stephen Graham), who was indicted in the finale for tax evasion and left to serve jail time. Graham’s acting, however, managed to make fans feel sympathy for the ruthless killer in a heartbreaking scene where Capone says goodbye to his son before reporting to prison.
The closest “Boardwalk Empire” came to a happy ending was Margaret Thompson. Like a Depression-era Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”), Margaret rose in the final season to become a powerful and independent business woman, profiting from Nucky’s scheme to short the stock of Mayflower Grain and winning the respect of Joe Kennedy (Matt Letscher). Sitting in her own office, the poor, immigrant wife of Nucky Thompson was “Boardwalk’s” greatest success story.
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