You have to give Boardwalk Empire showrunner Terence Winter credit, as he went from showing us the glitz and glamour of the gangster lifestyle of the Prohibition Era, to throwing up three hours of a modern-day Roman inspired greed lifestyle fueled by sex and substance abuse in the Oscar nominated The Wolf Of Wall Street, to now giving us a complete 180 for the final season of HBO’s award winning hit show.
The episode begins with a seven-year time jump into 1931, and the shift in aesthetics from Prohibition Era to Depression Era that come with it leaps out at you like a speeding bullet from a revolver. Simply put, the production sets and locales are much dirtier, and effectively elicit the feeling that, well, we’re in the Great Depression. The astounding quality of the sets shouldn’t necessarily be something that surprises people considering HBO’s excellent track record, but it still needed to be said that they have once again proven themselves unparalleled in creating living, breathing environments.
The darker color palettes and bleak depiction of the Great Depression is also juxtaposed with flashback scenes to when Nucky (Steve Buscemi) was a young child. Having those trips down memory lane don’t just serve as a fascinating reminder of the beauty of the Boardwalk though – and country in general before the depression – but also as a vehicle for a completely new plot arc fixated on explaining how Nucky became the character we know him as. Viewers will get an understanding of how Nucky met the Commodore, where he got his ambition to hustle, and overall, just a really somber insight into his rough upbringing.
Surprisingly, presenting viewers with two separate, yet relevant to each other, stories for Nucky doesn’t detract from giving other fan favorite characters screen-time. Perhaps just as interesting as Nucky getting into business with new people is Chalky’s unfortunate situation of being a prisoner. Michael K. Williams even grew a beard to further accentuate how the character has fallen on hard times, and once again delivers a captivating performance. Steve Buscemi often receives the most praise out of the main cast, but Williams is right up there with him – especially with the new tonal shift in character – and could actually eclipse Buscemi by the end of season 5.
Unfortunately, you won’t see every loveable psychopath in the season premiere, as Al Capone is most notably not present. He should have an explosive character arc this season, however, if history is anything to go by; he basically runs Chicago by now. On another note, hopefully his character is given a few flashbacks as well, because otherwise the show will have glossed over some rather important events from his life, like the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.