This is not a summary of the final episode of HBO’s hit series Boardwalk Empire; it’s an acceptance of the culmination of moments leading up to it. As the audience watched the final moments of Enoch Thompson’s domain, a shining wood lined city snuggled by the sea, they can feel nothing but appreciation. The opening credits of the series shows many things. It depicts a hollow, dim, dreary, and dusk filled sky. The sea is packed with the bootlegged bottles of business and one stoic man observing it all. A man set apart from the murky turmoil. He is so distinguished that when the sea comes upon the shore nearly outlining his shoes, he takes his reprieve. The opening credits of the finale told a different story. Enoch Thompson is bare, stripped, swimming, and free from any divides between the ocean and he. There was a union in that moment and reconciliation with the boy Nucky used to be and the city, which he in later years, created. The finale didn’t take loose ends and tie them off, it curved them, leaned them into past that birthed them, and left the narrative full circled and realized.
A great deal of the last season revealed many things about Nucky through flashbacks. Illustrating at the end of a journey, it’s more vital to understand how a character came to be who they are then to understand where they’re going. Even more important, after observing their past, the question becomes; under what fitting circumstances should they reach their final destination?
After five seasons, after years of explosions, murders, political agendas, and organized crime, there was one storyline that propelled the show. Through the chaos, confusion, and double dealings, the series remained centered around Nucky and Gillian. The season’s storyline took a stark turn with the infusion of the young Gillian and Nucky characters. The age difference was no longer words of the past but a tangible visualization. The tale of Nucky taking an adolescent Gillian to the aged commodore was not a distant ghost story whispered amongst characters. It was real. That moment created a wedge in both Gillian’s and Nucky’s lives. Nucky became a surrogate father to Jimmy, romanced Margaret to save her, a mentor for his nephew Will, and other acts of ambiguous compassions. Nucky Thompson: the provider, the savoir, and the boss. Upon reflection of his life, it’s apparent that all he’s done resonates with the fact that it’s his own image he can’t reconcile. He’s been a man seeking redemption in increments since the day he gloved a young Gillian’s meager hand with his. He sullied Gillian in that instant. He took her innocence and ability to claim a destiny of her own. He poisoned the roots of her life and he tainted the branches- her son Jimmy. Therefore, it’s only fitting that the fruit of that tree, Jimmy’s son would lead to his demise.
When Nucky falls to the ground as his life fades from him, he begins grasping towards the sky. The closing sequence shows Nucky as a boy immersed in the deep thick of the ocean. He begins reaching for the gold coin that had escaped him many times before. In his nature, Nucky Thompson has always been a man chasing a prize, seeking more and better, and attempting to collect a version of that shining circle. He ends his life stretching out his arms yet again. The vision of him as a boy finally clutching his shimmering trophy fills the screen as he contently smiles. Enoch Thompson doesn’t have to strive for redemption anymore because that quest has disappeared into the abyss along with his life.