Boardwalk Empire went into its second season utilizing the standard three act structure. The second season being the second act where quite literally everything goes to shit. Every relationship that was developed in the first season is put to the test either through murder, infidelity or in one case incest. The writers of the HBO series set up a number of dominoes that fans expected to fall in the sophomore season and even though Boardwalk never did miss any of its connections this season, it took way too long to get to some of them.
Sitting here writing this while watching the season finale, I'm subject to all the story lines coming to at least temporary closes. The most prevalent actually being a story line that began twelve episodes ago. Chalky White plays the leader of the black community in Atlantic City. Many of whom were gunned down in the season's premiere. The problem is they've had about three scenes throughout the season to tide this storyline over so that they could save it for the finale. HBO is the king of the slow burn series but this is simply bad writing. There needs to be a reason why story lines take so long to be resolved other than the fact that the writers didn't feel like it. The other trouble that this season ran into is that the series' main character Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) is so goddamn boring it hurts. His storyline is turned into a brilliant Shakespearean drama at the end of the first season as we watch the King of Atlantic City see everything he's taken for granted suddenly put up for sale. Viewers expected to see Nucky wheeling and dealing his way through twelve episodes and ultimately getting back his throne. Instead Nucky whines a bunch, drinks even more, makes a quick trip to Ireland, and finally just sort of tries to have a nice talk with the man who robbed him of his throne to begin with.
Kelly McDonald is joined to Nucky at the hip but her storyline is even less interesting then it was in season one. She plays the wife to a mobster and and a mother to a polio stricken daughter. Though the scenes with the ill little girl are beautiful and tragic they end up ultimately just slowing down whatever momentum that episode has already built itself.
The only real compelling storyline is Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt). He very rapidly becomes the Prince of Atlantic city and is forced to take the stand as a leader rather than a hired gun. His responsibilities overtake him and we have to watch him keep his wits about him as he negotiates with killers of every kind. But even Jimmy's storyline stumbles a little bit. The show even with this incredibly slow burn manages to gain a hell of a lot of momentum over the course of ten episodes. At the conclusion of the tenth an enormous bomb is dropped but instead of directly carrying everything over, the eleventh episode is almost entirely told in flashback and it focuses on material that really has no bearing on the season's current plot line.
One of the cute little moments of the show though is that late in the finale, Nucky Thompson finally get the appropriated funds he's been looking for so that he can build a highway from New York City to Atlantic City. HBO may burn slowly but they've got nothing on the government.
While all this goes on, one of my favorite characters, Arnold Rothstein, played by the brilliant Michael Stuhlbarg, is pushed into a corner. This treatment is not different from the first season. Rothstein is a genius of sorts who directs his efforts into organized crime. He spends the season off screen unless he's needed. It doesn't really negatively effect the show's storyline but I just love his performance so much that I want him to get more screen time.
Although I've been ranting and raving this whole time I do really love this show and the last ten minutes of this episode are a work of art. Good going Tim Van Patten. Good going writers. Good going HBO.