As Boardwalk Empire comes to an end, it still hasn’t figured out its main character

October 20, 2014 12:53 PM

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The death of Deadwood was a cultural crime. That new look at the old West had a rhythm and flavour all its own; it belonged in the same bracket of achievement as The Sopranos and The Wire. Boardwalk Empire has never reached the level of those shows; indeed it has dwelt in their shadow, sharing a principal author (Terence Winter) and a principal subject (gangsters) with The Sopranos and inheriting actors from both. It hasn’t had a protagonist as magnetic as Tony Soprano, and it hasn’t made the steady progress through different levels of society that distinguished the five seasons of The Wire (as far as I know the only one of these “TV novels” to have covered all of its intended territory and then stopped). But it has been a consistently gripping and entertaining show and its fifth and last season, now winding down to its final episode this Sunday, has a sombre grandeur all its own.

It’s had to do it quicker than was intended. Boardwalk Empire is a chronicle of Prohibition, meaning it had to cover the whole of the 1920s and the first few years of the 1930s. It proceeded through them in a fairly leisurely fashion. The fourth season let us off at 1924, after having ruthlessly dis...

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