Ladies and Gentlemen: Your first season of Boardwalk Empire.
This weeks’ season finale unrolled in, well, finale-ish fashion: Some plots were tied up neatly (Nucky sweet-talks the Atlantic City electorate into voting the Republicans back into office) while other fuses were lit for next year (Jimmy, the Commodore, and — bum bum BUM! — Eli plot to bring Nucky down). Also: We got a bonus “violent consolidation montage,” in which Nucky’s operatives carried out a series of gruesome assassinations. D’Alessios, we hardly knew ye, and never liked ye.
And, as it turns out, all of last week’s sticky conundrums were smoothed over rather tidily: Agent Sebso’s dead? Heart attack, people! Nothing to see here! (We assume this means there was no such thing as a coroner in 1920?)
Jimmy, who last week seemed a hair’s breadth from offing poor Angela, now only wants to welcome her home — until she chops off the precious hair he fantasized about over in the trenches. (You … flapper!) We’re not sure about you, but in the room where we watched the finale, the biggest groan came when Angela got a postcard from Mary in Paris. The Lesbian Angela Paris plotline: It’s like a zombie that can’t be killed!
And, as several of our astute commenters predicted, the Commodore’s would-be killer turned out to be … the maid! If this was Clue, the answer in the envelope would be: The Disgruntled Maid; the Kitchen; the Rat Poison.
We were a little disappointed that all of these lingering herrings turned out to be red. Really? Heart attack? The maid? Well, okay. Nucky dispatches her with an offering from his Magical Wad of Cash, which repairs all wrongs and irks the Commodore to no end.
Meanwhile, Van Alden is packing up to leave Atlantic City to work at a feed company — but not before viciously slapping one jocular field agent, one last time, just for kicks. Van Alden’s wife (who, we remember, is barren) pleads with Nelson to stay. But he’ll only remain, he says, if God sends him “a sign.”
The sign arrives later, at the post office, in the person of one Ms. Lucy Danzinger — or, rather, the little person Ms. Lucy Danzinger is now carrying around inside her. That Nelson; quite the marksman. Hit the bull’s-eye with one shot. Not a sign so much as an anchor. But at least we now know Van Alden’s not going into the feed business after all. (And we hope in season two he’ll have to face a few more probing questions about Sebso’s “heart attack.”)
Nucky is scrambling to secure a reelection for the Republicans. Rothstein is scrambling to avoid an indictment over the Black Sox scandal. These are men with mutual hatred and mutual interests and, as usual, the latter trumps the former, during a roadside meeting arranged by Torrio. The price for Nucky’s cooperation in squashing the indictment? He puts a Dr. Evil pinkie to his mouth and asks for a cool one meeellion dollars. Rothstein reluctantly coughs it up — along with the whereabouts of the remaining D’Alessios.
We can hardly gripe about the subsequent montage, as familiar as it was: This kind of gangster-movie sequence is by now not so much a cliché as an obligation. And who among us didn’t cheer a little when Harrow shotgunned D’Alessio No. 3, who’d answered the door by saying “Hey, Halloween’s over”? (We often find ourselves muttering while watching, sounding like Christopher Walken: “Needs more Harrow!”)
Then the now-fedora-wearing Capone popped another D’Alessio and stole his apple. And Jimmy stopped in at the barbershop — there’s always got to be a barbershop! — to stain another D’Alessio’s white smock red. Using his skull-crusher war knife, no less.
So, bygones be bygones, yes? Though did you think the very last glimpse of Luciano and Lansky, in the wrap-up montage, buying whiskey then gunning down the driver, suggested that the war was back on? Who would they be buying from besides Nucky? This smelled a bit like a double-cross, with a bottom note of gunpowder.
For now, though, Nucky is happy again. He won his election, got a cool million, and wooed back Mrs. Schroeder by finally spilling the story of his wife and lost child. Turns out the weak child, born prematurely, was so frail that the work-distracted Nucky could never hold him. And when the wife did finally seem to be nurturing the baby confidently, Nucky pulled back the blanket, and the baby had been dead for days. The wife, haunted and crazy, killed herself later with Nucky’s razor.
Despite the slight logical inconsistencies — could a woman really nurse a dead baby for days, with no one stopping by to help, or noticing her madness? — it was a haunting Halloween story and a moving moment. Margaret, teary-eyed, said, “Nice to finally make your acquaintance.” Earlier, Nucky had said to her, “With you and the children in the house, eating breakfast, just like that — I’ve never been happier or more terrified in all my life.”
The episode ended with the happy couple sharing Champagne then embracing on the boardwalk — and a majestic, sweeping vista of the town and the seashore. (Complete with billboard ads for Camels, Lucky Strikes, and Gillette safety razors — no chance your wife will off herself with those.)
Elsewhere Eli, Jimmy, and the Commodore are plotting Nucky’s downfall — the Commodore so incensed, apparently, by Nucky’s pardoning of the maid that he’s now decided to bring Nucky down. (Well, that and the five years in jail.) Or perhaps this turn was predicated by the prodigal Jimmy’s return home, giving the Commodore the heir he truly wanted, to supplant the surrogate Nucky. In any case, Eli — restored, patronizingly, as the sheriff by Nucky, post-election — has clearly joined in this conspiracy, bringing his smarts, oratorical skill, and vintage porn collection to the anti-Nucky coalition.
The episode’s highly quotable takeaway was “We all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.” It’s a thought that can apply equally to yourself and your enemies; how much sin can Margaret stand in herself? And how much sin can Jimmy stand in Nucky? (“Do me a favor, Nucky. Stop acting like you give a shit.”)
If season one was about the difference between being half a gangster and a whole one, season two might be about counting the wages of sin. (Personally, next season we could do with half as many plotlines and twice as much Rothstein and Harrow.) We’re guessing this final sentiment — how much sin you can live with — was meant less as a coda to this season than as marching orders for the next one.