wed 19/06/2019

Boardwalk Empire, Series 5, Sky Atlantic | reviews, news & interviews

Boardwalk Empire, Series 5, Sky Atlantic

Boardwalk Empire, Series 5, Sky Atlantic

Final season opener suffers from sensory overload

Hasta la vista, baby: Cuban intrigue for Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette)

Fans of this dense and rewarding odyssey of Prohibition and American gangsterism are doubtless still reeling from the news that its fifth series will be the last, despite the riotous applause which greeted series four. This unwelcome state of affairs perhaps accounted for the vaguely dissociated and dream-like quality of this season opener, which was as much concerned with filling in some of Nucky Thompson's early history as with driving the plot forward into the 1930s.

An opening sequence set in 1884, of young boys diving into the sea to catch gold coins flung from the Atlantic City pier by the city fatcats (principally, the young version of the despicable Commodore, so ably embodied in his toxic dotage by Dabney Coleman), was a telling metaphor for the generational power struggles, greed and ambition which continue to shape the story. The tale-within-a-tale of how the young Nucky got lucky enough to find a $50 note inside a rich man's hat, only to grasp that he could leverage it into something even more valuable by returning it to its owner in a theatrical display of honesty and loyalty, flashlit the way Nucky's innate gift for long-term planning has always allowed him to outwit rivals like Arnold Rothstein or the grotesque Gyp Rosetti (below, Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano).

His brain was whirring away again as we jumped back to the show's present day of 1931, seven years after the ending of series four. We found Nucky (a haggard and desiccated Steve Buscemi) and girlfriend Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette) bathed in the golden Caribbean light of Havana. Foreseeing the imminent end of Prohibition, prescient Nucky was busily inveigling a US senator into his scheme to become the sole importer of Bacardi rum into the USA, a coup which could give him a leg up towards becoming almost a respectable businessman. 

The Cuban interlude, complete with the gruesome thwarting of an assassination attempt against Nucky, could hardly help triggering echoes of the Havana scenes in Godfather II. Indeed, Boardwalk's burgeoning air of a dynastic saga inexorably unfolding down the generations is acquiring ever more Coppola-esque overtones, with its mounting sense of fatalism and depiction of how organised crime grew into a vast parasite leeching off America's body politic.

Still, as it pingponged across the decades, filling us in on the current whereabouts of the major protagonists while offering glimpses into the Thompsons' early years and the relationships between Nucky, his brother Eli and their father Ethan (Ian Hart), this episode had difficulty finding a consistent pace and tone. It felt more like a portmanteau of short stories than a coherent narrative, as if the time lag from the end of the previous series had cut it adrift from all that had gone before. Michael Stuhlbarg's treasurable portrayal of Rothstein seems to have fallen down the crack, since he was killed sometime in the interval.

Not that there was any shortage of action. We caught up with Chalky White (played by Michael K Williams, left), in prison stripes and consigned to a chain gang until he violently busted out. We found the scheming Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) incarcerated in a women's correctional facility, selling sexual favours to the female warden. In the Bronx, the bullet-riddled Joe Masseria has been supplanted by Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), anointed as top boy by Salvatore Maranzano. As Don Salvatore put it: "Kingdoms rise, kingdoms fall. Pretenders reach for the throne but only Caesar can rule." You'll have to wait for episode two to see Stephen Graham's brilliant, berserk Al Capone bounding back across the screen.

The show's air of a dynastic saga unfolding down the generations is acquiring ever more Coppola-esque overtones

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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