Last Promenade: Boardwalk Empire

September 18, 2014

***Contains spoilers for Boardwalk Empire***

Image credit: HBO

Image credit: HBO

Cometh September, cometh autumn, which means longer evenings and the return of good television with which to spend them watching. Seven years after Nucky Thompson’s arrest at the end of the last season, the final run of Boardwalk Empire (HBO/Sky Atlantic) finds Steve Buscemi’s kingpin exiled to Cuba, eagerly awaiting the end of prohibition and positioning himself as the middleman between the US and Bacardi, whilst Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) is on the chain gang and America is in the depression. Although we don’t know how these things came to be – excepting the depression – it’s much better for the plot to have skipped ahead than to have had to witness Nuck’s ignominy in a trial.

We had to witness a lot of violence, but no more than one has come to expect from this most brutal of dramas, and a lot of it in the head: a Cuban revolutionary got a machete in his brain (before Nucky’s bodyguard removed his ear, in a much more sickeningly precise manner), a chain-gang overseer experienced a shotgun blast to the jaw, Margaret’s (Kelly Macdonald) Wall Street employer put a pistol to his temple, and New York boss Joe Masseria, well, he got shot everywhere.

As ever, though, there was tenderness to be found in Boardwalk Empire as we shared Nucky’s wistful memories of youth. If ‘wistful’ is the right word for a childhood spent eating bread and molasses, diving for coins thrown by swells, enduring the swift hand of a bitter father and watching a sister die.

There are only eight episodes in this last season and, with one down, we’ve already had less of Steve Graham’s Al Capone than we deserve – but, 1931 being the year Capone was indicted, perhaps Big Al’s laying low. He will, I’m sure, make an appearance – Graham’s still on the credits, after all; sadly, however, Arnold Rothstein is – historically, at least – dead at this point, so, short of a flashback, there will be no more delightful performances by Michael Stuhlbarg.

Peter Capaldi’s performance in Dr Who (BBC One) has certainly delighted me thus far, but last Saturday’s fourth episode – ‘Listen’ – was the first in which I think he, and we, formed a relationship with the new Doctor. Much as Clara (Jenna Coleman), naturally, has to form a relationship with the first random, mysteriously vacant stranger she claps eyes on and I abominate the producers’ incessant insistence that they turn the programme into a soap.

No one ever cared about the private lives of the companions before and it wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t know that, firstly, this guy will almost certainly be involved in overarching story arc – Missy, the ‘promised land’ – and, secondly, despite whatever direst of dire circumstances he – Ben, I think he’s called – is embroiled in, come the finale, the Doctor will do his stuff so everyone can live happily ever after until the next apocalypse.

Allow me to go on record: I’d love to be wrong.

Jacob Knowles-Smith

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