We open the final episode of "Boardwalk Empire" with Nucky Thompson, stripped down to almost nothing, walking into the ocean water as it slaps against the shore of Atlantic City. He swims out and doesn't appear to be looking back.
Whisked back to 1897, Deputy Sheriff Nucky Thompson approaches The Commodore to make his case for becoming sheriff. The Commodore chides Nucky for his "hard-working" and "eager" attitude. Nucky suggests that he's reliable after having handled The Commodore's "personal matter" and keeping it quiet. The Commodore takes this as a threat, but Nucky insists he was trying to demonstrate his loyalty. Soon a young woman brings a group of young girls over who would like to recite a poem for him. The Commodore giddily watches while Nucky eyes him suspiciously.
Joe Kennedy and other Mayflower executives sit in a boardroom discussing the prospects for the repeal of prohibition. Kennedy tells them that Roosevelt will win and prohibition will be over. Some want to cut their losses and sell because their whole business relies on repeal. Kennedy asks them to hold tight for 24 hours while he sorts some things out.
Al Capone and his brother Ralph are upset that Mickey D'Angelo, who turns out to be named Malone (and Al Capone says his being Irish is "what hurts the most"), was a fed who turned over Capone's ledgers. Capone's attorney is suggesting he turn himself in, but Capone wants him to "deal with it." After the attorney leaves, Ralph tells Al this could be serious, but Capone isn't buying it.
Lucky Luciano sips booze while a woman files his nails. He, Meyer Lansky and Benny Siegel are making plans to invite mob bosses from all over the area. Lucky remembers 10 years earlier, going to Atlantic City with Arnold Rothstein and having dinner with Nucky and Jim Colissimo and thinking he was in the big time. "Now look at us," Lucky says, before getting up to pour himself another. He finally tells Lansky and Siegel that if anyone invited to the meeting isn't on board, "they go." He lists some names, including Waxy Gordon, Dutch Schultz, Narcisse — and Siegel adds Johnny Torio to the list, calling him "dead weight," and adding, "all about moving forward, ain't it?" Lansky says nothing.
Kennedy storms into Margaret's office and asks her about shorting Mayflower's stock. She insists Nucky has nothing to do with any of it, saying all she knows is what she reads in the papers. She hands him a note indicating that his partners are selling shares behind his back, and suggesting he sell himself and cash out in another. He says he needs to call his broker, and Margaret slides him the phone.
Back in 1897, Nucky gets home and finds a bloodied dress. He then finds Mabel sitting, stunned, at the table. She says she was "unwell" and came home and a "mishap" happened. Nucky asks her if she's talking about the baby, and she says, "Not a baby, just a mishap." Nucky says he's sorry, but Mabel insists she's alright. She asks him why he's sorry and he says he worked for this and he worries that he disappoints her whatever he does. Suddenly, there's a loud knock on the door. It's Eli, saying their mother needs him. Nucky leaves.
Shares of Mayflower are selling like crazy while Kennedy watches the price go lower and stands next to Margaret, anxiously waiting for her to make her move. The stock gets down to 3 1/4 and she hands over a note buying to cover immediately. Kennedy tells Margaret that the mind of a woman is one of the great mysteries. She offers him an experiment: "Think about the things you want in life, and then picture yourself in a dress." She gets a thumbs up from the messenger and tells Kennedy he's just made some money. Kennedy shakes her hand and says there's "a lot" they could do together, and Margaret says she was just thinking the same thing. Kennedy asks how she'd like to proceed and she tells him to come see her during office hours, "the firm would love to have your business."
Al Capone's wife tells him a reporter was asking about some rumors. She asks him what she should do and he tells her to make coffee. Al goes upstairs and sees his son reading about Lewis & Clark. Al slowly confesses to his deaf son, signing informally, that he's done some bad things and might be going away for a while. His son says he can help, but Al tells him he can't help him with this. He tells his son to listen to his mother, keep up with his school lessons. He says all he did was to leave his son with something better, "and that can't be for nothing." Before he leaves his son's room, his boy calls out to him and holds up his fists, urging his father to fight.
