Boardwalk Empire began its 5th and final season on HBO last night with a 7 year time skip. With just a few years left in prohibition, Boardwalk Empire‘s final season kicked off with major power shifts and a series of flashbacks that showed us the early formative years of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. Last night’s episode showed events in Havana, Cuba where Nucky attempted to secure a deal with Bacardi, in an unnamed location (likely in Maryland), where Chalky White is working in a prison chain gang, in New York, where Joe Masseria was assassinated by his former underling Charlie Luciano, and on Wall Street, where Margaret’s boss killed himself before an audience of his employees (including Margaret). Oddly enough, Atlantic City is only seen in the flashbacks that show the first steps Nucky took towards his future.
Joe Masseria’s assassination will surely cause conflicts and disorder among the various mob families featured on the show, as any major power shift would. Masseria’s suspicion of Luciano was clear as Luciano assured him of his loyalty, and Masseria politely held him hostage to prevent any unseen activities. Unfortunately for Masseria, his death had already been planned. Luciano requested a visit to the restroom, which immediately drew comparisons to The Godfather in my mind. Unlike Pacino’s character in The Godfather though, Luciano did not return from the bathroom with a gun, but rather hid out in the bathroom as his crew burst in and shot Masseria dead. With Masseria gone, Luciano’s arc in Boardwalk this season will likely follow the establishment of the 5 mafia families known as “The Commission” that lasted (reportedly) until 1985. Luciano’s final scene in the episode had him meeting and celebrating with what is likely the future 5 families of “The Commission”.
Also in New York, we got some screen time with Nucky’s estranged wife Margaret Thompson. Now working on Wall Street as a secretary, Margaret’s arc this season kicked off with her Boss’ dramatic suicide. Margaret had not been seen much in the show’s 4th season, but her role this season seems to deal with her relationship with Jewish crime boss Arnold Rothstein who passed away in 1928, 3 years before the events of season 5, 4 years after the events of season 4. Hopefully we get a chance to see Rothstein in the form of flashbacks as it doesn’t feel right to leave his death off screen.
Meanwhile, in an undisclosed location, Chalky White, last seen hiding out in Maryland, worked as part of an all black prison chain gang. Chalky, who mostly remained silent, with a grave countenance, became involved in an escape when other prisoners started attacking the guards. Chalky is now at the mercy of a deranged fellow prisoner who stole a gun. Chalky lost everything last season, his wife left him, and he accidentally killed his own daughter, while failing to take out his intended target. It remains to be seen what role Chalky will play this season.
Nucky begins this season in Havana, Cuba, where he plots his next steps following the eventual collapse of prohibition. Nucky plans to secure the US distribution of Bacardi rum, using his current connections to move the liquor legally on day 1 of prohibition’s end. While observing a protest and violence in the streets of Cuba, Nucky encounters Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky (a close friend of Lucky Luciano). Surprised by his appearance, Nucky has a polite and friendly, yet cautious, conversation with Lansky, who points out his new wife, saying they are vacationing in Cuba. Later, Nucky is attacked by a man with a machete, barely fighting him off before his new silent bodyguard steps forward to finish the task (and remove an ear from the now dead attacker). In our final scene with Nucky this episode, he encounters Lansky’s wife, who turns out to be a lie, in actuality a prostitute. The question is raised for the audience if the attack on Nucky was planned by Lansky, whose business partner just offed former New York mafia crime boss Joe Masseria.
Saving the best for last, Nucky was also represented this season through a series of flashbacks to the year 1884. Beginning the episode with a female narration over footage of boys diving in the ocean for gold coins, we come to realize that Nucky is one of those boys. We learn of Nucky’s hard home life, with his younger sister at death’s door, his entire family in poverty, and an abusive father, Nucky’s only happiness comes from his kind mother who gives him a children’s magazine titled “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” (which also happens to be the title of the episode, and the source of the naration). Young Nucky travels with the other poor children, retrieving hats for rich people, and doing anything to earn a few cents here or there. On one of these excursions he ends up finding a hat with a significant amount of cash hidden inside. After keeping the hat for a night, Nucky decides it is best to return it, cash in tact, as a means of getting ahead by doing the right thing. Through that act, Nucky interacts with Commodore Louis Kaestner, a man who plays a significant role in the early seasons of Boardwalk Empire, and the father of Jimmy Darmody, the protege Nucky took in, and eventually killed.
Boardwalk Empire‘s final season is off to a strong start, but has already taken in the common trappings of a final season. Most notably the use of flashbacks as an examination of the central character without directly influencing the plot moving forward. Though this change to the typical format is a predictable trope of final seasons, it remained the most enjoyable aspect of the already strong episode. Flashbacks through various parts of Nucky’s early life will almost assuredly continue through the final season, hopefully stretching right up to the beginning of the events of season 1. I look forward to the trail of blood that is sure to pass through Atlantic City as prohibition inches to it’s eventual demise in the final season of a great HBO series. Only 7 Episodes to go.
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