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'Boardwalk Empire' Season Five Premiere Recap: "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"


The Great Depression is upon us, Prohibition is ending, and Nucky’s hanging out in Cuba


The fifth and final season opener begins with flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood and the powerful Commodore throwing coins into the Atlantic Ocean. Nucky comes up short in the water (more on that in a bit), but the scene shifts to present day Cuba in 1931, where an adult Nucky has indeed come full circle.


Seven years have passed since Season 4’s brutal murder of Chalky’s daughter, shot accidentally by the now-departed Richard Harrow, and the violent death of Agent Knox, at the hands of the now-exiled Eli Thompson. Yes, things are different now, in many ways. Prohibition, which established Nucky’s presence in Atlantic City, is now coming to an end, and he’s looking to go legitimate the moment it does. Sally Wheet is still in the picture, as she is trying to help Nucky become better acquainted with a U.S. Senator in order to establish a relationship with the makers of Bacardi Rum. In classic Nucky fashion, he sets up the Senator with a prostitute, only to blackmail him about it the next day after the Senator appears to be on the fence about assisting Nucky in his quest to become a Bacardi distributor.'Boardwalk Empire' Season Five Premiere Recap: "Golden Days for Boys and Girls"


As the two are arguing, a machete-wielding assailant attacks Nucky, who is saved by his Cuban bodyguard, who promptly grabs the machete and send it through the assailant’s head. The bodyguard then proceeds to cut off the assailant’s ear for good measure.


Also while in Cuba, Nucky happens to bump into Meyer Lansky, who apparently doesn’t see a whole lot of Lucky anymore. Meyer tells Nucky he is in Cuba with his new “wife.” However, when Nucky sees her later in the evening, she makes it very well known to Nucky that “wife” is indeed a loose, if not exactly viable term to describe her. Interesting.


Chalky and the chain gang


We’re not quite sure what happened to Chalky after his daughter was killed. The once ‘normally slick as butter’ Chalky kind of lost his edge last season. What we do know that he’s now part of a chain gang. After seeing an opportunity to break free from the gang, Chalky shoots off half the face of a guard and runs for his life. He’s tracked down by another escaped felon who hold a gun to his head. For some reason, the felon asks Chalky if he has experience with telephones. I could barely understand what this guy was saying or where this is even going, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.


Margaret’s boss “checks out”


After seemingly feeling the heat from the backlash of the Great Depression, Margaret’s boss Mr. Bennett starts giving a speech to his employees while randomly referencing some Disney characters. Moments later, he then takes his own life in front of all of them. After his death, Bennett’s supervisor probes a still visibly shaken Margaret into trying to give information Bennett may have provided her. Margaret claims she knows nothing else than what her job description was. At first, Margaret claims to not have access to the company’s client files. However, when she is caught trying to look into the late Arnold Rothstein’s file, she is caught, but saves herself by acting like she suddenly found the key.

A power shift in the New York mafia


The years of tension between power-hungry Joe Masseria and Lucky Luciano have come to a head. A heated discussion between the two leads Lucky to “use the bathroom,” where several of his men then enter the restaurant and violently gun down Masseria. When they are finished, Lucky returns and watches Masseria basically drown in a pool of his own blood. With Masseria now out of the way, Lucky is then brought into Salvatore Maranzano’s camp, where he takes a blood oath by cutting his hand and then shaking hands with his new associates.


Young Nucky


Throughout Boardwalk Empire’s five-year run, I was always curious as to what made Nucky Thompson become Nucky Thompson. As the show draws to a close, we’re finally starting to see this. The show takes us back to 1884, where Nucky and his brother Eli have a lot on their plate for such a young age. A deathly ill sister and an abusive father are just several of Nucky’s problems. At this time, Nucky’s mother gives him a magazine titled Golden Days for Boys and Girls (Hence the episode title). Throughout the episode, quotes from the magazine are recited in the form of narration. Basically, the magazine echoes virtues of honesty and integrity, which Nucky’s mother probably feels are guidelines for her young son to follow.  


The young Nucky does seem to exemplify virtues of goodness and honesty. However, whether he’s failing to grab coins in the ocean (which his father hit him for), or escorting women onto the boardwalk, Nucky seems to be always coming up short. Little by little, Nucky seems torn as to whether he should adhere to the readings of his book, or go down an unscrupulous path in order to succeed.


Origins of this behavior begin to take shape when he’s hanging out by Malicky reeds, and a hat is blown off a gentleman’s head in the wind off a passing motorcar.  All the boys he’s with usually fetch the hats that have fallen off the heads of the other men. But as usual, Nucky is too slow. When the last man asks Nucky where his hat is, Nucky doesn’t know. He later finds  the hat with a $50 bill in it. After mulling over whether to take the money and hold onto the hat or to be honest and return it in hopes for a greater reward, Nucky decides to return the hat and the $50 bill to the gentleman, who is talking with the Commodore on the boardwalk. Both the gentleman and the Commodore scoff at Nucky’s honesty, and the hat is returned with Nucky getting nothing for his honest intentions. While Nucky’s constant underachieving was reaching its boiling point, right then and there his mindset changes. What was once a lingering fork in the proverbial road turns into a much clearer agenda after Nucky returns to the Commodore, who hires him to sweep the porch of his hotel.


So much for Golden Days for Boys and Girls…..



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-For those of you not sure of the whereabouts of Arnold Rothstein, he died in 1928.


-Is Margaret still living in the building Rothstein got for her? And although Rothstein used an alias,  will they find any association between the two after Bennett’s superior gains access to the file cabinet?


-Was the machete-wielding assailant just a disgruntled Cuban who didn’t like Americans? Or was the attack on Nucky an ordered hit by Meyer? After all, why was Meyer really in Cuba? To cut a deal like Nucky was trying to do?


-Narcisse, Al Capone, Eli, Gillian and Van Alden (Mueller) did not appear in this episode. And speaking of Narcisse, it’s interesting that he is even still alive, considering the enemies he has made since 1924. But then again, you could say that about Nucky.


Final thoughts:  


It will be interesting as to whether the flashbacks featuring the young Nucky will continue. Most likely they will. I highly doubt that is all you will see. That being said, you have to wonder how all of this can be incorporated into the final seven episodes (as opposed to the usual 12) while simultaneously tying up the loose ends of the series.

Like it or not, Boardwalk Empire always moves at its own pace. This episode wasn’t anything spectacular, but perhaps this episode was mainly to set the tone for the next few weeks and to show the audience how some of the characters have fared over the last seven years. While Steve Buscemi did an outstanding job of portraying a broken down, untrusting Nucky in Season 4, signs of his empire crumbling were evident near the end of season three. There’s not much left to do that hasn’t been done. The loyal audience deserves a proper ending to the series. Hopefully, we won’t be dragged in several different directions to where we can’t wrap our heads around it all when the series ends.

 Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com


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