Raise a glass to Em­pire’s fi­nal sea­son

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

IF ever there were a TV se­ries whose nar­ra­tive had log­i­cal start­ing and end­ing points, it’s Board­walk Em­pire.

It’s a show about gang­sters in Pro­hi­bi­tion­era Amer­ica. Its open­ing episode be­gan with a fi­nal toast to le­gal drink­ing as the U.S. en­tered the 1920s, the pe­riod in which con­sump­tion of al­co­hol was banned by fed­eral statute.

As it en­ters its fifth and fi­nal sea­son (Sun­day on HBO Canada; check list­ings for time), a decade has passed (in­clud­ing a bit of a fast­for­ward jump to 1931 as the close-out set of eight episodes be­gins) as Amer­i­can so­ci­ety is on the distrib­u­tor of Bac­ardi Rum when­ever Pro­hi­bi­tion ends. Of course, he’s not the only mob­ster look­ing to grab con­trol of the le­git­hooch mar­ket. While in Ha­vana, he crosses paths with Meyer Lan­sky (Ana­tol Yusef), who of­fers up a lame story about be­ing on va­ca­tion with his wife but is clearly — as sub­se­quent events quickly con­firm — on the same mis­sion that Nucky is. And re­ally, it’s a pretty good time to be pon­der­ing a leap to­ward le­git­i­macy. Back home in the U.S., gang­land ten­sions are at an all-time high, and Chicago boss Al Capone (Stephen Gra­ham) is be­com­ing more pow­er­ful, more ruth­less and more un­bal­anced at a disturbing pace. The rise of the crime lords is not un­op­posed, how­ever — fed­eral trea­sury agents, led by Eliot Ness (Jim TrueFrost), have de­clared their own kind of war and will em­ploy both firearms and foren­sic ac­count­ing to gain the up­per hand. As al­ways, Board­walk Em­pire is beau­ti­fully pre­sented and de­lib­er­ately paced; the at­ten­tion to pe­riod de­tail is metic­u­lous, and the act­ing — both in the big, op­er­at­i­cally dra­matic se­quences and in the small, in­ti­mate, character-re­veal­ing mo­ments — is su­perb. What makes this fi­nal sea­son of im­por­tant char­ac­ters — Nucky and At­lantic City — came to be what they are. There’s also a sug­ges­tion in the early go­ing that Board­walk Em­pire will at least at­tempt to tie up some of its loose ends by the time this ab­bre­vi­ated fi­nal sea­son con­cludes. Sev­eral other im­por­tant char­ac­ters — most no­tably Mar­garet Schroeder Thomp­son (Kelly Macdon­ald), Chalky White (Michael Ken­neth Wil­liams) and Nel­son Van Alden (Michael Shan­non) — are placed in sit­u­a­tions that of­fer great po­ten­tial for a rous­ing fi­nalsea­son wrap-up. The se­ries’ log­i­cal end is in sight. Whether Nucky ends up on the right side of the law — or, for that mat­ter, the right side of the sod — re­mains to be seen, but there’s no ques­tion that Board­walk Em­pire will exit as a to­tally le­git TV clas­sic.

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