Boardwalk Empire: Where Astonishing Performances Go to Die

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

As the series-finale of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire approaches, the bodies in Atlantic City are being stacked higher than the crates of smuggled liquor. It’s HBO cousin Game of Thrones has mastered the art of sudden death. Yet, King’s Landing is the land of awkward thugs compared to the murderous finesse executed by those along the Atlantic Seaboard.

In GOT, one tends to die because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or they are the deserved targets of a premeditated, admittedly gleeful spree. Boardwalk’s fallen, however, cease amid a horrific sense of injustice, despite their own heinous crimes, and often because of their own very human choices.

While viewers will mourn the loss of the Boardwalk characters, the Screen Actors Guild must be in tatters over the end of the show itself. An untold number of actors have appeared over its five seasons. I stopped counting beyond the 500-plus listed on IMDb. Still, nary a performance, set, or costume has been anything less than superb. Boardwalk has become a snack-sized Martin Scorsese masterpiece. (The director is an executive producer who oversaw the show’s pilot.)

If you don’t have HBO, HBO Go or HBO on Demand, pray for a quick Netflix release soon or ask Santa to bring you the box set. Boardwalk is the most delectable combination of early 20th century history/crime drama. You do not need to look carefully to see nearly every iconic emblem of the show’s 50-year era (The Gilded Age, The Flapper, the Harlem Renaissance, and of course, the Wise Guy). What’s unique to Boardwalk is the rise and fall of prohibition, and the birth of organized crimes. It is America at its best–and its worst.

Still, the success of Boardwalk rests entirely on its writing, direction, and ultimately, its performances. Thus, without hindering the binge-worthy pursuits of any latecomer, the following is a tribute to the supporting cast of Boardwalk Empire, and their astonishing, ultimately deathly performances.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

ANGELA DARMODY: Mrs. James Darmody’s death in Season Two was as tragic as it was violent. Screenwriters have historically killed off gay and lesbian characters on screen as a form of implied social judgement. Seeing this long-tormented mother (played gorgeously by Aleksa Palladino) as she finally finds bliss and intimacy with her lesbian lover was enlightening. Her death via one of her husband’s most vicious foes was so disturbing and unfair, I cried.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

JIMMY DARMODY: He survived an incestuous relationship with his mother, a paralyzing war injury, and a stint working as a rough in Chicago for Al Capone. Yet Darmody (Michael Pitt) foolishly chose to double-cross Nucky, the only person who ever really had his back. He wises and begs for Nucky’s forgiveness. So when Nucky suddenly turns on his and kills Jimmy himself, you, like Darmody, are stunned.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

GYP ROSETTI: Perhaps the greatest character performance to appear on the series was that of the volatile Italian mobster. The sadistic (and equally masochistic) Gyp earned actor Bobby Cannavale a well-deserved Emmy. When Rosetti finally was whacked, I was incredulous simply because Gyp has survived so many previous attempts, like the one shown above.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

OWEN SLEATER: The message behind Owen’s shocking death was for Nucky to think outside the box. He was so devoted to Margaret (Kelly McDonald), so sexy and so patient. You were sured they’d have a happy ending. I overlooked the fact that Owen (Charlie Cox) was a vicious IRA assassin. I should have seen his end coming.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

RICHARD HARROW: Gyp Rosetti and another Boardwalk mobster Al Capone have Sicilian rage down. Perhaps that is why Jack Huston’s turn as the pensive and mangled sharpshooter was so effective? His passing is the ultimate example of Boardwalkian sacrifice. It also gives new meaning to the phrase “Under the Boardwalk.”

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

CHALKY WHITE: Like Nucky Thompson, Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) just wanted to rise from his impoverished youth to properly provide for his proper family. He did so regardless of social taboos, and under naturally suspicious circumstances. Vice, the wrong woman, and the ultimate sacrifice lead to Chalky’s death. Who will cast Williams next? His appearance, like a similar turn on HBO’s Oz, is scathing.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

GEORGE MÜLLER: Michael Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden transitioned from the seemingly puritanical federal agent into the fugitive Müller. With his hapless and extremely bad choices, Müller is the epitome of a the Depression-era survivalist. Cast of late alongside the equally great Shea Wiggham (who plays Nucky’s banished brother Eli), the two form a rapport akin to that of a drunken Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre.  In George’s final moment, however, Nelson Van Alden was exorcised in all his glorious righteousness.

Academy, can you spare either of these men–and the entire show–the Emmy?