Like Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire always had trouble fitting in. Despite an impressive Emmy haul for its first season (including a win for executive producer Martin Scorsese, who directed the pilot), the series never seemed to find its footing. There were the regular comparisons to Breaking Bad and Mad Men, and ultimately, regardless of Steve Buscemi’s stellar acting work, Nucky just didn’t meet the criteria to gain access to the Don Draper and Walter White-populated Club Antihero.
Too often, Nucky’s protagonist story line was overshadowed by fellow Boardwalk inhabitants Jimmy Darmody (RIP), Chalky White (RIP), Nelson Van Alden (RIP), Richard Harrow (RIP) and Gillian Darmody (still alive!) with much of the audience’s emotional energy spent on the supporting characters’ narratives instead.
And as the seasons progressed, it simply became a matter of time before Nucky realized what we’ve known all along: He wasn’t going to end up in the history books alongside Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, so of course he was going to get iced out by his more well-known colleagues. In order for the audience to re-establish its relationship with Nucky Thompson in time for the series finale, Boardwalk found it necessary to pick off most of the other characters one by one, so that we had no choice but to rededicate our loyalty to the Atlantic City gangster.
But it was just too late once Nucky became the star of his own show again. He had been stripped of everything by his younger, savvier mob rivals, and thanks to this season’s use of flashbacks to the 19th century, it became clear that he couldn’t be redeemed for his despicable past. What else was left except for Nucky Thompson other than to die on the same boardwalk where he had spent his entire life?
It was a predictable finale, yes, but a rather poetic one too. Nucky Thompson was killed in the same spot where, in 1897, as an ambitious young sheriff, he made the decision to pimp out an innocent 13-year-old girl in exchange for job security. His assassin? A wave of fist pumps and exclamations of “I SO called that!” undoubtedly flooded the Boardwalk fan community as soon as Nucky’s latest wannabe apprentice “Joe Harper” revealed his true identity in the episode’s final moments to be the now-teenage Tommy Darmody. It was a good plot twist, having Nucky taken out by not a mob rival or by the feds, but by Gillian’s grandson. Tommy, who obviously picked up some gun-wielding skills from his adoptive father, closed out the series with the honor of exacting vengeance upon the man who single-handedly destroyed the lives of three Darmody generations.
In addition to seeing Nucky put out of his misery, several other threads were tied up once and for all in “El Dorado” (named for the newly opened Upper West Side of Manhattan Art Deco apartment building where Nucky and Margaret have one last dance together), which made it a satisfying finale nonetheless. Considering how many Boardwalk characters have bitten it throughout its five-season run, it seems fitting to spend this recap running down the fortunate few who survived Boardwalk without a bullet to the head, and to pay respects, in the words of Nucky’s protégé, Gillian’s son and Tommy’s father, Jimmy, “To the Lost.“
NEXT: ‘Survivor: Atlantic City’