Boardwalk Empire, an HBO show meant to replace The Sopranos as the most-watched show in the premium cable network’s history, started its last season in a way in which disappointed most Boardwalk Empire fans. A show that started with its first season in January 1920, with the inception of Prohibition, and followed a pattern of each season covering a time period of one year, threw its fans for a loop when the fifth and final season started in 1931, jumping past several historical events of the late 1920s.
While there were many aspects of the story’s timeline that were glossed over during the near decade jump from 1924-1931, none were more disheartening than the exclusion (and execution) of Arnold Rothstein. A staple character, one that had really grown in the last season, was cut from the show prematurely. Moreover, his assassination, one of the most anticipated scenes in the show, was hardly mentioned in the final season. Many hoped that the final season, a season plagued with Nucky Thompson’s flashbacks, would include a flashback to Arnold Rothstein’s assassination; however, this was not the case.
While there is no rewriting the fifth season of Empire Boardwalk, here is why we wish that Terence Winter would go back in time and correct the omission of Rothstein from the final season.
Arnold Rothstein IS Prohibition
The first season of Boardwalk Empire revolves heavily around two major events: the 1919 World Series, a fix that affected leading men such as Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano; and Prohibition, the constitutional ban on alcohol which acts as the underlying theme of the entire series. Both of these events were essential and symbolic to the creation of organized crime in America. Moreover, they were things that would never have come to fruition without Arnold Rothstein.
When you look at the biographies of gangsters during the 1920s, there is no one better to represent the connection between organized crime’s ability to take advantage of the Prohibition Era than Arnold Rothstein. In Rothstein’s biography, he is credited as “transform[ing]organized crime from a thuggish activity by hoodlums into a big business, run like a corporation, with himself at the top.” This ability earned him the nickname “The Brain.”
However, before he was “The Brain,” Rothstein was the son of a wealthy racketeer. His upbringings are what made him the man we all loved to watch on Boardwalk Empire. Rothstein got his start as a gambler at a very young age. As a child, Rothstein became involved in dice games and blackjack known as twenty-one - activities his father demanded he abandon (his wishes went ignored). Because of his intellect and overall demeanor, Rothstein appeared as harmless. In the show, he is often shown sipping his milk and playing pool; he is the picture of cool and calm.
However, when it came to the activities that made him the kingpin of the Jewish mob, it was Prohibition and his ability to “understood the truths of early century capitalism (giving people what they want) and [how]to dominate them,” that allowed him to build enormous wealth from turning Prohibition into a business opportunity. He built a network, purchasing alcohol abroad and smuggling it to speakeasies. Once these networks were established, he also got into the business of narcotics.
Arnold Rothstein is Connected to Everyone
And we don’t mean connected as in “connected.” If there were a Six Degrees of Separation theory during the 1920s, Arnold Rothstein would have been the Kevin Bacon of our generation. From his continuous and twisted rivalry with Nucky Thompson, camaraderie with notable gangsters Meyer Lansky and protégé Lucky Luciano, and his potential love interest with Margaret, viewers of Boardwalk Empire could not get enough of his presences.
As someone who was originally a minor character in the creation of the series, Rothstein continued to steal the screen from main character Nucky Thompson and became a favorite over the run of Boardwalk Empire.
Even Terence Winter, Boardwalk Empire’s creator, felt the significance of having the fifth and final season without Rothstein. Below is an excerpt of an interview with Hitflix in which he gives his thoughts on starting the season in 1931, long after the death of Rothstein:
“As soon as we said (it would be) 1931, we went, ‘Oh, sh*t.’ Yeah, that was really really tough. He’s one of my favorite characters — and in terms of real life, one of my favorite people. But that could not be the tail that wagged the dog that was the rest of the series. As tough as it was to miss that, it was a decision that had to be made. I’d been comfortable enough in the past playing around with the timeline a few months in either direction, but Rothstein’s death was too big of an event to cheat and say he was still alive in ’31. But his presence is certainly felt. The residual effects of his relationship with Margaret are felt. He’s always there in spirit.”
But now, as the show has ended, we know that he wasn’t really there is spirit, now was he, Terence?!
Rothstein’s Death and Connected Events of 1929
Of all of the years covered by Boardwalk Empire, we cannot think of a year more jam-packed with organized crime-altering events than 1929. Following the assassination of Arnold Rothstein, the mob family’s fortune was split up and the organization was restructured. Part of this restructuring took place at the Atlantic City Conference the following spring.
Between May 13th and 16th, Nucky Johnson hosted the Atlantic City Conference. This event was the first major gathering of organized crime in the United States. It would be at this summit that the gangs discussed a way in which to avoid gang wars and grow their bootlegging operations. In fact, this scene was described by Winter as extremely important to the storyline, however, it was not portrayed in the series. The Atlantic City Conference was a pivotal point in Prohibition Era bootlegging, and as Empire Boardwalk was entirely about Prohibition, they really missed the boat by skipping this summit meeting.
Another major event that occurred in 1929 was the crash of the stock market. As the fifth season started back up in 1931, there were still after-effects of the Great Crash; however, it would have been ideal to see how the mob handled events in the years immediately following the crash—especially without “The Brain” of the organization.
While events such as these and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre were hastily skipped over as HBO’s attempted to wrap up the series, I think that Reddit user SpaceRook said it best when he stated, “For my money, Arnold Rothstein absolutely steals every single scene he is in. He is one of the iciest, most under-spoken characters I’ve ever seen.” And it is for that reason that we believe HBO made its biggest mistake when they decided to skip from 1924 to 1931. Check out the best of Arnold Rothstein below, and let us know what you think: Should he have been skipped over for the fifth and final season or not?