I try to wait until I finish a show before judging, but I can’t this time. I’m not sure I’ll make it further. We’ll see when it comes back for its fourth season. But I’m just not sure I want to now.
I have generally enjoyed Boardwalk Empire, but I don’t think it’s a great show. It seems lacking in additional-meaning department that so many other great “cable” shows excel at. I think you can easily view Deadwood, Mad Men and The Wire and even Breaking Bad as allegories, and a show like Six Feet Under has enough going on in it to not worry about whether it could be allegorical. I don’t get that with Boardwalk Empire. It’s just a story; a story that is reasonably well told, filled with good-to-great actors, and with high production values (albeit with too much obvious CGI for my tastes).
But after finished the third season last night I don’t know what to think.
Thompson was set up for us as a corrupt politician. He was, out of necessity transformed into just a bootlegger but, with the exception of the second season finale, we had few-to-no hints that he was a “gangster” in the sense of say Al Capone (both the character on the show and the real person). When they try to kill him, suddenly he is a real gangster. And this goes on through the remainder of the season. I feel like the behaviour of Thompson with gun in hand and Thompson without gun in hand are pretty much irreconcilable.
But this change happens because the show went from being occasionally violent to action-movie-violent in the blink of an eye. This in part happened because of Thompson’s third season foil, Rossetti Rossetti wasn’t a real person, so the writers had greater creative license. And they made him more insane than most successful mob middlemen might conceivably be. Sure, it had to end in violence. But 50 bodies? (In the finale alone!) The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as far as I know the most violent day in the prohibition gangster wars, resulted in five deaths. The show was never exactly historically accurate but this is a new stretch. The problem is that the State Police would have showed up, the FBI would have showed up, maybe even the Army (they have been called in for less). 50+ people don’t just get killed and nobody notices.
And there are other problems: we barely see Mellon, but we do get a sense of this man. But in the finale he goes from wanting nothing to do with Thompson on a personal level, to personally intervening to save his hide by a method which would destroy Thompson’s use to him. Maybe we will learn how this is resolved in the 4th season, but I am sceptical as to how it could be resolved satisfactorily. It just doesn’t fit with his character.
There were a few other nitipicky things as well – including the mayor’s montage to open the finale – but those were the biggest problems.
And I feel like the show is so much the worse for these last three episodes. It doesn’t feel like the same program at all. I am not sure I can suspend my disbelief any more. I’m not so sure the show jumped the shark – it’s not like Jimmy is back from the dead or anything, but I just don’t know that I will enjoy it any more. I feel like it’s a little lost.