Boardwalk Empire: A Thrilling Conclusion to an Uneven Season

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There are major spoilers in here. If you haven't finished watching Season 2, be smart and don't read on.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to love Boardwalk Empire as much as I’m supposed to. Maybe it’s just not for me. Maybe it’s seriously overrated. (And because I trust my own opinions, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s the latter.) But I won’t deny how thrilling the last few episodes of Season 2 have been—to say that this series takes risks is something of an understatement.

But are they the right risks? And do Boardwalk Empire’s “holy crap” moments make up for what was ultimately a meandering, unfocused second season?

Don’t get me wrong—I think Boardwalk Empire is a fine show. For me, it’s just on the lower end of the glossy cable drama quality spectrum. Boardwalk Empire is more The Walking Dead than Breaking Bad: Both series are about the slow burn, but while Breaking Bad pays off for its audience, Walking Dead doesn’t quite get there with its last-minute bursts of violence. I’d also say that Boardwalk Empire is more True Blood than Game of Thrones: Both series have nearly too many characters to keep track of, but the latter is far more successful at ensuring each of its players is fully realized and sympathetic.

This season of Boardwalk Empire has frustrated me even more than the first, combining the same elements of The Walking Dead and True Blood that often make those otherwise entertaining series a chore. I am not an impatient viewer and I am willing to ride out a well-paced show, as long as I’m going to arrive at an exciting and unexpected destination. But Boardwalk Empire’s second season had too many characters and too many plots: How satisfying can a show be when there is this much going on? I’ve never had much faith in the show’s end game, because thus far, the writers have consistently showed a head-scratching lack of restraint.

And regardless of how everything pans out, the “too many balls in the air” issue makes individual episodes of the series bothersome. I’ll admit that the complexities of the plot are sometimes lost on me, but I don’t mind being challenged by a show. My problem is that Season 2 flitted around too much for me to bother caring about what I didn’t entirely understand—as soon as I got a handle on one plotline, another popped up. What’s especially annoying is that these diversions took away from the stories that were worth addressing: Angela’s relationship with Richard Harrow, and the family Margaret left behind, to name a couple.

But yes, the last few episodes, culminating in last night’s season finale, have done plenty to draw me in: major character deaths, long-overdue plot resolution, incest. (No, really. Incest!) Though I’m being rather hard on Boardwalk Empire, I must acknowledge how exciting and genuinely surprising these episodes have been. For the first time in a long while, the series wowed me, and that’s no small feat. When you watch as much TV as I do, it can sometimes feel like you’ve seen it all before, which is why those legitimate shockers are so satisfying.

Maybe that’s why I set out to write a more positive review of Boardwalk Empire than this. If I just think about the season finale and the couple episodes that preceded it, I’m inclined to extol its virtues. But taken as a whole, I still think Season 2 fell short.

More to the point, I’m less excited than ever about Season 3. While I admire Boardwalk Empire’s for killing off Jimmy—so soon after getting rid of Angela—I have serious reservations about what’s next. Jimmy and Angela were two of the show's most compelling characters, and their development this season has been a major asset to the series. I understand why they had to go (particularly Jimmy, given his unforgivable turn against Nucky), but I don’t like it. Not just because it’s a bummer, but because it doesn’t bode well for Boardwalk Empire’s future.

If I’m missing something fundamental to full enjoyment of the series, I guess that’s on me. But with Jimmy, I at least had a favorite character to latch onto—and I don’t think I’m the only one. While killing Jimmy may have served the story, it didn’t serve the series. To me, it was a reminder that shows must both take risks and play to their strengths. It’s not all about the jaw-dropping moments: It’s just as much what comes after. And given Season 2’s unevenness, I’m not incredibly eager to see what that is.

What did you think of Sunday's finale? What's your opinion of Season 2 overall? Will you return for Season 3?

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