It’s been a while since we last visited Nucky and the rest of the “Boardwalk Empire” crew, and time really does fly in Atlantic City it seems. Coming off quite possibly its weakest season, “Boardwalk” unveiled the first episode of its fifth and final season on Sunday. The show’s tagline for this season is ‘no one goes quietly,’ and “Golden Days for Boys and Girls,” though continuing in the series tradition of easing in to the story, attempts to convince us that will be the case for the series.
Season 5 starts off in the past – 1884 to be exact – with a young Nucky attempting to snag coins thrown into the sea by the Commodore as he kicks off the summer. Nucky fills his days trying to make bits of change from the wealthy, despite his abusive father’s objections, but is always beat out by the quicker and meaner kids. When he finds a hat with money in it that belongs to an associate of the Commodore though, he returns the hat and the money in the hopes of getting ahead. Young Nucky catches the Commodore’s eye and is given a job at the hotel.
Fast forward to present day, where it is 1931, seven years after season 4 ended. Older Nucky is in Havana with his eyes set on the potential end of prohibition and the hopes he can strike a deal to sell Bacardi exclusively in the U.S. when the Volstead Act is repealed. . However, Nucky isn’t able to finalize the deal. Nucky runs into Meyer Lansky when he is down in Cuba as well, who says that he is on vacation with his wife, and also informs the audience that Arnold Rothstein has died in the interim.
Back in the states, we first check in with Chalky, who has had a rough seven years it seems, as he is now in jail, though we don’t yet know why. While on work detail, a riot breaks out and Chalky manages to escape, but is first caught by another inmate. He makes a deal with Chalky that if they work together, with Chalky handling the more professional aspects, he has a way for them to make money.
In New York, Margaret makes an appearance much sooner than last year, still working for the investment firm, though her career’s future is in question after the stock market crash and her boss shoots himself in front of the entire staff. The firm’s manager speaks briefly with Margaret if she knows where the keys to her boss’ files are, but she says she doesn’t. Of course she does, however, and attempts to sneak out the file on the late Mr. Rothstein.
Also in New York, Lucky Luciano uses his time in the episode to seize a better position for himself. As Joe Masseria wages a war with Don Salvatore, Lucky betrays his former boss and has him killed so he can become a member of Salvatore’s family.
We end the episode back in Cuba with Nucky telling Sally Wheet that he wants to wipe his hands off all the things he has done and be an honest man, hoping that the end of prohibition can do that. He soon sees Meyer’s wife and goes over to talk with her, only to realize that she is actually a prostitute and Meyer has more motives for being in Cuba other than the sun, just like Nucky.
The episode goes back and forth between young Nucky and present day Nucky, something that will be present throughout the season, and the stories parallel themselves. Young Nucky finds a poem, which plays at the beginning and end of the episode, in a Golden Days magazine that basically says that honest people are rare and will find greater success and happiness in life. Nucky took that lesson to heart as he has always strived to be the honest gangster, with a few exceptions along the way. However, just like when he was a boy, it is clear that others don’t follow that same rule, and it is a little surprising this still catches Nucky off guard.
The good thing is it sets a clear path for Nucky at the onset of this season; he’s going to have to get his hands dirty one more time. When the show has taken him down a darker path it has benefited.
Visually speaking, the episode also highlights how Nucky is going to have to get dirty. Director Tim Van Patten, the series most prominent director, showers Nucky in colors with the Havana setting and shows the scenes in America as grey and drab. The final scene, where he learns of Meyer’s true intentions, though is the darkest featuring Nucky, showing that the glow of this world is an illusion and Nucky must dive back in to the abyss.
We’ll have to wait at least another week before we see what’s been going on in Chicago these last 7 years and the likes of Al Capone, Eli and Dr. Narcisse, but “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” has at least set the main pieces up nicely as “Boardwalk Empire” heads into its home stretch.