Margaret finds Nucky in an empty New York apartment and he asks how the Mayflower situation went. She's surprised to learn he hasn't been following it. She tells him he made $2,364,120, and they agree that it's a lot. He asks if she took his advice. She bought 1,000 shares and made nearly $30,000. He asks her what she'll do with her money and she asks him if he has advice. He tells her about being a bellboy and always wanting more and more in tips, from a nickel to a dime to a quarter. He tells her his circumstances have changed and "there are things I won't do anymore." He asks her if she likes the apartment they're standing in, which he's considering renting. She says it's 13 stops closer to downtown. He asks her what that means, and she says she's not sure. They dance for a moment, saying nothing and maintaining serious faces. They're interrupted by a broker showing the place to another couple.
Benny Siegel is upset that about their "friend" who has been running his mouth all over New York. Lucky says, "Two shooters in public so people know." Siegel smiles and heads out, with Lansky warning him not to mess it up and to have it all cleaned up before the meeting.
We next see Nucky strolling along the boardwalk in Atlantic City when a blond woman in a genie-like outfit stops him and says she's from the future. She invites him into a curtained tent to see what's inside. Nucky's skeptical, but goes into the dark space where he initially can't see anything. Soon, he sees a flickering black-and-white screen featuring the woman singing, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
Back in 1897, Nucky and Eli come to his mother's house and he finds her with a black eye. His mother tries to calm Nucky down, but he goes and finds his drunk father holding a shotgun. Nucky declares himself the deputy sheriff and says his father has hit his mother one too many times. Ethan Thompson holds the shotgun up and points it at his son. Nucky steps closer, so the barrel is right in front of him. The two stare each other down and Nucky dares his father to show the family who he is. Ethan asks Nucky why he didn't want him to know he had a grandchild on the way. Nucky asks Ethan to hand over the gun, which he does. But Ethan then surprises Nucky with a punch to the face. Nucky fights back and gets the better of Ethan before Eli pulls him off and holds him back. Nucky warns his father that if he touches his mother again he's going to take care of him, law or no law. Ethan shouts out to Nucky as he walks away, "We're here! Wherever you think you're runnin', we'll always be right here!"
Back in 1931, Nucky knocks on a crummy-looking apartment door and Eli opens it. Nucky steps in and sits down, telling Eli about the swim he took at first light the day before. He says he went out past the surf line, telling himself to keep going until he couldn't turn back. He says he realized you can't know where that is. Eli tells Nucky he never wanted to be here. Nucky says the deal is done, but he and Eli shouldn't see each other again. He thinks it's best, and asks Eli if he agrees. Eli can't look at Nucky, but asks what he's supposed to do with himself. Nucky urges him to try talking to June, saying he'll always regret it if he doesn't try. Eli asks Nucky how come he always got to be wise one and Nucky tells him, "Because you needed me to be." Nucky leaves a paper bag on the table, telling Eli there are a few things he might be able to use inside. He starts to walk out, but stops and turns around to give his brother one last hug. Nucky leaves and Eli looks at the bag for a moment before reaching inside and pulling out stacks of cash — and a shaving kit.
Al Capone checks himself in a mirror in the back of a car, then steps out and smiles for the cameras and huge crowd as he steps up the courthouse steps , cracking jokes. He sees "Mickey D'Angelo" at the top of the steps and Mickey gives a slight nod. Al's face stiffens, but he returns a slight tip of his hat and continues up the steps.
Lucky presides over the meeting, welcoming the bosses from all over New York, and makes a reference to "our friend from Chicago," who couldn't make it. One of the boss' jokes, "Pay your taxes, fellas!" Lucky talks about how nobody gets made unless the seven of them approve — five families from New York, plus Buffalo and Chicago. He says any beefs anywhere get settled there, by this group "before things get out of hand." He says the old way of doing things are over. He raises and glass and says, "The future is ours, boys."
