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Spoilers if you haven't watched the fifth and final season of Boardwalk Empire, yet!
HBO’s Boardwalk Empire wrapped up its run last year with an eight-episode season. In addition to jumping ahead to 1931 and following protagonist Nucky Thompson navigating the Great Depression, the series also flashed back to his younger years, and the latter half of the season showed how then-Sheriff Thompson met a young Gillian Darmody, the girl he would pimp out to his employer The Commodore. In the show’s final moments, Nucky was gunned down by Gillian’s grandson Tommy Darmody, who was carrying out revenge for all the pain that Nucky had inflicted on his family. While fans and critics were split on the ending, series lead Steve Buscemi believe it was a great conclusion for the gangster drama.
In a recent AMA, Buscemi was asked by a fan if he was happy with the way the series ended, specifically with how Nucky’s fate was handed. Overall, the actor was satisfied with how the character he played for five years met his end, though admittedly surprised. Said Buscemi:
I was happy with the way it ended. No, I didn't necessarily see it coming, but I was glad that they wrapped it up on that story between Nucky and Gretchen Mol's character, because that was a story that always interested me, and you know, when you look through the series, Nucky and Gillian didn't really have a lot of scenes - I think I only had about 5 scenes with Gillian. And I always LOVED working with Gretchen [Mol], and I always wished we could do more together. But ever since that scene we did together at the fortune teller's shop, I always wondered - what was their relationship?
Nucky and Gillian may not have shared many scenes, but their complicated relationship always loomed in the background throughout the show’s run. Her son Jimmy had spent his childhood looking up to Nucky as a father figure, and began working for him when Season 1 kicked off. When Jimmy discovered that Nucky had arranged the sexual affair between his mother and The Commodore, he joined with others to overthrow Nucky from his position of power. This power struggle ended with Jimmy being gunned down by Nucky in the Season 2 finale. Nucky and Gillian were at odds for the remainder of the series, and while he tried to make amends in the final episode, by that point it was too late. She had been locked away in a sanitarium and had undergone a horrific surgical treatment.
Buscemi also admitted that although the series would occasionally touch on the Nucky’s past, it was hard for him to get a complete grasp of his character until the series concluded.
So sometimes the show writers were forthcoming with the backstory - and then sometimes they were not. So there was only so much that they could tell me about the backstory of Nucky. Because I think - especially when you're writing on a TV series - you don't know the complete story of your characters, and you're going to leave it open, so they can go in any direction that they want. So you don't get tied into a concrete backstory - so it wasn't until the final season, until those last few episodes, that I truly understood Nucky's backstory.
In the end, it was Nucky’s thirst for power that led to his downfall. By handing off the 12 yeard-old Gillian to The Commodore in a last-ditch effort to keep his job as sheriff, he took the first step to wielding tremendous power and influence, but he also set into motion events that would lead to Tommy killing him in retribution. Decades of manipulation and greed resulted in Nucky being shot by the third generation member of a family he had screwed over in the very city that he once controlled.
You can check out the rest of the Reddit AMA for the documentary Check It here.