With a slew of new characters revitalizing this slow burn of a series, it still hurts when an original character dies. After Jimmy’s death, the consequences of which are still unfolding, Boardwalk Empire lost one of the only characters audiences could truly root for. (Steve Buscemi is great as Nucky Thompson but even he is likable only to a certain point. He’s top dog after all.) Spoilers ahead!
The fourth season finale served as the last episode for WWI vet Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), who succumbed to a gunshot wound after botching an assassination under Nucky’s orders. Harrow had finally built the family he always craved. After marrying Julia, Harrow arranged for Julia, her father, and Tommy to start a new life together in Wisconsin with his sister Emma, her new husband, and her newborn. But he had to make sure Gillian was no longer a threat to that family. He agrees to assassinate Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) in exchange for Nucky tipping off the authorities to the location of Jimmy’s body, ensuring Gillian will be convicted of the murder of Roger.
Unfortunately, Harrow isn’t the fearless sharp shooter he once was and freezes with Narcisse in his sights. When Harrow gathers the courage to try again, he shoots Mabel, Chalky’s daughter, instead. (Adding insult to injury, the last time Chalky and Harrow interacted, they shook hands and referred to one another as friends.) In the aftermath, Harrow is shot and he limps his way under the boardwalk to die — with the dream of a life in Wisconsin with his family as the last thing he thinks about before he dies.
This season gave the exuberant Michael K. Williams as Chalky White the storyline he’s deserved for a long time. Wright as Narcisse has been a welcome addition and foil for Chalky’s self-made, rough-around-the-edges gangster and business man. While Chalky is still exiled outside of Atlantic City, he is likely to blame Narcisse for his daughter’s death, only intensifying his hatred for the Harlem intellectual and heroin peddler. Plus, Narcisse is now J. Edgar Hoover’s boy, meaning he must be back for the next season, right? The look on Narcisse’s face when he calls Hoover “Sir” is one of delightfully unadulterated contempt.
Hoover gets two wins in the season finale, as he also no longer has to deal with the increasingly erratic Jim Tolliver/Warren Knox (Brian Geraghty). After weeks of enduring his threats and orders, Eli (Shea Whigman) kills the Bureau of Investigation dead. Really dead. (There goes my hope for more intimate Tolliver-Hoover interaction in the future. I guess that’s what fanfic is for.) Eli failed to betray his brother for the umpteenth time, although at least this time it was to protect his son, Willie (Ben Rosenfield), from going to jail. Willie in turn protected his father, walking in on Nucky holding a gun to Eli’s head. If Willie hadn’t interrupted, would Nucky have killed his brother for betraying him (again)? After killing Jimmy, it seems Nucky is capable of doing anything. The specter of Jimmy’s death looms heavily over this season, suggesting that it was the best or worst decision the showrunners ever made. (Strangely enough with Harrow gone, I think I’ll miss Jimmy even more.)
The Gillian Darmody/Jack Berger storyline finally paid off last episode with Livingston’s character revealing himself as a Pinkerton agent assigned to elicit a murder confession from Gillian. While that and the custody battle were among the weakest plot points of the season, hopefully it set Gillian up for a Chicago meets Orange Is the New Black arc in season 5.
Sometimes I wonder why Michael Shannon is still on this show. He’s not nearly as integral to the plot as he once was — used mostly to have a narrative tie to Al Capone in Cicero and Chicago. While Stephen Graham as Capone is excellent, it’s taken awhile for him to be relevant to the rest of the characters. Now that he’s in charge of Chicago, that should no longer be a problem. As such, hopefully Shannon as Van Alden will have a meatier plot to showcase his range of talents or go out with a bang like Cannavale, Pitt, and now, Huston.
Boardwalk Empire often feels like multiple shows happening all in the same time period, jumbled together on one series. But it’s in episodes like this, where storylines affect one another in unexpected ways, that makes the commitment of watching the series worthwhile. Like its HBO cousin, Game of Thrones, when Boardwalk’s many gears stick, almost everything falls apart, but when it works, it runs like clockwork.
What did you think of the season 4 finale? Will you mourn Harrow’s death? Are you excited for the prospect of more Capone and Narcisse next season? What do you think is Nucky’s next move? Let us know in the comments below!