Boardwalk Empire Season 2 Finale Episode 24 'To the Lost' ReviewDecember 16, 2011
Season finales bring a lot of built-in expectations with them. They not only need to service whatever ongoing storylines have been carrying on through the show, but also need to be able to leave the audience filled with anticipation for what is still to come the following season.
As much as I love Boardwalk Empire, I personally felt that last season's finale was a tad underwhelming. Going in to this season's finale, 'To the Lost,' especially considering the episode just before it was easily the best of the entire season, I truly didn't know what to expect going in.
What I came away with, and have watched at least five or six times to get a full and complete grasp on, was a finale that not only wrapped up the biggest storyline that had been two seasons running, but also managed to leave the show completely wide open to unknown possibilities when it returns.
More so than anything, it had guts.
For the past two seasons, one would be safe to say that the show was comprised of two main characters: Atlantic City treasurer and all-encompassing crime boss Nucky Thompson and Jimmy Darmody, recently returned war hero that has just as much ambition as he does emotional scaring. These two have led or been the cause of nearly every plotline of the show, most important of which led to the pair being torn apart by their mutual craving of power, resulting in Nucky coming under heavy threats from the government as well as would be assassin's. Whereas Jimmy would learn that being the king comes with a heavy crown, and that his often rash decision making would be repaid with the loss of those closest to him.
Having attempted to kill his mother last week, which in turn led to successfully killing his father, the Commodore, all the while being in the midst of mourning his murdered wife, I was fully ready for an episode with Jimmy being on a path of vengeance, going after Manny Horvitz and, possibly, finishing the job he started with his mother. What the show gave us instead was a Jimmy bent on making right everything that he had made wrong this season. With the Commodore dead and Jimmy no longer allowing his mother to guide him to her own personal power gains, Jimmy has realized that he should have never turned on Nucky and has begun trying his best to rectify that situation, hoping that it's not too late to reconcile with the man that was the actual closest thing to a caring parent he's ever had.
The episode opens with Jimmy and Richard Harrow violently retrieving and then hand-delivering the three KKK members that attacked Chalky's warehouse back in the season opener to Chalky himself, along with even more money than Chalky initially had asked for as compensation to his people and their losses stemming from the original attack. In return, Chalky calls off the workers strike and, at Jimmy's request, sets up a meeting with Nucky for Jimmy. Richard suggests that Nucky will never forgive Jimmy and that their rift has grown to far apart. Jimmy sort of shrugs Richard's advice and instead suggests that they go have a steak dinner, which, to me, is the first indication that Jimmy knows what truly lies ahead for him.
It's not long before Nucky and Jimmy have their meeting and it's a wonderfully played scene. Gone is the irrational hot-headed Jimmy that has been at the forefront this entire season. Now, he's subdued with an almost unnatural calm about him and the way he talks with Nucky. Nucky gives his condolences in regards to Angela, but when Jimmy mentions that it was Manny that killed her, Nucky lies and says he's never heard of him, despite that fact that he just recently had a sit-down with Manny. Jimmy informs Nucky that the Commodore is now dead and that he should have killed a long time ago. Both men shared a less than enthusiastic relationship with their fathers, and seem to almost have a moment.
Jimmy immediately takes the tough road and begins to try and apologize to Nucky for everything, offering himself and anything he can do to make things right. Nucky simply wants the truth regarding the betrayal and the attempted assassination. Jimmy is quick to acknowledge the betrayal. He was mad; angry at his own life and supremely jealous of Nucky's. When it comes to the shooting, he becomes hesitant. He reluctantly informs Nucky that it was indeed Eli's idea, and that Jimmy never wanted it to happen. Jimmy offers to make things right, or as right as they can be, once more to which Nucky gives no reply more than a cold stare. When next they meet, Nucky gives his answer loud and clear.
Speaking of Nucky, he's beginning to prepare for the worst now that Margaret may testify in his impending court case. Margaret has had a meeting with ADA Randolph and, between their conversation and the guilt that still resides in her, it truly seems like Margaret might spill the beans, at least as much as she knows. That night, Nucky bares his feelings and worries completely to her. He basically asks her to marry him, because he loves her and the children but he's also honest about how it will assuredly help his case, as if they are married Margaret can't testify against him. Margaret is certainly taken aback, but walks away rather than providing an answer.
