Boardwalk Empire “A Return to Normalcy” – review

boardwalk Empirereviewed by Mike Dennis

The sun rises over a calm sea, gently lapping at the shores of Atlantic City. The boardwalk stirs to life, as people drift out of an all-night party in Babette’s. Nucky and Margaret stroll over to the railing to watch the tranquil dawn of a new day.

So ends the first season of Boardwalk Empire, and things certainly look good for Nucky, despite his ongoing affection for window-pane suits. Margaret has come to her senses and returned to him, Ed Bader will be the new mayor (thanks to Chalky White’s delivering the “colored vote”), and Warren Harding has won the presidency. Nucky strikes a deal with Arnold Rothstein, ending their hostilities and pocketing a million dollars in the process. He exacts his revenge on the D’Alessio brothers and he makes Eli sheriff again. What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

Well, how about a palace coup engineered by the Commodore and Jimmy Darmody? Ever since Jimmy found out that Nucky brought his mother to the Commodore when she was 13, immediately after which she became pregnant, he’s become a changed man. Gone is the mentor-disciple relationship he had with Nucky. Jimmy’s pissed and after one drink with the Commodore–who is also pissed, but for murkier reasons–the two of them decide to upend things in Atlantic City. And of course, Richard “Half-Face” Harrow will be right there with Jimmy, providing plenty of gun-blasting loyalty.

It could’ve been a nice finish to the season, but if you ask me, it all happened a little too quickly. It wasn’t the natural culmination of a seasonful of episodes, slowly and logically building to a climax. Rather, it felt like the writers crammed all this stuff into the finale completely out of left field. The whole palace coup idea was hatched, as I mentioned, over one drink and I didn’t see it coming. That’s the kind of thing that requires serious foreshadowing.

For that matter, almost all the wrapup stuff felt rushed. Eli is back as the sheriff, replacing Deputy Halloran, and I can’t figure out why. If Nucky meant what he said about blood and water, why did he get rid of Eli in the first place.

The scene at Babette’s with Eddie Cantor singing amid the reveling crowd was very well-done, as was the touching scene where Warren Harding’s mistress confides in Margaret her fantasies about becoming “First Lady of the United States.”

It looked for a moment like we might finally lose Agent Van Alden. After somehow getting away with murdering his partner in front of dozens of witnesses, and after slapping a new recruit around (in front of Supervisor Elliott, no less, who merely looks on stoically), he decides to move to Schenectady and open a feed store. Just when my little heart was beating faster at this delicious thought, his wife tells him he’s doing God’s work as a Prohibition Agent. Oh-oh.

You may remember that last week, Jimmy found the goodbye note that Angela left before her scheduled runaway trip to Paris. Of course, she didn’t go, but Jimmy seems to have forgotten all about it. Or at the very least, completely forgiven her. That seems very out of character for this guy.

The hurry-up nature of this finale proved to be a big letdown. The season just didn’t seem to precede the conclusion. I guess we’ll just have to hope for better things in season 2.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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