Fans of Boardwalk Empire who were committed enough to stick with it until the end should be happy that their devotion paid off in spades. The show always had a knack for wrapping things up in satisfying fashion during each individual year- it only makes sense that this would be a handy talent for a final, truncated season of just eight episodes that took its time to give meaningful ends for almost every one of the characters that viewers have followed for five years now.
The approach in this final year was to go at it Godfather II-style, meaning of course that the present day storylines were intercut with the rise of young Nucky in the late 1800's, from poverty to power, wealth and control. It played out a bit slow at first, but as with all Boardwalk seasons, the setup led to an inevitable and dramatic payoff, where after it's over you can think back to and recognize all the pieces that were so carefully put in place for the final showdown. The casting was especially brilliant for this particular part of the story- in flashbacks, Nolan Lyons plays adolescent Nucky with appropriate wide eyed ambition, but then Marc Pickering as young man Nucky is so spot on mimicking Steve Buscemi's voice and mannerisms (no easy feat) that I became entirely involved in the backstory and completely believed that he simply was the Nucky Thompson I've grown so used to all these years. Young versions of Dabney Coleman's Commodore and Gretchen Mol's Gillian were also inspired and utterly believable characters, which fueled the drama of Thompson's early life, as it informed the present.
In the present, eight years had passed since the last season, which unfortunately necessitated some early and offscreen deaths of fan favorite historical characters (we hardly knew ye, Arnold Rothstein), but Terence Winter made sure that certain others, like Michael Shannon's crazed Nelson Van Alden and Michael Kenneth Williams' doomed Chalky White, received satisfying and very final sendoffs. Van Alden's run as a hired goon for Al Capone could only have ended badly for him, as you'd expect, but the show finally made the most use they ever have out of Michael Shannon's particularly nutty sense of humor and cynicism, which actually led to this being one of the funniest and most entertaining arcs Boardwalk has ever done.
Capone himself also played out his date with history, leading the excellent Stephen Graham (who seriously could have starred in his own spinoff show all about Capone) to revel in the alternately horrifying, comedic, violent and drug fueled nature of one of America's most famous gangsters as we meet up with him at the height of his powers, before he's brought down by the feds for tax evasion. Other storylines followed Lucky Luciano as he fulfilled his own rise to power with associate Meyer Lansky, and the sturdy Kelly MacDonald's Margaret finally came into her own as a scheming and cheating Wall Street broker who shares a final farewell with her husband to put closure on a relationship left lingering in a kind of limbo for the past couple of years.
Performances were excellent as always, but the way Boardwalk Empire played itself out in such style and commitment to the truth of the characters made me sad that it had to end here, as there was clearly story enough for at least two more seasons (what I wouldn't give to see more shenanigans with Van Alden and Eli as the bumbling Capone cronies, or Margaret's dealings with the late Rothstein that apparently turned her into such a high class crook). But they did the best they could with what they were given, and their best was good enough to place the show in the pantheon of HBO series that will hopefully live on for years, because as underrated as it was for most of its run, Boardwalk Empire remained a damn good show until the very end. I'm just glad I got to be one of the few who stuck with it.