Normally there's always that feeling that Nucky is putting on a show for everyone, but this discussion seems completely sincere, and that's a testament to Buscemi's acting and his ability to make his character of Nucky so multi-layered. By the next morning, he's conveniently playing with the children outside of Margaret's window, and seeing him with the children was apparently the push she needed as she gets ready to go make a confession and immediately they tie the knot.
It's at this point in the episode that we are treated to an incredibly put-together montage splicing together three stories in a wonderfully edited fashion, as well as serving as an obvious nod to The Godfather's own montage scene. Within the montage, we see Esther Randolph as she is preparing her opening arguments while getting dressed for court, Nucky and Margaret at a church exchanging their vows and becoming husband and wife, and Jimmy and Richard heading in to Leary's office to make him change his mind about Nucky and pin everything on Eli.
Every beat and transition is so fluid that it's truly astounding. Nucky and Margaret seal their vows with a kiss, and Jimmy and Richard inform Leary that his new testimony is also a "suicide" note just as Richard blows his brains all over the wall behind him. The montage culminates as Esther arrives in court simply to watch her entire case fall apart all around her. She's got one dead witness that recanted his story before dying and another witness that has just married the defendant and can't testify against him.
This completely caught me off guard. The crimes being leveled against Nucky continued to build as the season went on and, with so little time left, I honestly felt that next season would revolve around his trial. In one fell swoop, though, his court case is thrown out until Esther can "get her ducks in a row." I am really hoping she does, at least to keep her relevant to the overall story. If there's one thing Boardwalk Empire is lacking, it's strong female characters and Esther definitely fits that bill, not to mention seeing her and Margaret's earlier scene makes me hopeful that their paths will also cross again.
Now that Nucky has almost magically avoided the swift hand of justice, he sets about finishing what he started. He visits Eli, and, after some awkwardly hilarious back and forth, confronts him about the shooting. Eli, being a bit of the worm that he is, blames the whole thing on Jimmy, pointing out the he even tried to come to Nucky about it, which isn't true at all. It was that visit that led Eli to suggest killing Nucky in the first place. Nucky informs Eli that he's going to have to take the fall for this, but that he can get his sentence down to at least a year, which I understand from various interviews with show creator Terrance Winter is where the show will pick up once the third season begins. This leaves Nucky with a choice; Eli or Jimmy?
After a day of hanging out with his son Tommy, Jimmy and Richard are seemingly celebrating and sharing war stories when Jimmy gets a call. Nucky claims to have found Manny Horvitz and has set up a meeting and is cluing Jimmy in so that he can get the jump on Manny. Jimmy knows what's really going on though, so when Richard offers to come with him, he insists on going alone - although not before assuring Richard that the war is over and that he needs to "come home."
He walks out leaving Tommy with his mother, which holds even more possible menace than the other goings on. Gillian notices that Tommy has Jimmy's dog tags around his neck and she instantly knows what that means. Rather than freak out, she remains the power hungry woman we've come to know and begins telling Tommy about "The big powerful man he'll be someday." Dear god, I hope someone comes and saves that kid.
In the middle of what looks like one of the heaviest rain storms to have ever existed, Jimmy arrives to find Nucky waiting for him with a tied up Manny Horvitz in tow. Jimmy has known all along what was going down and seems to almost welcome it, even to the point of arriving unarmed. Much like their meeting earlier in the episode, Jimmy remains completely calm and assured in the decision that's being made. He informs Nucky that he's actually been dead for some years, saying he basically lost himself amidst the trenches of war. I'd go so far as to say the he truly died that morning after having sex with his mother. He was on top of the world and it was all completely taken away from him, and everything else was a slow descent from there.
Back in the very first episode of the series, Jimmy told Nucky that he couldn't be "half a gangster" anymore. That he would either have to commit fully or die. In this moment of the Season Two finale, 23 episodes later, we see Nucky make that commitment. Instead of having any of his surrounding lackeys pull the trigger on Jimmy, Nucky himself takes out a gun and insists on performing the deed himself. Jimmy begins slightly baiting Nucky by recalling the first time he killed someone himself. Once he begins to point out the judgment and self-loathing that will consume Nucky's life after this, Nucky shoots Jimmy right in the face, informing him that he "didn't know him at all" and that he never did. "I am not seeking forgiveness!" utters Nucky as he puts one more bullet in Jimmy's head, cementing both of their fates from this point on.
