Boardwalk Empire is the series that I always felt both audiences and HBO wanted more from. Make no mistake, this Prohibition era-set crime drama, starring Steve Buscemi, was certainly a handsome production, with many fine performances, and a narrative that made some big turns throughout its 56-episode run, but I never felt like this would serve as one of the acclaimed HBO shows that would be used to make a statement about the premium network’s legacy. Regardless, the show has now come to an end and for those that stuck with it, or wanted to, I can say that I was at least very involved in the way the final hours of this series played out, given the finality that comes with the last season of a crime drama such as this. Now the fifth and final season has come to Blu-ray, so the word can spread on just how quietly this series may or may not have gone out.
When it was announced that the fifth season would be the final season for Boardwalk Empire, I was quite curious how the show would attempt to wrap everything up. The previous season ended mostly in tragedy, with the deaths of some major characters (not an unregularly thing for this series), the movements/banishments of others to other parts of the country, and the ascension of some to greater power. It came as little surprise when it was announced that this series would be picking up nearly a decade later in 1931, where everyone is now stuck in the Great Depression. Some characters have been lost in this transition, most notably Michael Stuhlbarg’s, character Arnold Rothstein, who in real life, died during in one of the years that passed in between this time jump, while others have risen to higher, including Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Charlie Luciano (Vincent Piazza).
With all of this in mind, the story has always been about Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). As the star of this shortened season, Nucky has exiled himself to Cuba and finds himself doing well enough, but a previous relationship draws him back to Atlantic City. This move, along with some moves made by Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Capone, leads to some significant turns in how the various empires are run. We still have plenty supporting characters to contend with as well. The great team up that is Eli Thompson (Shea Whigham) and George Mueller formerly Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) amounts to what is nearly a comedy of errors if the two characters were not so sad. Kelly Macdonald’s work as Margaret Thomspon continues to be strong as the series finally finds a way to involve her more, after dangling on the edges for a season and a half. You also have Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol), who found herself in one of the worst positions at the end of the last season, which has not led to much good for this season either.
Holding this character for his own paragraph, Michael Kenneth Williams’ work as Chalky White continues to be very strong as well. While last season provided Chalky with a significant bump in involvement in the plot, this season has him in a high position as well, but mostly separated and at an all-time low for the character. Having unfortunately fallen victim to the powers of Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), Chalky must scrape his way back to something, which will involve a prison break and some desperate measures in order to get back some respect or vengeance.
This Blu-ray Set Contains All 8 Episodes of the Season:
- Golden Days for Boys and Girls
- The Good Listener
- What Jesus Said
- King of Norway
- Devil You Know
- Friendless Child
Something I am very happy to praise about this season is its brevity. Boardwalk Empire is a series that knows how to meander quite a bit at times and while that may have worked well enough for The Sopranos (one of my favorite TV shows ever), which involved ‘Boardwalk’s creator, Terence Winter, it did not work as well for this show, which is always more entertaining and exciting when it comes to seeing the various twists and turns in the mob story and politics revolving around these characters. With only 8 episodes, there is little time for this series to stall, which I was very happy with, despite one notable exception.
Nucky is a character that has never quite been as engaging as one would hope, given that this is a show that features the great Steve Buscemi as its lead character. With that in mind, this season is full of flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood and while I can see why this was included, it ultimately undercuts what could have been a near-flawless final season. Even as good as Marc Pickering is at playing a young Buscemi/Nucky, it always feels as if we could be seeing more interesting stuff with the other characters, rather than continually flashing back to the origins of a man we should really understand at this point in the show.
Putting this aside, the series gets a lot of great mileage out of the brewing war between the various mob entities, as well as the supporting characters who have nothing to lose, making the possibilities of various deaths to seem almost inevitable, despite the inherent thrill that comes with wanting to see how certain characters can maybe manage to survive, while hoping others won’t (despite the presence of actual history to dictate some of this story). Boardwalk Empire is by no means an action show, but it does have some frenetic scenes that work very well because of how matter-of-fact they tend to be, combined with having the budget of an HBO series to produce some very cinematic moments.
I do not want to delve deeper into what this final season has to offer, but I will say that the concluding episode, Eldorado, is a fine send off to a show that has certainly been very watchable. I always felt the series reached a highpoint in season 2, but was still at maybe its most wildly entertaining in season 3. This fifth and final season does enough to steer the show into a proper finale and despite some issues with how much of some things we see, I was a fan of what has been a fairly consistent series, featuring consistently very strong performances.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Clarity/Detail: It’s always neat to see HBO shows that I saw at first on TV in HD transported over to Blu-ray, because you can see even more than what was initially broadcast and find yourself even more invested in the level of detail put into these sort of shows (See: Mad Men and Game of Thrones for more examples). With that in mind, Boardwalk Empire manages to do a fine job as far as showing an impressive amount of detail, let alone having it presented so clearly.
Depth: The use of both sets and visual effects to create the world this series occupies looks great, especially given the dimensionality of what we are seeing, so good job there.
Black Levels: A mostly good job is done to keep the black levels deep and inky.
Color Reproduction: This is a show that features a darker and grayer pallet, balanced occasionally by some big, bright colors that show the glitz and glamor of places like the actual boardwalk presentation in Atlantic City, along with a location like Cuba. Color comes across quite well.
Flesh Tones: A nice job is done to show off the facial textures here.
Noise/Artifacts: Nothing of note.
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Latin Spanish DTS Digital Surround 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Latin Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Dynamics: The lossless mix offered here does a fantastic job of presenting each episode with the kind of clarity you would hope any Blu-ray set for a TV series could feature. The amount of audio diversity comes through loud and clear, which makes this a wonderful set of audio tracks to take in.
Low Frequency Extension: There is a lot of good to take away from how the LFE channel is handled.
Surround Sound Presentation: Between the moments of gunfire and the various nightclub performances, there are already some great things to get take a listen to on this flawless audio mix, which is wonderfully handled for this Blu-ray release; and then you get a whole lot more, given the layers of this show, the dialogue, the score, the music tracks, and so much more. Enjoy.
Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone will be heard in this terrific mix.
Unfortunately, given that I expect more from HBO, it is a disappointment to only get one special feature, aside from the 4 commentaries accompanying some of the episodes. No look back at the season or the series, no comparison to actual history, nothing of the sort. I can only image a complete series box set will do some justice in this department.
- Audio Commentaries – Four episodes get audio commentaries (“Golden Days for Boys and Girls”, “Cuanto”, “Friendless Child”, and “Eldorado”). Each commentary features either Terence Winter or one of the producers/writers, and a cast member. They are worth listening to for fans of the series.
- Scouting the Boardwalk (HD, 15:00) – The weakest thing about this brief collection of featurettes going over certain locations of every episode is that it is repeated on each disc. So you can see the same thing on multiple discs, rather than new features on each one.
- Digital HD Copy of the Series via UltraViolet or iTunes
- DVD Sampler of The Knick – The first two episodes of the (great) Cinemax series, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen.
Despite a lack of great extras, this final season looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. It also helps that the series wraps itself up quite nicely as well. Despite some minor issues, plotlines are wrapped up appropriately enough, with lots of credit going to the actors and the choices made to continually make this a visually exciting series to watch. Fans of the show should either be happy to add this season to their collection or wait for an ultimate box set, but still know that the show ends well.