Nucky (Steve Buscemi) finally comes face to face with Charlie Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) this week, on a train track illuminated by headlights. Staring down the barrel of a gun, Nucky faces his biggest challenge yet. He must decide what is more important to him: his empire or his family.
Over the series we’ve seen Nucky evolve into one of the most powerful men in America, but his current problem is that he has nobody and nothing left to rely upon. With only his estranged wife, off in New York fiddling stocks, and his brother, who has now twice attempted to kill him, by his side, has Nucky’s empire already fallen?
The unfortunate toppling of three of the show’s big players in Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) leaves us with no life vests to keep Nucky afloat. The impact of the two deaths from The Devil You Know resonated because they were members of a cast that we had spent seasons growing and sharing with. That, and Michael Shannon is immensely talented and brought so much to the role.
As incredible as it is that Micky Doyle has survived this long, he’s never been the sort you’d ask to watch your back, leaving Nucky exposed, with only his wits left, as we prepare for the final episode.
Friendless Child is styled differently to most of the other Empire episodes, bookended by montage sequences. They both play out excellently, the first clips and photos of the gang wars that are taking over America, as US Attorney Robert Hodge addresses the nation over the radio – beautiful, short scenes of leaders fearful that the next person through the door might be the last one they see.
Climaxing with Nucky finally opening the letter from Nelly Bly, it is read to us by its author, the words spinning hauntingly around and around. It ties the past up to the present and gives us an indication of where Nucky may be able to find his redemption.
While Boardwalk Empire has stuck by the history books for the majority of its run, this week’s episode also takes creative licence with one outcome. It isn’t a huge change – it’s not like they shoot Hitler – but with the writers making subtle changes to history, could they do so for the finale and have things play out differently? It’s almost guaranteed that we won’t see Capone escape justice and come to fight by Nucky’s side. If he did, the whole integrity and balance of the show would be thrown out the window.
With so many possibilities as to what could happen, the finale is still a mystery. Will Nucky get a happy ending or will everything come back to haunt him? The end of the Empire is in sight – assuming they don’t cut to black.
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Photo: © HBO