We next see Dr. Narcisse walking out of a church with many of his followers thanking him for his speech and wise words. But the mood changes quickly when a pair of men force their way through the crowd and open fire on Narcisse. He stumbles to the ground before one of the men finishes the job with a final shot to the head.
Nucky's next stop is at the asylum where Gillian is being held, and the warden tells her Gillian has been preparing all day in anticipation of Nucky's visit. Nucky sits with her and tells Gillian that whatever she thinks he'll do "won't be possible." He tells her she was clever in making a bargain and saving her own neck, but he's not someone she should look to for help. He tells her he's leaving, starting something new and won't be back. He tells her he's arranged for her to have her own room, and if she gets herself out there will be money in a trust account. He asks her not to look for him for anything else. She says nothing. He tells her the past is past and "nothing can change it." Nucky starts to tear up and asks, "What do you expect of me?" When she finally speaks, she simply wonders how one can tell if ladybugs are really ladies? Gillian gets up to leave, but holds her stomach, saying it's still tender. She asks Nucky for hand helping her up and he gives it. "There's still graciousness in the world," she says, before walking away.
Nucky shows up at the Old Rumpus to get his things. A guard lets him in but warns him not to overstay his welcome because "Mr. Luciano wouldn't like it."
In his office, Nucky flips through some old things and finds the postcard Mabel wrote him when they were both children. Nucky's private phone line rings. Vic Borden, manager at the Ritz, asks him for his help with a situation.
Back in 1897, we see Nucky walking through the crowd as Jim Neamy gives a speech before announcing the arrival of King Neptune. Nucky is unimpressed, but recognizes Gillian next to Neptune's chair. She tries to run away, but Nucky tracks her down. She asks him to let her be or put her jail, adding, "you mean to, anyway." She says that Mabel said he wants to be good, but doesn't know how. Neamy comes over and tells Nucky that The Commodore wants him up on the porch.
At the Ritz, Nucky finds that it's his former aide Joe who was stealing from people.
Back in 1897, Nucky comes up and finds The Commodore cracking jokes with some men. The Commodore asks Nucky for his badge, which Nucky hands over before The Commodore tells him to go because he doesn't have faith in him. The Commodore tells Nucky he's never liked how he thinks he deserves something for trying hard. The Commodore asks Nucky what he is, anyway, and Nucky says he's what he needs to be. The Commodore tells him to go away.
Back in 1931, Nucky asks Joe about the money he gave him and asks him what he's thinking robbing people and burning through the $1,000 Nucky gave him. Nucky puts more cash in Joe's pocket, telling him, "Coffee's a nickel, the rest I don't care." Joe says money is the answer to everything, and Nucky replies, "No, but it's the best one I've got." Joe takes the cash and rips it up while staring Nucky down. Nucky tells him, "You showed me," while smiling. He puts some coins on the counter to pay for the coffee, then wishes the kid luck, telling him he's going to need it.
An agitated Nucky walks away from The Commodore, but is stopped by Leander Whitlock. He tells Nucky there is "a youth" The Commodore would like to put into service. Leander says "the task is entrusted to the sheriff," and shows Nucky the badge he so covets. Nucky looks and sees Gillian, and Leander tells him, "You understand this is an act of charity."
Back on the boardwalk in 1931, Nucky runs into some drunk college kids and sees a couple of mobster types watching him.
But back to 1897, Nucky approaches Gillian and she asks him if something is wrong. He recalls that she wants to sail around the world.
Cutting back and forth now, between 1931 on the boardwalk and 34 years earlier when Nucky is about to hand Gillian over to The Commodore, it's 1931 and Joe tells Nucky that his "Mima" used to talk about him, but he couldn't tell if it was love or hate.
We see the younger Nucky telling Gillian that The Commodore, a very rich man, has offered to help them both. He asks her if she's like to meet him, and he promises he'll always look after her, extending a hand.
In 1931, "Joe" reveals that he's Tommy Darmody. He raises a gun and shoots Nucky twice in the chest. Nucky falls to the ground, raises a hand, but Tommy fires once more and hits him in the face.
