‘Boardwalk Empire’ Review: “Cuanto”
The fifth and final season of 'Boardwalk Empire' seems to have established a pattern within a pattern, where everything feels so scattered. The plot threads are dangling and frayed and yet, slowly a couple of threads find their way together before an abrupt and violent tug jerks yet a couple more into position by episode's end. This season more than any other feels elusive in meaning -- as cold and distant as Nucky himself -- and at the same time, it all reads a bit on the nose.
Every week I wonder if this is my least favorite season of 'Boardwalk Empire' because everything feels so disconnected, but by the end of each episode, it all starts to come together in its own haphazard way. The relentless flashbacks show us how Nucky learned to be the Nucky he is now, the man with a classic sense of business acumen; the old school-old school gangster in a world where men like Al Capone are turning criminality into tabloid fodder, and men like Lucky Luciano are greedy, young disrupters, discontent with tradition and keeping things quiet. You know things are bad when someone like Capone thinks Luciano is a problem.
The thing is, Nucky doesn't think of himself as a gangster, really -- he's a criminal businessman in a world where gangsters are emerging. We're witnessing the shift from the organized crime of Nucky and Johnny Torrio and Maranzano to the gangsterism and mafia dealings that will lead us into the modern age.
Some of the best stuff in "Cuanto" happens between Nucky and Margaret, and you almost want to draw a heart around their names on a tree. Watching them retrace and relive the love they had for one another is charming, the way we often do when we revisit an old flame, ignoring all the terrible, toxic times (like dead Owen in a box). But you can hear it in Margaret's voice when she asks Nucky if he means to kill Mrs. Rothstein to get rid of their problem. It's fascinating to see how much they've both changed after all these years -- Margaret is so wildly different from the dowdy woman she once was, a woman no longer in need of rescuing the same way she needed rescuing back then. And Nucky surprises her in more ways than one: no, he won't kill Mrs. Rothstein, and at the end of the night, he sends Margaret to a hotel instead of taking her home.
Also riveting in "Cuanto" is the exchange between Capone, Luciano, and Van Alden -- the latter of whom almost gets his head blown-off by Capone. It seems Van Alden's reckoning has just about finally come and his secret past no longer safe. Amid all the great performances in 'Boardwalk Empire,' I don't think Stephen Graham gets enough credit for his wild work as the temperamental Capone, a man who is even more dangerous this season. There are so many shades to his character, but his best work comes in those moments in the calm just after the violent storm, when the bloody dust settles and he becomes a contemplative man of deliberate action again -- a man with his sights set on Luciano, for instance.
And poor Sally Wheet. It's not that her death was particularly telegraphed, but knowing this series and its pacing as we do, there was a certain sense of dread when she was pulled over and questioned by the Cuban military. Her abrupt death and the phone call to Nucky that followed regarding Luciano felt like a double shot to the gut, and was well-executed (pardon the phrasing). RIP Sally. You were one tough and classy broad.
- Sally's nails were looking seriously dope this week. If I die, please make sure my nails look this fantastic.
- "I may have soiled myself." Michael Shannon's line delivery never disappoints.
- Nucky saying that he has a solution while pouring Margaret her own glass of wine was very elegant and clever.