Boardwalk Empire Ep. 2.12, “To the Lost”: A measured finale signals big changes for season three

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It’s time for a settling of scores and a clearing of consciences. Jimmy is finally free of his father and ready to come to terms with Nucky, but Manny Horvitz, killer of Jimmy’s wife, is still at large. Nucky’s legal problems come to a head and as usual, he finds a sophisticated way of resolving them.

Boardwalk Empire Season 2, Episode 12: “To the Lost”
Written by Terence Winter
Directed by Tim Van Patten
Airs Sundays 9.00pm on HBO

Any Boardwalk Empire episode written by Terence Winter is bound to be a masterpiece of sophistry. Winter is the show’s creator after all – the man who disinterred Nucky Thompson from the vault of history and reanimated him, tricks and all, for the enjoyment of the viewing public. Winter’s specialty is in creating characters of enough depth and complexity such that their actions are as unpredictable, yet entirely believable, as real life. Take Jimmy Darmody, whose arc from Nucky’s sidekick to Young Pretender to damaged incest survivor has occupied most of this second season. Jimmy’s motivations are obscure, even to himself; the gap between what he wants to be and what he is yawns larger with every bad decision. With every episode, we’ve learned a little more about what makes Jimmy tick, without ever losing the sense of expectation about what he might do next. A showdown with Nucky has seemed inevitable from the moment Jimmy decided to go it alone and attempt a takeover of his mentor’s Atlantic City bootlegging Empire. For the season finale, the temptation must have been to use that growing tension between Nucky and Jimmy and within Jimmy himself to spark a Big Shoot Out in the kind of spectacular staging the show specializes in.

But that would be too predictable and that’s not how the game is played on Boardwalk Empire. Instead, the violence comes a show early with the death of Jimmy’s father, the Commodore (a sad goodbye to Dabney Coleman whose performance in this role deserves awards consideration), leaving this episode free to develop a more subtle and yet entirely satisfying ending to Darmody’s attempt on the throne. As Jimmy, it’s actor Michael Pitt’s moment to shine and shine he does, filling a scene with his son on the beach with meaning and doing it in such a way (with the ample assistance of Winter’s script) that it’s only afterwards that the full implications – this is the moment Jimmy not only decides to capitulate, but realizes the consequences of his choices – become clear.

Nucky’s story also contains some unexpected turns. We all expected him to wangle a way out of his court case, but it’s still enjoyable to watch him manipulate his various associates, positioning them like chess pieces until checkmate is inevitable. As for the other couple of twists, one of these, his decision of what to do with murderous butcher Manny Horvitz, is clumsily handled in a piece of too obvious misdirection. Luckily, the other hidden card is still up Margaret Schroeder’s sleeve and the moment when she settles her scores with Nucky has that satisfying combination of surprise and rightness.

With the departure of Jimmy and the resolution of Nucky’s legal troubles, as usual we’re left guessing which direction the story will take next. Nucky now has no obvious adversary (apart from his now-wife Margaret who isn’t fooled for a second by his claims to be a reformed character) and conflict is the engine that drives drama. There are intimations of trouble in the persons of Lucky Luciano and Al Capone, who are beginning to dabble their mucky fingers in a lucrative new drug- heroin. It’s possible that Nucky may yet discover that Owen Sleater, his Irish fixer, is better acquainted with Margaret than he should be. Federal Agent Van Alden, on the run from a murder charge, is too good a character to waste, even if he does have a baby daughter to protect. The same goes for disfigured war veteran Richard Harrow, who was Jimmy’s best friend.  But how any or all of these possibilities will play out is up for grabs. All we can do is speculate enjoyably and wait for season three to draw us in to the story once more.

Cath Murphy

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