Screen: HBO

The End Of Prohibition

See how over it Nucky is? Same with our commentator.

As Kessler (Anthony Laciura) took the fateful step that ended last week's episode of Boardwalk Empire, I turned to my esteemed colleague David T. Cole and snorted, "I don't even know why I'd watch anymore." When we got to the end of the latest episode, I realized how prescient I'd been last week. It's not that Kessler was the glue that held the whole series together or anything; it's that, with him gone, there's no one left to care about.

I feel like if I ever met a hardcore Boardwalk Empire fan -- to my knowledge, I have yet to do so -- he or she (he) would say that caring about characters isn't the point, and that the pleasures of the show lie in its portrayal of a pre-Sopranos gangster universe, its sumptuous production values, and whatever molecules of Martin Scorsese's essence are still hanging around the set. I mean, I'm guessing those are the pleasures of the show, because they definitely aren't to be found in magnetic characters moving through compelling storylines.

Please understand: I know that Breaking Bad was a once-in-a-generation TV outlier and that comparing any other hour-long drama to it is unfair to all the other shows that have to struggle along without being written, directed, and performed by actual geniuses; other award monsters that have recently kicked off (Homeland) or wound up (Mad Men) seasons so close to the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad might be getting judged more harshly for the proximity...or they might just be falling apart in the usual ways. And maybe it's because I'm still thinking about the Breaking Bad finale that my patience for Boardwalk Empire and its bullshit has finally run out, but Jesus Christ...WHY. Why bring in Jeffrey Wright and have him do nothing more interesting than supply one guy with heroin to deal and introduce some nightclub singer for Chalky (Michael K. Williams) to get horny for? Why bring back Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) at all? Why does anyone expect us to learn the names of all these new characters in fucking TAMPA when we can barely keep the ones in Chicago straight?

I consider myself to be a pretty intelligent person, and watching TV is easily among my top three skills. But even though I have never missed an episode, if I were required to take an exam on the events of the show, I would fail for sure. Until Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) showed up in the Season 4 premiere, I was pretty sure he'd been killed in Season 3. I remembered that Margaret had left Nucky (Steve Buscemi), but not why. The only reason I could summon any memory of the big gang war that ended the last season is that my beloved Kessler had been shot. But who's friends with whom and which alliances are probably going to stick and which guys are running what...ugh, I don't know. And I've finally given myself permission not to care.

If it had been on any network other than HBO, I doubt I'd have been snookered by Boardwalk Empire for as long as I was, but the combination of HBO and Buscemi (who I really do love -- I mean, we all do, right?) tricked me into thinking if I stopped watching this show that TOTALLY BORED ME, I'd miss something momentous. But I stopped watching Luck and Treme and never even tried with True Blood, and I think I've maintained my cultural literacy well enough; if I put Boardwalk Empire into the dud file where it has belonged for at least a season and a half, if not longer, I'll be fine. And I think it's important that I do so while I still love Buscemi, so that the show's dullness doesn't tarnish all my beautiful memories of his past oeuvre.



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