By David Michael Newstead.
I’m a huge fan of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire. It’s centered on gangsters and corruption in Atlantic City during Prohibition, so there’s plenty of story material for crime, intrigue, and sex set against the backdrop of a gritty chapter in American history. This Sunday, however, Boardwalk Empire is returning for its fifth and final season. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the series will end, but in the meantime I wanted to highlight some of the show’s best scenes over the last four years.
The series began with the enactment of the Volstead Act in 1920, which made alcohol illegal in the United States and sparked the birth of organized crime. In real life, this gave rise to notorious criminals like Al Capone who made a fortune from the illicit sale of booze (also known as bootlegging). Not surprisingly then, Boardwalk Empire is heavy on violence and is not for the faint of heart. There was a long stretch for a while where there was one gruesome murder per episode, if not more. On this show, fiction goes hand-in-hand with people who were real and the seedy underbelly of history that created them. But warnings aside, these are some noteworthy moments from the series.
The Pilot Episode – We’re introduced to the show’s main character, Nucky Thompson. Nucky is a well-dressed and corrupt official in Atlantic City who begins plotting how he can profit from Prohibition the instant it goes into effect. Business, politics, crime, and a double life all intermingle into one unruly beast that Nucky has to deal with every day as the series progresses. But in the pilot, Nucky sets the tone for the next five years. First, he gives an impoverished pregnant woman money to feed her kids. Later, her alcoholic husband squanders the money and beats her into miscarrying her pregnancy. When the husband mocks Thompson about this at a casino, Nucky has the man beaten to death and thrown out to sea by the police. After he’s dead, the police also frame him for a recent shootout between bootleggers and Nucky makes the man’s widow his main love interest. It’s 1920.
Jimmy Darmody Gets Revenge – The Irish Mob and the Italians are in a fight for control over territory in the city of Chicago. After Jimmy Darmody’s girlfriend is brutally maimed by the Irish, the young prostitute commits suicide. Darmody, a veteran of the First World War, is heartbroken and angry. Working with the Italians, including a young underling named Al Capone, Darmody lures the Irish to the negotiating table and then proceeds to avenge his girlfriend’s death. The Italians take over more territory and a few lowlife gangsters are left dead in their wake.
Chalky White is Anti-Drug – The crime boss for the black side of town, Chalky White, smashes up a heroin house operated by his archrival, the sinister Dr. Narcisse. Their competition results in much bloodshed and is yet to be resolved.
Richard Harrow – A major highlight on the show was the character, Richard Harrow. Like Jimmy Darmody, Richard was another veteran of World War One. The two originally met in the waiting room of a government office. But whereas Jimmy’s scars from the war were limited, Richard was missing half his face. He wore a mask to hide his grotesque appearance, which frightened children and made him an outcast. Overtime, Richard gets drawn deeper into the criminal underworld, but ultimately his story was about a profound longing for normalcy and wanting to secure a place in the world, despite his injuries. Because of that, his death in Season Four was perhaps inevitable, but touching.