For those who know me it should be fairly easy to guess my favourite television series of all time. While most people will quickly guess at series like The Wire, Breaking Bad or even Lost as my favourite show, they would be sadly mistaken. They are not bad series, in fact they all deserve the accolades they receive. Unfortunately none of these shows are as tightly plotted and well acted as HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a series that has grown not just into a decent gangster piece but an engrossing character drama filled.
While this blog does expressly deal with matters of film, a category Boardwalk doesn’t belong to, I thought I would make an exception to review the recent 4th season and why it should go down as the series best season yet, even after last years fast paced, tension filled battle between Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and madman Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale).
Unlike earlier seasons Boardwalk this year looked to the peripheries for most of its action as things finally started to hit the fan for many of the shows characters. Not only did it see Al Capone (Stephen Graham) finally reach lofty heights as things in Chicago finally took a turn for the ultra violent. Graham has always been a solid player in the series but this year he became the gangster he was always supposed to be, providing viewers with a season long game of master manipulation.
However the show will always be about Nucky, the gangster who doesn’t act like one unless he has to. Buscemi seemed like an unconventional choice when casting for the pilot began and creator Terence Winter was quick to dismiss this. Not only has Buscemi set the tone for the series but he has created a new kind of criminal, one who values honour and loyalty more than anyone else.
This season saw the introduction of a plethora of new characters as Winter made this season a year of change, from Nucky’s new business practices to the appearance of Dr Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), a pro African American rights scholar who uses heroin as his weapon of choice. Not only does Wright prove the most entertaining of hypocrites, he is also an insanely proud man, a man of principles (however despicable they are).
The season finale itself didn’t treat viewers to the conventional showdowns most series use as their final piece, it was a much more sombre affair as Nucky sought to remove the dead weight from his operation and his brother Eli (Shea Whigham) tried to remove himself from his duplicitous situation with the Bureau of Investigation and Agent Knox (Brian Geraghty).
The best part of the series has always been how it defies expectations and this year has been like no other as viewers were kept guessing until the last minute. As the season came to a close, Winter filled the final episodes with enough tension to stop your heart as Chalky White (Michael K Williams) faced the treachery within his ranks and Knox made his last ditch effort at arresting Nucky and everyone connected to his team of bootleggers.
The season also saw the goodbye for many a beloved character from the likes of Nucky’s longtime confidant and butler Eddie (Anthony Laciura) to Chalky’s right hand Purnsley (Eric LaRay Harvey). However Winter saved the best for last when in a tragic accident beloved character Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) found himself taking a bullet after an assassination that went awry. Winter’s habit of building characters to a high only to floor them in a single instant continues to be Boardwalk’s greatest accomplishment.
And with that I find myself waiting a long nine months for the next instalment of this wonderfully crafted epic and the aftermath of a finale filled with ambiguity, misdirection and one hell of a brutal fight scene (RIP Knox). See you next year Nucky.