We close on a scene much like the one that started the final season, with young Nucky diving for a coin in the ocean — and this time he grabs it.
This episode provides examples of:
- Anyone Can Die: No one has Plot Armor in a final episode. Nucky dies in the end.
- Asshole Victim: Narcisse is gunned down by two of Lucky's hit men.
- Bait-and-Switch: The opening scene. It seems that Nucky is committing suicide via drowning, but it turns out he's just swimming.
- Beard of Sorrow: The shaving kit Nucky gives to Eli implies that he wants him to shave his off and start a new life.
- Bitter Sweet Ending: On the upside, Margaret becomes extremely rich, Eli is given money by Nucky to start a new life and they part on good terms, Capone is taken down (Ensuring that Van Alden didn't die in vain.) and Narcisse is killed. On the downside, Capone is very sympathetic, Gillian undergoes a horribly painful surgery that drives her completely insane, Nucky is killed by Tommy Darmody as revenge for Jimmy's death, making Richard Harrow's attempts to give him a life pointless; and in 1897, Mabel miscarries, Eli betrays Nucky for the very first time (Siding with their father instead of Nucky.) and of course, Nucky makes a terrible deal with The Commodore by allowing him to rape Gillian in exchange for the position of Sheriff.
- Boom, Headshot!: How Narcisse is finished off.
- Calling the Old Man Out: 1897 Nucky does this to both his father and The Commodore.
- Deal with the Devil: 1897 Nucky sells Gillian out to The Commodore in exchange for a Rank Up.
- The Determinator: After getting riddled with bullets, Narcisse gets to his feet and walks toward his assassins, totally unarmed and mortally injured.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Capone is extremely sad that he has to leave his son because he will be going to jail.
- Et Tu, Brute?: 1897 Nucky finally sells Gillian out to The Commodore.
- Graceful Loser: Capone quickly realizes that he's going to Jail and calmly walks into the courthouse, where he knows he will be found guilty.
- Grand Finale: Of the entire series.
- If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: 1897 Nucky says that he will "take care" of his father if he hurts his mother, "Law or no law".
- Innocence Lost: 1897 Gillian's rape by The Commodore that occurs off-screen. (The event was mentioned several times throughout the series and the scene where Nucky brings her to him is briefly seen, but the actual rape is never shown or heard.)
- Karmic Death: Nucky dies in the same exact way Jimmy dies. Shot in the same place, Killed Mid-Sentence, and had a flashback to the past when they "died". (Nucky "died" when he sold Gillian out to The Commodore while Jimmy "died" in the trenches.) He's also shot by Jimmy's son.
- Kill Em All: By the end of this episode of the major fictional characters to appear in the pilot only Margaret and Eli are known to be alive for sure, though its possible Lucy Danziger is still out there somewhere.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Nucky.Nucky: Tommy. You don't......Tommy: *Shoots Nucky*
- Kill Them All: What Lucky and Lansky plan to do to the old gangsters.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story:
- The only reason Nucky became a gangster in the first place is that he wanted to provide for his family and leave behind a legacy. In the end, his family becomes broken apart, all his loved ones are dead (Save for Margaret) and he loses his empire to Lucky and Lansky.
- Additionally, Richard Harrow's attempts to give Tommy a home and normal life were in vain - he becomes a broken criminal like his father.
- Start of Darkness: The Deal with the Devil Nucky makes in 1897 with The Commodore (letting him rape Gillian) is Nucky's.
- Wham Episode: Debatable, considering that it is the final episode. Nucky is killed by Joe Harper, who is revealed to be Tommy Darmody.
- The Anti-Hero Dies: Nucky is killed by Tommy Darmody.
- You Killed My Father: Tommy Darmody kills Nucky as revenge for Jimmy's death.
- You Are Too Late: By the time Nucky visits Gillian in the hospital, she has already underwent the horribly painful surgery preformed by Dr. Cotton and has been driven completely insane as a result.