Boardwalk Empire, Season 5, Episode 7, “A Friendless Child”
October 19, 2014, 9:00 pm, HBO
A show with a large cast of characters, which comes out with a solid series ending almost always has to narrow its focus for the last few episodes. Sunday’s penultimate episode saw us tying up loose ends with Eli, Margaret (sort-of), Luciano, Lansky, and Capone. This entire season has been building something with Nucky’s past, how it has interwoven with his present. It now seems that instead of just showing us flashbacks for the sake of it, these flashbacks have been happening in his memory and we’ve been given glimpses into his guilt. He who wants to go straight, he who regrets where his life has gone, he who feels responsible for every death surrounding him. It all began with Gillian Darmody, and it seems it will all end there.
The night before this we dispatched with Van Alden and Chalky after they had made peace with themselves. In “Friendless Child,” we see Eli get the closest thing to salvation without killing himself. Showing up at William’s work, one last time it seems, just to check on his son, Eli is silent and broken. He seems resolved to his fate, after all, he really has nowhere to go. But Nucky has given a reason for reunion. Amidst all the bloodshed and warring between his gang and Luciano’s, showcased in a fantastic albeit, very un-Boardwalk-esque opening, as the camera flashes from crime scene to crime scene, Robert Hodge on horn, talking about blood running in the streets, Nucky makes a play for the throne by taking Benny Siegel, Luciano and Lansky’s childhood best-friend and partner in crime. He knows they won’t just cast him away as they would with their other men. They won’t, but they won’t roll over either. Eye for an eye as always, Luciano and Lansky nab William just as Eli is walking away forever. He sees Wiliam screaming for him as he’s being carted away.
When Eli returns to Nucky, to explain what has happened, it’s more than Nucky could stand. Another person, even, young person he loves, cannot be murdered because of him. He sets a meeting with Luciano and Lansky, for an exchange. in classic Boardwalk fashion, scene lit by headlights, men on either side, Mickey still on Nucky’s side (who saw that coming), both brother’s standing together again, they attempt the exchange, but Luciano has something else in mind. They get Benny back mostly unharmed, but refuse to return William without Nucky giving up his empire. But Nucky’s willing. He’s tired, tired of being responsible for the loss of lives, tired of the Boardwalk. The consequences of being its emperor is too much.
In a final beautiful scene, we see what Gillian wanted that paper and pen for. It’s a plea to Nucky. He wanted to save her before, she pleas for him to come and rescue her from her prison. He’s the only one who can, she repeats, there is forgiveness for everyone, even for he, responsible in part for her rape, responsible for the death of the only good thing that came out of that atrocity, Jimmy. Nucky could finally reach his salvation, and undo the years of pent up guilt. Forget the empire, it has never given him the happiness he desired, just allowed him to escape his impoverished beginnings.
Forget the empire, it has never given him the happiness he desired, just allowed him to escape his impoverished beginnings.