Not only was it an unbelievably gutsy move for the creators to kill Jimmy, who truly was Nucky's equal as far as primary characters on the show are concerned, but it was also the right call. So much had gone down between the two over the past two seasons that any kind of forgiveness or turning of the cheek would not only have been out of character for Nucky, but would also have negated an entire season's worth of storytelling simply to save a character. By doing this, not only has Nucky become the complete gangster that Jimmy once told him he needed to be, this also opens up the narrative to the show to go in so many different ways.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the Jimmy character. He was a tortured soul that was simply trying to find his place in this world, and after getting more of his back story a mere episode before his death, there's even more investment into that character just to see him killed. It also serves to show that Jimmy was just another random guy in the grand scheme of the crime world rather than the big player he came off as. There's only one Al Capone and there's only one Lucky Luciano, but there were probably hundreds of Jimmy Darmody's all trying to make a name for their self only to suffer the same fate along the way.
I'll also miss Michael Pitt's acting, which was really beginning to shine in this last half of the season. As I've said in previous recaps, he added depth and layers to a character that could have easily been one note. He made you care about Jimmy, even when he was being a supreme scumbag, and that's a testament to his craft.
That said, Jimmy's passing frees up Nucky to go in all kinds of directions. These first two seasons have primarily focused on the two and their interactions with each other. As the show carries on for more and more seasons, I believe these first two will be looked back on fondly as "the Jimmy years." The writers could easily bring in someone new to be a thorn in Nucky's side, but with a different background and motivation will bring something refreshing to the show. I would also, at some point down the road, see Nucky actually have some regret over killing Jimmy and how that guilt might weigh on him.
As the timeline carries on, we're also nearing Al Capone's rise in the ranks, which is ever so coyly hinted at in the brief snippet we see of Van Alden. He's taken his new nanny and moved her and baby Abigail to Cicero with him. This bit comes off as inconsequential to those not in the know and, without knowing, seems like a bad write off of the Van Alden character. Cicero, for those that don't know, is Al Capone's stomping grounds and will be pivotal in his rise to power. How Van Alden factors in to this remains to be seen, but he's such an amazing character that this can't simply be coincidence.
As the episode ends and the Second season comes to a close, we see Margaret get in one last act of defiance. The morning after Nucky murdered Jimmy, Margaret makes mention of Nucky's late arrival. He shrugs it off, but as she keeps insisting he mentions having run into Jimmy and that they buried the hatchet. He then goes on to say Jimmy has re-enlisted in the Army and has actually already left. Margaret is far from dumb and knows that Nucky is lying to her straight to her face. The man she thought was turning over a new leaf is showing off his true colors, and now she's married to him.
As Nucky goes out with the Mayor and several others to celebrate the successful land deal that they began at the beginning of the season, Margaret sits at home with the actual deed to the land in her name. Nucky, having put it in her name when he feared a trial, had asked to sign it back over to him. Margaret has a better idea, it seems, and instead signs the entire land over to the Church. She seems rather happy with herself in doing so, which combats many people's idea that she did so as part of her new found religiousness when it's obviously a giant "up yours!" to Nucky. One can only imagine the ramifications of what that's going to bring about for Nucky, Margaret and their relationship, but God knows I can't wait to find out. Note to the writers, though: more Chalky!
I want to thank all of you that have taken this Boardwalk Empire journey along with me. It's been many, many long nights and multiple rewrites trying to bring you an impassioned look at one of my favorite shows. I hope that the recaps have been informative and helped with your overall viewing experience. As I've mentioned in the comments section, I'll be covering Luck starting next month, then Game of Thrones, True Blood, and then back to Boardwalk Empire. If any of you are interested in any of those shows, we'd love to have you around and if not, hopefully we'll see you back when Boardwalk returns next year. It truly can't come soon enough.
- Matt Hardeman