The Season 2 Finale of Boardwalk Empire: Didn't See That Coming

We knew last night’s season 2 finale of Boardwalk Empire was going to be good — the show is consistently good, usually getting better with each episode, so a good finale was all we could expect. However, with all those expectations, I and — if trending topics on Twitter after the finale last night were any indication — the bulk of everyone else didn’t see the ending coming. Not so much a twist, but more an “I can’t believe they actually did that,” last night’s finale cemented Boardwalk Empire as, as far as I’m concerned, the best show currently on television. Sorry, people who watch AMC shows.

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Yes, there are spoilers ahead.

Ready for those spoilers? You sure? Jimmy Darmody, played by the usually awesome Michael Pitt, is dead. Yes, Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson is the only person to make an appearance in the show’s way-too-long and boring title sequence, but Jimmy Darmody was Boardwalk Empire’s true main character. I can’t really go through the show’s entire history and add up Pitt’s screen time and compare it to Buscemi’s, but Jimmy Darmody was certainly the focal point of the show. Just about every single character revolved around Jimmy in some way, including Nucky, whereas some characters that revolved around Jimmy were barely ever even in the same shot as Buscemi. Most of the pivotal events of the show were either caused or ended by Jimmy as well. If you’re on board with that, then yes, Boardwalk Empire just killed off its main character. If you aren’t on board with Jimmy’s status as the main character, he’s certainly a very, very close second main, so yes, Boardwalk Empire just killed of its very, very close second main character. Shot through the cheek, then through the head. He’s gone, and he isn’t coming back.

Other shows have killed off their main character, most recently painful, the BBC’s Being Human killing off Mitchell, though even with that, the show is pretty much over (the other main character, George, left as well), even though it was planned to go on for at least another season. So, while BBC’s Being Human didn’t quite survive it, though I can’t currently think of any, I’m sure other shows have survived it.

With the episode before the finaleBoardwalk Empire showed us that it is willing to go wherever the showrunners feel it should, and though other shows have covered similar topics or have had similar twists, Boardwalk Empire covers them in such a way where they feel new, tasteful, and classy — something television doesn’t do very often. Last night, the finale killed off the main character, but the series shows no sign of slowing down, which is, again, something television doesn’t do very often.

Normally, removing the main character heralds the end of a show, either via that event being the final episode, or that event leading to the final season that doesn’t last very long because the main character is gone: BBC’s Robin Hood, The X-Files, That ’70s Show — barely anything survives, yet Boardwalk Empire showrunner Terrence Winter is already planning where to go with the next few seasons, and there isn’t any buzz dictating the show’s demise.

When the main character dies, or a handful of extremely integral characters die, many people — including myself — find it difficult to continue watching a show. Not because we’re angry that the show got rid of our favorite characters, but because investing oneself in characters is a lot of hard work. It pays off, of course, but it’s difficult to stay within the same universe but invest in totally new characters. Somehow, after last night’s finale, I am more interested in Boardwalk Empire than ever, even though one of my three favorite characters — and a fantastic actor — is no longer in the show’s future. Media is rarely able to pull this off, and yet, Boardwalk Empire just did.

It remains to be seen who will replace Jimmy, and how it’ll affect just about every single character and storyline on the show. Hopefully, the characters most closely related to him, which are the most interesting — his mom, Gillian, and his bodyguard, Richard Harrow — will remain a focal point of the show. Though, without Jimmy, the unsettling incestual relationship between he and his mother can no longer weird us out, nor can his brother-like relationship with Richard warm our hearts. And most of the tension on the show? Instantly gone. Nucky doesn’t currently have any enemies, though one can only assume Gillian and Richard won’t be too pleased with his dispatching of Jimmy.

Granted, Nucky finally got his hands extra dirty, shedding his role of “half a gangster,” as Jimmy so aptly put it once upon a time, and embraced his gangster nature. So maybe instead of Nucky trying to get through conflicts in the coming seasons, he’ll be causing them.

Whatever happens in Boardwalk Empire’s future, it just killed off its central character — and my personal favorite — and it was even an unsatisfying, somewhat pointless death, yet somehow, I’m more intrigued than ever.

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