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Boardwalk Empire: Season 5

HBO // Unrated // January 13, 2015
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted February 3, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

I watched Season Four of Boardwalk Empire without knowing that Season Five was announced as the show's last. So the challenge then became for show creator Terence Winter (Lakeview Terrace) to both try and develop some cloture for their characters as well as sate the appetites of those who poured some passion into watching it through the years.

Season Five finds the show flashing forward again, this time from 1924 in Season Four to 1931. With that said, the next phase for many of the characters is clear. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi, Youth In Revolt) is trying to work deals in Cuba that will allow him to have Atlantic City swimming in rum once prohibition is repealed, despite newer and bolder threats to his empire. Al Capone (Stephen Graham, The Damned United) has notoriety more than he expected, with his behavior being increasingly erratic, along with the rise of his use of cocaine. Eli (Shea Whigham, Take Shelter) is barely on the radar for Nucky these days, and last season's baddie in Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright, The Ides Of March) is a blip as well.

This season spends a bulk of the time focused on Nucky's background, from locating lost hats blown into the dunes as a youth to becoming deputy sheriff as a young man, working for a young version of Dabney Coleman's Commodore character, down to the moustache and speech nuances. We see young Nucky's family and see him grow into the teeth that Buscemi inhabits today. And while the prominence of Nucky flashbacks could be construed as inconvenient, they answer a few questions of Nucky which may even span over seasons of the show. It was one of the better executions of a backstory that I can recall recently.

In a way, looking at younger Nucky was a bit of a fault of Season Five, if nothing else because the show goes too far forward and pushes most of its character conflicts to the side. The viewer is left with a slight lack of a rooting interest, and the winding down of the show and main characters feels forced upon you. I can understand that the larger point of that is for said characters to get to the next point in their lives, be it something in business or something else a little more sudden and permanent, but there is a slight sense the show is taking a victory lap that I could not help but feel.

From the way the main cast deliver their final moments, it at least was enjoyable. Buscemi gets last moments with Eli and with his ex-wife Margaret (Kelly Macdonald, Brave) and plays them as you expect he would. Chalky (Michael K. Williams, The Wire) appears in the show's nicest two episodes of the season for my money. And Graham has a moment with his deaf son that is both an extension of a scene he had with him in Season Three but also one that delivers the same general finality for Capone. If there was a cast member who I could have done without returning, it easily would have been Gillian Carmody (Gretchen Mol ,Rounders), who is spending Season Five in a sanitarium. I understand why she was kept around within the context of Season Five, but I think it could have been handled better.

Don't get me wrong, Boardwalk Empire has been a fun ride, but the end, as is the case for scores of televisions shows, tends to suffer. Though points should be given to it for the decision to get far enough out in its mythology that many of those who were in it before were made obsolete. That is the rock that Winter throws in the water, the waves are what the devotee gets to deal with over eight episodes. Some portions of the wave are gentle and nice, the rest, not so much.

The Discs:
Video:

The show's last eight episodes are spread out over three discs and are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the results being generally pleasing to the eye. The images lack edge enhancement and haloing is minimal, colors and flesh tones are reproduced faithfully and accurately, and image detail is even present here and there. Whether it is the grays of the Chalky's prison garb or the whites in the hospital area of Gillian's sanitarium, everything looks according to plan on these discs.

Audio:

Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for everything, which should not be much of a surprise. Dialogue sounds fine, and the ample gunfights are powerful and immersive, whether it is directional effects with a gunshot or two or the oomph in the subwoofer to give a startling shot even more power. Quieter moments (including one where Chalky is listening to a song) come through clear as well and pan to the rear channels when necessary. All in all they are a nice way to go out for the show.

Extras:

This may be the lightest bunch of extras that I have seen on the Boardwalk sets to date. There is a recurring piece on the discs called "Scouting the Boardwalk" (18:37) where the sets are shown and challenges to dress said sets are recounted, along with any specific pros and cons of each. Commentaries dot four of the eight episodes, using a mix of Korder, Winter, Timothy Van Patten, Buscemi and others. Not a lot of new ground gets covered in them, save for explaining some story and/or casting decisions, and Buscemi waxing nostalgic for the last scene of a character or two. Otherwise, there is little to be gained from listening to these. There is also a sampler disc with the first two episodes of the show The Knick, which is excellent even if it's not the most cheeriest material out there.

Final Thoughts:

To continue on with the nautical metaphors, the final season of Boardwalk Empire tries to not rock the boat, but winds up running itself aground and does more damage to itself than expected. Its last season is better than most, but considering the work the show put in on say, the previous two episodes, this last one feels like a letdown. Technically, it continues to look and sound pretty, but the lack of extras seems to mirror the collective exhale of the production. If you have watched the seasons before this, you will like this one, but pull the rip cord on the last episode or two, just in case.

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